- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Nate Powell knows how to multitask. The father of one (soon to be two) wakes up at 5:30 a.m. on a typical day to have some time for himself. He’s used to a hectic schedule, though: He’s been self-publishing his stories and artwork since age 14. He’s been illustrating and storytelling fulltime for six years, but the way he views the process hasn’t changed much over time.

When he lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, there was one comic book store in town. The owner gave Powell and his partner some shelf space, and they released their first issue. Powell realized that by the time his second issue was released, the first issue was entirely sold out. From that point on, Powell has been on a regular release schedule.

Until two years ago, Powell worked month to month to ensure that he was staying on top of things. Eventually, he had so many graphic books in print that balancing his priorities was easier, The Herald-Times reported (https://bit.ly/1ASlDaS ).

“The game really changed, though, once I joined the team to do ‘March’ with John Lewis and Andrew Aydin,” said Powell, who has done the artwork for the first two in a planned four-book autobiography of U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Powell began working with the Democratic congressman and Aydin, the team’s writer, about two years ago. Lewis is the U.S. representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District and a leader of the civil rights movement.

The “March” saga began as one book, but Powell knew the team would have to lengthen the story as he reviewed the script. Two books currently exist, and Powell expects the story to span two more. Powell says the team may have years left working on this project; however, the long timeline allowed the three members to figure out how to become a more productive unit.

“Book Two is a very different book from Book One,” said Powell, who became close to Aydin and Lewis through the collaboration process. He got to know Lewis better between the two books, which helped him with his illustration.

Powell currently lives in Bloomington, but in 2013-14, he toured with Lewis and Aydin on weekends for months at a time. Soon after he met Lewis in 2012, he joined Lewis and Aydin’s trips to civil rights landmarks in Alabama.

“As Book Two moved on, it made such a huge difference to have set foot in some of these places - for the purpose of the narrative,” said Powell, who wishes he could visit every site mentioned in the books.

The book debuted at the San Diego Comic Con, and Powell says their table had the longest line at the whole event. He was thrilled at the high levels of enthusiasm surrounding the book.

“Librarians, teachers and parents were bringing kids over to meet Lewis,” said Powell. “This let us know that the book was about to take off.”

Powell got his formal training at art school in New York City. He tried to incorporate his personal projects into his schoolwork. He also had the opportunity to market his comics by touring with a band that he was a member of.

“In the summer, my band would tour around the country, and I would sell my comics at the shows,” said Powell. “That was the first time I was able to get my comics outside my hometown.”

He released his first book, “Tiny Giant,” in 2003. He soon began working with Top Shelf Productions, and he’s worked with them now for about a decade. From 1999 to 2007, Powell worked fulltime providing assistance to adults with disabilities. He says he never expected to be able to quit his job and support himself full time with his artwork.

In 2008, Powell wrote “Swallow Me Whole,” which he calls his “baby.” This book created a lot of buzz, and it won various awards. Soon thereafter, he was approached about writing a book for hire. This was a pivotal moment in his career.

“It already took me a couple years to write my own books, and I just wouldn’t have the time unless I quit my job,” said Powell. “This was one of those rare chances where I just had to jump off the cliff and see where I landed.”

In 2010, Powell wrote a short story for a young adult fiction anthology called “What You Wish For.” The book raised money for libraries in refugee camps, and Powell was among the authors who attended a panel at the United Nations to discuss the project. Other attendees included “Baby-sitter’s Club” author Ann M. Martin and “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine, with whom Powell rode in a cab. Powell admired Stine’s manner of communicating with children.

“It made me think so much more about the experiences that kids live through and grow through,” said Powell, who said being a dad has changed the way he views storytelling. He began noticing the subtle shift between children and adult characters.

“Most of my story ideas come from questions about the way we live our lives,” Powell said. He also says that being a dad helped him focus on what was really important, simply because there was no time to worry about anything nonessential.

“There’s no time for it,” said Powell. “It either matters or it doesn’t.”


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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