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August 23, 2012

‘Walking Dead’ to fashion horrors: Sina Grace’s ‘leap of faith’

Posted in: Books,Comics

Sina Grace, former editorial director at Skybound Comics, is the author and illustrator of "Not My Bag," a graphic novel due out in October. (Sina Grace)

"Not My Bag" chronicles Grace's sometimes-horrific experiences working at a high-end department store. (Sina Grace)

Two pages from Sina Grace's "Not My Bag." Grace says fashion has long been a means of self-expression in his life. (Sina Grace)

Two pages from Sina Grace's "Self-Obsessed," which will be released digitally in September. (Sina Grace)

Sina Grace's "Self-Obsessed" will be released exclusively as a digital comic. (Sina Grace)

When Sina Grace stepped down last week as editorial director of Skybound Comics — “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman’s imprint at Image Comics — it was to take a “leap of faith,” Grace said. Now, Grace has his hands full with “Not My Bag,” an autobiographical graphic novel about the horrors of working in a high-end department store. Grace is also releasing an exclusively digital comic “Self-Obsessed” next month and continues to illustrate “The Li’l Depressed Boy,” a music-driven series about a lovelorn ragdoll boy. “The Li’l Depressed Boy, Vol. 3: Got Your Money” hit shelves this week, and a preview for “Not My Bag” appears in last week’s “The Walking Dead,” No. 101. Hero Complex caught up with Grace, who begins touring in the fall to promote “Not My Bag.”

HC: You’ve been editorial director of Skybound for more than two years, and “The Walking Dead” is incredibly popular. Why are you leaving at what would appear to be the height of Skybound’s success?

Graphic novelist Sina Grace. (Megan Mack)

SG: A friend of a friend of a friend recommended me to Robert’s people. So when he was looking for someone to help him with this huge task of editing his books and helping him start an imprint at Image Comics, my name got thrown in. It was daunting, but it was also the most exciting decision I had ever made. I slowly transitioned into that, and I got to do my dream, which is working in comic books, and I never looked back …. I am now leaving Skybound. There’s that time in your life when something just sort of feels right, or something doesn’t feel like a fit anymore, and as much as I really loved working with Robert Kirkman and working with Image Comics and working in this realm, there is just something inside of me that had the urge to be like, “You can’t do this part anymore. You have to do you now.” And it was really freaking me out. I had planned personally to stay another year or so or at least until I had money saved up. But it felt like a moment to take a really big risk and give it a shot, because it was sort of like now or never.

HC: So now you’re focusing on your graphic novel?

SG: What’s going to happen next is I’m going to be giving “Not My Bag” all of my attention in terms of getting it out there and getting people to read it. And then after that, I’m going to continue making comics …. I want to give it a real chance. The nice thing is I’m planning some really huge events that I wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to do if it weren’t for 50 hours a week of my life coming back to me …. I’m super-stoked. I’m going to get to tour. I’m going to meet fans again and go out and do conventions. I’ll actually be able to take time and nurture silly ideas or fun art projects that I’d never had time to do before, especially drawing two books and working a full job …. It’s like, wow, I’m quitting my job at the most important time. I’m leaving “The Walking Dead,” and I’m doing me. And I think that’s kind of the point of “Not My Bag,” too. You have to do these things, even if they seem impossible, but the hope is that you’ll end up OK.

“Not My Bag” (Sina Grace)

HC: You’ve said “Not My Bag” is semi-autobiographical. How much of it is actually based on your life experience?

SG: I think the dark twist is the stuff you wouldn’t expect to be real is real. And all the emotions are real. The book is about a time when I worked at a department store, and it was not a good situation, and on top of that, I was dealing with a lot of personal issues, and I was in hell. It was really awful. So drawing “Not My Bag,” I sought to touch on kind of Gothic themes and really take these overwrought emotions and moments and actually push that out. If I’m dealing with ghosts of relationships past, why not make them ghosts? It’s a comic book. It’s supposed to be a visually stunning medium. So how much of it is real? I would say most of it, but then you’re condensing characters, and you’re over-dramatizing things. Yes, I’m having a verbal altercation with my manager; no, they did not punch me. It’s pushing those things out and driving the point home and also trying to make a retail story interesting.

HC: Do you think people will be able to relate to the story?

