Not My Bag

In this great Graphic Novel Renaissance we’re so lucky to be a part of, there’s one potential audience that often gets overlooked. That’s the older female reader, the woman who isn’t necessarily looking for fantasy stories or those with too much violence. The category closest to being targeted in her direction these days is the graphic memoir, such as the best-known Fun Home or Persepolis or those combined with advice, such as The Big Skinny.

Sina Grace contributes to this genre with his telling of his time as a commissioned department store salesman. He needed to pay off a car repair debt, so he took a job selling Eileen Fisher clothes to older women needing flattery. Although he does appreciate fashion, he’d rather be working in a designer boutique, one where he can perceive the outfits more as “art pieces”.

The panels are heavily narrated, with the illustrations showing us the setting while Grace tells us what’s happening and his feelings. That makes it an easy read, one that still takes advantage of the comic format but won’t confuse the unfamiliar reader.

His time in retail gives him insight into his self-identity as an artist and causes trouble in his relationship with “the lawyer”. Of more interest to me, though, were the business details. For instance, he worked for pay plus commission, which only kicked in if he sold more than $1500 a day (which puts these clothes in a category few of us can afford). At times, I wanted to skim the personal life sections, since they were overly familiar to me (young adult unsure of committed relationships), while his work life was more unusual and interesting to read about. That’s particularly true halfway through the book, when a new boss starts up some corporate espionage and manipulative plotting.

Due to its subject matter and comfortable revelations, this book would make a great, unusual gift for the dedicated department store shopper, if she doesn’t object to knowing more about how it all comes together and the human cost to providing all those overpriced goods. (Not every shopper wants to realize she’s being lied to just to get the sale, and some will object to Grace’s section on Persians being unpleasant bargain-hunters who commit return fraud.)

There are preview pages online, and this interview provides more context. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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