D.C. United Inspires Graphic Art
Careful readers of Sam & Lilah, a serialized online comic from D.C.'s Jim Dougan, will notice plenty of close-but-not-quite-exact D.C. references. Like Bake Love, the hip coffee shop and bakery. Or Lindy Wozniak, the cute, perky blond sports anchor.
For D.C. United, though, no names have been changed. The uniforms bear the VW logo. The scoring play goes Simms to Olsen to Moreno. The fans sit on the "quiet side" and the "loud side." And the cataclysmic scene involves a lightning strike at RFK Stadium, which crumbles into pieces. Art imitating life, there.
"If they were playing at a new stadium now, I might have done the same thing, but it might not have had the same resonance," Dougan told me this week. "You don't even need a lightning bolt at RFK."
True that. The Texas-based artist, Hyeondo Park, has never been to an MLS match, but he did a nice job with Olsen, telling me that the eyebrows were one of the distinguishing characteristics. And so, Olsen?
"Pretty good likeness," he said, while glancing through the comic yesterday. "I'm flattered. It's not too bad. He's actually more handsome than I am."
Let me back up for one second; Sam & Lilah is not a tale about soccer, nor is it a tale about sports. It's an exploration of themes of heroism and myth, set in D.C., riffing off the tale of Samson and Delilah. (The comic appears on Act-i-vate Comix, an online collective of the graphic works of both well-known and unknown comic artists.)
Dougan needed one scene to demonstrate "Sam's" otherworldly strength. And so he concocted the RFK and United storyline, in which Sam--wearing a lion mask in honor of "Heart of a Lion" Ben Olsen--holds up a section of crumbling seats to allow supporters to flee.
"My whole thing was I want to write about D.C., because it's underrepresented in fiction, but I don't want to do the political intrigue spy stuff," Dougan said. "I want to write about the way normal people live their lives. I wanted it grounded in things people would recognize if they just lived in D.C. The Capitol Building and the Washington Monument aren't constantly in the background, literally or figuratively. The comic is about sort of modern-day myth, and I was looking for an opportunity for the characters to demonstrate heroism, and I thought what's a large spectacle kind of situation where Sam could demonstrate to the readers that he has this super strength now. I thought, 'I really love soccer, I love United, why don't I just put it in there?' "
Dougan actually went to United's first-ever game. He went to the rain-soaked MLS Cup at RFK, which he called "the best sporting experience I've ever had in my life." He joined the Screaming Eagles when he moved back to D.C. from Chicago a few years ago, and became a season-ticket holder. The United scene is filled with inside jokes, like Olsen joking that Bryan Namoff is the guy who usually catches the stadium when it falls down.
(In truth, Dougan--whose full-time job is as an economist for a consulting firm--picked the players to name-check based partly on who he knew would be on this year's roster.)
As for Sam dressing up like Olsen, and the subsequent rumors that it was the veteran who saved the day, Dougan tied it back to the celebration of Olsen's return last summer, complete with that lion banner.
"It just kind of segued with what I was trying to do in the comic," he said. "It tied all that stuff together. He's a perfect representation of that devotion fans have, of courage, heroism, all that stuff. You know, he's pretty modest about it, he says he doesn't get how people love him like that, but it's not about him so much as how he's perceived by the fans."
"I still don't fully get all that stuff," Olsen said, after examining his comic adventures. "Again, it's always flattering to hear that, but what do you want me to say? It's nice to see this stuff. It's nice that people appreciate the way you play, and how you play this game that we've all dedicated our lives to."
(As for any real-world inspiration for Montezuma Cero, the Chicago Fire star playmaker who gets ejected for punching and spitting on an official, "I don't know what you're talking about," Dougan said.)
A new page of Sam & Lilah is released online every week; the five chapters will probably take another year or two to play out, unless a publisher expresses interest. The United scene is over, but the team and its fans will again figure into the storyline later. A Sam & Lilah story will also appear in an act-i-vate hard-cover anthology that will be released next fall. You can find links to Park's manga adaptations of Julius Caesar and Huck Finn here and here, and a link to No Formula, the anthology featuring Dougan and Park's other collaboration here.
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