An ice age is coming. After Marvel’s successful Iceman series last year, the legendary X-Man is getting a second five-issue solo run beginning in September. Written by L.A.-based graphic artist Sina Grace, the series follows Bobby Drake as he comes to terms with his core identity as a publicly gay mutant — a narrative made more powerful by his nontraditional coming out story. Although the first volume saw him tackling the impossible Juggernaut and Wolverine’s bisexual son, Daken, the second volume is bound to be more sinister when it comes out on Sept. 12.
“Now there’s more of a bull’s-eye and a target on him,” says Grace. “Bobby Drake is full of so many dichotomies that are just really going to make giving him new adventures endlessly exciting.”
Following the comic’s fall debut, Grace is slated to headline the inaugural Flaming River Con at Rocky River’s Westshore Unitarian Church Sept. 22. Dedicated to providing a platform for the LGBTQ community, the all-day event hosts a series of panels and workshops centered around inclusivity and touching on topics of mental health, queer representation and social activism in comics. Other highlights include a meet-and-greet with Grace at Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 21 followed by a launch party at The Side Quest in Lakewood.
We break the ice with Grace on his inspirations, the importance of intersectionality and what to expect from Iceman’s latest adventures.
How has your inspiration evolved over the last 10 years?
I just only recently sorted out what inspires me and kind of just got back in touch with my purest motivation. I just saw Mama Mia! Here We Go Again, and it’s so much better than the first one. It reminded me of what kind of stories I want to tell. I forgot that it’s OK to want to make beautiful things. Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer is another one of those moments of pop culture where I was just so inspired and taken by the beauty of it. For the longest time I’ve been trying to figure out how I can fit in with the guys and what my Breaking Bad version of something is. Then I realized I’m not that guy. I just want to make beautiful, happy things that can inspire and motivate people while also having the mind toward speaking to a greater truth about humanity. I think that’s why Iceman really works, because it’s about an identity that hasn’t really been explored in pop culture that then speaks to a larger cultural movement we’re going through.
Touching on that universal truth, what’s at stake today with being an artist?
Nowadays it’s really hard to do certain things without feeling indulged. I keep saying I want to tell beautiful, happy stories, but there are so many people who are not beautiful or happy right now. There are voices who want to be heard and privileges to consider. I think certain artists have to navigate that and figure out where their storytelling is going to fall. For me, I kind of think about Pixar movies and how they really do convey incredibly important messages to young viewers and older viewers.
How did you come to start working with Iceman and Marvel?
I had been at the Marvel offices and the X-Men offices specifically here and there doing some smaller projects. … The editor at the time was about to do the ResurrXion relaunch and said, "Hey, you know Brian Michael Bendis had Bobby Drake come out, and we were hoping to get an authentic voice to that. What would you do with the character?" I did not realize I was in the midst of pitching for this thing, so I kind of just went with my gut reaction. Here is a guy who is in his late 20s-early 30s just kind of coming up upon this huge thing with his identity and you think about the personality surrounding those decisions, where you would compartmentalize so much that you wouldn’t be able to face this until later in your life. And so I just leaned into them and leaned into experiences I’ve had with people who had sort of come out in their later 20s and 30s. I was like, “Yeah, he’s hiding in plain sight. He uses comedy to deflect. He’s a gay standup comic.” … We went from there and opted to tell a story about this guy who really could have just kept on going living a lie but decided to be strong and face whatever demons he has to face and confront any personalities that may sort of not approve of this decision.
What was most important to you when you were approaching Iceman and his character arc?
I felt very inclined to tap into real stories. I just wanted to kind of have him organically deal with these issues and honor what is sort of the general timeline of a coming out story. My main goal was like, “He can’t be in love right out the gate.” I put him up with Judah Miller, because so many times, with a lot of people who are just coming to terms with their identity they see sort of the first shiny object in their lives, they jump in, lean in and say, “This is it.” Relationships are complicated and that relationship fell apart the minute … Judah saw what it meant to date a superhero. That was the other thing I started to dabble with, but what I’ll be playing with a lot more in this next arc is this notion of intersectionality and how does that further complicate the hero’s journey. Personal growth is one thing, but how does being all these other things make you a better or worse superhero?
How does intersectionality play into your own approach to art and the various identities of Bobby Drake?
It’s taken me until very recently to recognize that we kind of both dabble with the same juggle of intersectionality and privilege. For Bobby it’s like, “I’m not just a mutant, but now I have to deal with being gay.” For me, I’m gay and Middle Eastern in America. But then similar to Bobby, I don’t read as Middle Eastern — I read as sort of ethnic white and I can pass a lot of troubled waters smoothly. Similarly, I can kind of win a tough crowd over with a good joke and some self-deprecating humor and then I’m safe. That’s kind of where we’re both at with that. We have to recognize we are dealing with multiple challenges on multiple fronts, but then at the same time we also have some inherent privileges that make us a bit safer than some of our brothers and sisters. The next arc is really going to be thinking about that. He’s taking care of himself. He’s put the emergency-breathing mask on himself and now he has to put it on others. I like using that airline safety shit.
What are some things you’ve learned throughout this process of working with superheroes?
With a character who is as uniquely powerful as Bobby Drake, who is also on a larger team, the challenge was who does he fight that the X-Men wouldn’t just handle themselves? Spiderman can fight crooks and robbers, because he’s a hand-to-hand fighter guy with webs and stuff. Iceman can take a robber down in two seconds because he can just freeze them. So, it was very challenging to figure out who does he fight this week that would be a captivating story for jaded readers who read a zillion action comics. … The stuff that works is always when the fight relates to whatever is going on in his personal life. I always bring up Grey’s Anatomy. I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it, too, in the sense that the monsters are a metaphor for the monsters we face when we’re going through adolescence. Those stories tend to last longer with readers. The unstoppable Juggernaut is also kind of a metaphor for the unstoppable nature of things. Your family is going to have to know who you are and you can’t stop them from finding that out. So whenever that happens, you have a much better sort of tension to play with as a storyteller.
What might we expect in the upcoming series?
In the first story arc, Bobby was there to stop specific people. He pissed off Daken and then Daken wanted revenge. There was sort of a lot of cause and effect in the first arc. With this one, now that Bobby is sort of reaching a certain level, he’s showing up on people’s radars in different ways. In the second issue, we have Emma Frost, the White Queen, and she needs him because he is a particular type of powerful that she’s going to need for a family affair. Then … Mister Sinister is looking at him like, “Oh my god, I’ve never noticed. This guy has all the things I need to take over the world. His powers are exactly what I need for my own stuff.” As opposed to actions of consequences or violence begets violence, people are coming after him the way Spiderman's existence creates conflicts for Spiderman.