Two times a year, the Xeric Foundation gives out grants to comic-book creators so that they have the financial means to publish their work. One of this round's recipients was local cartoonist Sam Spina, who last month used the grant money to publish Fight, the story of a champion who finally gets beaten and his struggle back to the top. "I always do pretty cutesy stuff and I wish I could make really gross comics, but whenever I try, it just comes out kind of cute, too," Spina says. "Fight's my grossest one yet, but it doesn't make your stomach hurt or anything." Spina had been drawing doodles of the Fight character in his sketchbook for a while before he created half of a full-length comic and submitted it to the Xeric Foundation, which awarded him the prize. A graphic design student who'd never been into comics as a kid, Spina started reading comics by Craig Thompson, Jeffrey Brown and, eventually, James Kochalka while he was in school. Kochalka is known for his prolific diary comics, in which he's chronicled every day of his life since 1998, and his book American Elf inspired Spina to do a diary comic of his own: Spinadoodles. "I literally read the last page and put it down and then did my first one," says Spina. Since April 2009, Spina has drawn a diary comic every day and dutifully posted it on his website; the strip was picked up by the Colorado Daily a few months ago, which publishes it in print. The comic, which is often funny and sweet, chronicles everything from Spina's relationship with his girlfriend to funny things that his cat does. "It forces me to draw every day," Spina says. "It's nice to have, even if I don't do anything that day productive-wise and I still do my comic, it's still something." Enough something that he's been able to make two full-length books of the daily comics, which have gained him a following of folks who don't usually read comic books. "I go to Phoenix Con every year and I do really really well there with girlfriends and people who don't want to be there because their boyfriends dragged them there," says Spina. Fight was a departure from this diary style, and Spina says his next comic will go in another direction: It will be a full-length autobiographical comic. He started working on Grandma Stories at this year's 24-Hour Comics Day, but only completed 15 pages out of the 24 he's set as a goal. He's now finishing the comic about talking on the phone with his grandmother and plans to have it published and up for sale on his website this week; he'll also sell it at his table at the third annual Cowtown Comix Fest on November 12. For Spina, comics are a way to connect. "I'm crazy awkward and I'm so bad at talking and expressing myself, especially to people I don't really know, so I think maybe that's why I do a comic," he says. "To just kind of make friends and show the world who I am a little."
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