Saturday, June 21, 2008

Guys Who Make Comics Love Sports: Jason Aaron

I have a theory. As a comic book lover and a sports lover, I do not represent any actual massive break in the demographics. My theory is that readers (like myself) and writers and artists of comics love sports. So why not interview the guys who create comic books and see where their prejudices lie, sports-wise?

This time around, we interview Jason Aaron, who is quite simply, a badass. He writes nasty, tough stuff. I first became acquainted with him via his mini-series following two soldiers fighting the Vietnam War. One was a sensitive kid from the Heartland of the Good USA. The other soldier was a sensitive kid from the Heartland of Vietnam. It was a bit like Tim O'Brien and Bao Ninh got together with an illustrator and told some stories. It was awesome.

Then I saw Jason Aaron's name on a new book called Scalped. I bought Issue #1, and since then, I have purchased every copy, and I have recommended it pretty goddamn strongly on this here blog. If I may quote myself:

This is a phenomenal book. Noir with garish colors. People who aren't black or white, but not gray either. It took some serious balls by writer Jason Aaron to set a crime book on an Indian Reservation, and he has crafted a nasty crime thriller that is rife with political overtones that generally get ignored. The art of R.M Guera is visceral and yet almost Expressionist. I can't recommend it enough. For those of you who think that comics are all about what Warren Ellis calls "Underwear Perverts"--no. There are no superheroes. There may not be any regular heroes. It is nasty crime and political commentary all wrapped around beautiful art.

Jason has spent some writing for Marvel, whilst keeping his indie comics going. He's written for Wolverine, and I thnk you can find him on the Ghost Rider tip these days. To be sure, you can check in on his website. I was just there, and apparently he's working on Hellblazer now, too. He's a busy man.

So we sent Jason a bunch of questions about sports, and unlike some comic guys we could name (Aja!) Jason is a big sports fan. An opinionated one. What he says about Tom Brady makes me smile.

Jason grew up in Alabama, and attended UAB. He's already admitted to me, in non-interview form that he loves the Pittsburgh Steelers, hates the New England Patriots and the Dallas Cowboys. Added links and photos comes courtesy of your interviewer/editor, me.

Interview commences in...3,..2...1..:

BBM: Obviously, going to a college like UAB meant that you'd have to be a super bad-ass in your chosen sport to play at college. But prior to going there, were you an athlete? Were you a high school footballer, for example?

JA: I was a skinny little uncoordinated whimp in school, so no, no sports for me. I did study Yoshukai Karate for quite a while though, so maybe someday I'll get my MMA career going. Me and Butterbean are from the same hometown after all.

BBM: From my understanding, Alabama is all about The Crimson Tide vs. Auburn. Heated, heated rivalry, with a good deal of hate. Families come to blows over this kind of thing--how did you become an Alabama fan? Was it as simple as your dad was one, and you followed suit? Or was it rebellion? How does one choose?

JA: Yeah, it's as simple as my dad being a Crimson Tide fan. I grew up a Tide fan and then went to school there for two years. During that time, I'm happy to say, Alabama only lost one game in football and won the 1992 National Championship with a pasting of Miami in the Sugar Bowl. Man, was that a sweet game. I still get chills at just the mention of the name "George Teague."

BBM: Pittsburgh Steelers? How did that happen? I'm looking at my research (Wikipedia!) and I don't see anything that takes you out of Alabama until after college. What was it about Pittsburgh that ignited your fandom during what I assume were formative years? Terry Bradshaw? When did you first glom onto the Steelers, and why?

JA: When I was a kid, there were only four NFL teams anybody I knew cheered for: Raiders, Cowboys, Dolphins or Steelers. I locked onto the Steelers, in part because they had the same kind of tough, blue-collar philosophy as Bear Bryant's Alabama teams. Even after the glory days of the 70s, I stuck with the Steelers through the lean years (Bubby Brister, anyone?). I loved Coach Cowher, and that playoff run in 2005 was a thing of beauty, especially after so many years of playoff frustration. But at the same time I was glad to see Cowher leave, because it seemed like he lost most all of his fire after winning that Super Bowl.

BBM: What do you think of Mike Tomlin?

JA: I love the way Coach Tomlin handles himself. I think he's gonna be a great one.

BBM: Are you happy with the current line-up of the Steelers--what will they need to beat the Jaguars, Colts, Patriots?

