Last October, writer/artist Sina Grace released a digital collection of autobiographical comics, “Self-Obsessed,” which will now be available as a printed edition through Image Comics. Featuring the same indie sensibilities as his other work on “Burn the Orphanage,” “Not My Bag” and “The Li’l Depressed Boy,” Grace’s work is sweet, hilarious and insightful. The printed edition includes new never-before-seen material and will be available April 2.
Grace took the time to speak with CBR News about his work on “Self-Obsessed,” including how it felt to relive some of his more uncomfortable moments, his desire to make every aspect of a book his own and the revival of indie comics.
CBR News: Sina, what has the reception been like since the digital version of “Self-Obsessed” released last October?
Sina Grace: I don’t know how many people saw the digital version of “Self-Obsessed.” At the time it was a confection — a treat for people who liked “Not My Bag.” Now, the project has grown into this special little package that chronicles much more than some satellite autobio stories.
Have any of the stories received a stronger reaction than others?
When I announced “Self-Obsessed,” everyone fell in love with the strip, “Walking with a Ghost.” I honestly thought I was alone in comparing myself to what a younger me would have wanted for my future. Turns out, a lot of my friends and family in the industry have felt the same way!
What kind of effect do you hope your transparency about stumbling along will have? Do you think exposing more about the difficulty of working in a creative industry will help future cartoonists and writers?
Y’know, when a person is trying as they stumble, it’s a noble failure. People can learn from noble failures. Plus, there’s a bit of that morbid curiosity readers have when they want to see how their favorite creators started out. I’m not saying I’m #flawless, so there’s a nice growth being presented in “Self-Obsessed” that shows I did not wake up like this (I’m hoping I’m not the only one giggling at my tacky Beyonce reference).
Did you edit anything out of the original comics for the book?
I deleted some weaker pages, and took the art to use for more graphic design. There are still all of my most uncomfortable strips in the book (like me grappling with my sexuality in college… yeesh), but I feel like it’s a good thing for people to watch me stumble along the way.
Was there any sense of embarrassment about your actions as a younger person versus who you are now? I love seeing the transition, but it can be challenging to look back on who we were years ago.
I’m so disappointed with how I navigated relationships in my early 20s. There’s so much post-“Sex and the City” narcissism in the first half of the book, that is only fueled by how much the Internet allows people to treat themselves as self-appointed taste makers. I cringe when I look at the pages where I complain about my exes, but it could be a pretty decent roadmap for any up-and-coming cartoonists who wanna write about their lives and relationships! Not every strip can be as cutting and hilarious as Rick Worley’s stuff, so…
Authenticity can be just as compelling, even if it’s not always hilarious. Do you feel like with the current climate in comics, people can embrace story telling that isn’t groundbreaking and just tell what matters to them?
In movies, there seems to be no end to the summer blockbuster. People dig ’em, they’re fun, and they employ a lot of decent people. In comics, we have our Big Two events. Readers and retailers dig ’em, they’re (sometimes) fun, and they keep a lot of my friends fed. Similar to the movies, there’s a community of people who get exhausted by watching a behemoth destroy Manhattan over and over again, and those people help build a space for smaller movies like “Frances Ha,” “Nebraska,” etc. If you draw that parallel towards the comics industry, I think there’s a similar resurgence of character-driven stories taking a stronger position in the marketplace. The characters in “Ghost World” and “Blankets” inspired me to make comics as much as the characters in “X-Men,” “Fathom” or Batman. As Internet-Famous Ron Richards once told me: “It’s a spectrum.”
It seems like “Self-Obsessed” has a theme of you being able to find the humor in just about anything. Would you say that’s still true about your approach to storytelling?
Humor is my activism, for sure. I use comedy to dilute pain, to fight hate, and to open dialogue. I wish I could be like Anders Nilsen and just allow the sadness to sit on the page with no cushion for the reader; instead I always cut the tension with a little joke at the end.
When you’re in these moments, experiencing things and living life, are you forming memories in comics layout?
If ever there’s a broken fourth wall, that’s a clear indicator as to when I’ve considered “cartooning” a moment as it’s happening. In “Not My Bag,” at the end where The Artist is headed into the final fight with his boss, he looks at the camera and is like “Are you ****ing kidding me,” or something. I remember that moment in real life, and thinking about how I was gonna get my revenge in comic form!
What has been the most challenging part of the one-shot for you?
The most difficult task I had was validating its existence. Thanks to the Internet, there are so many powerful voices using comics and memoir to tell some wonderfully unique stories, and then there’s little ol’ me: the weirdo who blathers about love and identity. There is so much important work going on in comics right now, that I had to cull and work the material to focus more on my journey in comics rather than me throwing shade at people.
Do you have more one-shots planned along the same lines as “Self-Obsessed?”
If things go well, maybe I’ll do a follow-up: “Self Loathing!” “Self-Aware!” And, the end of the series: “Self-Contained.” There are still a million stories about awful Internet dates, making my way into the industry, and so on that I could tell.
What do you think the draw is to autobiographical comics?
I love having books that are 100% me. In true honor of the title “Self-Obsessed,” I love knowing that every single page in that book was written, drawn, lettered, and formatted by me. My collaborators are my family, but sometimes I gotta have something for me.
Beyond “Self-Obsessed,” what other projects do you have in the pipeline?
My action series, “Burn the Orphanage,” returns in May with the explosive new Reign of Terror story arc, which I’m totally excited about. I’m still chugging away on pages for “The Li’l Depressed Boy,” which we promise will return this year! And somehow — there’s more that I can’t mention yet!!
“Self-Obsessed” hits stores April 2 from Image Comics.