Nate Powell‘s Swallow Me Whole is a graphic novel that demands and warrants repeated readings. Released by Top Shelf last year, the publisher describes it as “a love story carried by rolling fog, terminal illness, hallucination, apophenia, insect armies, secrets held, unshakeable faith, and the search for a master pattern to make sense of one’s unraveling.” My thanks to Powell for this email interview and his level of candor.
Tim O’Shea: What motivated you to start self-publishing mini-comics at the age of 14?
Nate Powell: Well, I’d been drawing comics with a few friends for a couple of years already. We had many issues of a comic series mapped out, and a friend’s uncle suggested that we finish up each issue and self-publish it. We didn’t really know what that entailed, but soon discovered a few neglected copy machines around town and in my dad’s office. We made 100 copies of the first comic, and they all sold in about two months; we’d never anticipated recovering our expenses, or anyone actually BUYING the books, to be honest. We just wanted to have a comic too, and found the most accessible way to make them. At this time I was already into the punk subculture and had been exposed to people who made zines and released records in much the same manner, but it was not until a few years later when I started writing zines and putting out records that I saw the inherent connections between these two realms of DIY entrepreneurship.
Esther Pearl Watson‘s Unlovable Vol. 1 features an artistic style that reminds me of Lynda Barry. Clearly I’m not the first to see the similarity (and in fact Barry offers words of praise for the book). As described by Fantagraphics: “Loosely based on a teenager’s diary from the 1980s found in a gas-station bathroom, Unlovable details the sometimes ordinary, sometimes humiliating, often poignant and frequently hilarious exploits of underdog Tammy Pierce … In the epic saga that is Unlovable, Tammy finds herself dealing with: tampons, teasing, crushes, The Smiths, tube socks, facial hair, lice, celibacy, fantasy dream proms, gym showers, skid marks, a secret admirer, prank calls, backstabbers, winter ball, barfing, narcs, breakdancing, hot wheels, glamour shots, roller coasters, Halloween costumes, boogers, boys, boy crazy feelings, biker babes, and even some butt cracks. Tammy’s life isn’t pretty, but it is endlessly charming and hilarious.
Originally (and still) serialized in Bust magazine, Unlovable includes over 100 new pages created just for this edition, which is handsomely packaged in a unique hot pink hardcover format with sparkly blue glitter that would make Tammy proud.”
One great thing I learned in this interview is that this is only the first volume of Unlovable. Next year on Valentine’s Day will mark the release of the second volume. Volume 1 covers from fall of 1988 to 1989 and Volume 2 is set in 1989. Be sure to visit the book’s page on Fantagraphics, for another of its great Flickr videos, allowing one to “flip” through the book virtually. And in a literal sense, Fantagraphics has a 20-page preview of the 416-page Volume 1.
Tim O’Shea: I have to know–”I walked around with a red lollipop stuck to my butt”–was that a direct quote from the found diary that inspired Unlovable or a total (incredibly hilarious) creation of your mind?
Esther Pearl Watson: Well…I made that up.