Comic Book Artist Sina Grace On “Not My Bag,” His First Autobiographical Work

Sina Grace has got to be one of the most blatantly sincere people working in mainstream comics today.

I know this, and yet when I picked up his new book Not My Bag I expected a dense, thorough tome with a highly literary narrative like those I’ve become accustomed to from people like Craig Thompson. That sort of thing is valuable, of course. Tremendous works of art like Habibi, Persepolis, and Watchmen make for a great expenditure of your time and help legitimize the genre in the eyes of snobby literary fans, but there’s really something to be said for works that operate on a smaller, more personal level. Without the intense demand on art that a really ambitious script can generate, the art has a little more room to stretch out. It can be a little more whimsical, and it can take its time.

This is the model that Grace’s other ongoing work, Li’l Depressed Boy, functions on right now. It’s a a meditation on the uncertainty of life in your 20s, relishing in the quiet parts of underemployment and bumpy relationships with interesting creative types. Grace has taken his flowing, confident line work and earnest, warm approach to composition from this book and applied it to a more strenuous script for Not My Bag.

Not My Bag is Grace’s coming-of-age as an artist. He finds himself in need of cash and needs to figure out how to compromise his artistic aspirations just enough to work retail without getting lost in it, or in the personal baggage he brings with him. Past personal traumas and the current moral pitfalls of working for commission become increasingly foreboding through pinches of gothic flavored magical realism and the increasingly distorted, creepy denizens of the fashion world.

My least favorite thing about the book is that it feels short. Grace brings up a number personal traumas and intriguing aspects of the fashion industry that he all but abandons a page or two later. However, this winds up working for the book too. The gothic elements don’t feel overused, the literal ghosts of relationships past that haunt the main character don’t feel like a manifestation of self pity and the variety of story threads don’t overwhelm the larger personal journey of self discovery and the struggle of committing to the uncertain existence of an artist.

Visually the book feels very mature. It has great balance, never relies on canned-feeling panel layout, and mixes the black or white emphasis on any given page to create a sense of diversity with even the most basic palette. It’s the kind of work that leaves you wanting more, and that’s never a bad thing, especially for a first autobiographical work.

Grace was cool enough to answer a few questions about the book and chat comic books with me via e-mail. And the man knows his comics: until a couple of months ago he was the long time editor of Image Comics’ Invincible and the somewhat well-known The Walking Dead. He’s done some other smaller works of his own, teamed up with Amber Benson for a kids book, and is now working full time on the monthly art for Li’l Depressed Boy.

What got you interested in comics to begin with?

I was reading comic books all through grade school, and hilariously enough, I’ve wanted to draw them since I was 9 or 10 (yearbook proof attached).  Originally, it was to draw Generation X or Batman, but my current trajectory works, too!

What are your favorite monthly titles?

I just got into American Vampire. Scott Snyder’s killing it on Batman…I follow the X-titles now and again…and then I love everything Image Comics: Chew, Saga, Near Death, Invincible, Thief of Thieves, etc. I buy the indie gods’ stuff when it comes out: Craig Thompson, Adrian Tomine, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes—that list goes on and on.

Do you have any interest in ever working on a Marvel or DC comic title or are you committed to independent work?

Currently, I have nothing to say on The Big Two’s characters. I love them, but I don’t think I would do anything new or important with Spider-Man or Wonder Woman. Down the line, maybe?  No one wants to see me draw that stuff.

How long did it take you to make Not My Bag?

From beginning to end, it took me two and a half years. I took my time with it, given the day job and art duties on LDB. I had the luxury to not put pressure on a book that was super personal, and I don’t know that there was another way to get that book out besides taking my time.

Were there any major changes to the project as you worked on it, or is what we see pretty much the original idea?

I originally was around pitching Not My Bag as a collection of short stories, including the material that is now Self-Obsessed (available exclusively on Comixology).  There were some themes I had to drop for the sake of keeping things manageable for one book, I also deleted characters I had every intention of playing with (ex: I have a sister who was going to be in the book for like three pages, but it made zero sense to introduce family stuff in an already crowded story. The bare bones—beginning, middle, and end—have remained the same.

Do you feel like you have a good handle on how to devote the appropriate amount of time to your creative endeavors now or is it something you continue to work on?

Taking the leap to full-time artist was never a fear creatively, as I savor the process of getting to draw all day and work out new ideas. I tried this lifestyle right after college, and it was a fantastic period to grow and learn. A friend put it best when she went freelance: “I can do the work, I just need to find the work.” Luckily, I’ve got projects keeping me busy for a few months yet.

Did your time working as an editor help you with your own creative process?  Did it help you learn to see your own work more objectively?

Working on the Kirkman side of things showed me how important production schedules are, and how in touch one needs to be with retailers, book buyers, fans, the press, and what kind of time table a book should be on promotion-wise. That is the most important thing I applied to Not My Bag: understanding and respecting the deadline.

What are you working on next? Any more solo projects on the horizon? 

Still plugging away at the ever-delightful Li’l Depressed Boy! I have a few things I’m working on, but it’s a little too soon to say what. I got to draw a short story that Howard Chaykin wrote in the most recent Liberty Comics annual, benefiting the CBLDF.  That was a fun little project. There will definitely be some more collaborations…and definitely something that is 100% me.

- Lisa Olson