Για το πρώτο INTERVIEW CORNER του 2012, νομίζω πως είναι καταλληλότερο να ξεκινήσω με τις συνήθεις αποφάσεις που παίρνουμε την Πρωτοχρονιά και αφορούν σε όλα αυτά που θέλουμε να κάνουμε (αλλά σχεδόν ποτέ δεν κάνουμε τελικά), μέσα στο νέο έτος. Κάποιος αποφασίζει να κάνει επάγγελμα αυτό που αγαπά περισσότερο, άλλος να ξεκινήσει ένα νέο χόμπι και κάποιος άλλος να βοηθήσει να γίνει ο κόσμος μας καλύτερος.
Υπάρχουν, όμως, και κάποιοι που μοιάζουν ήδη να τα έχουν πραγματοποιήσει όλα αυτά. Όπως ο καλεσμένος αυτής της εβδομάδας, Nate Powell. Ο Powell είναι περισσότερο γνωστός για το πολυβραβευμένο του graphic novel, SWALLOW ME WHOLE. Εκτός, όμως, από την ενασχόλησή του με το αγαπημένο μας Μέσο, έχει να επιδείξει δεκάδες κατορθώματα: έχει συμμετάσχει σε punk γκρουπάκια, είναι ιδιοκτήτης της DIY punk δισκογραφικής Harlan Records, έχει παίξει σε τηλεοπτική σειρά και έχει δουλέψει ως φροντιστής ατόμων με αναπτυξιακές δυσκολίες.
Σε αυτό το σημείο, μάλλον θα αναρωτηθείτε τι άλλο μπορεί να αποφασίσει να κάνει ένας τέτοιος άνθρωπος. Την απάντηση την έδωσε, πριν ένα περίπου χρόνο, ο πελαργός, κάνοντάς τον για πρώτη φορά πατέρα!
Στο θέμα μας, όμως, δηλαδή τα comics. Αν και ο Pοwell ασχολείται με αυτά από το 1992 (ξεκίνησε τις αυτοεκδόσεις από την ηλικία των 14!), η μεγάλη επιτυχία ήρθε το 2008, με το SWALLOW ME WHOLE. Το συγκεκριμένο graphic novel επικεντρώνει σε πολλά θέματα, όπως η παράνοια, τα οράματα, οι οικογενειακοί δεσμοί και οι επιπτώσεις μιας ασθένειας σε αυτούς. Εκτός από διθυραμβικές κριτικές, το SMW χάρισε στο δημιουργό του δύο Ignatz κι ένα Eisner Award, καθώς και τρεις ακόμη υποψηφιότητες.
Ακολούθησε το ANY EMPIRE, τον περασμένο Αύγουστο. Οι ανθρώπινες σχέσεις κόντρα στα προβλήματα που φέρνει η ζωή, συνδυάζονται εδώ με τις επιπτώσεις της ενηλικίωσης και το ANY EMPIRE χαιρετίστηκε άμεσα ως το άξιο επόμενο βήμα, μετά το επιτυχημένο SMW. Και έρχονται κι άλλα! Λίγους μήνες μετά τις συμμετοχές του στο SWEET TOOTH #19 του Jeff Lemire και στο FANTASTIC FOUR No9 PROJECT του Jason Young, ο Powell ετοιμάζει δύο νέες δουλειές – αυτή τη φορά όχι μόνος του. Μέσα στο 2012, θα δούμε τα THE SILENCE OF OUR FRIENDS (σε σενάριο των Mark Long και Jim Demonakos) και THE YEAR OF THE BEASTS (σε σενάριο της Cecil Castellucci).
Σε αυτά, ο καλεσμένος αυτής της εβδομάδας (και πρώτος για το σωτήριο έτος 2012), Nate Powell, έχει αναλάβει το σχέδιο. Ας δούμε, όμως, τι μας έχει πει ο ίδιος για όλα τα παραπάνω, αλλά και τα μελλοντικά του σχέδια, στη συνέντευξη που ακολουθεί:
You began self-publishing comics at the age of 14. Is there any advice you’d give to your 14-year-old self, now that you’re more experienced?
A 30-page comic is NOT an epic—it’s a good start. Slow down and follow one idea through for ten issues instead of making ten #1 issues.
How did the fact that SWALLOW ME WHOLE was awarded with and nominated for many awards influence your next projects? Were you more confident or more anxious to repeat such a success?
Creating SWALLOW ME WHOLE was a very intimate experience; I wasn’t sure for a long time if it would even be published, much less widely read, and I am deeply flattered and surprised by the positive responses! Having said that, I was well into work for ANY EMPIRE and THE SILENCE OF OUR FRIENDS when SMW began to pick up steam, and I feel that getting an established rhythm for working in a total vacuum on those books made it easier to stay focused on just doing the best job I could do, without anticipating any kind of a prospective audience or readership. Strange or not, I have never felt any anxiety about reception (or lack thereof) to any of my work. They’re just stories that I feel need to be told.
What were the things that inspired SWALLOW ME WHOLE and, in return, what were the messages that you wanted to pass on to the reader with your story?
SWALLOW ME WHOLE’s core came to me in a dream I had in October 2001, and I spent a couple of years molding that dream into a more concrete narrative form. Along the way, the story was certainly influenced by the last few months of my grandmother’s life and some powerful delusions she experienced as side effects of her cancer treatment, as well as some general life changes that were going on around me at the time.
It’s true that I worked with adults with developmental disabilities for ten years. That career choice was shaped by my growing up with my brother Peyton, who has autism and some other disabilities. Some folks assume that characters in the book were influenced or even based on my professional experiences, but I consciously worked against doing so. It would’ve been unethical. Having said that, it’s unavoidable that the stories I tell are deeply influenced by my life experiences with and around people with disabilities, disorders, and highly subjective ways of navigating life.
