It’s time once again for another PopCultHQ Creator Spotlight!
Today, we put the spotlight on the creative team for the upcoming
sports-drama series from Action Lab Entertainment…FORCE!
Welcome to the world of FORCE (Football Operations Rated Championship Elite), created by Shawn Pryor, B. Alex Thompson, and Jay Reed, published by Action Lab Entertainment. FORCE opens a new era of sports-drama series to comics, blending the hyperactive action on the field with the personal drama that takes place behind the scenes.
~ MEET THE CREATORS ~
Shawn Pryor: Writer/Creator
Shawn Pryor is the creator and co-writer of the all-ages graphic novel mystery series CASH & CARRIE, writer of KENTUCKY KAIJU, and has written for Tor.com. He is one of the co-founders of Action Lab Entertainment and currently serves as their President of Creative Relations.
In his free time, he enjoys reading, cooking, listening to streaming music playlists, and talking about why Zack from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is the greatest Black superhero of all-time.
B. Alex Thompson: Co-Writer/Co-Creator
Los Angeles born and Midwest raised, B. Alex Thompson is a comic book writer, screenwriter, letterer, and artist who has done work for Alias Enterprises, Approbation Comics, Arcana Studios, Lion Forge Comics, and Graphic Planet.
Jay Reed: Artist/Co-Creator
Raised in Southern California, Jay Reed studied graphic design at Santa Ana College and launched his design business StyleUniversal in 2002. Jay is also a freelance graphic designer and published the comic book series CONTENT WITH KAOS with Hound Comics in 2013.
32 pgs./ T / FC
Terrance Wright, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Boxers, is at the tail end of his career. Hoping for one last big payday, he’s doing all he can to lead his team to victory at Supreme Bowl XXVII.
But events leading up to the big game could possibly alter Terrance’s future in professional football. Will dealing with shaky finances and physical health, his scheming and calculating agent, a rookie quarterback that’s on his heels, and a personal relationship with the team’s operations manager take him to his breaking point, regardless of the outcome on the gridiron?
PopCultHQ’s Creator Spotlight:
Shawn Pryor, B. Alex Thompson, and Jay Reed
PopCultHQ: Sports have had a difficult history of truly capturing and maintaining an audience in the comic book medium. After reading the mind-blowing advance review copy I received, you have seemed to find a winning combination in what it takes to make a sports-drama series work: a fresh, realistic look at the football scene on and off the field. Where did the idea of FORCE come from?
B. Alex Thompson: Thank you muchly for the well appreciated compliments! Shawn, Jay, and I are VERY proud of how that first issue came out and it’s been a pleasure seeing people respond to the finished result. We’re looking forward to see everyone snag copies of all three issues. As separate issues, we wanted to give certain perspectives and evoke particular emotions. But then re-reading all three issues together as a whole would hopefully provide a more in-depth and encompassing story.
As for where FORCE came from, it’s the initial brainchild of Shawn Pryor. He had a short script intended to become a live-action short, but wanted to expand the concept into a full comic mini-series. He presented the concept to Jay and I and we discussed possibilities and concepts until it finally evolved into the three-issue mini-series that’s coming your way in the next few months!
Shawn Pryor: The idea for FORCE was something that I’ve wanted to do for years. A lot of the inspiration for it came from reading sports-based manga like Eyeshield 21 and Slam Dunk. I’ve always felt that sports comics has an audience that’s not being reached in the United States, and the physical and mental toll of professional football makes for a compelling story on and off the field. A few years ago I had put together a short-film project based on a fictional football team and a quarterback facing a major career decision. Right before I was going to into production with it, the funding fell through. The project sat in limbo for a good period of time, but in my head I had built a story that took place before the events in the short film, and I thought that it would make for an fantastic comic book.
Shawn Pryor: I knew Jay from working with him when I did a Kickstarter for Cash & Carrie back in 2015. His style is so dynamic and fluid that I knew he’d be perfect for the book. We talked about pro sports over phone calls and texts all the time, so it only made sense for Jay to be a part of this.
For the additional dramatic touch in storytelling, I wanted to make sure that B. Alex Thompson was part of the team as well. A friend of mine introduced me to his independent work and from there I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in co-writing the comic.
The overall creative process in making this book has been fun, challenging and unorthodox, but since there’s more than one way to make a comic and tell a story we are able to still tell the best story possible.
