|Born||July 31, 1978|
Little Rock, Arkansas
|Area(s)||Cartoonist, Writer, Penciller, Inker, Publisher, Letterer, Colourist|
Swallow Me Whole
The Silence Of Our Friends
|Awards||Ignatz Award, 2008 & 2009|
Eisner Award, 2009
National Book Award, 2016
Inkpot Award, 2017
Nathan Lee Powell (born 1978) is an American graphic novelist and musician. His 2008 graphic novel Swallow Me Whole won an Ignatz Award and Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel. He illustrated the March trilogy, an autobiographical series written by U.S. Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, which received the 2016 National Book Award, making Powell the first cartoonist to receive the award.
Powell was born July 31, 1978 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The child of an Air Force officer, Powell's family moved often, living in Montana and Alabama before returning to Little Rock. Powell attended North Little Rock High School and began self-publishing comics in 1992. That same year he founded the punk rock band Soophie Nun Squad with high school friends.
He graduated from 1996, and briefly attended George Washington University in Washington, DC. He transferred to the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City, where he majored in Cartooning. Beginning in 2005, while at SVA, he would send Chris Staros and Brett Warnock, the founders of Top Shelf Productions, copies of every book he made. He graduated in 2000 after receiving the Outstanding Cartooning Student award and the Shakespeare & Company Books Self-Publishing Grant, with which he funded the first issue of Walkie Talkie.
Powell owned DIY punk record label Harlan Records and performed in several punk bands including Universe, Divorce Chord, WAIT, and Soophie Nun Squad.
From 1999 to 2009, he worked as a caregiver for adults with developmental disabilities.
His 2008 graphic novel Swallow Me Whole won the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Debut and Outstanding Artist, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the Young Adult Fiction category. It received the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel, and was also nominated for Best Writer/Artist and Best Lettering.
In the early 2010s, Powell learned that Top Shelf would be publishing March, an autobiographical graphic novel trilogy about the life of civil rights leader and United States Congressman John Lewis, which had already been written by Lewis and his colleague, Andrew Aydin. A few weeks later, Powell was contacted by Chris Staros, who suggested he try out for the assignment. Although he already had other projects lined up, Powell sent some demo pages to Lewis and Aydin, who over the course of their subsequent correspondence realized that Powell would be well-suited for the job. Although Powell had illustrated stories that were "true to life," such as the 2012 graphic Silence of our Friends, this would be the first time he would depict real-life historical figures, 300 of which Powell estimates are rendered in total in the trilogy. The scene in which Lewis meets Martin Luther King Jr. for the first time was the first page Powell drew for March, and although he found approaching that page difficult, says it made subsequent depictions of real-life people easier. Powell's approach was to develop a visual shorthand for each real person he had to draw, in the form of a "master drawing" to act as a reference template for that person's features, one that emphasized the person's skull structure, in lieu of referring constantly to photo reference in the course of the project, so that the characters would not look "too stale or photo-derived." He employed lifestyle and illustration books from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as Google searches, to depict fashion and automobiles of given time periods accurately. Lewis says he found Powell's renditions of scenes from his early life "very moving." Top Shelf published March Book One in November 2013.
Powell has worked on the graphic novel adaptation of Rick Riordan's The Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero, while working on his own next book, entitled Cover and the short comics collection You Don't Say.
On May 15, 2014, Powell was present at that year's commencement ceremony for his alma mater, the School of Visual Arts, when the school presented an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts to Powell's March collaborator, John Lewis. The second volume of March was scheduled for January 2015 release.
Powell lived intermittently in central Arkansas, while calling East Lansing, Michigan; South Hadley Falls, Massachusetts; and Providence, Rhode Island, home from 2001 to 2003. He married Rachel Lee Bormann, a social worker, in 2010, and the couple lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with their two daughters.