Interview: Struble & Grace of ‘Li’l Depressed Boy’

The creators of Image Comics' quiet indie hit talk to indie-appreciator Iann Robinson about their subtle, music-centered work.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Li'l Depressed Boy

For those who have yet to read Li’l Depressed Boy, get cracking!! Easily the most charming, engaging and honest comic book on the shelves right now, LDB is the brainchild of writer S. Steven Struble. Taking his love of music, relationships, depression and those odd years in your twenties when everything is a big deal but nothing really matters; Struble has created a series that is taking the comic world by storm.

Originally a web comic with various artists, Struble finally met Sina Grace who became the definitive artists for LDB. Being late to the party, I have entered into an absolute obsession with Li’l Depressed Boy. Imagine my excitement when the two creative forces behind this book agreed to talk to me. So, without further ado, check out my interview with S. Steven Struble and Sina Grace



CRAVEONLINE: For those who don’t know, describe who Li’l Depressed Boy is and what the series is about?

STRUBLE: The Li'l Depressed Boy is a comic book about getting out of the house and taking the steps to change your life.  It stars a rag doll named LDB, who is fighting his anti-social nature and putting himself out there in the world for the first time.  It's one part romance, one part comedy and a heaping helping of slice-of-life.


CRAVEONLINE: So how did you initially come up with the idea for Li’l Depressed Boy?

STRUBLE:  LDB started his life as a doodle on a 7th grade math test.  He was sad looking, with his mouth stitched shut.  I named him after a childhood nickname my brother used to taunt me with.  When I wanted to start writing some personal stories, the little guy that shared my nickname seemed like the perfect star.


CRAVEONLINE: How did the two of you meet and decide to work together?

GRACE:  Our Editor, Nicholas D. Brandt, introduced us when I was looking for a colorist to handle covers for my first series ever, Books with Pictures. Struble overcharged me and made me pay upfront, I made him do a thousand samples, and we've been inseparable ever since.

STRUBLE:  I had already been doing the web comic version of the Li'l Depressed Boy at this point.  Originally, it featured a rotating cast of artists that changed week from week.  Since I enjoyed Sina's artwork, I asked Sina to contribute.  He drew a handful of strips as time went by, and when I decided to go full time with one artist — he was my first choice.


CRAVEONLINE: Sina, when did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

GRACE:  Forever ago. I was reading Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Comics as a kid, and it connected really early on that I could do what these guys do: make money drawing.


CRAVEONLINE: Steven, when did you decide you wanted to be a writer. Did you always want to comic books?

STRUBLE:  I decided to write comics when I looked over and saw that my brother was a better artist than me.  At that point, I focused on writing and colouring.  I wanted to work in comic books since I was a little kid reading Archie books.  I also write poetry, which I sometimes weave into the narrative of LDB.


CRAVEONLINE: Do you draw upon your own childhood for the stories? How much like Li’l Depressed Boy were you as a kid?

STRUBLE:  Less so from my childhood.  LDB is me now.  Or maybe a couple years ago when I was in my twenties.  The majority of the events in the book happened to me recently.  Real conversations with my friends slip their way into the book.  I don't really make any attempt to hide that I am LDB.  His quirks, failings and personality are all my own.


CRAVEONLINE: How did you get the series into the hands of Image comics?

STRUBLE:  That is all Sina's doing.

GRACE:  I'd been working with Robert Kirkman for his Skybound imprint, and during one of my trips to the bay area, I had asked Eric Stephenson for advice on the book. We had made a limited "demo" edition that had sparked some interest, and Eric was actually impressed enough to want to take on the book. It really helped that we had three issues almost all done before we even solicited. Thanks, Eric!


CRAVEONLINE: When did the idea come to make Li’l Depressed Boy look the way he does? Was it a conscious desire to make him an every man?

STRUBLE:  LDB looks the way he does because I designed him when I was 14 years old.  He was a simple rag doll with drawn on eyes and a stitched up mouth.  I couldn't draw hands, so he had mitten hands.  I drew pictures of him throughout the years, slowly refining the look until he looks like what you see today.


CRAVEONLINE: Music has a lot to do with the series. What music inspires you to write the stories?

STRUBLE:  Music has a lot to do with my life. I live in my headphones.  It's rare to find a moment where I'm not listening to music.  Lately, it's been a lot of Andrew Jackson Jihad, Kepi Ghoulie, Mike Park, Childish Gambino, Lemuria, and Los Campesinos.  I tend to obsess on more recent bands, but I'll delve back into classic stuff like — the Clash, Jim Carroll, Devo, The Specials, etc. — for some variety.


CRAVEONLINE: Why do you think the reaction from the public has been so visceral? Why do you think so many identify with the character?

GRACE:  I think people react so strongly to the series because everything is so real: the stories came from real things that happened to Struble, I am drawing real people we both know, and real places. Even the coloring- its textured quality gives it a grounded vibe.


