When author and illustrator Sina Grace sat down to create his latest release, a graphic novel memoir entitled Self-Obsessed, he did so with the aim of making something uniquely him. The memoir collects years of Grace’s artwork, comic strips, and essays—from his artistically formative early years to just weeks before the book went to print. The result is a firsthand recollection that details the artist’s developing technical prowess and personal values. With such a massive opportunity for self-reflection on the table, we tracked down Grace—in Portland last month to visit Floating World Comics—to find out just how far his self-obsession goes.
In Self-Obsessed you open up about a broad range of topics in your life. How did you decide you were going to lay it all bare? After all, that’s a terrifying prospect for most people.
It gets momentarily terrifying and then it goes away, mainly because if something is truly not very good it goes away and people forget about it. It’s usually safe to assume that most creative endeavors just kind of get lost in the shuffle. The chances of people really responding to it, positively or negatively, that would be a dream just to get anyone to care.
The thing I learned from my pursuits in 2014 were that you kinda gotta give it everything at this point. You have to put 100 percent of your heart into projects, and I just thought: “Okay, why not?” At worst, some people will know some really weird things about me. The benefits are that people can really be changed by it, or really be affected by the work knowing that there’s vulnerability to it. It’s okay to let the ugly parts show.
What has the reader response been like?
It’s very clear when someone does or doesn’t like your book. I’m mainly talking about friends or readers who picked it up because they like other projects I’ve done, like The Li’l Depressed Boy. And what’s really nice is that, more often than not, people have something very specific to say about it. What’s been awesome is encountering what people liked about it. It’s different for everyone. There’s a story at the end about my dad, and that’s the one that really gets a lot of people talking.
That’s why I felt okay with this book. I think a lot of other people have very mixed feelings about certain figures in their lives, and if they see this book as a tool to feel okay talking about it or communicating then, hey, it’s worth its existence.
What’s the story you feel most connected to?
The nice thing about audio records is that I can take a dramatic pause to think and it doesn’t show up.
I can put in a little asterisked-out *dramatic pause* if you want.
No, no. [laughs] That’s fine. I’m not [Magnetic Fields singer] Stephin Merritt.
You know, I was really happy to have done the strip about gay marriage because it just kind of flowed out of me. It included a lot of thoughts that I hadn’t been able to formulate into a cohesive short story. To have this historical moment occur during the production of this book, it came together in such a nice way.
Looking back over years and years of work, was there anything that made you cringe in retrospect or was hard to publish?
There’s a really touchy strip in there. I think it’s called “Sympathy,” and it’s me having this very toxic speech that I’m giving to an ex-boyfriend, and then another version of me comes and we both just make fun of him. It’s so wretched. I didn’t really 100 percent want to put it in the book, but at the same time I was 21. That’s how I dealt with being petty, by being really petty and making it into a comic book. If I had any regrets now about keeping that strip in the book, it would be that there’s no strip that’s in opposition to it that meditates on some of my childish behaviors.
On the opposite side, there’s an early strip called “I am Pissed” about a friend in high school who got into a rock band, and for the longest time I really enjoyed the bratty attitude in that story. Only when putting this all together did I realize that my perspective was so wrong. I got to use the book as a way to bring her back up and give myself a different side of that story, now that I’ve had a decade to think about that friendship.