Early in her career as a cartoonist, Sophia Glock said yes to everything. She cobbled together “a million different gigs,” often without compensation. Now, over a decade later, she has published her first book, Passport—a memoir about her childhood as the daughter of two CIA officers. Glock uncovered the family secret one day when she happened upon a letter that wasn’t meant for her. Her parents weren’t who they claimed to be, and this finding led her to question everything. Being a teenager is challenging enough and on top of that, Glock had the added weight of keeping such a big secret! Her gripping novel is a page-turner, and in it she talks about how she evaded questions about her parents’ occupation and what it was like to have to move countries and start over, again and again. Glock sat down with Narratively and chatted about where the idea for the book came from and how finally being able to say no feels like success.
Your book is such a fun read. At the end you say that you sat on it for a long time and were unsure about whether you were going to publish it. Why were you uncertain about putting it out into the world?
I was uncomfortable. I was embarrassed on some level—it’s the nature of memoirs. I thought, “Oh it’s so indulgent. Who cares about my life?” People have had much more dramatic circumstances and for all the potential intrigue of my situation, I was fairly sheltered and privileged.
There was also the matter of my family. When you’re writing a memoir, you can’t get permission. Your mom doesn’t get to vet how you’re going to characterize her in it. All this made me nervous. It took me a really long time to get comfortable with the idea of writing a memoir, but eventually I got to a point in life where I felt that this was the next story that I had to tell.
You published a comic with us a few years ago about your relationship with your mother, told through the story of you eating chocolate she kept in her nightstand.
That piece that I wrote for Narratively actually sowed the seed for Passport. It talked about a lot of the things that I talked about in Passport—secret keeping, the challenge of intimate relationships, those sorts of things.
Tell me more about your trajectory as an illustrator. Is that something you always wanted to do?
When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be a writer but I was always drawing. I wasn’t writing, I was drawing. And then when I discovered comics, I realized that I was actually interested in visual storytelling, which is writing, but also drawing.
At one moment in your book, your childhood self says she wants to write a paper about the literary value of comics. So it’s something you’ve always wanted, it seems.
I was 12 when I decided to do this. I’m very stubborn, apparently.
What advice do you have for budding cartoonists and illustrators?
It takes forever—that’s okay. I remember I heard someone say, “Give yourself a decade,” but it took me longer than that. It also depends on what your definition of success is. My definition of success is to be able to make comics without feeling guilty. Something switched at some point in my life. Before, I used to feel I should be doing something else when I was writing comics, and now I feel guilty when I’m not writing comics, and that makes me feel awesome.
That’s really beautiful. What do you think the guilt was about?
Money. I could be working, I could be chasing something else, I could be hustling. I’ve also seen other cartoonists talk about how when you arrive at a place where you’re comfortable saying no, that feels really good. We’re told early on to say yes to everything, which is all for the best. You should be trying a lot of different things, you should try to find your voice and take jobs just for cash and so on. But it is a really nice feeling to say no to certain projects and gigs.
I honestly never thought that I’d be in that place. These days I know what I’m comfortable saying yes to and that feels awesome. It feels like success.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Passport is now available to purchase in the Narratively Bookshop.
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