In the first part of our interview with Sina Grace, we spoke on his career to date, from his “wild period” as a comic book editor, through juggling continuity on mainstream superhero books, and how to take that mainstream audience back to more personal works.
In part two, we’re focused on what comes next – and right now, that’s the continuing adventures of Rockstar and Softboy. Launched as a one-shot in 2022, the book explored gay life and friendships in a heightened version of the queer oasis that is West Hollywood, one where the protagonists were as likely to transform into Sailor Moon-style superheroes as they were to to throw shade and fabulous parties. With the first book a breakout hit, Grace is bringing the duo back for their greatest adventure yet in Rockstar and Softboy Go to Space – although “bringing back” in this case involves them leaving everything they ever knew behind!
Go to Space sees the eponymous duo effectively exiled from Earth – and worse, WeHo – when they cross the Venue Brothers, a spoiled pair of space princes whose family owns every bar, club, and achingly cool underground spot everywhere. With nowhere left to hang, Rockstar and Softboy seek a new life among the stars – but the journey may test their friendship like never before.
Rounding out our talk with Sina, we discuss the real world origins of Rockstar and Softboy, breakout supporting characters, and why showcasing platonic gay friendships is so important. Plus, read on for an exclusive preview of Rockstar and Softboy Go to Space!
Content Warning – this interview is uncensored and contains language some may find offensive
Matt Kamen: OK, before we get onto Rockstar and Softboy proper, a quick aside – you’ve written in the backmatter of the books that they’re inspired by your friendship with Josh Trujillo, and how good is his new Blue Beetle: Graduation Day book?! He’s killing it, right?
Sina Grace: Josh’s Blue Beetle is so much fun and I’m so angry I have to read it month-to-month… I always end up craving more!!!
MK: Friend-plug done, what sparked the idea for Rockstar and Softboy being such a magical-realist/pop-culture infused/’90s-nostalgia/gay-zeitgeist mash-up?
SG: Rockstar and Softboy’s magical school girl video game pop culture insanity tone really came from me trusting my instincts. It’s just so much more fun to draw hyper stylized and over-the-top fantasy versions of real-life situations than just showing normal people standing around at a party.
MK: What’s your “process” for putting a Rockstar and Softboy comic together? You’ve said Go To Space in particular started with nothing more than that germ of an idea, so is it all a bit “stream of consciousness”?
SG: Rockstar and Softboy books definitely come out of me the way my autobiographical stuff does: In a weird haze that springs up when different things inspire me. The whole project started because our beloved Josh Trujillo once referred to us as “you’re the rockstar and I’m the softboy” when we were talking about the politics of gracefully losing that DC Round Robin pitch competition [editor’s note: a campaign DC ran in 2021 and 2022 where creators pitched ideas for 16 mini-series and fans voted in elimination rounds to determine which one was published]. I made a whole comic out of that!
From there, I focus on what’s going through my mind with regards to queer friendship – what makes it special and unique and also how do universally relatable issues look through a queer lens? Then I constantly am like “how do I tell this differently?” Like, the main thing about them as two gay protagonists who are best friends is that they’re never going to end up together… so I explored that in a short story for Image’s 30th anniversary anthology, where they get magicked into being each other’s “type,” and it still doesn’t make them a fit.
MK: Rockstar and Softboy still feels fairly unique in being hinged on non-sexual gay male friendships. Why do you think those sorts of narratives are so rare across media, even when we’re telling stories as queer people ourselves?
SG: I think the reason there aren’t a lot of stories where the gay dudes are just buds probably has a lot to do with storytellers being trained to keep things as tidy and “in-house” as possible. Much like we want the killers in a Scream movie to be someone on the poster, I think there’s a desire for someone’s OTP (One True Pairing) to also be under our noses this whole time. Thus, when people get a chance to actually tell queer stories within a larger ensemble, it’s always like “well… that character’s gay…. and THAT character is gay… let’s have them kiss on New Years Eve???”
MK: Why are stories where platonic gay friendships are visible so important?
