Save It For Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest
By Nate Powell
Abrams Comics Arts
Many of us can remember the punch in the gut feeling on November 9, 2016, when the election results were clear and the reverberations of that sensation. The point of reference that settled most easily in our grasp was that of September 11, 2001, when the jolt of an attack was heightened by the uncertainty of what would follow. Nate Powell seems to have felt something akin to that just like anyone else, but his way of processing it is a little different than most. For him, it’s resulted in a hybrid graphic novel — part-memoir, part socio-political analysis, part philosophy, part manifesto — that brings together the personal with the historical and the abstract with the tangible. Save It For Later is an analysis of the events starting in 2016, but not in a way that mirrors other works that have sought to do the same.
Save It For Later starts on the day itself and Powell’s family grappling with the unsettling presidential victory. As Powell depicts, it was different from previous. It was more like an unleashing of the forbidden when behaviors banished from polite society crept out of their pits of shame and basked in the sunlight.
Essentially it became okay to be a bully again, though of course, it’s more complicated than that. But Powell offers this in conjunction with the way he explained the situation to his young daughter in terms that she could understand. Unexpectedly it turns into a moment of clarity that springboards wider analysis throughout the book, culminating in a passionately argued, nuanced, and complicated analysis of American culture’s embrace of militaristic symbolism through such delivery systems as children’s toys and Punisher comics that recasts unassuming aspects of our culture as creating a predisposition for authoritarianism.
In this way, Powell lays a case for the inevitability of the 2016 election and disarms November 9, 2016, by reframing it. In Save It For Later it is no longer the day that everything changed. Instead, it’s the day that everything we couldn’t bear to address directly culminated into an unavoidable clusterfuck. It’s the day when all the strands of American failure came together in a knot and put a stranglehold on a better future. Pulling the country out of that stranglehold would involve accepting our own culpability in how it happened in the first place and then enacting a strategy that did not repeat the mistakes that led to our culpability. Powell’s not casting blame, he’s taking it, and he’s asking that you accept your fair share and then move on to building something better.
Powell’s casting of American society in this way is persuasive and whenever it threatens to cast a gloomy pall over the important points he’s making, it never quite happens. That’s because despite the despair that bursts out of his pages there’s also quite a lot of hope. Actually, I hate that word and it doesn’t really capture what Powell exhibits. Aspirations? Optimism? Maybe I’m nitpicking. Regardless Save It For Later is filled with forward movement, often in the form of how he communicates to his children the importance of speaking up, of not just conforming, of considering others, of taking action, and how they follow through on what they are taught. This translates into the wider idea that it’s not just his kids — it’s a lot of kids being raised to stand against tyranny and defend the marginalized people that the latest iteration of American authoritarian fascists target in their attempts at control.
Powell’s art style is practically an institution by itself at this point and it suits the swirl of events and ideas that he’s portraying in Save It For Later. Typically animated not just in its figures but also in its transitions, Powell imbues a continuity across panels in his books with story and emotions and themes flowing flow rather than building panel on top of panel. In this case, it helps to establish and then expand the passion of his narrative voice, as well as illustrating the interconnectedness of the concepts he’s putting down on the page.
What differentiates Save It For Later from a lot of other graphic works covering politics, and what impresses me the most about it, is that it has more in common with non-fiction writing by the likes of Masha Gessen, Jill Lepore, or Michiko Kakutani than the form of straightforward activist reporting that fuels a lot of the political comics. Powell’s intellectual/philosophical approach takes a look at cause and effect in a way that’s not limited by single incidents or standard tropes. What he presents is massive and unwieldy and challenging to confront — and with that, he also brings an understanding of why so many people are incapable of doing anything about it, without the judgment that can sometimes accompany the activist-oriented works. Unless you’re looking for an all-out civil war, that’s probably the most constructive approach to have for making change and Powell presents that path in a commendable, thoughtful way.