Meet the Comics Creator Who Brought X-Men’s Iceman Out of the Closet

Written by | Art & Design, Entertainment

iceman cover and sina grace

Cover image courtesy Marvel. Sina Grace image courtesy Lauren Renner

sina grace was determined to be an indie graphic storyteller. then he got the chance to help a superhero come out of the closet.

Out of the closet and into the limelight, comic book creative Sina Grace (pictured, above) is ushering in a not-so uncanny era of LGBTQ+ fandom for new and longtime comic book readers alike with his artistic confidence, quick wit and occasional bad dad jokes in Marvel’s Iceman series. Iceman is Marvel’s first book to have a lead LGBTQ+ character in its title role. Bobby Drake, originally known as the Iceman, debuted in 1963 – created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as one of the five original mutants populating The X-Men comics. Fifty-five years later, Iceman is getting a fresh start in life, with Grace at the helm.

It seems more than appropriate that Grace would oversee Bobby’s journey into self-discovery, heroism and the world of online dating. Grace is also the author/artist behind the autobiographical Self-Obsessed and a graphic novel called Not My Bag, which recounts his nightmare experience behind the counter. In addition to Marvel, Grace has worked with publishers IDW, Boom, Dynamite and Valiant; he’s also served as editorial director for Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint at Image Comics. Although he may not readily admit it, Grace is paving a yellow brick road for LGBTQ+ creatives with every word he writes in the LA coffee shops where he’s often found working.

You’ve been quite the busy bee these days with your work on both of Marvel’s Iceman comic book series. Have you always wanted to be a comic book creator?

SINA GRACE: The only thing I’ve wanted to do in this life is make comics, so I started pretty young. I was an intern at Top Cow Productions in high school, and was making ‘zines by my senior year. In college, I started self-publishing and going to cons. I even apprenticed under Howard Chaykin for a little bit. I then got sucked into working retail and drawing [the indie comic about a hipster rag doll] Li’l Depressed Boy on the side until I got the gig as Editorial Director for Skybound. My two big moments coming up were getting to illustrate an all-ages book for Amber Benson called Among the Ghosts. I love that book and the experience of getting to work with Simon and Schuster was so eye-opening. Then, my first “memoir” of sorts, Not My Bag — about retail hell, ‘cuz let me tell you —was also an awesome way to walk away from editing comics full time and let the world know, “Hey, I write and draw comics. They’re gonna be weird, but they’re gonna be good.”

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Iceman’s “coming out” caught a lot of attention. How did you become the lead writer assigned to the project?

For a long time I’d been very punk rock in not pursuing work from Marvel or DC, ‘cuz my Image work was keeping a roof over my head. I had an ah-ha a moment where I was like, “Can I also just do both?” I made editor Daniel Ketchum’s acquaintance via Not My Bag, and writer Gerry Duggan reintroduced us when I asked for advice on getting Marvel’s attention. There was about a year or two of small gigs here and there before Daniel asked me to pitch an Iceman solo series. I joke that I had no clue I was actually auditioning, because I really just ran with my gut instinct about his journey: He’s been hiding in plain sight this whole time

Knowing he would be Marvel’s leading LGBTQ+ character, what went through your mind as you considered where to take him? Before taking on Iceman, I got caught up on Steve Orlando’s Midnighter series. I wanted to see what had and hadn’t been done in terms of having a marquee character inhabit the pages as visibly gay. I also went through and read like 100 more X-Men books that I either missed or breezed through. I wanted to relive my X-Men fandom through the lens of Bobby Drake, as he was always so peripheral to the big events happening.  I was gonna do whatever I was gonna do with regards to his journey and representing that, but I didn’t want to let X-Men fans down in terms of not knowing the character’s full history.

You’re on the leading edge of a historic moment in the comics industry. Do you get the sense of broadening horizons?

A friend once told me, “People never realize what they’re doing is revolutionary when it’s happening.” He was saying that to me about Iceman, and I kind of laughed because I’m like that gif of Tai from Clueless not feeling no buns of steel. There’s no point thinking about the meaning if I am or am not doing something big. My goal is to tell a story I’m proud of that feels responsibly handled for my community. Putting a comic out in the world that’s worth keeping on shelves is better than putting out an “important” story that’s flimsy upon a second reading. At the end of the day, it’s really on how the material lands with readers in  another year or two, so I don’t spend much time worrying. The one thing that feels rad is hearing that the first two volumes of the series perform well in the book market. So, I guess my one-word answer is: validating.

Only rarely do we see a mainstream popular LGBTQ+ character represented in comics, let alone land a book of their own.