SG: Platonic gay friendship narratives are so, so, so important because – and I’m only speaking about cis gay guy stuff/personal experience – we need to see examples of male intimacy that isn’t just about sex. We need stories about gay men trusting each other and relying on each other, because those bonds exist, but rarely do they get displayed in pop culture. My entire goal for Rockstar and Softboy (after the spite of it all) was to contribute a Romy and Michele, an Abbi and Ilana, a Lucy and Ethel to the queer canon. Gay guys love powerful and iconic women, but we need to see more powerful and iconic gay male friendships, too.
MK: Getting somewhere between quasi-philosophical and pseudo-sociological here then, but do you think that absence of platonic queer male friendships in our media is part of why so many cis gay men stan iconic female characters, especially groups, whether it’s the Birds of Prey or the Golden Girls?
SG: Hell yes with the pseudo-brainy banter of it all!!! I feel like there’s a Bravo blogger who’s probably (and accurately) broken this down, but I think gay men loving iconic women will never go away, and might even be mutually exclusive of the journey towards self-love. It all stems back to our relationships with our mothers. Like, Drag Race becoming an international behemoth has not changed how much gay guys love watching Real Housewives and how little they care for Real Friends of Weho. Same with M3GAN. We love c*nty women with great outfits, always. I could be wrong, but I will be excited to be proven wrong down the line when there are more iconic gay guy things!
MK: There’s also an element of Go To Space of Rockstar and Softboy needing space from each other, and the fears of growing apart. Is that sort of a statement on friendships needing to change as they mature?
SG: I’m glad you caught that extension of the theme! Outer Space tends to reflect our fear of the unknown, so I wanted to play with the fear of the unknown with friendships… when will it end? It has to end… right? No? I might be in the minority, where if I feel some kind of immense joy, there’s a little thing in the back of my head that’s like “well, how long will this last for?” Sound logic from the guy who made a book called Nothing Lasts Forever! We can’t change that people sometimes evolve AWAY from each other… I don’t think that’s gonna happen for Rockstar and Softboy, though.
MK: With all the influences, references, and genres you’ve blended into Rockstar & Softboy, you’ve given yourself the freedom to do pretty much anything on a plot level, but where do you see the characters going next? What’s the Return of the Jedi of platonic gay friendships?
SG: I take each Rockstar and Softboy story as they come… whether by demand or inspiration. As of right now, I have an itch to do a “Reunion Special” like the Real Housewives do. I’d even have fun with the form and reuse old panels as an Andy Cohen-type tees up the focus of his next conversation topic. By “itch,” I’m most definitely gonna do this, because I really want to get the ensemble I’ve built out in one spot and wearing ridiculous Jovani gowns. That will probably be some kind of webstore exclusive thing I do, just so I’m not losing my shirt producing a 20 page story that there might be no demand for. We’ll use this chat as a pulse check!
MK: Do you see scope for spinoffs? For instance, the character Miaow Miaow gets a bit of an origin story in Go To Space – are there any other supporting characters you’d like to do more with?
SG: I think if any character deserves more screen time and an exploration, it’s that hot Masked Bear in the flapper dress from the first Rockstar and Softboy story! Everyone gravitated towards that character, my friend even dressed as him for Halloween! Maybe he’ll end up like a Tuxedo Mask-type, mysteriously showing up to save the day and aid our hero, all the while kind of bullying him in civilian form…
MK: And finally, how has Josh received his interpretation as Softboy in the books?
SG: Josh seems to enjoy these stories – if anything it’s made him be like “if these fictional versions of us are hanging out so much, why aren’t WE hanging out?” He’s also been such a supportive friend and orders extra copies to give to pals around town. There’s a lot of fiction to these characters, so as long as I don’t use the space to dissect anything specific to his actual moral fibre, I think we’re good. It’s very “Rockstar” of me though that I don’t think I ever even asked him how he feels about this…
Rockstar and Softboy Go to Space is published February 2023 by Image Comics. The first volume of Rockstar and Softboy is a contender for “Best LGBTQ Comic Book Moment Award” in the Gayming Awards 2023!