Into the Ring: An Interview with Dominic Archer, Writer and Creator of A BOXER
When Dominic Archer first reached out to us, he told us he had a comic called "A Boxer," one explores being a gay man in the stressful, hypermasculine world of boxing. Not only did it sound like a promising indie comic, it also sounded like one we felt warranted the spotlight gained by an interview.
Without further ado, here's our interview with Dominic Archer, writer and creator of "A Boxer."
COMIC BOOK YETI: Hey, Dominic, welcome to Comic Book Yeti. Tell us about yourself: Who are you? What do you do? What did you contribute on this project?
DOMINIC ARCHER: I’m Dominic Archer and I’m the writer and creator of “A Boxer.”
I’ve written a number of independent comics over the last few years, including "Unity," Gary Welsh’s (2000AD Thought Bubble 2017 Art Challenge Runner Up) signature publication, "Dick Raygun," a tongue-in-cheek Flash Gordon Pastiche, and Huntington’s “An Analysis Of The Relationship Between Auto-Biography And Catharsis.”
Since 2013, I’ve also worked as a teacher in the UK, China, Hong Kong, Turkey, and now Russia to complete my master’s degree in Comics and Graphic Novels and help fund some of my passion projects such as “A Boxer.”
CBY: For folks who haven’t heard about “A Boxer,” what’s your elevator pitch?
DA: A young boxer on the path to title glory struggles with his identity as a gay man and the high-pressure world of combat sports.
"When three separate students came to me to say 'I’m gay and I am scared to tell my parents,' then the international ramifications of how we think about sexuality in western culture began to play on my mind."
CBY: "A Boxer" feels so grounded and relevant to our cultural climate today. Could you give us an idea of what elements or stories inspired the project? Also, how much of “A Boxer” is personal to you? Did this come about from something you’ve personally experienced?
DA: I’d actually like to answer these questions together because they’re interconnected for me. As I mentioned previously, I’ve spent the last few years bouncing between a few countries whilst teaching. While I was studying in the UK, I was immersed in British comics/academic environments that consisted of a wide range of evaluations of how identity (be it sexual, gender, racial, religious) and art interacted with one another in a frank and honest way. While this occasionally led to disagreements and fallings-out, it served as much as an education as the studies themselves.
When I moved back to China after completing my master’s degree, the situation couldn’t have been more different. China has a culture that I love and respect deeply, but when three separate students came to me to say “I’m gay and I am scared to tell my parents,” then the international ramifications of how we think about sexuality in western culture began to play on my mind.
These students felt they could talk to me because I was outside of their cultural context and this led me to further evaluate my own sexuality and how I had felt unhappy discussing it in the UK. This struck me as a paradox, because while the Chinese students were afraid of the societal consequences of same-sex relationships, I have never had any qualms about friends, family or colleagues knowing about my vague explorations. So what was it that allowed them to identify so strongly as LGBTQ+ while I was still trepidatious?
Then, towards the end of 2018, there was a podcast released called Finding Drago (which I encourage everyone to seek out) about the mysterious author of a Rocky IV sequel novel and his sudden disappearance in the early '90s. It is intriguing, hilarious and it re-connected me to boxing, which was a sport I had loved in my teens but had stopped following while I was abroad. The rush of nostalgia combined with the questions I was already asking culminated into a story that was almost ready to write itself.
"...because boxing is such an individualistic sport and there are so few openly gay athletes, those who do come out will be remembered as 'the gay athletes.' There are few other situations whereby your identity determines your legacy in such a powerful way and it is only by discussing and confronting this culture that more athletes can feel able to express their private selves, publicly."
CBY: I’m actually a pretty big boxing nerd myself and it sort of feels, from what I’ve seen, that “A Boxer” sits on that line between praising the boxing world and, rightly, criticizing the hypermasculine culture around it. Do you feel like that’s a fair assessment?
DA: I think that’s a very accurate assessment of the start of the book. The hypermasculinity that we intrinsically feel to be present in male sports is what allows the narrative to be possible. If Mark Russell and Mike Feehan’s “Exit, Stage Left – The Snagglepuss Chronicles” had taken place on modern Broadway, rather than the McCarthy-era, then there would be a narrative disconnect because, thankfully, times have changed even if the themes are timeless.
But part of what makes boxing so compelling as a sport is watching an athlete personify their identity.
