Not every graphic memoir has to be submitted for CIA approval before publication, but then again, not every cartoonist had parents who were spies! You can read all about it in the upcoming page-turning memoir Passport by Sophia Glock, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which will be available at your local bookstore and public library beginning November 2nd, 2021.
In the meantime, The Beat got a chance to speak with Glock over the phone to find out all about her journey into comics, discover which Marvel Comics characters were her favorites, and learn what it was like to combine multiple real-life figures into fictional composites!
AVERY KAPLAN: Can you tell us about your journey into comics? What led you to creating a graphic memoir?
SOPHIA GLOCK: I always thought that I would be some sort of a creative writer or storyteller of some sort, I was always very attracted to that sort of thing, always telling stories. And I was always drawing, but comics a sort of calling – and honestly that’s what it sort of felt like when I realized that this is what I wanted to do – didn’t sort of dawn on me until I was 12, and I got really into X-Men and became very fixated on X-Men comics specifically.
And it was just this sort of this click in my head, where I was like, “Oh no this is, this is the thing; I’ve want this.” And ever since then I was very fixated on how to make this work. And I was always drawing and I was always an artist, but like there wasn’t a lot of resources back when I fell in love with comics for people like me to make comics, and everything that I did find was very superhero-oriented.
And so I had a traditional-ish education in the sense that I went to a liberal arts college where they didn’t really support my interest in comics in my art classes. It was very traditional art program.
I decided that the best way to go about figuring out how to make comics was to go to an illustration MFA program that supported figurative arts. There were very few options at the time; I attended graduate school in 2006 and there weren’t a lot of programs to choose from. I mean, there were a handful. There’s a lot more options nowadays for people who were interested in comics.
And that led me to the self-publishing/indie comics world.
I was in New York and went to a program in New York, went to SVA (School of Visual Arts) and that put me at the doorstep of festivals like MoCCA that were incredibly supportive of non-traditional looking comics. That was where I began to find my footing, and I had great luck, being assigned an advisor in graduate school: David Heatley, who is known for his very confessional memoir comics. It’s basically that and just my sort of insistence, that led me into this form of storytelling.
And memoir, in particular? That’s really interesting because I, for a long time, was very focused on fantasy and fantastical stories, and I never really got into the whole diary comic thing, like a lot of my peers were into. I really tried and then it would just, it always sort of fell flat. I didn’t really know how to get into it.
My boyfriend (now husband) at the time, kept being like, “You have such an interesting story. You’ve lived all these places!” And I just was like, “But I could never talk about it.”
So it took me a really long time to figure out how to learn how to talk about it, and I think it was just a matter of time.
KAPLAN: When, when did you realize you needed to tell the story and passport?
GLOCK: I feel as if I’m going to be a bit shy around, even the idea of like, “Oh, did I need to tell it.” On one hand, anybody who’s going to write a memoir has to have a certain level of hubris to think that anybody wants to hear their story, but I don’t know if I’m still even now comfortable with the idea that like anybody needs to hear my story.
However, I guess, at the end of the day, the way I sort of justify trying to keep anybody’s attention for 300 pages on what my high school years were like was that I think I would have enjoyed finding a book like my book when I was in high school, and there weren’t books like my book when I was in high school that I had access to.
You know, I love superheroes. And I love you know when I was just becoming aware of Chris Ware, and Ghost World was great because it was about, you know, disaffected young women, like me. But there wasn’t actually
I think I wrote a book that I don’t necessarily think existed but I know I would have appreciated. So that was a way that I sort of found my way into that place.
KAPLAN: As a work of creative nonfiction, this story changes the names and details of certain parties, and in some instances, creates composite characters out of actual people. What was it like to fictionalize your life?
GLOCK: Very painful. (laughs) It felt like I was slapping the people as like the memory of my friends in the face.
Because to say that like, “Oh you’ll do in a composite,” felt somehow wrong, so that was incredibly confusing. Yeah, I would say, “painful-to-confusing,” but it’s also a process. Things start out very complicated and you have too many characters, then you sort of winnow it down, and then the editing process… Eventually, the arc takes over the storytelling arc takes over and once you find your thread, it’s really just a matter of like following your thread, and that helps you sort of sort along that line.
