Earlier this week we got the sad news that “Li’l Depressed Boy” will be going on hiatus for a little while. To tide you over in the interim, what could be better than another Image Comic, a highly unusual one-shot from the series’ illustrator, Sina Grace?
Centering on a stint working in high-end retail, “Not My Bag” is a story – loosely based on Grace’s own experiences – of one man’s gradual transformation into “a luxury monster”. Starting as a quick way to make some money, but growing into something of an obsession, the job at a ritzy clothing store involves a good deal of high-stakes office politics, and comes with a highly volatile paycheque. In the end, the company asks for personal, passionate investment in the work, and as our narrator struggles to balance the commitment with his own passions, the scale begins to tip.
The book probably would have worked if this, alone, were the premise, but Grace spices things up with the odd little touch of Gothic. Citing Edward Gorey as an influence at the back of the book – not to mention Alexander McQueen – Grace mixes in all kinds of macabre flourishes. When Grace alludes to the “ghosts” of the character’s past, you can be sure they come across on the page as the whooshing, Hallowe’eny kind, and in a particularly intense encounter with the character’s boss, the woman hides behind a rigid owl mask.
This tendency toward the Gothic goes right to the centre of the story itself. Grace’s character encounters a good deal of personal demons over the course of the story, and as he struggles to identify with a job that can often be frustrating and humiliating, the looming question is what he’s hiding from, and whether he’s digging himself even deeper into his troubles by staying in such a destructive place.
Meanwhile, there’s a gentle indictment going on here of an all-too-familiar icon; the Carrie Bradshaw figure, the creative person who’s also utterly fashionable and forever sought-after. Grace takes this image down a notch, placing the creativity and exuberance of the fashion world in opposition to its cruelty and superficiality and, while still treasuring fashion and the artistry of it, gets at the hard truths of what it means to be a consumer who is also creative.
One of the hallmarks of Grace’s work on “Li’l Depressed Boy” is the effortless quality of the storytelling; the pages seem to glide by, with little need of words to further explore what’s going on. In this case, there are plenty of words to go around; the introspection comes across in the form of captions, while the images expand on the metaphors. But that effortless quality persists in the sheer legibility of the images. Grace has a very light touch, and while he isn’t afraid to caricature some of the more terrifying faces that occupy this workplace, the simplicity of his lines and the looseness of the layouts make this a very smooth read.
This is an autobiographical comic that has a bit of fun with the genre, moving beyond the realm of the personal and growing into a meditation on a few key themes. The arc of Grace’s story is familiar, but the unique execution makes this journey into retail hell a memorable one – not to mention a beautiful kind of panacea for anyone who’s ever worked a job they hated. Show of hands – that’s everybody, right?