Sina and I met during a crucial time in my life. After a hate-filled six year relationship, I broke up with my ex-girlfriend and started dating a beautiful single mother with a smart eight-year-old girl within a week. My ex became romantically involved with my former collaborator and publisher, and their booth at Tucson Comic Con was facing mine. On top of all that, I had recently submitted a letter of resignation to the financial institution I gave four of my sexiest years to so I could go work for the local newspaper.
Then Sina’s pictures and words entered my (comics) life.
I offered to traded him my graphic novel Captain Unikorn (a story about an openly gay superhero that kills bigots and looks like Freddy Mercury if he were a unicorn-man) and El Loco (this one was is about a Mexican super hero that fights racial profiling and the chupacabra) for some of his books.
After the con had ended and Sina and I had gone our separate ways, I pulled out his books and started to read. Not My Bag struck a cord with me on a deep level. I could relate to what Sina was feeling when he quit his retail job to make comics, as I had recently dropped my safe and lucrative banking gig to become a reporter for the local paper. Thankfully, we reunited at another Tuscon Comic Con, where I got to moderate his spotlight panel and a round table about LGBTQ themes in comics. He’s been an inspiration to me and I value his friendship.
Recently, Sina has been working on a slice-of-life web series called “Self-Obsessed,” which is based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel he self-published with Image Comics. Today, we’re proud to share the season finale of the show with you! In order to celebrate the milestone, the Comics Beat recently spoke with Sina and the series director, Daniel Freedman.
Henry Barajas: I read Not My Bag the day I quit my job to become a full-time journalist. That book really hit me at an important point of my life. I think what I like about your work is that I don’t know what’s real. How much of “Self-Obsessed” is fact or fiction?
Sina Grace: I’m glad the books got to you at the right time! That’s the pleasure of making personal stuff: when it hits for readers, it reeeeally hits! The web series is a fictitious version of real events. I had to change some timelines and amalgamate some real people, and exaggerate some things to make ’em more funny. All decisions where I deviated from the truth were meant to service the story in its “moving picture” format. For example: I was never engaged to any of my exes, but I wanted to add extra tension and stakes for the characters, while also throwing a layer of fiction to protect any of the relationships I may have mined for Greg’s story, if that makes sense.
Barajas: How did it feel to make something and not have the kind of control you have when you’re making comics? What was it like working with Daniel Freedman and the crew?
Grace: It was remarkably fun collaborating with others on the shoot. With comics, I’ve done every single job imaginable (writing, drawing, lettering, coloring, editing, designing, even book-binding!), and I’m a bit of a brat to work with in that capacity because I can always speak to everyone’s responsibilities and demand better work. With the web series, I had to stand back and trust all of my friends who chipped in. It was easy in this scenario because all the folks involved involved wanted to be there to help me out, so there weren’t clashing priorities. Working with Daniel was similarly fun and presented interesting new challenges for us as collaborators. He knew what I wanted, and I had come in with a lot of details sorted out (cast, music, locations), so as friends we had to find space to make “Self-Obsessed” something that oozed my identity AND had Daniel’s touch on it. Ultimately, I let him and our fantastic editor Joe Hatton run free in the cutting room, and chimed in only when I felt like the scene could be improved with another gay bear joke.
Barajas: How did you direct Sina, Daniel? He’s all over the place every time I see him at a con.
Daniel Freedman: This was an interesting project to direct as it was written by Sina, based on his own book, starring himself and his friends who were also playing themselves written by him. Knowing Sina for so many years, I knew who he was in real life but also who he needed to be on screen. One of the tricks I used to get this was to direct everyone around him to treat him certain ways and understand the real life context of his script so that Sina could play off them more naturally. Sina was probably the least directed person on set. Any time he asked if he was doing good or not, I wouldn’t tell him sine I felt he needed to be on his feet and not getting too comfortable with himself.
Barajas: You told me your budget was little to nothing at WonderCon. What did you have to work with and what did you learn from this?
Freedman: We had next to nothing. Luckily we were able to get our hands on a great camera package from long-lost pictures and borrow a few lights and our Grip from friends. Our saving grace was our DP, Sergio Bautista, who really made use of our limited resources and made sure we were maximizing what we had. As to what I learned… a lot. We shot 5 episodes in about 3.5 days which was insane. On one day we shot 43 set ups. Most movies shoot 6-8. Because we were shooting so much so fast, we were limited to 2-3 takes a scene which made fine tuning performances that much harder. Next time I would make sure we had more time. Time is the biggest luxury on a shoot.
Barajas: Why didn’t y’all Kickstart this series? Everyone’s doing it.
Grace: I was hesitant to be too public about the series until I knew for certain that my acting wasn’t an embarrassment. I believe that it has been more effective to present a surprisingly professional product with no hype than to over-promise and under-deliver something after a month-long Kickstarter campaign and months-longer Backer Update campaign. I’ve gotten myself in situations like that, and I didn’t want a single thing to go wrong, nor did I want to expectation to be on my mind during production.
Barajas: Can we get an episode of you and Jenny Lewis on a wild adventure in season two?
Grace: As fun as an adventure with Jenny would be, I don’t think I could keep up. The entire thing would be me begging her to slow down so I could catch up at my turtle pace.
Barajas: I first met Amber when I was tasked to shine a bounce light on her when we were making Trip House. She was my favorite talent to work with on set. How did you “babble charm” her to come out of retirement (again) to work on your show?
Haha, Amber is irrefutably one of the raddest humans on earth.
We’ve been friends and collaborated on some projects here and there (Everyone, go buy Among the Ghosts, it’s the all-ages book she wrote and I drew!), so she actually was the person in my real life talking me down a lot of ledges. Approaching her was as easy as me nervously asking her if she’d be open to it. Once she said yes, I sent Amber the first or second draft of the script to make sure I hadn’t offended her with the request, and she was completely receptive.
Barajas: What do you wish you could tell that kid (watch episode-four) after all this time working in comics? What would you have done differently?
If I could run into a younger version of myself, I think I would tell him to ask himself whose career he admired, and to find that person and ask them a million questions about their journey. I would have told him to be more honest with his drawings, and work on stuff that made him giggle. I’d have mentioned that he should make more zines, because even though they don’t make money, they’re FUN.
I would encourage him to reassess every situation the moment he realized it wasn’t fun anymore, because I understand now that work will always be work- duh, but work doesn’t have to be hard, or painful, or soul-sucking.
I’d also tell him to stop opening his Witchblade action figures! Leave ’em in the box, bro!
Henry Barajas is the co-creator, writer and letterer for El Loco and Captain Unikorn. He has also written and lettered short stories for two successful Kickstarter SpazDog Press projects: Unite and Take Over: Stories inspired by The Smiths and Break The Walls: Comic Stories inspired by The Pixies. He is the Newsroom Research Assistant for The Arizona Daily Star and was nominated for the Shel Dorf Blogger of the Year award for his work at The Beat. You can follow him on Twitter @HenryBarajas and Google+.