Some of the best indie-leaning, slice-of-life titles still always have some twist. Scott Pilgrim is about young love, but it’s basically a video game come to life. Faithless depicts sex and romance like few others — but then there’s also all that magic. But if you want your modern dramedy sans superheroes and inter-dimensional chicanery, there’s Getting It Together.
The forthcoming Image Comics series is the brain-child of writers Sina Grace and Omar Spahi as well as artist Jenny D. Fine (Grace is also listed as an artistic contributor). Described as a kind of modern take on Friends, the series follows the romantic comings and goings of a group of friends in the Bay Area. Even if no one’s shooting laser beams, this four-part miniseries is nonetheless rich with human emotion and boundless drama.
Recently, I touched base with both Spahi and Grace, where we talked about the series’ creation, the appeal of modern dramedies, Fine’s artistic contributions, and many other topics. Getting It Together issue #1 is due out October 7.
AIPT: What’s the collaboration/writing process like between you two (Sina and Omar)? Do you think you bring different things to the table?
Omar Spahi: We may come the same geographical areas, but we couldn’t be more different in terms of lifestyle and outlook. I think the first step for collaboration for us is talking things out. We talk out the theme, plot, characters and then we go back and forth on who does a first draft. Sina is a master with dialogue so a lot of the fantastic moments were him adding a very human and real element.
Sina Grace: It’s been a pretty cool process collaborating with Omar, because the division of labor is so weird and never the same for any issue. We both have a lot of respect for the other person’s perspective, and because we’ve talked everything out in great detail, it’s really easy to rely on the other person when they want to handle a major revision, or a delicate scene.
AIPT: What kind of person is this series built for? Do you think more people need “romance comics” to better understand themselves and the larger world?
SG: Y’know, I’ve kind of grappled with this question a lot in quarantine times. Getting it Together is very “BC” (Before Covid), and I was scared that readers wouldn’t be interested in a story a group of friends who are waaay too in each other’s business- physically, figuratively, etc. What’s funny is I think the opposite is true. People want to remember what was great about coming together, about the chaos of being able to connect. Instead of categorizing this as a “romance,” I’d say that the category is: LIFE. This book is for people who miss having a life.
OS: The truth of the matter is people try to type cast creators, Sina is often viewed as the “gay” writer in comics, but he does so much more than that. He’s a superhero writer, he’s an animal lover and a coffee fanatic. I think people view me as the kid’s writer, but I do more than that as well. This book isn’t for everyone, but we wanted to build it in a way that would honestly show our true personalities and hopefully this slice of life, drama, romance comic is just a genre-less human story that’s able to connect with people.
AIPT: What is it about a dramedy that appeals to you two? I always think it’s funny this format is so delightful and easy to consume even though most of us have real problems of our own to tackle (especially nowadays).
OS: When I first heard about Sina, I feel like one of the first things I knew about him was that he was a Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City fan. The reason I like to compare our book to Friends is because Friends was able to connect with an audience for almost three decades, I know we told a great story, but we all have problems — with mental health, wellness, other people, and financial- so hopefully we can help people take a look at themselves and understand our flaws, because we’re all flawed individuals as humans. But, we’re all trying to do better.
SG: I know that for me, when we were talking about this book, I was really drawn to the idea of subverting the kind of space this kind of cast inhabits in pop culture. Our female protagonist, Lauren, is totally positioned to be the “Rachel” of the group: the funny, endearing, pretty one who we want to end up happily ever after with her respective “Ross” (Sam). Lauren is so much more complicated than that, though. She has ambition, grit, pride… I love being able to make space for characters to be absolutely lovable but also incredibly complicated at the same time.
AIPT: There’s a clear Friends vibe here, at least in the overall structure and scope. Is there some conversation about how much to reference or “borrow”? Or, some process for paying homage to a thing without losing its own one-ness?
SG: That stuff was on our mind, but absolutely nothing in the story really matches what happens in our book. I guess it’s like, we looked at the skeletons of these things, but then focused on stories that were real in our lives and mattered to our current generation.
OS: No question, I think we took similar things, but you can think of shows like Girls, Boy Meets World, How I Met Your Mother, and 13 Reasons Why that are totally their own thing while still having some elements of classic sitcoms. We wanted to be past that, take those old ideas and make a new timeless classic for the next generation of people discovering themselves and hopefully tell them they’re okay to be who they are.
AIPT: Springboarding off that last question, we’re far removed from the ‘90s and its quirky, relationship-centric shows a la Friends. How do you think the book reflects on modern culture, and more specifically, how young friend groups operate now?