Jay Reed: Shawn and I would talk about football just as friendly conversation at first. He proposed the idea of creating a sports based comic, specifically football one day. I was on board because I love the game and wanted to see if I could help bring something like that to life.
PopCultHQ: The series stays within the “all-ages” category yet deals with some adult issues found in many dramas like Ballers and The Game. What type of readers would you say is your target or prime audience?
Shawn Pryor: The target audience varies from those who read comics that don’t watch live sporting events but enjoy “30 for 30” sports documentaries, football fans, those who enjoy dramas you mentioned but also watched shows like “Survivor’s Remorse” or anyone that enjoys a compelling drama of any sort.
PopCultHQ: How “real” will this series get? Are there certain topics or social issues you’re planning to explore?
B. Alex Thompson: Oh, FORCE will get very “real.” With my involvement, you can’t expect anything less, lol. In my writing career, I’ve always loved bringing real life stories and subjects into my stories. Although I enjoy the spectacle of superhero fights or shocking horror, my biggest pleasure comes in with the drama portions where you get to know the characters. Once you know, understand, empathize, and care about the characters… it makes the action and spectacle that much more engrossing and enthralling.
So yeah, we’ll be keeping it “real.” But keepin’ it real won’t go too far (Dave Chappelle shout out) as that realness will be deliberately measured for our targeted audience. We really want FORCE to be for “All Ages” so everyone who wants to experience our sports drama can do so without any barriers. Most of my other work is in the 13+ realm, so I had to make a concentrated effort to either cut out certain “real” moments… or figure out a more “acceptable” way to present the subject matter. For the most part I was able to pull it off, but every once in a while Shawn would come back to me with something that seemed acceptable in my head, but wouldn’t fly in today’s environment.
PopCultHQ: Within this one issue, I get the sense that there’s a lot you’ll be exploring in this sports-drama series, not only on the field but off as well. How much will do you plan on creating with the Football Operations Rated Championship Elite league itself? Will we be introduced to the other teams? Even beyond that, will players from other teams have backstories or behind-the-scenes drama issues explored?
Shawn Pryor: The plan is to have backstory content in each issue, focusing on a certain character or team from the first volume of work we’re putting together. We would like to make additional volumes worth of FORCE stories of other teams and players in the future, but right now the goal is to complete the first volume.
PopCultHQ: One of the things that caught my eye immediately and had me sprung the entire issue was how accurate and realistic the football action was drawn. From the hits to the way legs get that awkward twist when quickly changing directions in running, you’ve truly captured the look and feel on the field. Do you reference actual football games for poses and moves? (Which if that’s the case, you must go through a TON of footage given and the football action in the issue)
Jay Reed: I have gone through a ton of still photo reference and look at video reference for certain movements. You know football is a read and reaction type of game so the movements have to reflect that action. Plus you have to find those moves from different angles so you can work them into the panels and have them flow nicely. It takes a ton of work but a lot of people have told me that it really feels like football on the page so that makes me feel like the goal was accomplished.
PopCultHQ: What do you enjoy most about illustrating FORCE?
Jay Reed: The challenge that comes along with it. You have to reference a lot of facial expressions and watch a ton of dialogue to get those scenes right. It has really helped me with finding new and interesting ways to make dialogue feel entertaining.
B. Alex Thompson: Sports and the American comic market have had an interesting history. There has been some flirting here and there, but rarely has anyone gone all-in with the concept. Mostly wrestling is the only sport that gets much love in the American comics’ medium, mostly because wrestling shares a lot with superhero story structure and visual aesthetics. But for something like football, the biggest attempt that American comics made that most people remember is Marvel’s NFL SuperPro… which didn’t go over so well.
A lot of the previous attempts were trying to make football a part of a superhero’s backstory or trying to incorporate football into a superhero narrative. We’re not doing that with FORCE. With FORCE, we’re going for the comic book version of things like HBO’s Ballers, Hard Knocks, ESPN’s 30 for 30, and Playmakers. We’re bringing you the energy and action of an actual football game along with the actual gripping drama of the players’ lives off the field.
What we’re bringing to comic readers is an opportunity to see how comic books can show a broader spectrum of the human experience. Superheroes with super-powered fist fights are fun, but that shouldn’t be the ONLY part of your reading diet. Not when there’s a whole scope of fiction that can be experienced and delved into.
