Dad Interview with Nate Powell
Name: Nate Powell
Comics: Come Again, March, Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a cartoonist?
Nate – I started reading comics & drawing when I was 3, but it was the summer before 7th grade when my best friend, who’d already been drawing comics for a couple of years, suggested that we make comics together. We started immediately & I never looked back -- the two of us began self-publishing two years later, in 1992.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your cartooning career?
Nate – Well, I did get to eat breakfast at Al Gore’s house one time & watched his butler trip on a dog & spill a tray of muffins. That & I was the first cartoonist ever to win a National Book Award.
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
Nate – For myself, it has all depended on the relationship. I was in a very serious relationship when I was 22-23 & in the good times there, I felt ready to have a baby. Looking back, I was in no way prepared to alter the shape of my life for that change & I’m so glad we didn’t have a kid. When my now-wife & I got engaged at age 31, it was only after finally dealing with all our respective baggage & being mature enough to recognize that yes, NOW I truly want to become a dad.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?
Nate – On the positive side, it’s allowed me to experience media in a very new way, with very different sets of lenses -- from experiencing books & comics for young people, to being re-sensitized to violence & mature content, to having a more inclusive perspective on the social structures within the comics community. On the negative: I can barely get anything done & everything is according to my kids’ daily schedules. There is no extra wiggle room -- I simply need to cram 45 hours worth of work into 25 hours of drawing time each week. I don’t have any idea how I do it.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
Nate – During the more stressful times of March: Books Two & Three, the intensity of that creative & touring process was butted up against having two new kids, financial hardship, stress-related illness, & more & it certainly made me a shittier dad & partner. A toxic cloud of negativity crept into my response to daily stress & grabbed tight -- it took about two years to finally shake it off. On the positive, our kids have grown with an early interest in drawing, reading, & expressing personal ideas through art & they also get to have an inversion of the American domestic stereotype, as dad stays at home all day while mom goes to work in the office all week. I do the vast majority of household responsibilities during the week accordingly, since I’m here & I think it’s a good example to provide.
QRD – Have your children effected the comics you make &/or read?
Nate – Certainly! I mostly read my kids’ comics & graphic novels now, since we read together every night & since I have almost zero time to read for myself unless I’m on a plane. As for comics I make: drawing the March trilogy, I became increasingly aware that my kids would grow up into & with these books, using them to help process their rapidly expanding worldviews & my energy was more & more directed with them in mind. Next year I’ll finally be drawing an all-ages graphic novel that they can freely read, without all the blood, sex, & (historically accurate) racist language in much of my other work.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from an artistic career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
Nate – Yes, definitely! I became a full-time cartoonist in 2009 & a parent in late 2011, but it wasn’t until 2014 that my finances started to even out & get less precarious -- & even that wasn’t a sure thing. It never goes away -- being a cartoonist is just a really difficult way to make a living, much less a means by which to support a family.
QRD – Given the limitations having a family has on going on the convention circuit, would you have showed more earlier in life if you’d known?
Nate – I hit the convention circuit pretty hard starting in 2004 or so, & by the time I became a parent in 2011 I felt like I’d put in enough time to have established myself & to be understood during those crucial baby-years in which travel required some serious sacrifices on the homefront.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a cartoonist has a greater impact on your community?
Nate – Being a dad, without a doubt. It’s easy for me to see myself (arrogantly, incorrectly) as separate from the Square Parents out there, but with the shifting roles I play as a neighbor, as a school dad, etc., it’s helped me see what bullshit that lingering punk baggage is & that very little separates me from the Square Parents outside of philosophy & ideals. Daily life is so similar.
QRD – Would you rather see your children eventually become cartoonists or parents?
Nate – I don’t care either way & they’re both hard as shit. Frankly, I am very worried & horrified at the world they are virtually guaranteed to inherit. I feel that there may well be no 22nd century as we know it & I do not feel any joy at the prospect of raising future generations in gas masks, work camps, or under constant authoritarian surveillance. Real talk: this is a REALLY SHITTY TIME to have kids come up into the world.
QRD – Both family & comics seem like things that will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in. How do you end up dividing your time?
Nate – It has to be a cleanly compartmentalized structure. I only work during the times my kids are at school & work as fast as humanly possible. For myself, it’s much better to change hats 100% into Dad Mode after that daily window closes & not try to stressfully squeeze out an hour of work here & there. It’s just not worth it.
QRD – What do your kids think of your comics?
Nate – My 7-year-old daughter has been moved & inspired by March & it’s a part of our reading lives & family structure. I know she thinks I’m a good artist, but she hasn’t really seen much of my other work outside that trilogy. My 4-year-old hasn’t gotten there yet, so no comment from her. But we all spend time together in my studio drawing each week.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a comic project with your children?
Nate – That is underway!
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
Nate – Discipline is SO much more important than skill. Whatever you’re interested in creating, take a random day off school, or on the weekend, to try putting in a whole 9-to-5 workday & see how much you can get done. Take that feeling with you for the rest of your life -- you can still do all the same other stuff you’re interested in, but seek that feeling of disciplined accomplishment, carving out a few afternoons or evenings each week to work on your creative endeavors. Show your creation-in-progress to people whose opinions you respect & trust & ask them to tell you what they really think. It’s okay.