And Then I Read: SWALLOW ME WHOLE

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All images © Nate Powell.

I’d already read this and formed opinions about it before the Eisner nominations came out. Reviewing it now runs the risk of sounding like sour grapes, particularly if I comment on the lettering, but here goes anyway.

This is not the sort of book I’d be likely to pick up and read on my own, it was given to me, so let’s put that out there first. I’d classify it as a “kids/family with real life problems” story. Some of the problems, like the apparent hallucinations/mental illness of the girl and boy who are the main focus, do lend themselves well to a graphic novel format, so that’s in the story’s favor.

First, the story. I can’t claim to understand it, especially the ending, but the parts I do understand, mainly the relationships and realistic events, worked pretty well. I found the characters and their problems and confusions believable. Life for teens is tough, but so is it for the elderly and parents, as well as teachers and other school officials, and all are well-presented here. The family seemed real, if dysfunctional. The kids both got on with life pretty well despite their mental health issues, and at times were able to help each other. When the story veers into weirdness, the mental oddities of the kids, things get murky and unclear, but are still interesting. I didn’t feel there was any kind of resolution, explanation or satisfying conclusion, though, the story kind of went odd and then away. That might be my problem in not understanding it, I don’t know.

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Now the art. Nate Powell has some talent, but it’s wildly inconsistent in some ways, very consistent in others. At times he’s terrific at capturing likeness and emotion in faces and body language, at other times not. Generally I liked his art, and the consistent inking style, which looks like a mix of brush and pen work, does help pull it all together. The storytelling is also inconsistent: sometimes good, sometimes confusing.

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Now, the lettering, nominated for an Eisner Award. From what I can tell, all the nominees this year are for lettering by the artist or writer/artist of each piece. That seems to be what the judges wanted to celebrate, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve always liked it when artists did their own lettering, even if it’s quirky or hard to read, as it keeps the project a personal one throughout. The lettering in this book is often hard to read, and I think too small overall, so that’s one problem. Nate uses size as part of his storytelling, though, and in places, as above, where the dialogue is unimportant background noise, it drifts in and out of comprehensibility the way background noise would in a film soundtrack. Not a bad idea, if a little frustrating to read at times.

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Most of the lettering looks like it’s done with a flexible-point pen, like a Crowquill. Larger examples, as above, get quite artistic, a good thing, though still hard to read in places. I guess I’d have to say I understand why it was nominated, particularly in the context of this year’s judging perspective, though I don’t really like the look of it that much. Too inconsistent and hard to read for me. Your mileage may vary.

I’m glad personal projects with a strong point of view and style such as this book can find a publisher in today’s market. It’s not my cup of tea, but for those who like this kind of book, I’m glad to see it out there. And I did get something out of the reading experience that I would have missed otherwise. Therefore, it’s mildly recommended.

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