In seven interwoven comics essays, author and graphic novelist Nate Powell addresses living in an era of what he calls “necessary protest.” Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest is Powell’s reflection on witnessing the collapse of discourse in real time while drawing the award-winning trilogy March, written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, this generation’s preeminent historical account of nonviolent revolution in the civil rights movement. Powell highlights both the danger of normalized paramilitary presence symbols in consumer pop culture, and the roles we play individually as we interact with our communities, families, and society at large.
Each essay tracks Powell’s journey from the night of the election—promising his four-year-old daughter that Trump will never win, to the reality of the authoritarian presidency, protesting the administration’s policies, and navigating the complications of teaching his children how to raise their own voices in a world that is becoming increasingly dangerous and more and more polarized. While six of the seven essays are new, unpublished work, Powell has also included “About Face,” a comics essay first published by Popula Online that swiftly went viral and inspired him to expand his work on Save It for Later. The seventh and final essay will contextualize the myriad events of 2020 with the previous four years—from the COVID-19 pandemic to global protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to the 2020 presidential election itself—highlighting both the consistencies and inversions of widely shared experiences and observations amidst a massive social upheaval.
As Powell moves between subjective and objective experiences raising his children—depicted in their childhood innocence as imaginary anthropomorphic animals—he reveals the electrifying sense of trust and connection with neighbors and strangers in protest. He also explores how to equip young people with tools to best make their own noise as they grow up and help shape the direction and future of this country.
I found this more depressing than empowering — in that respect, I would point anyone to March over this (also, March is phenomenal). That’s not to say this is bad — it’s a very thoughtful, personal reflection on the Trump years (please say we’re done with them) and on raising children to understand social justice and protest in a world that is rapidly falling into fascism. The feeling of despair over watching America fall to fascists is certainly relatable, though I don’t agree with all of his perspectives or conclusions.
It’s unapologetically progressive, while also recognizing that each generation gets over more of its baggage and is able to deal with social justice better. That said, there were moments I wanted more from the essays — places where I’m seeing a conclusion that he didn’t quite commit to. What he sees is that his parents were complacent about racial injustice while he’s underestimated the powerful undercurrent of right wing hatred.
Throughout, the way he talks about fascists is infantilizing and dehumanizing, which I think is a mistake. While their views are evil and the way they act is dangerous, “a child’s power fantasy played out in adulthood, speaking only the language of power, the intellectual crudeness of reaction, contrarianism, opposition,” it’s vital to not turn fascists into monsters or people who are too immature to make their own decisions. To remember that these are regular people who have chosen this mindset of hatred and dominance. They are responsible for their choices.
I disagree with his viewpoint that in-person protest — marching — is the only way to make change. In recent years I’ve read more about mutual aid and the different parts we all have to play in change — for example, “Good Trouble” highlights the importance of behind the scenes organizers like people prepping food for the community and arranging rides, etc. Marching is important. So is building community and advocating for local policy and having difficult conversations and writing about issues.
The artwork is excellent. He uses a muted color palette and black backgrounds to strong effect. I liked the choice to illustrate his kids as unicorns, though I thought his oldest daughter looked older than I would have guessed.