by Nate Powell
Top Shelf Production
“My adventures inevitably focus on the upkeep of punk romance, of the transcontinental hometown….” Please Release traces the occupational adventures and late-night soulsearching of graphic memoirist Nate Powell, a 27-year-old punk who took seriously all that stuff about “living the dream" and turned his autobiography into a manifesto. Inspired by Powell’s actual experiences, his black-ink vignettes tour the everyday reality of a life in orbit around the punk ethic. Lyrics from the DIY tunes that inspire our pencil-thin, tattooed hero, Nate, snake through the strips’ expository frames, setting the rhythm of his days helping the communities where his rambling takes him and his nights grappling with the self-doubt that stalks the precipice before full-blown adulthood.
Like the heroes in his collection of music and comics, Nate fights for social justice by assisting adults with developmental disabilities (a job that adds new meaning to hardcore) and by calling “home” anywhere he’s needed. Soon to settle in, however, is the reality of his work-a-day punk ethos. Often, his clients are only able to offer unconditional dependence in place of verbal assurances that his role in human services is actually helping them become self-reliant. Add a nomadic lifestyle of keeping short-term leases and squatting in vacant spare rooms, and the question begins to niggle: are the sacrifices worth it? Seesawing with Nate’s hopeful intentions are intermittent crises of conscience. Text bubbles thoughtfully examine the paradox responsible for scattering his intentions: the coexistence within himself of two forces at odds, holding on and letting go. Even more telling are the scenes with disjointed or no text that exploit the expressive potential of the graphic format. In wordless scenes, leaves fall from trees, winds sweep through empty streets, then die, as the main character waits desired outcomes that never come. These spaces in between silently heave with hope first, followed by anticipation, and finally, frustration. Then the narrative picks up again, just as daily routines plod on whether we have found our straying sense of purpose or not.
By the end, Please Release calls to mind the adage: when you see the Buddha, shoot him. As in, just don’t follow what someone tells you; make up your own mind. If only all practicing idealists would internalize the doctrine, imprinting it with their own stamp carved by finding out the truth for themselves. In this thin volume, we catch someone in the middle of questioning the work/life ethic adopted during youth's clarity. Instead of settling, though, Nate's values become more inclusive, the circle widening to new initiates and benefactors. Fortunately for the rest of us, the idealists who last are incapable of imagining a life not lived in service of their passions.