Sina Grace and S. Steven Struble

Artist Sina Grace and Writer S. Steven Struble


CRAVEONLINE: Sina, what is The Roller-Derby Robo-Dykes vs. The Cannibals and what did you have to do with it?

GRACE:  The Roller-Derby Robo-Dykes is my first-first-first comic book ever! I made it in high school and veiled it as an econ project. I was working at a comic store, so I managed to actually sell through my "first printing," and got to go "back to press," which really meant I sold 100 copies and needed to make 100 more. It's basically about a bunch of cannibals who are going to eat these pirates, and the pirates lead them to New Jersey to feast on some roller derby babes. Of course, the cannibals bit off more than they chew because the babes are robo-dykes who don't take no guff. I wrote and drew it. I should really reprint that sucker.


CRAVEONLINE: Do you plan to keep Li’l Depressed Boy as an on going or are there a finite number of issues for your story?

GRACE:  Ongoing!

STRUBLE:  I never plan for it to end.


CRAVEONLINE: Sina, how do you go about penciling the series. What tools do you use? What medium is your favorite?

GRACE:  I usually do little thumbnails on the printed script and jump right into penciling straight away. If I'm doing anything kind of risky layout-wise, I'll take a pix message and send to Struble for approval. I use one of those fancy art pencils, Micron pens (.01, .03, and .05), and a Pentel brush pen that gives things that dirty vibe to the art.

My favorite medium is and always will be pen and ink to a bristol board. This is how comic artists have been doing it for 100+ years, and it may sound weird, but I kind of feel like I'm tapping into something bigger than me when I do that. The computer feels too sterile for my tastes.


CRAVEONLINE:  Li’l Depressed Boy is a lot subtler than other “indie” comics that seem to focus on being as loud and over the top as possible. Was it a conscious choice to go against that grain?

GRACE:  Any and all notes of subtlety are to Struble's credit. I don't veer for over the top, but sometimes when he's throwing story ideas my way, my immediate instinct is to beat a point over the head. Luckily, Struble has me and Nick to bounce ideas off of, where we both say things he doesn't like and he goes back to trusting his instinct. Although, I'll always take credit for Jazz smelling LDB's fabric softener.

STRUBLE:  I was blessed as a kid to have a cool older brother and sister, who introduced me to a lot of amazing books.  At the same time as I was getting into superhero comics, they were pushing me to read Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware.  I love those stories that strive to be real.


CRAVEONLINE: Sina who are some of your favorite artists? Steven who are some of your favorite writers?

GRACE:  I love love love all of the Skybound artists. Sean Murphy, Craig Thompson, Adrian Tomine, Jamie Hewlett, and the list goes on. Music wise, I love Raw Geronimo and VUM, they get me going.

STRUBLE:  I'm inspired by a lot of writer/artists like Clowes, Tomine and Ware.  Los Bros. Hernandez, James Kochalka, Lucy Knisley, Liz Prince — you'd think I'd be writing detective novels with how much Dashiell Hammet I read — Jack Kerouac.  Various poets like Anis Mojgani and Buddy Wakefield.


CRAVEONLINE: Do you both read comics? What are you reading now that’s moving you?

GRACE:  I'm honestly reading everything Image puts out. This isn't some dumb endorsement, but I'm so proud of the comics my fellow creators are producing. I follow the occasional Spider-Man and X-Men storyline, but man, it takes either a great artist or a great story to pull me back in.

STRUBLE:  Animal Man; Swamp Thing; I, Zombie; All the Green Lantern books; I can never talk to Sina bout The Walking Dead, because I'm afraid he'll drop a spoiler on me.  Also, Reed Gunther is the best book on the stands.


CRAVEONLINE: Li’l Depressed Boy is something that would translate very well to animation. Is that a road either of you would like to go down?

GRACE:  I think we'd both be quite happy if something happened. My hope is that if someone wanted to translate it, they would see it exactly for what the series is, and wouldn't try to alter it in any way. I don't know how you could "Hollywood-up" LDB, unless maybe it was just like Penn Badgley wearing eye makeup and listening to records while Nina Dobrev in a purple wig walks all over him. Shrug.

STRUBLE:  I like to daydream about a Who Framed Roger Rabbit? style TV show or movie of the Li'l Depressed Boy.  LDB would be the only one animated, existing in a real-world setting with real-people and real-bands would randomly show up just like in the book.


CRAVEONLINE: What advice do you have for up and coming artists and writers coming into this business?

GRACE:  This industry is not an easy one to enter, nor is it an easy one to stay in. If you truly love what you're doing, then doing it should be the only reward.

STRUBLE:  Stick with it!  Every page you create will be better than the last one.  The first Li'l Depressed Boy comic was written and drawn in 1998, and it wasn't until 2011 until he got his own book.  Tenacity is key.  Don't ever give yourself an excuse to quit.

GRACE:  That, and HAVE FUN. People love having fun.


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