Steve "U.S.S." Cunningham has fought for America as part of the U.S. Navy, fought boxers from around the world as a two-time IBF Champion, and now the 40-year-old Philadelphia athlete is taking on a new challenge: comic books.
With a life-long love of comic books, Cunningham sought to attend art school as a teenager but lack of funds led him to military service. Now, twenty years later, the boxer using his own life to inspire a "fictional autobiography" of himself fighting against super-villains inspired by some of his most memorable in-ring opponents.
With his wife Livvy collaborating with him on the storyline, Cunningham is currently illustrating his first graphic novel to be published throuh his own company, U.S.S. Comics.
Newsarama: Steve, what made you want to get into comic book creation?
Steve Cunningham: My brother and mother were both good artists. It’s a challenge though. It’s actually kind of like boxing. I look at drawing like I do my next opponent. It’s competition for me. I treat every piece like I’m being paid to do it, pushing myself to the limit to make it as strong and detailed as possible. It’s that struggle to make myself better that really keeps me interested.
Nrama: What is your comic book called, and what is it about?
Cunningham: The one I’m currently developing doesn’t have a name yet actually. U.S.S. Comics is the name of my business, but the new graphic novel I’m developing doesn’t have a name just yet.
Nrama: The lead character is based on you and your own life. Would you call this an autobiography?
Cunningham: I look at it as a very fictional autobiography. It’s more or less just little pieces of truth that are wildly embellished.
Nrama:Are any of the other characters based on real people?
Cunningham: Yeah, I very loosely base many of the characters on real people from all different corners of my life. I’ll take an element from an opponent in the ring, or from a friend or family member and expound on it and accent it and make those notable characteristics stand out and pop.
Nrama: Have you talked to any of them about using them in this fictionalized comic book?
Cunningham: Yes, I told Brother Nazim, my trainer, and a bunch of people in my life and they’re all very interested and supportive. I’ve even told some of the people that I’ve loosely based some of the more villainous characters on too. If they’re around I tell them I’ve got something in mind that might include a little piece of them. A couple of the heavyweights that I’ve faced, Tyson Fury and Amir Mansour, even asked me if I had characters coming for them. All in due time…
Nrama: In the boxing community, are comic books a common thing in locker rooms and gyms?
Cunningham: Yeah, Brother Nazim and I chat about Superman all the time. We just talked the other day about how ridiculous it is that Batman could even compete with Superman. But yes, I talk about comic book-related stuff with lots of friends in the boxing community.
Nrama: As a boxer, how do you feel about the fictional boxers in comic books, specifically superhero comic books, like Marvel's Daredevil and DC's Wildcat?
Cunningham: I think it’s awesome. Premier Boxing Champions has brought boxing to a bunch of different channels (NBC/NBCSN, CBS/Showtime, ESPN, FOX/FS1/FOX Deportes, Spike, Bounce TV) now, but boxing in pop culture like comics and movies is huge for the sport. The Rocky series, Daredevil, Wildcat and others just bring more attention to our sport. So it’s great for our continued growth and to stay in the public eye. We need even more exposure, and hopefully I can help with that in my own way.
Nrama: When did you bridge the gap from being a comic book fan to creating comic books yourself?
Cunningham: In 2009, I was at Chris Byrd’s house relaxing and it just dawned on me to turn this into something. The original characters that I had in mind were so corny, just Steve Cunningham fighting “bad guys,” but my art and the story line has transformed many times since then.
Nrama: Ultimately, where do you see yourself in comic books - and boxing?
Cunningham: I’d like my comics to become part of my boxing legacy. If I end up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame one day, I’d want my comics and graphics novels right there on display with my boxing gear. I want to be known for being successful in both.