Nate Powell talks protests and parenthood in new collection of comedy essays

For Nate Powell, the story begins, literally, the day after the 2016 election. The night before, he had told his then 4-year-old daughter that Donald Trump would never win the US presidency, only to wake up to that very reality. .

Powell didn’t know it at the time, but that moment would later serve as the impetus for his final outing, “Save it for later”, an illustrated memoir combining political musings with his personal experiences as a child and later as a parent raising children.

Powell is an award-winning graphic novelist who, along with his wife and two children, have resided in Bloomington for over a decade. Powell’s most acclaimed work, the “Mars” trilogy, follows the life of John Lewis, a leading figure in the civil rights movement who later became a member of the United States Congress. The third book in the series won the 2016 National Children’s Literature Book Award, becoming the first graphic novel to do so.

‘March’:Civil rights pioneer John Lewis continues to tell important stories

Around the same year, Powell began reading the “March” series with her young daughter. As she learned about the civil rights movement of the past, Powell realized that similar ideas and iconography were rising in the present day.

“I’m really ‘personal is political,'” Powell said. “A lot of the impetus for doing ‘Save It For Later’ was just to work through some of those memories and experiences before I lost them.”

Powell said he initially started writing the comics as a form of therapy and then became entangled in the ever-growing debate over what children should know or be involved in political discourse.

“As my family and I adjusted (and) became civically engaged as a family unit, I recognized the limitations, such as the considerations you should have for space, safety, suitability, (and) recognize that you as a parent can just be wrong right away and should be prepared to admit that you are wrong,” Powell said.

In a graphic novel that moves from autobiographical chapters to non-fiction essays, Powell’s “Save It for Later” illustrates what it’s like to be a parent during the Trump presidency, navigating the complications that come with the teaching her children how to use their voice in an increasingly polarized world.

“‘Save It for Later’ isn’t a series of radical ideas, and it’s not even particularly partisan. It’s basically the fact that we have and have had tools at our disposal to be able to apply the types pressure that we need to protect each other and maintain the fundamental structures of democracy. But if we lose those fundamental structures, we won’t get them back,” Powell said.

From Confederate flags to Punisher skulls, a cartoonist’s take on casual extremism in Indiana

Describing himself as “a GI Joe kid in a military family”, Powell grew up in Arkansas in the 1980s, an era “saturated with this glorified and militarized American mythos”. His illustrated essay, “About the face”, is first set around this time, answering questions Powell asked his own father about haircuts and army dress requirements. Later in the comic, Powell combines this memory with a modern analysis of how other military aesthetics, such as the Punisher symbol, would eventually be co-opted by white supremacists.

“It examines the dangerous normalization of fascist and paramilitary aesthetics through consumer goods,” Powell described.

A panel by local cartoonist Nate Powell's

The essay was published on Population in 2019, where it would end up garnering hundreds of thousands of views. Powell considers it his most viewed piece to date. It is part of six other comedic essays in “Save It for Later”.

Powell said he originally envisioned “Save It for Later” as two different projects: one of objective political essays and the other of autobiographical material. But, during the first months of writing, he realized that he was writing about the same things, but from different angles.

“There was no inciting incident that drew me to (this project). It was just a deeper need to get some of these things. Then, along the way, I realized that I had questions — like some of those questions I’d had since childhood — that went unanswered. And those questions don’t go away,” Powell said.

He credited the superhero comics of the 1980s and 90s with forming much of his own social consciousness at a young age.

“Especially growing up as a kid in pre-internet Arkansas, it was the X-Men that kind of gave me a lens to see the world around me in a new way and more importantly to understand different dimensions of racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, xenophobia – all these messed up things that I saw around me. I was able to kind of apply it to the world around me,” said Powell.

After:The graphic novelist’s work evolved as he grew as a parent, artist

While many people only associate political cartoons with the few billboards featured in a daily newspaper, Powell emphasized the role comics can play in expressing political thought.

“I realized that by using the unique strengths of the comic as a visual aid, I had the ability to kind of explain a lot of the observations I made in terms of symbol changes, iconography , how it relates to pop culture and how pop culture and consumer culture relate to these political shifts,” Powell said.

In writing the novel, Powell noted the iconography rising right here in Indiana — Confederate flags, Spartan war helmets and assault rifles — that would have been tied to ideals of white supremacy.

“It’s strange how it becomes this bubbling swamp of intersecting symbols of authoritarianism and fascism. But they almost become memes in themselves. If someone with a profit motive can redesign and print new stickers for bumpers or new T-shirts, people are going to embrace them and make them part of popular culture,” Powell said.

“Save for later”: what’s in a name?

According to Powell, “Save It For Later” has two meanings.

“The two main meanings of ‘Save for Later’ are the dichotomy between literally showing up and getting involved to ‘save’ it, i.e. everything – to save democracy, to save a functioning society, literally to save later what we have for future generations, or it will be destroyed,” Powell said. inevitability of social progress, which allows us to be like, ‘Well, I’ll come back later. I’ll save this social cause for later. I’m sure I’ll be back.'”

by Nate Powell

Powell said the book tackles parental pride that minimizes a child’s sense of conscience.

“A big part of parenting is also recognizing when it’s your turn to shut up and listen at a certain time, and recognizing that at a very young age children are definitely observing what’s going on in the world around them. They’re full of questions. It’s about whether or not parents are ready to hear those questions when they’re asked and whether they have an appropriate, helpful and constructive way to respond.”

Powell describes the book as a general call to action, using tools such as protest to exert collective group influence in the United States.

“It’s not binary, where either you’re a super activist or you’re totally disengaged from politics and society. A lot of it is about acknowledging that it’s worth showing up. Others people are going to cover the times when you can’t show up, so it’s your job to show up for the other people who can’t,” Powell said. “Just acknowledging that we have the tools we need to preserve democracy, but that window is closing. So showing up is the main lesson of the book.”

Nate Powell’s ‘Save It for Later’ Signing at Morgenstern Wednesday

The paperback edition of “Save It for Later,” with expanded material, will be released this Tuesday. Attendees can listen to Powell talk more about “Save It for Later” during a next autograph session at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday August 10at Morgenstern Books, 849 S. Auto Mall Road.

Contact Rachel Smith at [email protected] or @RachelSmithNews on Twitter.

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