July 2007

Benjamin Jacob Hollars


Sounds of Your Name by Nate Powell

Often, we fall victim to the allure of the smorgasbord. The sheer quantity is enticing, yet after a gorging or two, typically, we come to learn the lesson of biting more than we can chew.

Nate Powell’s collected works, Sounds of Your Name, is a smorgasbord of a graphic novel, and apparently Powell never learned when enough was enough -- never had a bad experience with gluttony. Broken into three sections -- short stories, “stories not so short,” and covers and selected illustrations -- each section is truly glutted. He offers far too much, keeping his true gems hidden in the shadow of the excess.

To begin, the short stories, while an interesting experiment with form, often leave the reader unfulfilled. There appears no obvious thematic structure throughout these stories, and often the short stories are placed side by side with little indication of what separates one from the next. This shoddy layout affects the reading experience. Regularly, I found myself pausing mid-story to return to the table of contents to see if a new story had actually begun without my realizing it.

“Scrubs” -- the story of a pair of crudely drawn lovers trying to convince one another to either get up and go to work or sleep the day away -- is one of the strongest of the shorts. While examining the power that routine and schedules hold over us, Powell comes to some interesting conclusions. In it, the female character notes that it is terrible to wake up and know the entire day will be wasted, to which the male replies, “Yeah, and if it’s just one day, that’s bad, but when you realize that this is your blueprint day” then the depression leaves scars.

Of his “stories not so short,” “Satellite Worlds” is the best display of his style and technique. Occasionally lugubrious, for the most part his story manages to depict a lifetime of pain, suffering, and the quiet joys of companionship between both man and beast quite succinctly. Here, also, some of the cleverness of his artistic skill is verified. In one scene, a man wakes from a dream to see a silhouette that resembles Death himself. The reader sees the truth -- that the Death shadow is actually nothing more than his parakeet atop a coat rack. Allowing the reader to simultaneously see from the character’s perspective as well as one’s own is a unique tactic that helps to draw the reader in.

The third and final section of the book, the “covers and selected illustrations,” is unnecessary filler; only the true Powell aficionado can appreciate the sketches without the prose.

A book like Powell’s requires choices, though it appears that his primary choice was to throw discretion out the window and give the reader far too much, thereby inhibiting the beauty waiting just below the surface. Sometimes writers must lose an arm to save the body, though Powell seemed to refuse any much-needed sacrifices.

Like any smorgasborg, Powell certainly fills our bellies, though he forces us to leave the table unfilled -- the blandness overpowering the taste.

Sounds of Your Name by Nate Powell
ISBN: 0977055795
336 Pages