PopCultHQ: You’ve stated that FORCE is the first in a long line of creator-owned sports comic projects that your creative team have planned. Are you considering different sports? Would there be any interconnectivity between these other projects (crossovers, tie-ins, etc.)?
B. Alex Thompson: I don’t know what Shawn has planned, but if this first FORCE mini-series does well, we can surely do a lot more with the series. Maybe a longer mini-series showing the action/drama surrounding the smaller games leading up to the next Supreme Bowl. Maybe a side series from the POV from another team (like the Skyhawks) that could dovetail into a crossover event-style Supreme Bowl mini-series. Maybe one-shots that spotlight each of the FORCE teams. The possibilities are endless for FORCE alone.
Now I’m not personally much of a football guy… I’m one of those people we’re trying to target who can’t sit through a whole football game, but love stories about football players’ lives, challenges, and their industry. But I love basketball and would also be interested in seeing/reading/doing an NBA and or NCAA style comic series.
As I mentioned before, wrestling is an easier sport to translate into the comic medium. I had plans to do a series myself some years ago, but never got around to it. Baseball is “America’s Game,” so that could be another interesting possibility. Hockey is something I’ve been looking into as a spectator… I can’t really watch it on TV, but watching it live is pretty awesome. I love boxing and MMA… lots of drama and action to mine from those sports. We can’t forget about “the real football” that Americans call “soccer.” There’s TONS of worldwide love for that one. Jay could draw the hell outta any and all of these bad boys.
Spit-balling for the future is fun, but we can’t put the cart before the horse. All that future stuff depends on the sales and responses for FORCE today. Get those pre-orders in for all three issues and if you enjoy them, please tell people about it! Feel free to share your pictures and thoughts on the comics on social media. Tag Shawn, Jay, and I in them to make sure we see ’em!
Jay Reed: It would be awesome to expand this series to include more teams. It was fun to play in this world so hopefully we have get the chance to go through the ups and downs of an entire season.
Shawn Pryor: I would love to develop a comic that dives into the world of collegiate athletics, especially the collegiate sports that make massive revenue while keeping the athletes broke. There could be some interconnectivity, but I would only do that if it serves the story. There’s some other sports stories that I want to do, but I’m keeping those projects close to my vest.
PopCultHQ: What is your hope that people take away from FORCE #1 and the series as a whole?
Shawn Pryor: That sports comics can be a viable genre and have unlimited and untapped potential to bring in an additional audience to comics that is needed. The more readers, the better things are for business.
Jay Reed: I hope people learn that football isn’t just about hard hits and violence. There is a lot of emotion and passion that happens off the field with these players. These are people under those shoulder pads and helmets. They go through a lot behind the scenes and I hope that this story can help people see what goes on off the field is just as interesting as what happens on it.
B. Alex Thompson: Initially, I hope that people get caught up in the story and walk away fulfilled. I hope everyone enjoys the fully realized characters that they can relate to and care about. I hope everyone enjoys the action of the actual game and will marvel at the energy that Jay brings to every scene.
As a secondary reaction, I hope this expands some comic readers’ minds and inspires them to seek out independent comics dealing with genres and subjects outside of superheroes. I’m not saying to not read spandex/capes comics or avoid The Big Two. I’m saying that it’s okay to embrace a larger banquet of comics. While you’re picking up your Marvel and DC books, check out some Image, Dark Horse, Action Lab, Valiant, Black Mask, Approbation, etc. When going to conventions, don’t just visit the bigger booths… stroll through Artist Alley and the Small Press areas. Flip through the books and you might be surprised at some of the gems you never knew you needed.
A very special thanks to Shawn, B. Alex, and Jay for taking the time to be interviewed by PopCultHQ. We may just have to go take in a Kings or Sharks game and discuss what that could look like 😉
Be sure to pick up FORCE #1, arriving in comic book stores and digital comics outlets on November 1st, 2017 from Action Lab Entertainment. And be sure to watch for PopCultHQ’s spoiler-free review of this powerful, action-packed series!
Follow FORCE at forcefootballleague.com for the latest news and updates about the series!
Writer – Shawn Pryor
Writer/Artist – B. Alex Thompson
Artist – Jay Reed
Follow FORCE Online!
Publisher – Action Lab Entertainment