Pryor, Thompson and Reed Bring Their Sports-Comic ‘F.O.R.C.E.’ to Kickstarter [Back Pages]
For his newest Kickstarter, Cash & Carrie creator Shawn Pryor has assembled quite the team. F.O.R.C.E. brings him together with writer B. Alex Thompson and artist Jay Reed for a new sports comic set in the world of American Football, and follows the flagging career of veteran player Terrance Wright, a starting quarterback looking to lead his team out for one last big game. But the world of football is a political one, and if he's to achieve his dreams then he's going to have to overcome a whole mess of problems both on and off the field.
The Kickstarter is running now, seeking a funding target of $4,000 to print the first issue; any additional funds will go towards further issues. Sports remains a relatively uncommon subject for Western comics, so Back Pages spoke to the whole team about how this came together, and what readers could expect from the series.
ComicsAlliance: When did you first come to the idea of F.O.R.C.E. as a comic?
Shawn Pryor: It came about around summer 2015. I’ve been a football fan since I was a teen, and for years I wondered when we would see someone make the push for more sports-based comic books in the United States. Instead of waiting for someone else to do it, I decided to take the initiative to team up with Jay and Alex to create F.O.R.C.E. (Football Operations Rated Championship Elite).
Jay Reed: Shawn approached me in the summer of 2015 after I had done a variant cover for another project called Cash & Carrie. That fall I put together some promo art for Shawn to take to NYCC.
B. Alex Thompson: Shawn brought me to the team around the same time as he was in talks with Jay about the project. I dug the concept and Jay’s art, so I was ready for the challenge right off!
CA: What’s the basic premise of the series?
SP: Quarterback Terrance Wright is in the biggest game of his life, playing for Tennessee Boxers. He’s at the tail end of his career and hoping for one last big payday if he can lead his team to victory at Supreme Bowl XXVII.
But events leading up to the big game could possibly alter Terrance’s future; dealing with his scheming and calculating agent, shaky finances and physical health, a rookie quarterback that’s on his heels, and a personal relationship with the franchise operations manager take him to his breaking point regardless of the outcome on the gridiron?
BAT: Because of that, sometimes the battle off the field can be as tough as the one on it.
CA: Sports comics haven't been very prominent recently. What is it that made you want to enter the genre with this story?
BAT: Yeah, there aren’t many recent sports related comics out in the mainstream American market. Recently Geoffrey Thorne and Khary Randolph produced Mosaic with Marvel, but past the first issue it’s unknown how much the sports aspect will carry through the series. Brandon Easton did a book called Closer to Heaven about wrestler Andre the Giant. Actually there have been a few wrestling related books over the years.
But yeah, when you bring up “sports in comics,” I’m sure most people will think of NFL SuperPro from years back. We’re not doing that!
I’m all about diversity in comics, and I constantly preach that the medium isn’t only about superheroes, spandex, and capes. Comic books can tell a vast variety of stories of any genre spanning the whole spectrum of the human experience. This is another opportunity to show and prove this to be true.
SP: Most of the sports comics that I’ve read over the years were manga such as Eyeshield 21 (which ran from 2002-2009). There’s also Southern Bastards, but for me that book is more about crime and corruption in the south with football as a small piece of the bigger picture... and there’s the Play Ball OGN from 2012... but that’s about it.
Just like when I decided to create Cash & Carrie last year, I wanted to give comics something that it’s been missing and sorely needs. There’s plenty of people that enjoy comic books as much as they enjoy watching sports. There are those that don’t like watching sports, but like reading about them or watching documentaries about them. Then there are those who visually enjoy the drama on the field and off the field, and F.O.R.C.E. delivers all of those things.
JR: One of the things that excited me about the possibilities of this project was the fact that it was something you really don’t see that often. Variety is always a good thing, and perhaps it could lead to other creators exploring different sports.
CA: What's the focus of the series? Is this following the matches, or the behind-the-scenes? What kind of story are you planning out here?
SP: It takes place in a fictional football league and follows the Championship Game that takes place during Supreme Bowl XXVII, while at the same time giving you the story of Quarterback Terrance Wright and the things that he’s dealing with a week before the game actually happens. I think that a lot of people see athletes as folks who should be able to perform at the drop of a hat, when the reality of it all is that they too have situations/life choices/relationships that can also affect how they perform.
This story is about Terrance, the way he handles multiple relationships with his agent (who also represents a rookie quarterback who is also Terrance’s backup), his girlfriend, being a leader, etc. --- and if he can pull it all together to help his team win the biggest game of their careers.
JR: With the art I wanted to take the reader down on the field so you are right there in the mix. I wanted people to feel the energy on the page and get excited when they read it. Hopefully the reader will feel like they are in the game right along with Terrance.
BAT: Piggybacking on what Shawn said, with this mini series we’re trying to show the readers both sides of the professional athlete coin. On one hand it has all of the in-game action that any sports fan wants. On the other hand we have the drama of our main character Terrance showing what he’s been through, what he would like to do, and what actually has to happen to move his life forward.
We also see the many dimensions of the people near and dear to Terrance… the face and personas they present to the outside world, but the inner drives and struggles they have to deal with as well. There’s no “I” in “Team,” so everyone will have to put aside any differences and unite so the team can have any hope of pulling a win.
CA: You mentioned Terrance; can you tell us a little more about the other central characters we'll see in the comic?
SP: There’s also Alex Jordan, who serves as his agent. Alex is always wheeling and dealing, doing his best to make Terrance feel like he is his number one client when things don’t always seem that way. There’s also Cassandra Knox, who is the operations manager of the Tennessee Boxers. Like Terrance’s relationship with Alex, Cassandra’s relationship with Terrance is quite complicated because they struggle with balance between business and personal.
