Play Ball! An Interview with A. David Lewis and Matt Roscetti
A. David Lewis is following up Some Kind of Slaughter with the online comics series Brave Play, which is being featured on The Boston Phoenix’s website. Combining America’s favorite pastime with an eerie otherworldliness, Brave Play is an exciting new venture from Lewis, who’s teamed up with artist Matt Roscetti for the story. We talked to both creators about the work.
Let’s talk about your histories as baseball fans first. When did you first fall in love with the game?
ADL: Ask anyone: I was not the most athletic child. My father tried, he really did, having a catch with me out in the front yard. I was less the “catcher” on my Little League team and more the “blocker,” sadly. For me, baseball finally gripped me when I moved away from Boston. There’s nothing wrong with Boston, of course! It’s an intense sports town, and that had me intimidated growing up. Only once I was in Washington, D.C. and, before the Nationals, it was something of a baseball wasteland with Baltimore feeling very, very far away. I missed home a little, and that translated into a newfound thirst for baseball lore. So, I think my love of it kicked in later than Matt’s did, right?
MR: Oh, yeah. As a kid, I also played Little League, probably starting around 2nd or 3rd grade. For me, though, baseball card collecting went hand in hand with the comics. This was around the time of the ’87 Mets. My brother liked the Mets, but I was into Don Mattingly and the Yankees. It’s interesting to think back that what really attracted me back then to the Yankees was their history. To me, they were baseball. And Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Gerring and Berra: These were the gods of the sport. I got out of the sport in my teenage years, focusing on my art and getting into more fringe things like skateboarding, but in college I lived in New York City and there was no escaping the Yankees. Over the 10 years I lived there, the Yanks won several pennants and it was easy to get swept up in the excitement. I usually don’t follow baseball save for if the Yanks are having a hot season.
What draws you to the sport now?
MR: Today, I rarely watch, but when I do, it’s usually because of something going on with the Yanks. I like the games against Boston because I dig the city rivalry. One of my best friends lives in Boston, and I can never pass up an opportunity to bust his chops. I get really intrigued by real plays. I like being involved in the conversation. So I do like to keep up via the paper or SportsCenter. The play recently—a potential perfect game—with the ump that called an obviously out runner safe: Things like this are human interest to me. (Personally, I think it was the Shift influencing him!)
ADL: I love the psychology of it all. I mean, when a player gets into the batter’s box and the pitcher winds up, a huge number of things can happen. It’s more than just strikes and outs: It’s mathematical probabilities matched with human behavior. Throw a strike, throw a ball, pitch-out, head-hunt, attempt a pick-off, high cheese, change-up, curve, splitter…and that’s just some of the things the pitcher himself can do. There’s no clock, there’s a cheering crowd, and there’s managers master-minding lineups, batting percentages, sacrifices, and so forth. For me, it’s more strategic and more suspenseful than just about any other sport.
Where did you get the idea for Brave Play?
ADL: Back when I lived in Washington, D.C., I was attending a game at Camden Yards with my friend Bryan Kasper. It was a Red Sox vs. Orioles game, and I think the Sox were behind going into the late innings. People started turning their baseball caps inside out, believing that these “ralley caps” would somehow help the team. I think there were even people joking about if they bought one more hot dog, then maybe Varitek would hit a home run, or if they left early, they’d ruin the team’s chances of making a comeback. This got Bryan and me talk about what if someone in the stands actually did affect the game. Everyone was doing something; they all felt as if they had some influence. Perhaps, though, there was a grain of truth there. And so, the germ of Brave Play was born.
MR: I just stole the idea from David.
Where will this story take readers? Without giving away any spoilers, what can you tell us about the journey you’ll be taking readers on in the story?
ADL: I want people, even readers disinterested in sports, to think about what baseball is. What role does it play in culture, what function did it serve in 1948, and what filled that void before its invention? There’s a bit of anthropology being thrown in here, so I hope to take readers from a disoriented place to a very precise, very focused place by the end. I want to make connections between baseball, Boston, the world at large, and even beyond. All the elements for this recipe were there long before me, and they remain there, promising to inspire people long after me. I’m just proposing a new layer and a new lens by which to enjoy this interaction of sports, cities, and human nature.