SG: Putting this book out is super scary for me because I’m writing it and drawing it, and I haven’t done that in a while. It’s been really relieving now that pages are going online and people are able to see them. Regardless of how personal it gets, a lot of people have come up to me and been telling me that they’ve been there emotionally. Regardless of the context, it’s stuff we all relate to. Even the idea that I am supposed to be doing something bigger, and I am paying my bills because of this job, and I can’t do anything else because I am paralyzed by the day-to-day of this dumb job. You know, everyone feels that. Everyone wants to see their dreams come true, but they’re stuck and they don’t know how to get out. So I kind of also hope that people read it and they can learn that not every job is supposed to suck, and that you have to kind of figure out how to make space for your art and your dreams.

Two pages from Sina Grace’s “Not My Bag.” (Sina Grace)

HC: The comic deals with fashion quite a bit. Is that a passion of yours?

SG: I love fashion. It’s a form of self-expression. It’s a form of art. Currently, I’m definitely toned down. I’ve not matured or anything, but I’ve definitely calmed down in terms of self-expression, and I don’t need to wear as many outlandish things. But you know, it’s a great way to create space for yourself when you have none, and you don’t always need tons of money to do it. So that’s why I love it. I don’t have a fancy car. I don’t have a great apartment. But at least I look the way I want to look, and I can afford that. And it makes me happy. I don’t want anything else but to look happy and good …. My end goal would be to do comics full time and to get free clothes or something for it. That’s all I want out of life.

“The Li’l Depressed Boy” (Image Comics)

HC: You also draw the monthly comic “The Li’l Depressed Boy.” Will you continue?

SG: I love it, and I will never stop doing that book because it’s such a charming treat. I get to draw so many fun things, and I love the creator, S. Steven Struble. He’s the best to work with …. I gravitate toward things that are a little offbeat, and a little unique in a way. In “Li’l Depressed Boy,” it’s about a ragdoll boy who is looking for love and who hangs out with the most interesting, eclectic cast you can think of. It’s by no means your next summer blockbuster, but I adore it. And I think it’s because it has its own place. We have a really unique process when we color it; there’s all this applied texture to the pages. I love that it’s my book in the sense that it doesn’t look like anyone else’s.

HC: You worked on “The Walking Dead.” And Li’l Depressed Boy loves zombies. Are you a big zombie fan?

SG: I had a zombie phase in high school. I actually loved “The Walking Dead” in high school, and I stopped reading when I read an article where Robert claimed that he had no ending in sight. I got super angry, because I was just being a brat, and I thought every story should have an ending. So I stopped reading, sight unseen. I just quit. So I had to catch up later. I’ve only just seen “Night of the Living Dead” about five months ago. It’s an amazing culture. I don’t get into the zombie makeup bits of it, but I love “The Walking Dead” because it captures the emotional intensity and the long-term after-effects of an apocalypse, and that stuff I’ve always loved. I’ve always loved apocalypse narratives.

HC: You’ve also done some illustration for children’s books, including for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” actress Amber Benson‘s middle-grade novel “Among the Ghosts.” Did you enjoy working together?

SG: It’s really weird to find someone who is technically known as a celebrity who actually puts sincerity into her other job, which is writing. She knows how to write. She’s been whipped and trained by Christopher Golden. She knows how to be prolific without sacrificing quality. She and I are working on something, and I can’t talk about that yet. But that will come out early next year. I love writing and drawing for myself, but when you meet someone you really like working with, never let it go. So I think Amber and I are going to be in cahoots for a long time.

Two pages from Sina Grace’s “Self-Obsessed,” which will be released digitally in September. (Sina Grace)

HC: You’re also releasing an exclusively digital comic through Comixology next month. Can you tell us about that?

SG: “Self-Obsessed” is a collection of comic strips I have done since essentially high school. I guess I have always used myself as a character. I kind of cover the same themes as “Not My Bag” — self-discovery, self-growth, self-betterment, relationships, love, friendships, and you know, people I hate and being very judgmental at the same time. I thought it would be interesting to let fans see that everyone starts out pretty bad, and because the pages span over so many years, you actually get to see my growth as well. So I’m incredibly happy that Comixology is letting me release it with them. The decision came from working with Comixology and seeing how great they are and how much they want to build business with fans of comic books while not attacking the people who go to the comics store. I asked them how I could expand and build a bigger following while not offending the comic store, and they just said, “Have some exclusive content that won’t affect storylines,” and I said, “OK, well, let’s give this a shot.” And I don’t know that there’s a price tag on these pages because it comes from stuff as early as when I was 17 to 21, and I don’t necessarily think it’s worthy of putting to paper quite yet. I may be self-obsessed, but I’m definitely self-abasing. So I thought, “Let me give it to Comixology, and if it has any feet down the line, I will print it.” But I wanted to work with them, and I wanted to also experiment at the same time. They’re all such sweet guys there. We’re all just trying to do the same thing, which is make money off a passion.

– Noelene Clark

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