I just put a new comic book to bed this month. It’s called Self-Obsessed. It takes all the autobiographical strips I’ve produced here and there over the past ten years, and is presented to the reader as the journey yours truly takes to become a comic artist. It’s like reading a less-funny, much younger David Sedaris talk about boys and comic books. In combing through dozens of sketchbooks, art boards, and binders, I had to laugh at the frantic entries revolving around my dating life when I could have taken the time to meditate on career choices, dreams, or doing anything more than just complaining. While I’m proud of this little confection of a book, I am also happy that I can look at the person these pages represent and happily say there’s a much calmer, smarter version of himself now.
Here’s something else you need to know about me: I really dug Sex and the City. The clothes, the low-hanging fruit we call puns, the drama, and most importantly: Carrie Bradshaw. Sarah Jessica Parker made the world of a flawed and narcissistic New Yorker look charming, and believable to boot. I love Sarah Jessica Parker so much, she even gets her own page of doodles in Self-Obsessed. For a time, I was one of millions of women and queer men who thought that if I concentrated hard enough on writing about love, and stared hard enough out a window, I would be the Optimus Prime of love: a fierce warrior whose abrasive compassion saves the day. There’s a value to that notion, I’m sure, but there’s just as much value in seeking professional help for when you’re creating the same problems over and over and over again. The quixotic ramblings of Carrie Bradshaw still amuse and touch me, but I recognize that in real life, accountability is not as easy as writing my version of the truth and putting it online for everyone to read, judge, and disseminate.
Now, here’s something else you need to know about Sex and the City: I may be getting the exact details of this wrong, but Carrie mentions buying a pair of shoes after finishing every article (never mind the myriad essays written about how implausible it is for a Manhattanite to buy Manolo Blahniks weekly off cruddy freelance paychecks). It’s her reward for a job well done. I like that. I do stuff like that, too. There’s a Missoni cardigan I bought myself after landing a gig providing illustrations for a kids’ book. When I finished my action comic, Burn the Orphanage, I went and got myself a pretty bad-ass leather jacket, man. My charitable side is exercised regularly with monetary and “prize” donations (i.e. original art), so when I have the opportunity to be unabashedly selfish, I take it. Carrie and I had this in common: no matter how ridiculous the ritual, we had them and honored them. Selfishly.
Back to the events of this week. I was uploading all the files to my publisher, I had been up all night working, and I still hadn’t figured out my selfish, selfish reward. At one point, I was so exhausted and emotionally empty that I almost convinced myself to buy a pair of the Nordstrom collaboration pair of Sarah Jessica Parker shoes (the SJP, if you will). My thinking was, “What better way to honor this part of my past than to do exactly what Carrie would do, buy a pair of shoes?” The SJPs represented the perfect way to close the book on the self-obsessed chapter of my life where wondering why so-and-so was an asshole and why He didn’t love me were more important topics than, say, World News? Politics? History? I truly did think to myself, “Buying these SJPs is gonna be so ****ing poignant.”
There’s two problems with that line of thinking—and I’m not even going to get into the fact that I am a MAN wanting to buy a pair of women’s shoes to display on my bookshelf as some kind of objet d’art. The first problem would be that these shoes are expensive. For several hundred dollars, I can participate in the Sarah Jessica Parker brand, which is a far more classy (read: subdued) and understated look than the oft-times outlandish Carrie Bradshaw styles. These are not the Alexander McQueen armadillo shoes, my friends. I’m upfront about how I will gladly throw down a month’s rent on a statement coat, but that’s only if it is truly remarkable and/or made of gold. The range of prices on the SJPs go from $195 to $495, and you can imagine where the more noteworthy pieces lie on that scale. You can also imagine that I wouldn’t settle for an espadrille with some grosgrain sewn on it, either.
The second problem with wanting to reward myself with a pair of shoes is that—if you really think about it—an exorbitant purchase actually goes against everything that should be good about finishing Self-Obsessed. Looking at the stories I wanted to tell, and the person I was from my late teens through my early 20s, I feel a sense of pride knowing that the comic book representation of “Sina” was the best version of himself he could be, but I also saw some aspects of myself I was happy to put to bed. It’s cool to have wanderlust, it’s cool to make fun of your parents in a comic book… for a time. I have been able to move past a lot of the issues that plagued me for years, and I find I’ve been happier and more productive without them. I’m not the kind of person who could make a frivolous purchase anymore. Credit debt is not chic. After ten years, I should be able to feel rewarded by the work I’ve done, and the growth shown in the pages. Wasting money on a collector’s item would be a pretty disappointing way to end Self-Obsessed.
While coming to this conclusion totally happened on my own (big props!), I have to credit my friend Sydney for the words I’m typing now. As I was joking with her about the big if of buying a pair of “Bobbie” sandals in mint (my favorite color), I mused that I would just draw the shoe and call it a day. This whole time, I knew my defenses were weak and I just wanted to buy something for the sake of buying something. When Sydney encouraged me doing the drawing, the real reward presented itself: More. Work!
That’s all life is, right? We work, we sleep, we work some more, all in the hopes that we’ll get better at it, so it can be easier the next day. The glib conversation with Sydney was more potent than the rush of frivolously spending $300 on a pair of shoes, and I was able to re-focus my energies, and treat myself to a coffee while I doodled shoes. Yes, I sat in a cafe and drew women’s shoes, which turned out to be more like a pleasant diversion than something you’d imagine a creeper doing. After the stress of a deadline, I was able to enjoy my work again, and felt more energized for the next chapter than I would have been after an expensive walk to Nordstrom. I’m utterly aware that these sentiments may not put an end to consumerism, or motivate thousands of individuals to take charge and be more creative…but they did save me $294.50 (coffee is expensive in Los Angeles, and I like to tip).
- Sina Grace