One thing that made Orlando Cruz (who gets an unwarranted critique in the comic) such a remarkable and inspirational figure was that he was proudly open about his sexuality in a way no boxer had ever been before. The larger issue for our boxer is that because boxing is such an individualistic sport and there are so few openly gay athletes, those who do come out will be remembered as "the gay athletes." There are few other situations whereby your identity determines your legacy in such a powerful way and it is only by discussing and confronting this culture that more athletes can feel able to express their private selves, publicly.
CBY: Projects like this are so fascinating to me, because what you’re doing here is really an analysis of culture through fiction. What’s it like to write something that nuanced and delicate? How do you think you balance the cultural analysis with telling your character’s story?
DA: I think it comes from a lot of self-reflection. Coming from western culture but having lived outside it for so long has led me to critique it from afar.
Part of what made the British Invasion comics writers of the late '80s/early '90s (Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, etc.) so impactful was that they came from an American-influenced culture that was not America.
While I wouldn’t want to compare the quality of my work to theirs, this is how I have often come to view writing about western culture because the world has changed rapidly since 2014.
CBY: What was your favorite part of working on the book?
DA: My favourite moment of working on the book was the first time I saw Amanda Miranda’s colours. Amanda managed to do something that was totally unexpected but that completely captured the heart that I wanted the book to convey. I’m incredibly proud of the work that the whole team produced, but the moment I saw Amanda’s work I thought “how did she know what I was thinking better than I did?”
CBY: Tell us about your creative team on “A Boxer.” How did you find them, how did you decide they were the right fit?
DA: Gary Welsh (who is our penciller) and Marc Casilli (our inker) have borne the unfortunate burden of sharing a Slack channel with me since we studied together. This makes them the recipients of every off-the-wall idea I have that needs soundboarding, but I know I’m on to something when one of them says “that’s actually interesting.” We had previously collaborated on a number of books including an anthology titled "Goodfellas," inspired by the movie of the same name, and while working on that, Marc recommended Amanda Miranda to colour the cover and introduction page. Amanda’s comic, "Hibernáculo," was awarded the 2019 Dente Award for Best Independent Comic so it was an easy decision.
Marc and Amanda are both Brazilian comics creators and have this incredible talent of doing what you least expect in the most satisfying way. After sending the script to Amanda we only had to find a letterer, which was more challenging because, as a writer, who do you trust to make your words look better than they are? My plan was to message everyone with a lettering award nomination in the hope that they would say “I’m busy, but this lesser-known, equally talented person is available.”
Instead, every message I received was “Have you contacted Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou? He’d be perfect for this.” A brief search showed that Hassan had lettered every book I had read for the last year-and-a-half. All the writers that I admired and respected were actually being propped up by the same guy, and I knew I had to approach him. At that point, Hassan’s comics journalism in PanelxPanel was Eisner-nominated. He is now an Eisner winner, and it is a real privilege to be working alongside him, Amanda, Marc, and Gary.
"Every one of us questions some part of our identity, and part of the book is about trying to look past our own concerns to understand other people’s."
CBY: Who would you say the audience for “A Boxer” is?
DA: A Boxer was initially going to be targeted towards adult readers, but we toned down elements of the language to make it more accessible for younger readers too. Every one of us questions some part of our identity, and part of the book is about trying to look past our own concerns to understand other people’s.
CBY: How different is “A Boxer” from what you’ve worked on in your previous projects?
DA: The biggest difference between "A Boxer" and my previous work is the involvement of our publisher, BHP Comics, and Kickstarter. My earlier comics were self-funded, which meant they could only be of a certain length. But by using Kickstarter to fund our creative team, we’re able to make a full graphic novel for BHP to print and distribute.
CBY: What do you want people to really take away from reading “A Boxer”? What’s the message you want to get across when they close it up?
DA: Hopefully, readers come away from the book having met a character that makes them say “That’s how I feel!” There are deliberately few main characters within the graphic novel to ensure that each one actually gets a chance to express their point-of-view and the frustrations that come with it. If readers can finish the book having met someone that feels honest to them, then I’m happy.
CBY: Dominic, thanks so much for chatting with us. Tell us where people can find you, and when and where they can help crowdfund “A Boxer.”
DA: To see more of my work with Gary, Marc and Amanda you can click here to read the Goodfellas anthology.
A Boxer is available to crowdfund from the 27th of January on Kickstarter.