Powell, the artist on Rep. John Lewis’s bestselling March trilogy, explores a 1970s commune in his magical solo graphic novel Come Again (Top Shelf, July).
What inspired the 1970s Ozarks commune setting of Come Again?
I was born in the late ’70s and emerged through the underground punk rock community in Arkansas. Through that, I became tuned in to other subcultures. The seed of the story that became Come Again was a sci-fi fantasy world that wasn’t connected to our geopolitical reality. As I tried to reel it back into our world, it became about a group of people figuring out what to do after the implosion of the peace movement in the ’60s.
How do the book’s fantastical turns mesh with the more down-to-earth elements?
All the stories I tell are relationship stories at their core, and most of them have to do with an emerging sense of community. I also feel a kinship to the fantastic elements in stories by Ray Bradbury and Ursula Le Guin and Shirley Jackson. As a storyteller, my home planet is taking people’s internal realities and bringing them out with supernatural, unexplainable components.
What research did you do to get the visual details of the commune?
A lot of it is reverse engineering. You have this little off-the-grid village. I found out when commercial-grade solar panels came on the market, so this community could be leading the charge on eco-friendly alternative power. Where there were things that didn’t quite line up with what a revolutionary community would want, I realized there was value in showing that. Not that they’re living a lie, but their comfort zone is living up the hill from a tourist town where they can go get what they need.
What materials did you use to draw and color the book?
Everything is done physically on Bristol board with India ink. I use a brush and a nib pen, and mostly primary colors that I mix up with an acrylic artists’ ink that’s like a permanent watercolor dye. It’s fun, fluid, and a bit stressful, because after five or 10 seconds it dyes the paper. Then, you can’t change it. After spending four and a half years drawing March, it was amazing that every single day when I got up to do Come Again, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, and would figure it out in the process of putting ink on paper.
How does collaborating on the March trilogy compare to doing your own solo work?
Spending so long on March and developing a certain kind of focus and discipline, but also a set of eyes for exploring and asking questions about the world, made me more mindful of what might be missing from my own stories. In general, working with other people’s scripts, developing a new set of tools by which to explore the world, makes me a stronger storyteller.