JA: I like the Steelers chances this year. LaMarr Woodely is going to be the next great pass rusher at outside linebacker. Add him to the mix with a healthy Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu, and I think the defense will be fine. The big question mark is with the offensive line. Big Ben had a terrific season last year, even though he was running for his life most of the time. Losing Alan Faneca hurts, but I think Chris Kemoeatu will be all right taking his spot. The main problem last year was at center, so hopefully Justin Hartwig, who the Steelers picked up from Carolina, can prove to be an upgrade at that position. If the line is at all decent, the Steelers have loads of offensive weapons, especially after adding Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed in the draft.

BBM: A fan of the Steelers has to hate the New England Patriots. That makes sense to me--they are polar opposites after all. Where does the hate for the Cowboys come from? Is it the rivalry from the early 1990's, when the Cowboys made poor Neal O'Donnell look like the worst
quarterback ever?

JA: Yeah, the Steelers and the Cowboys were big rivals in the 70s, but my hatred of Dallas stems more from the Jerry Jones era. I can't stand Jones. I never liked
Deon [sic] or Charles Haley or Irvin or any of those guys. Emmitt Smith seemed all right, but he still played atFlorida, so there's that taint about him. Super Bowl XXX broke my heart. In part because it was played on my birthday. Those two O'Donnell interceptions were both so ugly it's still unbelievable. Basically, Larry Brown made me lose my faith in God that day.

Talk about a guy who lucked into the MVP award, and then used that to sign a big contract with the Raiders, where he was never heard from again. Greg Lloyd also got pancaked in that Super Bowl, which tore me to pieces (though when they ran the same play in the second half, he made the tackle). Lloyd is still my all-time favorite Steeler, and the scariest dude I've ever seen on the football field. See the time he knocked Jets receiver Al Toon unconscious and then went to the turf and counted him out, "One, two,three," like at a wrestling match. Or the time he hit
Brett Favre so hard he threw up.

But as much as I hate the Cowboys, that hatred has come to pale in comparison to how I despise the Patriots. Bill Belichick was in the upper echelon of all-time sports assholes even before it came out about his blatant cheating. And that entire team seems to adopt his attitude. I sat in an airport watching the second half of Super Bowl XLII, and man, I loved the way the Giants shut down the Patriots offense. Seeing Brady get pounded into the turf again and again was like getting a second Christmas.

BBM: How did you feel when George Teague became a career-long Cowboy?[ed note: Teague played for other teams. He wasn't a career Cowboy. My bad.]

JA: The memory of his interception return for a TD and amazing strip of Lamar Thomas in the Sugar Bowl helped erase the sting of him becoming a Cowboy. And he was also the only Cowboy to hit Terrell Owens when he ran out and stood on the star at Texas Stadium, so there's that too.

BBM: I love my home team, but I do find "Redskins" offensive; I find Cleveland's baseball mascot offensive especially when fans show up in make-up "celebrating" Chief Wahoo. I've written the about issue a fair amount. Some samples:

And yet, your work, which many a know-nothing reactionary could call racist, is met with applause from the Native American community. As a white person, who has researched heavily into Native American society, what is your take on nicknames like the Indians and the
Redskins and the Braves, and so forth? Are some OK, some not? Where is the dividing line?

JA: From what I gather, most Native Americans don't really care about sports nicknames. And I feel like just because "Redskins" was a derogatory term years ago, that doesn't mean it has to be today. The meaning of words aren't written in stone after all. Language changes over time. Just look at how the word "nigger"
has evolved. These days it really depends on the context as to whether or not there are any racist connotations to it at all. I think that's cool that a word can be changed and have it's power to insult stripped away. At the end of the day, they're just words after all and the only meaning they have are what we give them. Just avoiding or doing away with them doesn't address any of the real problems

BBM: Your reply talked only football--do you have any other sports that you care about? I know that Alabama isn't exactly a haven for professional sports franchises, but did you grow up diggin on the Atlanta Braves/Hawks, or the Houston Rockets/Astros?

JA: My dad took me to Braves games when I was a kid, but I've never been a big baseball fan. I watch basketball sporadically. Right now I'm cheering for the Celtics, mainly because I can't stand Kobe Bryant.


Lucy Rhode said...

Bao Ninh is how we met. I'd forgotten until you referenced him here. On some online profile, I had Sorrow of War listed as a novel that moved me, and you sent an E-mail saying that you felt the same. That was a long time ago Big BM. You too had likely forgotten how we met. It was nice to have my memory jogged while reading this terribly terrific post. Nice job sweetheart. (I know, I know! I'm feeling all mushy right now. Blame it on Sorrow.)

Lucy Rhode said...

And I am glad you introduced your readers to Scalped. I have lots of love for Mr. Aaron because of your blue butt.

Lucy Rhode said...

And the man loves the Pittsburgh Steelers! Come on! I'm in love! (Okay. I'm done.)