Hey, the Super Bowl is coming this weekend! It’s a sports event and I know when it is! Now, for those There are two things I believe I am known for disliking on principal: cake and sports. Cake is a tangent that I’ll save for another day, but for sports there’s just too much that doesn’t work for me. There’s ethics, there economics… And also, American football, your clock, just come on. I mean Jesus, if you could really get time to function like that then you shouldn’t be a sports league, you should be a physics research lab. But all in all I just find team sports to be a mess.
Add to the mix that New Orleans was eliminated from the Super Bowl, and you just have an event I can’t get invested in. It’s worth noting that while I always root for New Orleans, it’s not the team so much as the city. You see, my circle’s Super Bowl party tries to theme the food based on the teams and location of each Super Bowl. Which means that having New Orleans somehow involved guarantees the best possible culinary options. This year, my wife is making a protest dish of either gumbo of jambalaya because they’re delicious and screw that call.
But I digress. I’m not here to actually care about football. No, I’m here to reveal that while I may not care for sports, I do somehow seem to have begun following a number of sport comics and shows. So what I present to you are alternative media for those that don’t care about the SuperbOwl. Or do, and may want to check these out once that big game is over.
Check, Please is actually a webcomic, though I had no idea of its existence until my library got in the first volume in print this year. The story follows Eric “Bitty” Bittle. He is an ex-figure skater who has taken up college ice hockey. The cast in this is great, with people on the team varying from your stereotypical macho frat type to the somewhat delicate Bitty, who narrates the comic by way of his vlog, and wins over even the most hesitant of teammates with his baking skills. If all this sounds a little too cutesy for you, just know that the characters are grounded enough that no one feels like they’re just being twee for twee’s sake. It’s fun, episodic, and ongoing so you’re guaranteed more comics in the future
If you’re more interested in the figure skating backstory of Bitty than his college hockey career, then Yuri!!! on Ice is for you. Jumping from the medium of comics to anime, Yuri!!! on Ice is about Yuri Katsuki, a competitive figure skater who returns home after a championship loss to weigh his feelings and decide whether to end his career or not. Minor spoiler, he chooses to continue competing. While at home he meets Viktor (a recently retired skater) and Yuri Yuri Plisetsky (a 15 year old up-and-coming skater). Yuri K. and Yuri P. quickly pair off as rivals, both in skating and specifically for Viktor to become their coach.
What really makes this show shine is the contrast between the melodrama of the competitions and the humor that comes from embracing the over-the-top aspect of it all. young Yuri P. as a little emo ball of explosive angst while Yuri K. is a soap opera character. Viktor seems straight out of a dram, attempting to balance the two, but this show has fun playing around with the emotional extremes of the cast. There’s also the rest of the competition, with King JJ standing out in my memory, if only for his theme song that he skates to about himself. And while the series has ended, there’s a movie in the works to look forward to.
Let’s take it back from an individual event to team sports again, with Slam! I rarely see this comic talked about, but it sure does have some pedigree. The two creators are Pamela Ribon and Veronica Fish. Ribon is probably better know as a writer of Moana and Ralph Breaks the Internet. Fish is a comic artist who is so good that I actually started noticing her name pop up on comics I was enjoying, and variant covers that were catching my eye. Some of my favorite work of hers is from Slam! and the Mark Waid era of Archie. When you put those two together you end up with a roller derby comic that reads like a perfect movie.
Everyone in the comic adds something, including their baggage, to the narrative. The book starts in the middle of action, right before a bout, with backstory rolled out through smash-cut flashbacks and these great P.D & A.D (pre-derby and after-derby) split page character sheets. Smash! is fun to read, fun to look at, and way too underrated a comic. While it has ended, you can catch up with it in two arcs, Slam! and Slam!: The Next Jam.
If roller derby is a team sport you don’t think of when considering sports stories, how about badminton? Hanebado! This anime has a very different feel from Yuri!!! on Ice. It’s a lot more serious, with the backstory being tied into being emotionally burned out by competition by the time these characters reach high school. While the show itself drags a bit, the animation is amazing, especially during some of the matches. It’s worth a go, even if only for the novelty of high-stakes badminton competitions.
Another one that focuses more on the intensity of competition is the comic Fence. It’s about fencing (subtle, right?). Origionally a limited series, the comic did so well that the publisher, Boom, has picked it up as an ongoing series.
The book follows Nicholas Cox in his journey to prove himself as a fencer. His father was an Olympic champion at the sport, but he keeps this relationship secret due to the fact that he’s illegitimate. There are some interesting things going on with belonging and class issues. Being rejected by his father, Nicholas’ training has been largely self-led and piecemeal. He gets a scholarship, which he struggles to hold on to, to a prestigious private school called Kings Row. While there, he quickly positions himself as rival to Seiji Katayama, a fencing prodigy, as well as someone who’s been able to afford better training and equipment all his life.
While the series was touted as a Yuri!!! on Ice-esque story early on, the comic plays on a much more self-serious level. With 12 issues out so far, the first 11 follow Nicholas through a tournament to see who will stay on the school’s team, and whether he’ll manage to retain his scholarship. I could really do with the book branching out from the matches a bit more. But since it’s been picked up to a regular series the creators now have room to do just that, and I am eager to see where it goes.
Last, I have The Avant-Guards. I wasn’t sure whether to include this one since there’s only one issue of this comic out so far, but I kind of fell in love with it as soon as I read it so why not let everyone in on this upcoming gem?
The Avant-Guards is about Charlene “Charlie” Bravo, a recent transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics. Skilled at basketball, but having issues with teams, she reluctantly signs up for the art school’s brand new basketball team.
The title’s creators are writer Carly Usdin and artist Noah Hayes. I’m excited because Usdin’s last comic project was the over-all-too-soon Heavy Vinyl (originally released as Hi-Fi Fight Club before changing the title after issue #3). Her writing on Heavy Vinyl just popped, and the joke-density in The Avant-Guards is intense, too. Planned as a 12 issue, limited series, I can only hope this gets picked up for a regular ongoing run.
I would say considering how accurate the game clock is in American football, you could probably read or watch these all in the space of the Super Bowl. Me? I’ll probably be sitting in a corner with an issue of Slam!: The Next Jam and a plate of Cajun food, living my best life, waiting for the trailers.