Best known for his work as artist on The Li’l Depressed Boy and editor on The Walking Dead, in Not My Bag Sina Grace has produced a highly personal graphic novel touching on fashion, relationships and the struggle to balance dreams and ambitions with the realities of everyday life. From his deepest hopes and fears to his day-to-day trials as a department store sales assistant, Grace offers a stark, frequently funny and at times uncomfortable study of the cocktail of pressures and proceedings that helped him to move beyond the ghosts of his past.
Not My Bag may centre on the authors’ time in the word of retail but its scope is significantly wider, and in support of this its story is far from as straightforward as might initially appear. Initially the narration comes across as slightly rambling, but as the reader is exposed to more of the inner demons Grace is wrestling with this stream of consciousness recitation of the minutiae of his day job acts as an indicator to his internal conflict and building anxiety.
Presented in crisp black and white, Not My Bag smoothly merges the ethereal and the tangible elements of Grace’s world, such as the aforementioned ghosts and gorgeously drawn clothing. Its magical realism is highly inventive yet relatable, and works in perfect tandem with the books’ subject matter. Examples of this include the ever-shifting face of an unreadable manager being represented by a range of sinister masks and Grace illustrating the problem of being unable to explain himself to a lover as that of being suffocated by the spirits of previous failed affairs, a powerful image that is both simple and dramatic in equal measure.
There is an attention to detail present at every level in this book. From the frequent detailed description of elements such as the commission rate a sales assistant receives in the department store and how haute couture names such as Alexander McQueen become high street brands, to the lavish specifics of the clothing depicted, Grace shows how focusing on the small and the clearly defined can distract from the more elusive but also more exciting vagaries of seeking out something bigger and brighter for yourself.
The message at the core is not clear until its closing chapter, but the book is stronger for this, and well-structured to support the late revelation. As the story builds to its chaotic crescendo, moving from interesting to harrowing in the process, Grace repeatedly displays that it is more often a number of small choices and seemingly insignificant decisions that can end up snowballing and shaping a life, rather than one big and clearly signposted event. To borrow from the spirit of the book; it isn’t the price of the suit you buy, but the quality of the accessories that augment it.
An assured and gorgeous book, Not My Bag is a vibrant and inspiring story, but also one that gives the reader access to its author’s very raw and painful experiences. In bravely sharing this difficult period of his life in such a fashion Sina Grace has produced an excellent graphic novel that should quite rightly draw significantly more attention to this talented artist/writer.