A Boxer: Interview With Dominic Archer

There’s nothing I love more than a story full of truth, humanity and reflection.

That is why I was incredibly happy when Dominic Archer reached out to me to share his project ‘A BOXER’, an independent comic he created that was also recently named ‘A Project We Love’ by Kickstarter.

What is it about?

‘A Boxer’ details the experience of a homosexual man struggling to find his place between two worlds, feeling himself equally impassioned and alienated by both the boxing and LGBTQ+ communities.

Personally, I really got into the comic at the panel where Mike (the boxer) explains to Jude (his boyfriend) that he doesn’t want to be recognize as the best gay boxer. He wants to be recognize as the best boxer. No label. It really got me since I believe we tend to use those labels to describe someone, rather than just seeing the person as just what they are… a person. That’s why ‘A BOXER’ is, in my opinion, an incredible idea.

But what is better than to hear from the creator himself? Without further ado, here are some amazing answers I got from Dominic from a short (but incredibly interesting) interview:

COMIC LOUNGE: Why did you choose to tell this story as a comic rather than a movie or novel or any other form?

DOMINIC: When I first started thinking about A Boxer, I knew that there was a very particular visual style that I wanted to invoke that was theatrical. If it was going to have been created in another medium, A Boxer would probably have been as a stage play rather than as a movie, because of the themes and techniques we are trying to explore. When I creating new concepts these days, however, I generally envision my work in terms of the comics format, so it never really occurred to me for it to be anything else

COMIC LOUNGE: Where did the idea come from? What motivated you to write this story?

DOMINIC: The idea first came when I was teaching English in the south of China. I had just finished my Masters degree in Comics and Graphic Novels and (as is often the case) after studying at university I was in terrible debt.

While I was teaching there, three different students approached me to say that they were gay, and that they felt a degree of fear in telling their parents. China has a very traditional culture, based upon a strong family structure and so many of these students are worried that their relatives will be disappointed that they cannot marry or have children, as these laws are yet to exist in China.

But the certainty that these students had in their sexuality was inspiring to me, as I have been surrounded by pro-LGBTQ environments in both comics and academia and yet my sexuality was still in question. These young people, who came from a culture that they worried wouldn’t accept them, knew exactly who they were. While I, who had no fear of discussing it with family or friends, was more anxious about my role (if any) within the wider LGBTQ community. These questions that I began to ask, mixed with a rush of boxing influences, most prominently the incredible podcast Finding Drago, and the story started to come together quickly.

COMIC LOUNGE: I think it is really interesting to see the protagonist wanting to be known for himself, as the best boxer there is, rather than as a labelled individual. What or who inspired the characterization of Mike?

DOMINIC: One of the most incredible things about the LGBT community is how quickly it has evolved. They say that culture is 10 years ahead of politics, which is why it took around a decade of shows such as Will and Grace before countries like the USA were open to accepting gay marriage as a viable option.

But male sports have been much slower to react. This is not often the case in female sports, with the US women’s soccer team being diverse in their sexuality, and the incredible British boxer, Nicola Adams, being openly bisexual. The problem for male athletes is that by coming out as gay they have immediately chosen their defining trait in media and with the public. The first openly gay boxer, Orlando Cruz, is a perfect example of this. Cruz declared that he was proud to be Puerto Rican, and he was proud to be gay, and that he was going to become the first gay boxing champion. It was an incredibly courageous decision for him to make, as the success of his career would not just affect him, but also the community had chosen to represent.

Cruz was dedicated to being a voice for the LGBTQ community and so it was the right decision for him. But for our protagonist, being the representative of millions of often marginalized people is a lot of weight, especially in an international sport like boxing where influential countries like Russia and the Philippines in-act homophobic legalization.

While the number of openly LGBTQ male athletes continues to remain small, there will always be those who stay silent from the fear of being stigmatized in a way that hurts their career.

COMIC LOUNGE: I can imagine the confrontation and dilemmas Mike is experiencing as a boxer are also some that any other sports player would experience as well. So why choosing to make him a boxer specifically?

DOMINIC: After we pitched the book to a publisher, BHP comics, a Twitter account called ‘The Gay Footballer appeared’. This was a British LGBTQ athlete, who played professional football, and said that he knew many other players who wanted to be open about their sexuality but felt that they couldn’t.

He promised that he would announce his identity and in the hope that others would do the same, but just before he was due to do so, the account was taken down and his final tweet was about how he wasn’t strong enough to fulfil his promise. It’s a tragic story, that hopefully as culture changes and evolves, this player will feel comfortable reversing.

In terms of boxing, it was chosen not just because of the influences that I encountered, but also because it is the most individualistic sport. There is no team to support you, there is no community helping you in the ring, it is only the two opponents alone I felt that this put a different emotional emphasis on the book, as it forced Mike to confront all of the identities he is presented with, but ultimately the decision and his success rests on his shoulders alone.

COMIC LOUNGE: The art style is a really interesting choice. The story is about a modern struggle, but the art is inspired by a traditional style. Could you tell me more about this specific choice?

DOMINIC: One of the most influential artists in boxing was the American realist, George Bellows. When we started putting the book together, I highlighted his capability to capture the intensity of a fight in a single image. This was the perfect style for us to recreate across our book as it allowed us to contrast the heat of a bout with quiet moments of intimacy. Our colorist, Amanda Maranda, took this suggestion and the theatrical references that we were trying to bring, and made a wonderful texture that almost feels like newspaper.

I feel it also helps to ground the story, so that while we are discussing issues of modern identity, the book could feel timeless in a way that made it accessible to readers who may not immediately be on board with the themes that we are exploring.

COMIC LOUNGE: I think we can say your comic is giving a voice to people who aren't usually allowed to speak up freely. What do you hope people will get from reading your comic?

DOMINIC: This is a particularly interesting question, considering the influence that my Chinese students had on the original idea. Ironically, when my friends in China found out about the Kickstarter, they were incredibly supportive, but the platform itself would not accept Chinese backers, meaning that the very people who inspired the book at unable to receive it.

Hopefully this is an issue that we can overcome when the book is finished and they will be able to read it regardless!

What I am really hoping is that we will begin to see a more open and good-faith discussion on the perspectives of our identities. Each one of us holds an identity that we choose to let define us, that we proudly put on our social media and that others will take as their first impression.

The best thing that the book could do, is to allow those who are intimidated about their identity or have questions about others to emotionally engage with one another in a way that is not divisive, or dismissive. As long as there is a Twitter account like ‘The Gay Footballer’ who is scared to be open about themselves then we have failed them, and we are failing those that don’t empathise with the situation when they could.

COMIC LOUNGE: Where will we be able to purchase your comic? How many numbers are we expecting from this story?

DOMINIC: A Boxer is live on Kickstarter now at:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/780830084/a-boxer

The Kickstarter itself is only to raise the creative costs of paying our amazing artists, Gary Welsh, Marc Casilli, Amanda Mirand and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.

I will not be receiving any funding unless we reach our stretch goals in order to keep costs as low as possible.

Once the creative work is completed then BHP Comics will be taking charge of printing and distribution, we just have to make sure that it can get there first! So if you like the look of it don’t just like the post, buy the book! And help us make this piece of art a reality.

COMIC LOUNGE: I strongly recommend heading over their Kickstarter page to read the first 6 pages of the comic (for free!). You will find the panel I was talking about and will for sure want to learn more. ‘A BOXER’ is full of potential and I for sure think this is a comic we all need to read.

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