Basketball has had magic before, but never quite like this.
On July 24, boutique publisher NoBrow is releasing an imaginative graphic novel called Fantasy Sports which mixes sword & sorcery with hoops & lay-ups. Citing twin influences of Final Fantasy and basketball, cartoonist Sam Bosma is giving comics readers a new kind of adventure comic. With youthful Wiz-Kid and grizzled vet Mug, Bosma sets out on an adventure into an ancient fortress and a new kind of b-ball master.
Bosma, who works as a background artist on the animated series Steven Universe, originally self-published this in black-and-white at 2013's Small Press Expo, but the new Fantasy Sports expands on that with new pages and full color.
Newsarama: Sam, what can you tell people about Fantasy Sports?
Sam Bosma: Fantasy Sports is an adventure story set in a world where magic is channeled into athletic prowess. It's about two wizards, one a professional and the other an intern, who are on a job to raid a temple. Things don't go as smoothly as planned, and they end up playing the game of their lives against the temple's ruler. The book was first published in black and white as Fantasy Basketball for SPX in 2013, and it won the Ignatz award for Outstanding Artist. This version is extended and fully colored.
Nrama: The designs you have for these characters, from Wiz-Kid and Mug to all the background, is very stunning. I feel some Toriyama, a little bit of Final Fantasy, and something else in there. What were your goals and inspiration in designing the characters and world here?
Bosma: The Toriyama and Final Fantasy influences are right on. I was raised on games and anime, though I don't play or watch much of either now. My comics are all sort of a reaction to that sort of media. I'm really attracted to fantasy stories, and especially stories which play on and subvert what we've accepted as the traditional genre rules. I try to get a lot of information across in the character and environmental design, and while extra work and detail adds up, it helps to convey the sense of a broad and varied world. I tried to keep the character designs simple to a point, with a couple of key attributes that shows their personalities: Mean Mug is basically a gigantic brick with a very expressive mustache that bristles and droops with his mood swings, and Wiz-Kid's clothing has a lot of flowing parts, while her skinny arms and legs poke out to show that she's not totally grown into her own self yet. He of the Giant Steps is regal and proud, despite his undead status, and his super high fade doubles as a crown. His basketball uniform is based on the early years of the sport, helping convey that yeah, he's been doing this for a long, long time.
Nrama: I see a lot of detail in those crowd scenes, in the opening and in the basketball court, with a lot of character who seem visually more than just trivial characters. Can you talk about creating such unique looks even for background characters?
Bosma: I have a lot of sort of minion characters in this first book, but I wanted to give the reader some sense that these characters still had individual lives. I always think about those sorts of things when playing videogames -- you just plow through legions of lesser creatures before encountering the boss, which may or may not have some personality to it. What if those weird goblins had families or responsibilities that you just ruined by putting an axe through their head? What if the skeleton guards who patrol the temple's corridors take pride in their jobs? Giving these characters some personality or character means that there's a cost to killing them. Even if it's as simple as designing a background character that a reader really likes -- if that character gets killed, it feels like a person and it feels important, if only briefly.
Nrama:Next question -- why basketball, for you?
Bosma: It's my favorite sport! I watch a ton of it, and I usually get some flack from people when I tweet about the games. I mostly watch the NBA but I'll dip into college ball every once in a while. This was sort of an effort to convey some of the excitement of the game to people who don't care about it. There are things in there for people who follow the sport, references and in-jokes to real players, but a lot of it is made so that it can appeal to anyone.
Nrama: This is a tight graphic novel, with room for a lot more stories if you wanted. Do you have ideas or plans for more in this series?
Bosma: Yeah, there's at least a few more stories already plotted out, with an overall story structure which should become apparent in the next book. There are some clues to the story at large in this first volume, but nothing explicit.
Nrama: As you said earlier, this was originally released in 2013 as Fantasy Basketball. What led you to get with NoBrow to re-release and re-title it?
Bosma: I've been speaking with NoBrow for the last couple years about doing a book together, and once this one was wrapped up, we figured it would be a good chance to collaborate on an expanded version for a bigger audience. Retitling it was pretty simple -- we wanted the chance to explore more sports and really flesh out the world. So yeah, later volumes will feature different sports.
Nrama: You've done a plethora of work, in comics, animation and illustration -- but this is your first full length graphic novel. What led you to do this as your first?
Bosma: I never really intended it to be, if I'm being honest. I've done a couple little stories before, for anthologies and the like, but I'd never done a stand-alone book before Fantasy Basketball. I wanted to have something to sell at SPX -- I didn't know how big it was going to be until it was scripted out, but it was just supposed to be a small comic that I'd sell at the convention. I gave myself a limited amount of time to make it (something like six weeks from script to printed book), and drew it as fast as I possibly could. I wanted to do something light and quick that would be fun for me to draw.
Nrama: What do you have planned next in terms of comics?
Bosma: Next is probablyanother Fantasy Sports, which is plotted out but not quite written. I think that's scheduled to come out next year. I'm also working on a big fat book that's sort of a continuation of a story I wrote last year, The Hanging Tower. Not really a continuation, I guess, but set in the same world in a different place. It takes place in a dust-bowl era fantasy world, and is partially about patent medicine and partially about the world reeling from the destruction of a magical society. That one's still a long way off.