Portrait by Anna Powell Denton

Just two months after the release of his graphic novel “Fall Through,” North Little Rock native and National Book Award winner Nate Powell is back with another new book: “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” It came out on Tuesday and can be purchased here.

Whereas “Fall Through” is a “refreshingly oblique” (The New York Times) and deeply personal work with supernatural flourishes, inspired by Powell’s time playing in the Arkansas punk scene with bands like Soophie Nun Squad, “Lies My Teacher Told Me” is a graphic adaptation of the bestselling James Loewen text of the same name, originally published in 1995, which offers a progressive corrective to the frequently whitewashed narratives found in American history textbooks. 

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Powell explained a bit about how he got involved with the project in an excellent interview with Booklist:

Lies My Teacher Told Me was already one of my favorite books; I’d read it several times between 2005 and 2019. Another one of James Loewen’s books, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, was particularly transformative for me, especially as a Southerner who had settled into life in Indiana but was disoriented by the sense that much of the Midwest was somehow more backward and racist than anywhere I’d lived in the South. Jim’s work in these two books directly influenced my 2011 book Any Empire and all work to follow.

In January 2020, Jim emailed me out of the blue to see if I had any interest in doing a comics adaptation of Lies, and I said yes immediately—no questions asked. In many ways, I feel that this book is the most natural heir to my work on the March trilogy, and that there was a sense of continuity there. I entered my work already familiar with the material and how to approach it and was able to hit the ground running.

Loewen died in 2021, but his collaboration with Powell was undertaken with “his own mortality in mind.” “He was very up front that he might not live to see the finish line, and that he trusted me to carry on his work in these pages,” Powell said in the same interview. To that end, Powell was able to shape the book — which he considers to be a sort of “companion volume” — in ways that reach beyond a strict visual representation of Loewen’s words: 

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My primary focus as an active contributor was in recognizing where I had a responsibility to fact-check, update, and occasionally push back a bit on information and writing from either the 1995 or 2017 versions of his book. This really hits the core of the book’s message—that history is a living thing, and that history changes with not only our access to information, but with our understanding of events in ever-evolving contexts. My adaptation of his work required processing the multiple, intertwined crises of democracy and education from 2017 onward, including history still unfolding as I drew the final pages. Often, I chose to contextualize very recent history as visuals juxtaposed against his own 2017 writings, allowing readers to make connections themselves.