Once a year (at best), I come across a title so powerful that it compels me to stop at the comic store and devour everything else that the author has written. From every standpoint imaginable, Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell is an unmitigated masterpiece. You can read four-dozen black and white titles this year before you find something that even begins to approach the beauty, scope, originality and genius of this story. Iím not one to heap praise when itís not warranted, but I canít say enough about this book. My eyes have been opened.
The book follows the growth of two teenaged siblings, brother and sister, who have deep developmental and psychological issues. The boy hallucinates a small gnome that appears on every writing utensil he uses, and who orders him to draw until heís exhausted. The girl comes to terms with obsessive-compulsive disorder while stealing and compiling an insect and amphibian collection out of a personal obligation to represent each species.
This is not your everyday material. I urge you to read it anyway.
From an artistic standpoint, Powell soars off the page by playing with (and ignoring) the classic use of panels to tell a comic story. In the opening chapters of the book, many pages donít use panels at all to border each moment. While it may not seem like such a quantum leap in comic book storytelling, the impact for the reader is potent as well as palpable. Iíve never seen anything like it, and itís going to change the way I read comics from here on out.
The story also explores the notion that mental illness is rooted in DNA as it looks at the familyís ailing grandmother, who passes her ailment on in more ways than one while dispensing advice to her grandchildren about how to turn a crutch into a creative monsoon. The book spans the siblingsí growth and deterioration through high school and beyond--as well as depicting their parentís ability to cope with not one, but two ďproblem childrenĒ who require extra attention while they also house a dying matriarch.
Disturbing? Yes. Deeply personal? Absolutely. The best serious comic Iíve read since Black Hole? You better believe it.
Nate Powell is a creator to be on the lookout for. After talking to industry enthusiasts about his work and sharing the book with others, the general consensus is that Swallow Me Whole is his first major effort as an artist.
Powell has hit his stride with a sonic boom and then some. Buy this book at once. Beg, borrow or barter, and then go to your local comic retailer at once.
In an industry clogged with ďme tooĒ titles, sequels, and variations on existing superhero storylines, tales like Swallow Me Whole (which donít come down the pike often enough) must be encouraged. Even though there are two more months left to this calendar year, I can state with full confidence that this is the best title Iíll read in 2008.
Swallow Me Whole is a masterpiece that fires on all cylinders, artistically, thematically and emotionally. Powell is an artist to look out for from this point on. Consider yourself warned.
What did you think of this book?
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