14 October 2009

Review: Swallow Me Whole

Title: Swallow Me Whole
By: Nate Powell
Language: English
216 pages, b&w
Top Shelf, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60309-033-9

Reading graphic novels, looking for really good ones was for a long time a pretty bleak and tedious business. Making a good graphic novel takes time, much more time than writing a good novel, and for a long time there were just not enough talented artists working in this field to make me as a reader feel satisfied. Nowadays, the feeling of finding something really worthwhile is still quite far apart, but the intervals with which it happens is getting shorter and shorter. My latest really good reading experience in this field was Swallow Me Whole by the American Nate Powell.

Swallow Me Whole is described on the interior flap with the following terms for bibliographic registration:

1. Family drama
2. Schizophrenia/Hallucination
3. Graphic Novels

That pretty well sums it all up. I especially like the fact that "graphic novel" is the last of these denominators, which is as it should be. Hopefully we have now passed the time when all focus was on the media itself, and we can start focusing more of the content of graphic novels.

So, let's do just that. This is a beautifully book, with a black and white drawings in the by now easily recognizable, semi-realistic American style, made popular by artists like Craig Thompson (Blankets) and Alex Robinson (Box Office Poison). It's also a hefty book, weighing in at more than 200 pages, a fact which is not uninteresting as the number of pages gives the creator an opportunity to develop interesting characters and relationships.

Anyway, Swallow Me Whole follows two step-siblings, who both walk the thin line between reality and fantasy, seeing and hearing things that aren't there. Or maybe what they see is actually reality. There's the MacGuffin of the whole book. Powel lets us see the world from the view of a person who perceives it differently from most people, and leave us wondering what is imagination, hallucinations and schizophrenia - and what is just a form of heightened ability to see and hear what most of us miss out on. An interesting read, leaving me full of expectations for the next tome by Powell.

So is this a book to ad to the short list of masterpieces including books like Maus and Persepolis? No! Should you read it? Yes!
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