April 2004

Michael Farrelly


Tiny Giants by Nate Powell

In between the great adventures of life, the huge days when lives end, begin, or change forever; there are all the small days. The tiny moments of life, those make up our consciousness. You have spent hours picking at foul food or staring into a mirror to look at a deformity of yours (real or imagined) or even staring into the darkness of your bedroom trying to make out a shape just outside the light. Nate Powell takes all those moments and slams them into one book called Tiny Giants and you should be buying this book, right now.

Nate Powell’s artistic vision is singular in comics. Perhaps only, the Gilliam-esque world of Faryl Dalrymple (Pop-Gun War, Caper) even comes close to Powell’s nervy line work. Powell’s characters have weight and depth; their bodies feel so similar to our own husks that it almost explains the popularity of the muscle-bound types. Better to look at the carnival mirror than a reflection of our own flaws.

Tiny Giants is a collection of Powell’s work from 1998 to 2003 and includes stories about bad teeth as well as dangerous dolls and longing for a time in your youth that may not have ever happened.

There’s a moment in one of the stories when two characters -- and if Powell’s work can have be said to have a fault it’s that sometimes the characters names are a bit hard to catch -- are talking about a program that aired on Nickelodeon back in the 1980’s. At twenty-five, I have been mercifully free of nostalgia at this point in my life, but this mention sent me reeling. I was thinking about my Aunt Nora, our only relative with cable, and how I’d spend hours watching the afternoon shows on nickelodeon from the safety of under the couch. Good writing makes you think, great sets your mind reeling.

Powell mixes wry political and social commentary into his work. In one story, a beating taken by one character could be the result of homophobia, or just another link in a chain of beatings for this young man. In another short piece, the sum total fears of the population end up taking the form of “sexy defense contracts for everyone at Boeing!” It’s not done with the ham-handedness of all those 9-11 tribute books, but rather with a subtle jab here and there. Powell has a point, but he is not going to make it at the expense of the story and art.

The finest part of Tiny Giants though is the accessibility of the work. If you’re trying to get someone new into graphic novels this book may be just the thing you need. Someone who reads McSweeney's or subscribes to Harper’s but has no graphic literature in their life will be bowled over by the beauty and grace of Powell’s style. There are simply too few superlatives for this book.

Tiny Giants by Nate Powell
Soft Skull Press, Inc.
ISBN: 1887128565
187 pages