“I felt it was important to talk about a male athlete’s sexuality, because many female athletes are open about it” Dominic Archer on the inspiration for new graphic novel A Boxer coming soon to Kickstarter
Joining the ranks of fantastic titles on offer from Scotland’s BHP Comics (Dungeon Fun, Freedom Bound, Killtopia, I Rolled A One) comes A Boxer, the story of an up and coming fighter who is caught between the ultra macho world of his sport and his burgeoning sexual identity. With a glorious retro inspired style and a story which looks set to read like an LGBT Rocky, we caught up with writer Dominic Archer to find out more about the world of A Boxer before it hits Kickstarter this Spring.
A Boxer tells the story of two homosexual men trying to find their place within the macho world of boxing. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the story?
Dominic Archer: The inspiration for A Boxer came when I was living and teaching in China. While I was there, three different students came to me to say “Teacher, I’m gay and I’m scared to tell my parents.” It became obvious that they were able to talk to me about these issues because I represented a different cultural context to the more traditional relationship values that they are surrounded by. It struck me as an incredibly brave step for each of them to make and it led me to question why my own sexuality was so weakly defined when I came from the very pro-LGBTQ environment of British comics and academia, while they were so certain of themselves despite adversity.
Around this time I came across the podcast, Finding Drago, that follows two Australian comedians investigating the mysterious disappearance of the Pulitzer prize winning author of a Rocky IV fan fiction novel. It was exactly the spark I needed to bring together these questions of identity into the world of sports in a creative way.
Did you feel it was an important story to tell, especially seeing as there are so few high profile homosexual athletes in any kind of sport?
DA: I felt it was important to talk about it, especially in terms of male athletes because many female athletes are open about their sexuality, including multiple players on the women’s USA soccer team and the amazing British boxer, Nicola Adams.
We saw the problems male athletes face last year with the Twitter account “The Gay Footballer”. English football has spent a long time trying to promote a more inclusive image but it still contains players who are too intimidated to express who they are.
One of the things I found really inspiring about Orlando Cruz becoming the first male boxer to come out is how he wore it as a badge of pride, alongside his nationality. Cruz said “I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”
The difficulty that our protagonist (Mike Shepherd) faces in A Boxer is that deciding to come out will define the rest of his career. Cruz, for example, wanted to become the first openly gay champion and that is a lot of pressure to put on your legacy, especially if you fail. “The Gay Footballer” would have been in a similar situation, where his sporting achievements would always be remembered secondarily to who he publicly loved. The hope of the book is that as we see an increase in openly LGBTQ athletes, characters like Mike Shepherd could choose how they want to define themselves in the public eye.
We’ve noticed you’ve opted for a longer form 100 page graphic novel format for this, is that to allow it more space and time to tell the story properly? Was that important to you as a writer, to give it plenty of time?
DA: The graphic novel format was really important to us as it allowed the story to flow, rather than artificially constraining it within 20 page issues. While the book could have worked as a mini-series, it would have forced us to make compromises such as including more fights when they weren’t thematically appropriate, because we’ve led the reader to expect to see some boxing! A 6 issue boxing mini-series with only 3 bouts feels like it is cheating the audience in some way.
The book has a really unique vintage artistic style, can you tell us a bit about how that developed? And give us an insight into the process at all? And what the inspiration for it was?
DA: I’m really glad that this is coming across. One of the major influences on the book was American realist, George Bellows. There is a visceral, almost primal energy in Bellows’ art that we wanted to capture so that we could contrast it to the sense of imprisonment Mike feels when he is out of the ring. Our colourist, Amanda Miranda, created a vintage style that hopes to give the book a feeling of timelessness.
From reading the press pack we see that your team are all connected to the University of Dundee arts course, is that how you all met? And how did that course set you up for making comics?
DA: I met Gary Welsh (our penciller), Marc Casilli (our inker) on the University of Dundee’s Masters in Comics and Graphic Novels course. It is an amazing opportunity for artists to surround themselves with an environment that fosters creative development and academic prowess. For writers, like me, it’s a great chance to meet the big names of the future and steal them for your own work!
Marc and Amanda are both Brazillian comics creators from Sao Paulo and so the search for an incredible colourist took no time at all. The letterer, however, was more difficult to find. After reaching out to a number of creators for recommendations, all of my replies said “You should talk to Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou”, and a quick search of his Eisner Award winning bibliography confirmed that.
It’s both inspirational and daunting to have such a talented creative team on the book, as it pushes me to bring my best to the project too.
The book is coming soon to Kickstarter (and will be published by BHP Comics), is this your first experience of crowd funding and what is it about that format that appeals as a creator?
DA: Yes, it’s my first experience with crowd funding and comes with a plethora of challenges. The thing that really excites me about the process is that it allows us to create work that would otherwise be financially impossible. BHP Comics have been incredibly supportive with the work, but today’s industry doesn’t allow for independent publishers to invest the page rate of 5 creators on a 100 page book, and then handle printing and distribution costs on top of that.
By going to Kickstarter to fund the creative costs, Gary, Marc, Amanda and Hassan can get to draw, eat dinner and pay the rent, and backers get to read a project that would otherwise not get made. It’s a win, win!
How did you get connected to BHP Comics and what was it about them which appealed as a publisher?
DA: I had been around BHP Comics for years as they hold a number of fantastic comics events in the UK. Last summer I was lucky enough to sit down with BHP’s publisher, Sha Nazir, and pitch him the book. What made BHP different to the other publishers we spoke to, was how they said “How do you envision the book and how are you going to make it?” There were no attempts by them to restructure the work, just an honest and open exchange on how to make it happen.
Is the book finished yet and if not, when can people expect the book to be finished?
DA: The Kickstarter is to fund the creation of the art itself. Our costing is broken down into: 1. Paying Gary, Marc, Amanda and Hassan (I am not asking for funding as the script is already completed and we want to keep the costs as low as possible) and 2. Purchasing the completed copies for our backers. The artists have set themselves a deadline of 8 months to complete work on the funded project and from there it is in the publishers hands!
If people like your work, what else should they check out and are you working on anything else at the moment?
DA: To back the Kickstarter go to: kickstarter.com/projects/780830084/a-boxer
To check out more work from the team, I would recommend going to https://www.dominicarchercomics.com/good-fellas and reading the Goodfellas anthology. It features work from myself, Gary, Marc and Amanda collaborating together.
If you’re looking for Gary’s pencils, this his work with 2000AD founder Pat Mills Ragtime Soldier is fantastic. Marc’s on-going autobiographical series Legit continues to be brilliant, and Amanda’s book Hibernáculo won the 2019 Dente Award for Best Independent Comic. For Hassan you can follow the amazing Strip Panel Naked Youtube channel where he breaks down comics in their entirety, read his Eisner-Award winning comics journal Panel x Panel, or check out his work with Kieron Gillen and Caspar Wjingaard, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt.
Also, if they like the subject matter do you have any recommendations for further reading?
DA: For work that inspired me definitely look for Alexei Toliopoulos and Cameron James’ Finding Drago podcast (which was recently named one of the best podcasts of the previous decade), and the work of the author they’re trying to uncover, the magnificent Todd Noy.