Tom Waters's Reviews > Swallow Me Whole

Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
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's review
Oct 23, 2010

it was amazing
Read in October, 2008

Hook, Line & Sinker: Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole

Once a year (at best), I come across a title so powerful that it compels me to stop back 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. I’m not one to heap praise when it’s not warranted, but I can’t say enough about this book. My eyes have been opened.
The book follows the growth of two teenaged siblings with deep developmental and psychological issues. The brother hallucinates a small gnome that appears on every writing utensil he uses who orders him to draw until he’s exhausted. The girl comes to terms with obsessive compulsive disorder while stealing and compiling a bug 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 beginning chapters of the book, many pages don’t use panels at all to border each moment. While it may not seem like such a quantum leap, the impact for the reader is potent as well as palpable. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s going to change the way I read comics from here on out.
The story also explores the notion that mental illness travels through DNA by looking at the family’s 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 siblings’ growth and deterioration through high school and beyond along with their parent’s ability to cope with not one, but two ‘problem children’ who require extra attention while they house a dying matriarch.
Disturbing? Yes. Deeply personal? Absolutely. The best serious comic I’ve 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 contends that this 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 go to your local comic retailer at once. In an industry clogged with ‘me too’ titles, sequels and variations on existing superhero storylines, tales like this (which don’t come down the pike often enough) need to 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 I’ll read. 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.
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