OS: Things are soooo different from now and then, people are a lot more open to new ideas and being open with sexuality which for the first time that I’m seeing that in my lifetime. Kids are coming out as non-binary, bi, straight, and gay and probably some stuff that I’ve never heard of and for the first time. It’s changing from uncool to hip and connected, at least that’s what I’m seeing around me.
SG: I mean, having our cast be like 1/3 queer and only 1/3 white is a huge reflection on how mine and Omar’s friend groups operate now… plus just way more candid conversation about sex. I don’t know any other comic on the stands that talks about PrEP (an HIV preventative medicine) and sounding in the same 30 pages!
AIPT: I think Jenny D. Fine is such a great artist, and her efforts really add something dynamic. How much of the art tells or informs the story? Sina, what’s it also like to write and do art for the same project (which I’m certain you’ve done before).
SG: We try to give Jenny a lot of freedom to add her touch to the series. She has so many Pinterest boards and favorited Instagram accounts that are being used as reference material for the look and vibe of each character. When she first signed on to the book, I took her and Omar to a punk show to see one of my favorite local bands, Feels. I kind of gestured around the venue (The Echo), and was like, “This is the vibe of the book. These people are our cast.” I also sent her super specific reference for Lauren, ‘cuz she’s inspired a lot by my friend Nazzy. Beyond that, I really try to let her have fun, and then will doodle something or try and break an editorial note down in artist speak so she doesn’t overthink things.
OS: We couldn’t do this without Jenny’s amazing ability and focus on her process, I feel like it takes a long time for artists to develop their own personal style, but Jenny’s got that down pat on her first comic. Francis Manapul, Michael Oeming, and Alex Ross didn’t develop their unique styles right away so I really think she’s ahead of the game and has found her artist voice.
AIPT: When you’re doing a series like this, is there a consideration for what else is going on in comics? Do you worry about “competing” with superheroes or company-wide events?
OS: We’re not them. We are an Image Comics title. Sina and I both love superhero comics, but we wanted to create something without capes, without violence, but in a real world, build a punk rock band in your basement that goes on to tour the world kind of way. Image really is the only company letting creators like us run wild and tell our stories that might be different from the norm, and we couldn’t be prouder of having them as our home.
SG: I’ve been pretty consistent in delivering the same kind of flavor in both indie and mainstream comics — focusing on character-driven stuff that hopefully leaves people better than when they popped open one of my books. Our main focus is just putting out a book that we’d want to own.
AIPT: I think in writing a series like this, you’d have to draw from your own experiences. How much does this story reflect its creators, or is there a certain level of “fantasy” throughout the book?
OS: Spoilers, it’s totally based on our experiences. At least for me, I think we tend to write what we know, but there’s a lot that’s happened to us and a lot which we’ve talked about happening or seen happening. I think the creators on the book can all pull different elements from different characters.
SG: Yeah, there’s a ton of stuff that’s directly pulled from our experiences… and while I did spend a lot of time in the Bay Area, neither of us have made a home there. We wove a lot of personal anecdotes into the story, but built it around a specific dynamic we wanted to create for the book.
AIPT: One of the things that struck me about issue #1 is it feels very Seinfeld-esque: you’re not necessarily here for the giant stories/plots but the lovable/weird/relatable characters. Is this a story about people more than situations? How do you go ahead and make characters you feel can be the most dynamic or compelling?
SG: My main focus with this cast is injecting as much of the world around me into their thoughts as possible. These are people Omar and I have to live with for hours on end, several days a week. So they’ve gotta be people that we love, warts ‘n all. An easy example is like, when of our characters is having a major tantrum, we asked each other: “Okay, but like why do we like this person?” The scene ends with the reader realizing this character has done the most thoughtful and considerate thing for someone they love, but it’s so mired by the cloud of friend group fighting that you’re left feeling really torn about the scene.
OS: I think for me it comes from theme and people more than plot, I think the best way to make them feel dynamic and compelling is have them be flawed and human.
AIPT: I know this is planned as a four-part mini-series, but is there a desire to do more (especially based on reactions)? Are there some larger goals you’d like to achieve?
OS: Yes, these characters have many future stories planned, but I couldn’t be prouder of the end of the first volume, I think we accomplish what we set out to.
SG: I would love it if we could do a few more volumes of the series. There is a great full-circle vibe at the end of the first volume, but the story really takes off from that point. Omar and I would love to show readers if and when Lauren, Sam, Jack, Annie, Ash, and Tim actually do end up getting it together.