Graphic novelist, writer, publisher and musician Nate Powell was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1978. He began self-publishing comics with friends Mike Lierly and Nathan Wilson when he was only 14. In 1994 he started publishing zines and also started a record label. Nate would go to punk shows and sell comics, zines, tapes and records. After graduating from North Little Rock High School in 1996 he spent a short while at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He then attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City and graduated in 2000. While at SVA he received the Outstanding Cartooning Student award and the Shakespeare & Company Books Self-Publishing Grant.
Nate used some of the grant money to self-publish his 2001 comic series “Walkie Talkie.” From 1999 to 2009, in addition to cartooning, Nate worked full-time providing support for adults with developmental disabilities. He was also an actor and skit writer for the North Little Rock sketch comedy show Fun And Games for six years between 1997 and 2002.
“Tiny Giants” is Nate’s debut anthology of work. Released in 2003 and published by Soft Skull, “Tiny Giants” contains work that spans the years 1998 to 2001. His next release was 2004’s graphic novel “It Disappears” that tells the tale about a journey of self-discovery resulting in the realization that everything eventually disappears. In 2006 “Sounds of Your Name”, another collection of his work was printed, including comics, zines and his first two books “Tiny Giants” and “It Disappears”. Nate’s collection of four autobiographical stories, “Please Release” also came out in 2006.
Nate’s next effort, “Swallow Me Whole”, spotlights the effects mental illness has on families. In 2008 “Swallow Me Whole” was awarded the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Debut. The next year it received the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist and the Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel. “Swallow Me Whole” was also a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist for Young Adult Fiction in 2009.
“Any Empire” is his latest graphic novel. Debuting last September, “Any Empire” looks at the damage that war and violence causes middle American children by shattering their innocence. Nate recently finished illustrating Mark Long and Jim Demonakos’ semi-autobiographical tale about civil rights struggle in 1967 Texas, “The Silence of Our Friends.” He is presently drawing “The Year of the Beasts” which is written by Cecil Castellucci and is scheduled to come out in May 2012.
On top of all of the above, Nate also managed the DIY punk record label Harlan Records for 16 years and has performed with numerous bands including Universe, Divorce Chord, Soophie Nun Squad, Wait, and Boomfancy. He’s also a fill-in writer/artist for DC’s Vertigo Comics series "Sweet Tooth" (by Jeff Lemire) and was a contributor to the acclaimed fundraising anthology "What You Wish For: A Book for Darfur." He lives in Bloomington, Indiana with his wife Rachel, their two pets and their brand new baby girl, Harper. Visit Nate’s blog here where you can see much more of his work and purchase comics, books and CDs.
What is your favorite pen to use?
I do about 50/50 work in Hunt 102 crowquill and Windsor & Newton 7 Series #2 brush.
Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
Until a couple of months ago, I just used a regular HB pencil, but have recently rediscovered the joy of a mechanical pencil after watching my friend work with one.
Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
I color with FW Acrylic Artists Ink and a brush, directly on the line art.
What type of paper do you use?
Strathmore 400 Smooth Finish Bristol.
What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
I feel that I’m weak at drawing feet, cars, and sleeves because I’m lazy at observing them. Also, horse anatomy and babies.
Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I split my orders between Dick Blick and my local shop, Pygmalion’s.
Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
My entire daily life is one big routine. It’s the only way to keep discipline. A typical morning (before my new baby arrived) was this: wake up at about 8, drink water and eat breakfast while checking email, reading news and Cracked.com; spend about 45 minutes gently waking my wife up at 10-minute intervals, then taking my dog on a walk through the cemetery next door. The whole ordeal takes about 2 hours.
Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
This last year I’ve listened a lot to Genesis, ^(Arc), La Roux, V Manuscript, Bernard Herman, Fat Shadow, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, New Order, Please Inform The Captain This Is A Hijack, Tammar, Dreamers Of The Ghetto, Morrow, Moby, Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Anthrax, Megadeth, Neurosis, Black Sabbath, Portraits Of Past, Yes, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Antelope, and lots of 1980’s DC hardcore.
Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Of course! I started reading comics when I was 3, thanks to a steady diet of Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Wonder Woman. Until I was in about fifth grade, I loved G.I.Joe, Transformers (the comics shop in Alabama even carried totally separate British versions of both series, which were awesome and brutal), and The ‘Nam. Once I actually started coming into my true self, I devoured all X-Men related books, Daredevil, the original TMNT run, Appleseed, Orion, and Akira.