To me, I’m always like, “Well, duh!” about seeing mainstream LGBTQ+ folks on comic shelves, but that’s because almost everything I did at Image Comics; featured queer leads. … Similarly, Robert Kirkman had a handful of gay characters in both The Walking Dead and Invincible, so I didn’t realize the landscape was starving for more. Suffice to say, it’s pretty cool, but my expectation is that it should just be the status quo.

Iceman has been around for quite a while, — 55 years to be exact. How did you decide what’s relevant in his background to  help shape him going forward?

Iceman’s extensive backstory is actually pretty easy to comb through, because he’s often not given much meat in the larger event arcs. And then when it’s not that, then it’s luckily been the same handful of themes he’s been struggling with since he was a teen. All the stuff with his parents, the years of fighting with Emma [Frost] about his powers… My rule has always been to lean into his past and make it work – including that whole chapter where he got an accounting degree!

What are you hoping readers new and old take away from what you’ve been able to accomplish?

My hope is that readers enjoy the arc of watching Bobby Drake re-establish himself as a self-possessed X-Man in this world of rollercoasters. Family, Juggernaut, love interests, Spider-Man, old flames, Mister Sinister… I guess I hope readers can sort of see the meditation on identity I’ve laid out in this tangential tapestry that is just one chapter in the life of Marvel’s Merriest Mutant.

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Why is it important to you that Iceman has a heightened visibility for comics fans now that he’s out of the closet? ?

The X-Men have always been a direct line to the voice of the marginalized folks in America and the world. Mutants are born with something in them that others fear and don’t understand. I talk a lot about the notion of intersectionality in the series, because he’s gay and a mutant. With this current arc on the stands, we have the Morlocks — a group of mutants who cannot pass as “normal” non-mutants. So then we have that wrinkle to examine. These kinds of stories are anchored when there’s an identity or group of identities being used as analogs for the issues discussed. We can get more meat and then also use the power of metaphor to inform those who don’t understand what’s going on… plus, LGBT people wanna see themselves in cool costumes in the middle of awesome fight scenes. We’re hella warriors too, y’know?

No two coming out stories are identical, of course. Did your own path have an impact on what you decided to do with Bobby Drake?  Is his story in any way your own?

My coming-out story is way different than Bobby’s. I was raised by an Iranian single mother who came up Muslim, so her reaction had more to do with a lack of father figure. The part of the experience that I identify with regarding Iceman’s journey is the fear that status quos and friendships would change because of my truth. I started coming out towards the end of high school… I was still a little confused by my own sexuality/gender presentation. So the first person I told was my high school best friend, and then I think a friend I met on a comic book message board. Even though we have so many labels that help define us, sometimes there still is an inescapable quality of being put into a box. Anyway, once I was in college, I recognized that for all intents and purposes, I was a gay man and wrapped up my coming-out process as such!

What are your hopes and aspirations for Bobby Drake and other LGBTQ+ characters yet to be created in the comics universe?

My hopes are that these books are normalized and celebrated for their quality rather than treated like a crazy exception that snuck into the mainstream. Part of why I stand so hard for Love, Simon is that it’s a major motion picture with a high budget soundtrack [and] great production quality that was in the same several thousand movie theaters as Avengers: Infinity War… like, we were [given more than just an] art house movie once a blue moon!

Why is coming out still so important to LGBTQ+ identity now, and what does it mean to be out and proud today?

Well, when you say the word “identity,” there’s an implied understanding that one’s identity speaks to their psyche, self-image, portrayed image, beliefs, and general markers of individuality … I’ve learned better than to speak in generalizations, but it begs the question: How could it not be important? All I know is that for me, I felt like a massive burden was lifted off my shoulders the minute I stopped carrying a secret around my friends and family. And as a result, I was able to focus my mental energies on being a better writer/artist/friend/person. The thing I love about seeing a new generation of teens grow up and come out without the “After School Special” of it all is the unapologetic nature of their process! Hell yes! Being out and proud today means not feeling shame or fear for what is an absolute truth that also does and doesn’t have to be anybody else’s business.

Once the deadlines have all been met and the issue is finally off to the printer, what gets your attention?

Trying new things is always fun for me. … My ex always told people that so long as I had an opportunity to take a picture for Instagram Stories, I’d want to do pretty much any activity! Sincerely though, I was pretty sick a few years ago, so now I am open to exploring everything this world has to offer me. But of course, I’m at my happiest grabbing a cappuccino from some new cafe and hitting up a comic or book store before a movie or concert. I’m mild to wild like that.

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Last modified: February 19, 2019