On Any Empire

This is really just a short post to talk about how beautiful Nate Powell’s Any Empire is. I don’t want to ruin the story for you, so I won’t try to review or summarize any of the plot–it’s an affective text in that everything good I got out of it came from my emotional reactions and affinities that I have for its characters. I will say that the book eschews traditional storytelling and goes for a much more disconnected and memory-oriented, free associative way of communicating.

I guess I should post some pages to illustrate what I mean.

I think this page is brilliant by any standard. Powell takes two sequential full-length portraits of a mother and a daughter and then splits them into six. The way that we read comics (left/right/down) means that we are forced to combine all of the aspects of the two distinct times into one scene. The scene is supposed to resonate in our mind as a clean cut of a film, showing a woman comforting her daughter while smoking, and the camera pans to their feet before it cuts to a different scene (in this case, another page). The dialogue also pushes us along, taking the reader from the faciality of the page into the mixed tones of the lower panels, which also mimics the subject being discussed; violence, and shame about violence, makes us look at our feet. We should feel like children, and at that point in the narrative, I was ashamed of what I knew was going on. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.

Another page that I thought was pure brilliance:

The dotted line panels are obviously flashbacks, and explanatory ones at that. I think there’s something more brilliant going on, though, and it is the sense of space that Powell gives us. We start with a wide establishing shot and move into a gym. We don’t stop there, however. We get a close up of on intense expression with a bruise under it, and we zoom in even more, but this time back into the past. Then we zoom out, still in the past, a transition between the present and history that was breached seamlessly, and we have a panel of the past that is bigger than anything else on the page. Within that, we have a smaller panel of a dream, a wish, a thought.

We are supposed to understand here that the event of drawing on the eye, and the thought that created that desire, is more important than the world that the kid lives in. The line between reality and fiction is pointless when desire enters the picture; desire overcodes and takes over the banal physical world, dominates it, drives it out of the space of the page.

That’s all I have. Maybe these pages will encourage you to go try out Any Empire. I think it is amazing, and his previous book, Swallow Me Whole, is my favorite comic of all time.

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