JR: My favorite person in the story to draw is Terrance, mainly because there are so many aspects to his character within the story. There are the dynamic action scenes on the field, which are fun, but I found his off the field persona quite the refreshing change of pace because you have to give him so many different expressions. It’s really allowed me to focus on that skill and improve upon it.
BAT: But one of the characters I was surprised to really enjoy while crafting the story is Xavier Bellows --- the young buck upstart; the Rookie. He doesn’t bungle being thrust into the spotlight like you’d expect most people his age. Sure, he’ll make some mistakes in the series, but you’ll understand why and you won’t fault him for it.
CA: How did you all come together as the creative team?
BAT: I’ve been a fan of Shawn’s from back in the early Action Lab days when he was working for them. I was actually only a few cities away from him at the time, and didn’t know it! When I did get this info, it was around the time I moved back home to Southern California. I continued to watch Shawn’s projects and would think, “One of these days I’m gonna work with this talented cat.”
So fast forward some years later and Shawn approached me with the F.O.R.C.E. project. Of course I was going to agree to it! He introduced me to Jay’s artwork, and I was blown away. I’ve been a big fan of Jay and his work ever since.
SP: I knew of Alex through a mutual friend, and found out that he had been writing books for years. I wanted to bring on a co-writer to balance out the football action with proper off-field drama, and after reading a book Alex wrote/published called Haas, I reached out to him to see if he wanted to be a part of the team and he was down for it.
JR: I had actually heard Shawn speak on a livestream called Black Comics Chat long before he approached me to do a variant cover for Cash & Carrie. He always had a ton of knowledge about the comics industry so I would tune in while I was working. After Shawn had approached me about F.O.R.C.E., he then introduced me to Alex.
SP: I had followed Jay Reed for a few years on various social media feeds and was really impressed by his linework and detail. I reached out to him last year to see if he would be interested in doing a variant cover and from there, we became good friends and we talked about the NFL and college football all the time. Not just the games themselves, but the social and economical aspects of the game too.
From there we decided that it just made sense to make a football drama. Plus, Jay’s style is so dynamic, and since he understands football, he can take game time action and put in a comic that makes sense to everyone. Jay makes F.O.R.C.E. look fantastic.
CA: How have you all found working together? What's the collaborative process been like?
JR: As an illustrator it’s been really great to have the opportunity to just let your creativity flow. The script Shawn and Alex have laid out for me is so clear that I can visualize it while I read it. I play it out in my head, then begin the process of laying everything out on the page. They are both really great about providing visual references in the script about certain scenes so it helps me out a great deal when I’m drawing.
SP: I came up with the characters, backgrounds and motives for them and from there I left Jay and Alex do their thing. Jay is a great illustrator and designer, so when he would send us character designs, logos and other things, it opened up more ideas for all of us to share to make the best story possible.
With the story, we put together a storyline, Alex works on the draft for it and handles all of the off-field storylines, and I handle the play-by-play football scenes. Then we edit, chop it up, and give it to Jay. It’s been challenging, because we all have full-time jobs and other assignments that we’re handling, but the work is getting done.
BAT: It’s been a blast! Making comics is constantly a new experience with each new project you’re a part of. I’m more of a basketball guy, but I’ve been trying to immerse myself more into the football world. I’m far better at the off-field drama parts with character motivation and interactions, but I’ve also been trying to put forth some strong groundwork for Shawn with the on-field action.
It’s fun seeing what he keeps (meaning I got it right) and what has to be changed. And then seeing Jay’s artwork after we hand over the script… sweet things of sheer beauty!
CA: Why take this book to Kickstarter?
SP: Because I want to be able to pay Jay and Alex for their time and work. It’s just that simple. All of us on this project have been in the comics, publishing, or freelance business for years, and the financial struggles in making comics, and this Kickstarter, will allow me to pay them for the time they put on the project and also allows us to make some really cool rewards for those who pledge as well. Plus, Kickstarter gives us a platform to get this in front of as many eyes as possible, so it only makes sense to go this route with it.
JR: Taking this to Kickstarter is a great experience for me personally, since I have never been a part of a campaign. I have learned so much from Shawn about what it takes to get this done. He has worked really hard to get the word out for this project so it motivates me to put out the greatest possible product for the backers.
BAT: Like Jay, it’s been fun to watch Shawn work his Kickstarter magic. I tried making a campaign waaaay back when Kickstarter launched on the scene… and I failed miserably! Since then I’ve watched, promoted, and donated to other Kickstarters, taking note of what works and what doesn’t. We’ve put our all into this story and we hope that creativity, effort, and passion shines through to our intended audience.
CA: How much of the series has been completed so far?
SP: The Kickstarter is for the debut issue of F.O.R.C.E., which is currently in production. If the Kickstarter surpasses certain stretch goals, those who pledged to the project have the opportunity to receive digital copies of issue #2 and #3 for free. If this Kickstarter is massively successful for us, it will be even more beneficial to those that support this project.
BAT: I’m wrapping up the last few re-writes on the final issue. Mostly tweaking dialogue and amending scenes to provide the best reading experience for all the surprises that issue will reveal!
JR: I think people are going to like what we have in store for them!
CA: If you achieve your goal, what’s your estimated delivery on the final comic?
SP: We’ll start delivering the print copies and all the other rewards in early February to those that pledged. This is my third Kickstarter, so I have a solid understanding of making sure that everyone who makes this project a success gets what they asked for in a timely manner. We want this book in people’s hands, tablets, computers, period. We won’t fail.
F.O.R.C.E. will run on Kickstarter through 21 December 2016, seeking a funding target of $4,000. To find out more, check out the Kickstarter page here!