In Swallow Me Whole, Nate Powell presents a haunting and heartfelt look at people not quite in control of their minds. Ruth and her brother Perry suffer from some undiagnosed form of mental disease. They see and hear things that other people don't. Ruth is compelled to gather and organize insects, while Perry receives orders from a strange gnome. And yet, they must still live their lives, go to school, take care of an ailing grandmother, and suffer all the normal trials of adolescence.
Powell's dark and oppressive artwork engulfs the reader, mimicking the strange world through which Ruth and Perry must walk. And his story makes it clear how easily mental illness can run in families and how difficult it is to understand and treat effectively.
While Powell does a fine job of depicting the fractured mental state and he manages to make daily existence almost as oppressive, something is missing from his narrative. Perhaps presenting a dissociative state makes it difficult to identify with Ruth. Powell's artwork allows us to see through Ruth's eyes---and we know she's not "crazy"---but it also tends to keep the reader at a distance, making it difficult to empathize.
Swallow Me Whole never quite clicked for me, but I recommend it as a wonderful example of a creator's unique vision.
Thanks to Hard Traveling Hero for the loan.