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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Power Out" by Nathan Schreiber

At this past MoCCA Fest I picked up a copy of Nathan Schreiber’s Xeric award winning, Eisner nominated “Power Out,” which has been ongoing in serialization on the Act-i-Vate webcomics collective, and has just recently had the first chapter printed in a beautiful little paperback collection. I’d been familiar with Nathan’s work and with “Power Out” from Act-i-Vate, and Kurt and I actually managed to score an interview with Nathan at King Con in Brooklyn last October. (Listen to that here)

“Power Out” tells the story of young Justin, an introverted and fantasy prone boy who lives with his sister and parents. We can tell straight off that Justin is different, an escapist who just wants to play his video games, and we get some intriguing hints that he’s had some personality problems in the past. That said, his home life doesn’t appear dysfunctional or traumatic at all. At the start of the story his parents are getting ready to leave on a cruise, Justin’s left with his sister who is torn by her familial love for her younger brother and her desire to branch out and experiment, a desire that befits any teenaged girl. When the blackout hits—or power out, rather—Justin is left without parents, and with his sister miles away at a beach house stranded with her friends. In effect Justin is left stranded in his own life, but without any familial obligations (this, however, doesn’t stop him from still doing his chores). It’s at this point that we really get to experience the world through Justin’s disaffected point of view, which is in contrast to a new friend made at the start of the blackout; an eccentric, non-English speaking, and constantly in motion, young Spanish girl.

Nathan signing my copy of Power Out

The tale is paced out very well, and even though we’re not in the presence of many of the side characters for any length of time, we still get a clear idea of who they are. Carrie’s worry and reluctance to leave Justin alone, Justin’s Spanish-speaking friend's whirling eccentricities, Carrie’s buffoonish and narcissistic new friends; all are wonderfully developed in just a few pages or panels without coming off as arch or cartoonish. Even the strangers Justin meets, who try to help him out after he passes out on the road, seem to have clear identities and lives of their own.

Schreiber’s art is fantastic, and shines when he’s plying layers of dark shadows with scant hints of blue and white light. In fact, the entire color scheme works tremendously well: black, white, and a washed out grey-blue, working in collusion to lend both a sense of depth and realism, and a dream-like quality when needed. The nighttime scenes are some of the most memorable art I’ve seen in a while, and Justin’s exploration of a benighted forest is an amazing meditation on the details of loneliness. The daytime scenes are a little more diffuse. Schreiber’s line art is a bit more insubstantial in places, especially when we’re following Justin as he goes about his daily life. The contrast works, the reader is able to see the ‘real’ world as Justin is experiencing it—washed out and ephemeral—while his nighttime fantasies are rich, lively and substantial. It’s also interesting to note that one of the most reoccurring visuals that pop-up throughout the story are power lines. The skies are streaked with them; occasionally we’ll get a worm’s eye view of a utility pole, and the sky beyond it, and, post-blackout it’s almost as if they've become totems of a god who has left and gone elsewhere.

All in all this is a very intriguing and well done first chapter in a storyline that I can’t wait to see to its final conclusion.

For more about Nathan, Act-i-Vate, and “Power Out” go here.


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