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Power Out, Vol. 1
posted April 27, 2010


Creator: Nathan Schreiber
Publishing Information: Self-Published, softcover, 84 pages, $9.95
Ordering Numbers: 9780615346625 (ISBN13)

Nathan Schreiber's Xeric-winning book, serialized on-line, proves to be a fine showcase for the cartoonist's skill with narrative. The story as presented so far feels well-paced, deftly folding a certain what-come-next insistence into what is at heart a languorous meditation of a young person's situation and station. The small community depicted seems believable, as does the basic set-up: kids left alone for the weekend, the older one of whom in rather typical fashion misbehaves and a younger one that may be without the capacity to join her stumbles away from the the safe-house quality of his limited routine. The power outage of the title extends the pair's separation and provides the younger sibling with an incentive to break ties to those things that seem to ground him. There are a number of quality sequences, well-observed: a believable nervous breakdown, a scene where one of the kids runs away from a social gathering of locals, and several moments set in nature that capture the heavy stillness that sometimes sneaks up on one outdoors. It's a promising work.

imageIt's not one I'd recommend on its own, however. For one thing, it's not complete, part of a distressing trend to serialize entire books without strong breaks in the narrative one might expect from an ostensibly stand-alone work. I think this hampers these works -- not just from some consumer's standpoint of expecting a whole work and getting an incomplete one, but from an artistic vantage point in that you're dealing with incomplete material and therefore have little choice but to either accept it as a partial work or project upon it what might happen and its likely result. As is the case with a much better comic, last summer's Carol Tyler book You'll Never Know, I'm not quite sure how to process what happens to the characters. Even granting the work a continuity in craft and visual interest we can in no way guarantee, a lot of what I'll think about this book will depend on how the issues it presents resolve themselves.

That may sound unfair, but the hesitation cuts both ways. While I could make a cursory judgment based on the comic's obvious strengths, I would also have to come to some sort of summary decision based on what is so far Power Out's most egregious failure: to distinguish itself as art that reflects a way of seeing the world as opposed to a series of effects derived from other works. To my eye, a lot of what goes on in Power Out reflects a book that functions as a book: these are literary situations rich with allegory in which the kids find themselves, and so far the leads operate as types. In other words, there's little that's surprising: the book unfolds as I'd expect such a book to unfold, and while the skill in expressing fealty to effects one would ascribe to past works involves a prodigious display of skill, at some point I'll want this work to surprise me, to say something original and worthy of reflection. I just don't know yet.