Q&A with Nate Powell | Rock Candy

Q&A with Nate Powell

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Nate Powell, self-portrait.


Bonus Q&As from the interview I did with Nate Powell, author of the fine new graphic novel, "Swallow Me Whole." Read all about it here.

Nate will be signing his book's at Collector's Edition in NLR on Friday, from noon until 3 p.m.

So the beginnings of this book came a long time ago, right?

What became the book started out as a dream I had one night, like in Oct. of 2001. Basically I woke up in the middle of the night and sat on the toilet and scribbled out the dream. Then, I woke up the next morning and couldn’t read half of it. Slowly, over about a year, I pieced together the narrative. Then I spent a couple of years trying to make the story make sense. I’d pencil 40 pages and then throw them away.

I got really serious about the book in fall 2004. I did the first 15 pages and sent it off to Top Shelf, then I spent another year doing nothing but trying to make it make sense as a story. Once I had that together, it took about two years to sketch it out and make it make sense as a story. And probably about 800 days to actually produce 200 pages.

It’s obviously a very personal story, but at the same time, there’s not that strong autobiographical sense of your earlier stories.

A lot of the events that occur—they really happened to me or other people. Most of the characters are physically based on friends of mine or family members. But what happens to whom and behavior and personalities of the characters have nothing to do with their real lives. In the process of coming up with the book and make it make sense, it helped me resolve some of the more fundamental issues I have with the kind of half-fiction that I do — issues with legitimacy and voicing my own experience,  subjective experience that also involves other people. It made me a lot more comfortable. If you’re writing a piece of fiction, it’s unavoidable to have yourself and your own personal experiences and narratives fall into that. But, yes, you’re certainly allowed to take from the experiences that make you and manipulate them to communicate something. Our experiences are tools.


So you’re still working 40 hours a week with developmentally disabled adults and committed to doing that full-time?


Yeah, I’ve done it for the last ten years, and I don’t have money saved up or anything, but I’ve decided to take the chance in May and quite my job, even if for three or four months, to see if it’s possible to scrape by doing comics full time. The only way it’s possible is if you keep on drawing all the time and if your old stuff stays in print. This might be one of the only times I can give it a shot. Hopefully, I’m not shooting myself in the foot.

You’re collaborating on a biography of Sam Cooke. Is that strictly an illustration gig?

I’ll probably wind up writing a portion of dialogue, but other than that it’s largely a drawing job. I’m also working on a more autobiographical essay that will satisfy the “Please Release” side of me. And another North Little Rock native, Nathan Wilson, and I are collaborating on a sci-fi fantasy metaphysical book. That satisfies the more vast narrative and the teenager who still wants to do superhero comics.

Is it strange to separate yourself from your past position of complete control to move into collaboration mode?

It really does require getting different gears going in your brain. The euphemistic way of saying it is, I have a strong DIY ethic. The real thing is that I’m a little too much of a control freak. But I think I’m learning to compartmentalize. I’m getting to the point where I’m able to work on one by myself and two or three with other people at the same time.

So what’s up with Soophie?

It just go so hard for us to get together to work on new stuff, because our time was so limited and we’re so spread apart. It got frustrating because the last couple of tours we would only have time to catch up and refresh ourselves on the songs we already had. Eventually, we decided to break-up and immediately start a new band with the same people — Continental Breakfast. We haven’t practiced or worked out what it’s going to be, but hypothetically we exist.


From the ArkTimes store

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