The graphic novel Not My Bag follows the travails of a comic book artist and writer Sina Grace who took a department store job to cover some unexpected car accident related bills. His decision makes perfect sense and the logic behind it - holding down an undesirable job for the time it takes to get a grip on your finances - is really quite admirable. We've all worked for the man when we didn't want to and the book seems set up to share all of Grace's frustrations along with lots of on job snarkiness. But then the author throws a major curveball - he starts to like his job.
"Like" is actually not the right word here, more it's that he becomes seduced by the store and the people he works for. The competitiveness of department store employment is laid bare (did you have any idea how insane it is?), and Grace fell for it hook, line and sinker. He became a selling fool, dazzling his floor and department managers. Soon enough climbing up the department store ladder became the center of his life and his creative career is at first neglected and then pretty much completely ignored. Grace is dressing in Alexander McQueen and wooing shoppers, he's promised a shot at a great new department, he's going places!!!!
Well, as long as the only place he wants to go to is in the department store.
Bit by bit Grace shows how he fell to pieces, lost his focus and even got a little close to losing his patient and endearing boyfriend. The manipulative powers exhibited by his bosses are something to behold (if only they used their powers for good!) and all too soon he starts to go crazy in paranoid manipulation land as well and lashes out at his co-workers. Everything comes down to moving the merchandise, pleasing people who have no respect for him and winning points with those who are happily using and abusing him. It's a sick system but a crazy seductive one. You can see how Grace lost sight of his initial plan and how hard it was to walk away.
A note on the illustrations: the artwork is spare and direct and Grace excels at facial expressions, easily conveying all manner of subtle emotions - very well done. See also Gabrielle Gantz's review from last month over at The Contextual Life. Here's a bit:
All the melodrama of working in retail is on display in Not My Bag, from an evil boss whose nature is depicted through grotesque facial renderings to the silent competition of fellow coworkers. More importantly, however, Not My Bag is a warning, it shows what happens when one forgoes their passion and, at best, chases after someone else's dream.