What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Calvin & Hobbes, of course.
What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
Hands down, it would be "Bunnicula", and I still have my old copy at the ready.
Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I got a BFA in Cartooning from School Of Visual Arts in New York City, Class of 2000.
Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
It’s the Internet.
Did either of your parents draw?
My dad and both of his parents are/were pretty skilled at drawing, though none of them spent too much time focusing on it. My dad’s mom, Elaine Powell, began painting in 1980 for something to focus on while recovering from cancer, and lo and behold was quite good at it. From a very early age, I have strong memories of watching Bob Ross programs, smelling oil paint, and collaborating with her on paintings, adding snakes and dinosaurs to her rural Southern landscape paintings.
Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
My wife Rachel Bormann is a huge support in every facet of my life, and provides crucial feedback and insight to my comics (and we’re known to crank out a few stories together like “Cakewalk”), and my best friend and collaborator Erin Tobey is a direct and constant presence with the work I do, from concept and editorial phases to art production assistance to website management. The journey would be so much harder without these two peeps!
Do you keep a sketchbook?
I have kept a sketchbook/journal fairly consistently since 1995, and have probably filled up 20 or so journals along the way. Throughout my twenties, I relied more and more on my sketchbook work to make sense of an increasingly messy and unpredictable life. As things have grounded themselves a bit more, and as projects are more long-term, I’ve virtually stopped my journal entries and simply thumbnail my books in them. I’ve never actually kept a sketchbook of life drawing, or kept in practice with it.
Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I’ve done a variety of presentations and workshops in several public libraries throughout the land, and during 1999-2002 I was an art teacher at a skills center for adults with developmental disabilities in my hometown of North Little Rock, AR. Any presentations about comics had much more to do with opening up the field for folks’ specific questions—pulling back the curtain—than teaching drawing, semiotics, or the technical side of comics.
Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
I feel that focus is more important than either, but if I had to pick one, it would maybe be talent—which seems kinda lame. But I think that part of talent in this sense can also be the developing skill set that focus brings forth in a person’s drawing, harnessing the passion and intuition that drives you to observe and create.
Do you collect anything and if so what?
I have 2,000 records, but I don’t think I would consider those a “collection” any more than my library of books or comics—maybe the difference is that these collections are constantly used and referenced. I mean, I do put all my records in little plastic baggies and stuff, but that’s because I plan to keep using them throughout my lifetime.
If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
I’ll go transgender (and transspecies) on this one, as one of my cartoon heroes is Mrs. Brisby/Frisby from The Secret Of Nimh.
Are you a righty or lefty?
I follow the right hand path.
If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
If I couldn’t make a living drawing comics, I would still gladly be doing support work for adults with developmental disabilities, a career I had from 1999 to 2009. My brother has high-functioning autism and some other disabilities and lives a very independent, functional, highly social life. Growing up with and through him gave me a natural inclination to work and communicate well with folks with disabilities, and to see the urgency of providing advocacy for folks who our society consistently wants to sweep under the couch.
In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
A lifetime’s detritus, stuffed into rows and shelves as if my studio were the final shot of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Do you play any musical instruments?
I play bass decently, and play guitar, keyboard, and percussion most indecently. Over the years I’ve been in the bands Soophie Nun Squad (1992-2007), Gioteens (1999-2001), Boomfancy (2000-01), Wait (2005-2007), Divorce Chord (2008), and Universe (2008-2010).
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
More essential than anything else is developing and maintaining true discipline. “Draw comics every day” is a nice gesture, but it won’t cut it. After drawing comics full-time while working my job full-time for 9 years, I finally had a brief window to take a chance on full-time cartooning, but the only way I can stay afloat is working about 9 hours a day, 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year. And it’s essential to factor in several hours a day doing email/communications/media/promotion/pitch stuff on the computer. It’s a rough ride, but then again, you do get to listen to music and draw all day. It’s just that it’s ALL day.
Who is your favorite artist?
My all-time favorite mainstream comics artists are Arthur Adams and Michael Golden. These days, my very favorite cartoonist peers are Gabby Schulz, Erin Tobey, Gabriella Giandelli, Genivieve Elvrum/Castree, Dash Shaw, Becky Cloonan, Farel Dalrymple, Anders Nilsen, John Porcellino, Vanessa Davis, and Lisa Hanawalt, to name a few. It’s a great community.
Thank you very much Nate and a big congratulations on the new addition!