Nate Powell at Floating World Comics 05nov08

Nate Powell draws a dragon into the flyleaf of his new book Swallow Me Whole and says, “I think comics readings are kinda weird.” An ebullient voice and light frame, it seems gravity is the only force keeping Nate on the ground. While signing a copy of his book for a fan in Portland, Nate muses, “I wanted to read a Garfield strip–where no one can see it–and I just describe what’s in the panel and read the dialogue.” A small group of people have gathered at Floating World Comics to meet the author and buy his new book. “It came out at SPX a couple weeks ago. There’s only as many copies as can fit in the trunk of my car. In a couple weeks we’ll have more copies.”

Brett Warnock, Top Shelf co-publisher is at the reading to support the release. Nate won a festival award at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this October. “There’s like 30 nominees, so it’s a much harder award to win,” Warnock explains. All the people in attenance voted, and Swallow Me Whole won an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Debut of 2008. “I was very flattered,” Powell says. “I had been to SPX four times before . . . I barely knew the book was nominated. By the time the awards happened, I was really tired and hungry–I have blood sugar problems,” he says cheerfully. “I was watching Soul Plane, and I thought I should really go down to the awards. The award is a brick–like Ignatz throws, an actual brick. I was on the stairs and people are going, ‘You got the brick.’ People are clasping my shoulders and saying, ‘You are the brick.’”

The guy with the signed copy of Swallow Me Whole says, “I had a little indy comic book store where I grew up. That’s where I first saw Walkie Talkie.” Nate self-published Walkie Talkie through Food Chain Records, a label he started with a friend in the early 90s. It was that book that brought Powell to Warnock’s attention. He asked Powell to send a pitch and received the idea for Swallow Me Whole. The other half of Top Shelf, Chris Staros, did some story editing. “Two years ago we started working heavily [on the book],” Warnock tells me, adding that he covers the design and book production. “We knew we were going to print it overseas, so we knew we had an opportunity to upgrade the production. The bar’s been raised across the industry–the kind of quality. We made a high-quality book to compete in the crowded marketplace.”

The lights are turned out in the shop now and people’s attention is focused on a screen with a panel from Swallow Me Whole. “This is my first time to use Power Point, but there’s only nine of you, so I feel a little more comfortable.” Powell turns on the soundtrack–silverware clinks and clack of plates. He begins, “So it’s dinnertime . . . “

–Arthur Smid

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