But the beginning is a mess! I mean, even if you’re like, even if you’re somebody who’s, you know, bookish, or an indoor cat, the people that populate your life are countless. So to sort of like winnow it down is… difficult.
KAPLAN: Is it harder to write about people from your past with whom you no longer communicate, or is it more difficult to write about people who still regularly appear in your life?
GLOCK: Honestly, I would say it’s more difficult to write about people I no longer communicate with, because I feel like I’m on less solid ground in a sense.
My sister is in this book a lot, and my relationship with her at the time. But, I talk to my sister, every single day – I’m completely secure the relationship that I have with her, so I can sort of throw her under the bus or say things that aren’t that flattering and she gets she knows, she knows me she knows what I’m doing, she knows my life.
But there are people who I haven’t spoken to in years and years who are in this book, and I have a lot more complicated feelings about talking about our experiences. At the end of the day, of course, some of those people that I’m talking about do appear as composites, so I can sort of like justify it in the sense of like, “I’m telling you the story of me, I’m not telling the story of them.”
And I really did do my best to be as respectful as possible, but I’m a lot more insecure. Yes, it was a lot more confusing and difficult to talk about people who I don’t actually speak to anymore. In general, I would say.
KAPLAN: What was it like obtaining permission from the Publication Review Board of the Central Intelligence Agency for this book?
GLOCK: I’m worried that I’m going to say “painful and confusing” too many times during this interview, but maybe that’s the nature of memoir.
It was complicated. It was very emotional! I’ll say that. It was a respectful process, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
I wrote a book that I thought was incredibly sort of circumspect and respectful, and then to have that manuscript come back and be told that I had to omit certain details was emotional for me, because some of those details are the very facts of my life.
But I also wanted to… Ultimately, this isn’t a story about any given government entity. It is the story of a family and a person within a family. So, I let it go and I don’t think in the end, as confusing as painful as it was to omit certain details – some details I didn’t mind, some details it was like “Okay, fine, whatever.” Other details it was like, “But that’s my detail!”
But at the end of the day I was like, “Can you still tell this story? Have you done a disservice to your story? Have they killed the story?” And the truth is, that didn’t happen in that process.
So yeah. Not fun, but overall, productive.
KAPLAN: I don’t think most comics have to go through that process.
GLOCK: No, I have no idea, but I’m like, “I bet that they don’t have to deal with a lot of visual arts.” You know, mostly people are submitting… Not comics.
KAPLAN: How does creating a long-form graphic narrative like Passport compare with your process for single page or mini-comics?
GLOCK: You know, it’s funny, you would think it would just be a matter of like scale, right? If it takes me this long to make 70-page mini-comic, or this long to make a 20-page story, I’ll just do a little math.
“This times that equals this, it took me two months to do that, then it’ll take me eight months to do this,” and that’s not the case at all. It’s more like I felt every 50 pages, it became that much more unwieldy.
And so the process in terms of comparison… Yeah, it’s unwieldy.
The need to for taking steps back and forth… I mean it’s sort of like, here’s a good metaphor: let’s say you’re making a miniature house. And you know, there’s just as much craft, there’s just as much charm, there’s just as much work in a sense, but you get to sit close with your house the whole time.
If you’re making a larger house, that sort of like zooming in and zooming out, that actually takes so much more time. You don’t just get to sit at the desk: there’s a lot more space that you have to cover.
Box Brown once gave this wonderful rule of thumb: never attempt more pages in a book than you have created in total before, which is a really nice way to build that muscle.
And when I started a project of this length, I was really just under that threshold. I finally had that many pages to justify taking on – I mean, I think I’ve created way more than that, but like just about sort of that amount that I was ready for, but it was definitely unwieldy.
KAPLAN: Have there been any comics (or any other kinds of stories) that have been especially inspirational to you lately?
GLOCK: The two books that blew my mind recently and probably are specifically influencing me consciously and subconsciously are Rosemary’s Baby (so creepy, so good) and I’m also in the middle of a biography on Colette (I enjoy biographies about complicated women).
But comics wise I am looking forward to Tillie Walden‘s collection Alone in Space and Simon Hansleman‘s Crisis Zone, both coming out later this summer. Less of a “what I’m reading” and more of a “what I will be reading” I guess.
Passport will be available from your local bookstore or public library beginning on November 2nd, 2021.