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Not My Bag

Sina Grace

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A glance at the cover of Sina Grace’s Not My Bag and you’ll notice fairly subdued cover, not counting the tentacle sneaking out of a bag, with a lack of bright colors and spandex clad people in fantastical scenes that promise an senses shattering story. Depending on your comics reading proclivities you’ll make assumptions on its contents and whether or not this is a story for you. I would humbly suggest you give the auto-biographical Not My Bag a read and a home in your collection.

Grace’s work isn’t an unknown quantity to me, having read and enjoyed his short, illustrated prose novel Cedric Hollows, of which I’d very much like to see more, preferably in full on graphic format. The solicitation copy for Not My Bag promised a story of “retail hell” and that it would appeal to fans of Black Swan, Blankets and The Devil Wears Prada. Of the retail hell I knew I could relate from experience, though mine consisted of mostly of electronic store customer service nightmares (the customer is not always right!) with a brief sojourn as temp sales clerk for the old Marshall Fields over one holiday shopping season. Devil Wears Prada was an enjoyable movie but I wondered if trying to appeal to fans of Craig Thompson’s Blankets might be overreaching a bit. As it turns out the claim has legs to stand on.

Not My Bag examines the existential question of what are we to do with our lives, especially if one has a singular talent whether for music or writing or, in Sina’s case, for being an artist, and how to reconcile adult responsibilities and honoring those talents. Driving while preoccupied with personal matters one day finds damaging his shiny hybrid car and having to come up with a sizeable amount of money for repairs. As synchronicity would have it, Sina is hired at a fashionable department store that’s looking for new sales clerks. Lured by the glamour, Sina soon finds his life revolving around high fashion and the various consumer denizens with whom he’s confronted than by his art projects. At first the disconnet with his art and happiness is subtle but becomes more profound the longer he is fooled into denying himself until tension builds to a hilarious and hopefully exaggerated, one-sided fight. Grace takes the retail hell experience as affirmation for pursing his artistic endeavors rather than as an excuse for wallowing in self-pity and doubt following his being cast out of the retail hell experience. Neither does he take himself or the story so seriously that the book is a drudge to read. There’s ample proof of this whether he’s poking fun at himself for a variety of clothing mistakes or the fashion maven who’s drawn with increasingly ridiculous masks (since her real self is impenetrable) or a sales clerk who looks like an escaped Skrull on the down low in Los Angeles (Quick! Someone alert the Fantastic Four!). More often the humor comes through subtly from dialog or situations.

Grace’s story is more akin to Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage in length, coming in at around 100 pages where Blankets approaches 600. This isn’t to infer the work is less worthwhile; rather that Grace achieved telling his story in the right amount of space to leave the reader satisfied. One of the challenging things about making art in any media is knowing – or trusting – when to stop. Randomly looking through both Not My Bag and Blankets I can see evidence that Grace draws influence in his art from Thompson. It isn’t soulless aping or even a well intentioned tribute such as when an artist emulates Jack Kirby’s distinctive style. But I see a fondness of black and white contrasting visual elements, body gestures, a flourish here, a flourish there, and most noticeable to me eye is the artist’s depiction of his own nose in comparison to Thompson’s style. Characters come across as individuals visually and with dialog whether they’re several of the store staff or friends or boyfriends, and certainly Sina as the lead himself.

Not My Bag was released in October or earlier in November. I’m afraid I’m late in reviewing the book but you should be able to find it in your comic shop or  on Amazon.

March 7, 2015
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