SWALLOW ME WHOLE is not a book about mental disorders, nor does it seek to pass along a message in the obvious sense. It’s a novel about dignity, sovereignty, learning when to let go, learning how to let people take their own chances, stigma, aging, death, and the American South and its families.
You have contributed to Jeff Lemire’s SWEET TOOTH (issue #19). How did that come about?
Jeff and I have been friends through the Top Shelf family for a few years, and once SWEET TOOTH really started to take off, he asked Matt Kindt, Emi Lenox, and I about the possibility of writing and drawing side stories and fill-in chapters of the series. #19 was originally supposed to be a 3-4 issue break for these backstories, but they eventually got condensed to a single issue. The whole thing went over really well, though, and Matt and I have each followed up with more work on Sweet Tooth – I’m getting started on the art and coloring chores for issue #34 right now.
In what sense is ANY EMPIRE different from SWALLOW ME WHOLE?
It’s a much more concrete and linear tale in a lot of ways. It’s still a really intimate story, but the focus is much more on the world, the domestic and political landscapes, that shapes the characters. There’s a strong internal focus, like in SWALLOW ME WHOLE, but the places that ANY EMPIRE’s characters occupy in their world are illuminated more by their interactions with the people around them.
Moving from reality to fantasy (and vice versa) seems to be a recurring theme for your characters. What is its use in your stories?
Ignoring the fact that all people have rich internal realities, and highly different ways of perceiving and processing the world, sells a story’s potential really short. I enjoy telling stories that show as closely as possible its characters’ experiences without judgement. Using internal/external and “reality”/”fantasy” shifts isn’t necessarily a storytelling device to me – it’s a more complete, though endlessly complicated, view of the world we all inhabit.
“Fantasy”, in this sense, is also a very simplified way of viewing a near-limitless set of storytelling options. There’s no real similarity between Ruth’s hallucinations and delusions in SWALLOW ME WHOLE, Lee’s intense toy-play fantasies, and Purdy’s adult “do-over” revisionist thoughts near the end of ANY EMPIRE. To me, incorporating the unbelievable and unsound sides of our experiential realities are a step towards crafting stories that tell more of our whole story as human beings, and capture the more vague, complex, embarrassing, and sublime things we share in our life together on Earth.
You have also sort of tackled The Fantastic Four, for Jason Young’s FANTASTIC FOUR No9 PROJECT. Can you describe the experience? Given the chance, would you ever consider writing or illustrating a mainstream superhero book?
Oh, I’d jump at the chance to save any X-book from its post-Chris Claremont abyss, but I don’t think my writing chops would be up to par with the demands of a series like that – I’d be in it for the honor of drawing it. I grew up deeply entrenched in the Marvel Universe, but do recognize that in many ways it’s become the weaker of the Big Two, as far as sheer quality is concerned. Jason Young and I knew each other from occasional run-ins at various Midwestern indy comics shows, and one day he emailed me with the details of his project, and sample pages from Ron Rege, Chester Brown and Jeffrey Brown. This project was right up my alley, and I got right to work. I also really enjoyed the fairly strict parameters of sticking to the Lee & Kirby panel blocking, direction, and script. I hope that the project is completed someday, and is embraced by Marvel enough to allow some form of finished product to exist.
It seems to me that your art has always been on and off the fence of being describes as “experimental”. Do you feel it’s important for an artist to push his artistic boundaries every now and then?
Of course, but even more important is consistently moving forward in one’s work. As a reader, it’s easy for me to absorb a whole graphic novel as one moment in a cartoonist’s career, one set of creative and storytelling decisions, but the truth is that a single book can be two or three years’ worth of work, with dozens of separate changes occurring within those pages.
If anything, I’d say that it’s important for an artist to understand when she/he has made enough forward movement to slow down for a few weeks or months, and tell a whole story (or a whole chapter, or whatever) in consistent application of that movement. To begin to know the shape and size of that particular room before moving on to the next room in the house.
You are the artist of two upcoming graphic novels, THE SILENCE OF OUR FRIENDS and THE YEAR OF THE BEASTS. Can you tell us some things about them?
Sure! I drew THE SILENCE OF OUR FRIENDS simultaneously with ANY EMPIRE. It’s written by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos, and will be out in January on First Second Books. It’s a fictionalized autobiographical tale centering around two families living in Houston, Texas in 1968 – the family of a progressive white journalist/cameraman, and the family of a Black radical professor, activist, and attorney, as their lives intertwine amidst social justice, changing political and domestic landscapes, hate crimes, and friendships of idealism and of convenience.
THE YEAR OF THE BEASTS is a young adult novel/graphic novel hybrid I drew, written by Cecil Castellucci, and it’ll be released in May 2012 on Roaring Brook Press. It’s a dark, intense book centering around teen mortality, sibling rivalry, attraction, and catastrophe. The prose chapters are set in the world that we recognize, and they alternate with comics chapters featuring teenage mythological creatures in a parallel narrative that intertwines with the prose. I’m really stoked about this one too!
Do you have any other projects planned for the immediate future?
I’ll be drawing SWEET TOOTH #34 for Vertigo, and am currently beginning work on two graphic novels that I can’t talk much about yet, as well as pitching around a possible third book I’ll be doing the art chores for. Details for all of these books will emerge in the next few months, once the publishers and dates are determined (but these books are tentatively for 2015-16 release).
In 2013, Top Shelf will release a collection of my short and unpublished stories from 2004-2012 called YOU DON’T SAY, and in spring 2012 will be finally releasing a digital version of SOUNDS OF YOUR NAME, which collects most of my work from 1998-2004 (the print version is still available from Microcosm Publishing).