Baseball fans are definitely known for being superstitious. But are even they ready for the story of the secret world of The Shift?
MR: It seems to me that one thing baseball fans love is drama both on the field and off. They love the game, but they also love talking aspects of the game such as team trades, coaching, preseason training. They love to discuss all this at the bar over a beer or outside church after service. Brave Play offers a chance to go even deeper, into the owner’s office and player’s locker room…. Then we show them a world they didn’t know existed, an even deeper world that affects the game in unknown quantities.
ADL: I agree with Matt. There’s a reason why stories like The Natural or Field of Dreams hit such a chord with so many. Even Moneyball and Faithful! There’s something magical about the field, and there’s something mysterious about the inner workings of pro ball. I believe people will enjoy this skewed and dark peek at its historical underbelly.
How are you incorporating real-world history with the fictionalizd story you’re telling here?
MR: Artistically, there have been some challenges. David occasionally uses character that were real, but they are umpires or team owners, so it’s hard to find photo references for these people. One thing I think is important are the stadiums. Stadiums are so important to the fans; they are like holy buildings to them. So I want these places to feel familiar to people who know them. My art tends to be suggestive and the format choice and the panel size limits how much detail I can put. But I hope to get enough in that if we tell the reader it’s Yankee Stadium, they’ll look at it and agree.
ADL: One great “cheat” is how ubiquitous newspapers still were at the time. With people plugged into iPhones and e-readers today, you can’t necessarily witness what news they’re consuming publicly (without seriously encroaching on their personal space). But Boston has had a long history with excellent newspaper reporting and archiving, allowing us to access the history of the day visually by putting an eye toward what people are reading.
This period in the sport’s history is probably one of the most sensitive and touchy subjects for many baseball fans. How carefully are you treading this ground?
MR: Personally, it was the year itself that really helped to attract me to this story and my wanting to be involved. There is one tricky scene that I have to draw that, even today, I really feel as if I have to tip-toe around the subject. I guess I can’t give too much away at this point, but I really had to ask myself, “How do I show this without offending people?”
ADL: I revere it all, all aspects of the history. So, my hope is that we’re showing a world of gray, not of absolutes. In fact, the major theme of the story is encroachment or intrusion. If we’re also intruding on readers’ expectations, then so much the better!
What are the “puzzling physics” that most intrigue you about baseball?
ADL: I read at some point that the single most difficult act in any sport to accomplish is connecting as a batter with a Major League fastball. The odds are entirely against the batter, from the thickness of the bat to the size of the strike zone to the speed of the pitch, and so on. All that, combined with the odd irregularities of certain fields—one structure being a home run–inducing “launch pad” to another being a dead zone of a pitcher’s park—never ceases to fascinate me.
How did you come to be involved with The Boston Phoenix as an outlet for telling this story?
ADL: I knew Matt and I would have material read long before the complete print story was finished. And, as a fan of many webcomics myself (like the Act-I-Vate gang or the Girlamatic folks, also individual strips like Girls with Slingshots, XKCD, Questionable Content, Devil’s Panties, and Finder, to name just a few), I was intrigued by the idea of distributing this early look at the story digitally. The Phoenix really enjoyed the Boston angle and also wanted to experiment with the format, so it was a win-win.
Will it run the entire baseball season? Any plans beyond that?
ADL: Yes, we’ve timed the story to run the entire season, right into early November, barring any hiccups. After that, we’ll pause, nicen up any glitches that arose, and prep it for a print version in 2011, hopefully during that baseball season!
If you’re asking whether I have further stories in mind for this word, the answer is definitely yes, and a few seeds are planted that hint of further stories and future seasons to come. But right now, I’m taking it one complete graphic novel at a time.
What do you plan to do next, after Brave Play?
MR: I hope to continue the hunt for a publisher for my first graphic novel, Growing Up Comic, while starting work on the second book. (I have an unending supply of stories for these characters.) I will probably start doing a Growing Up Comic webcomic in a few months if I reach a comfortable spot with Brave Play. But, for now, my focus is just Brave Play—after that, I’ll see what comes up.
ADL: Like Matt, Brave Play is job one right now. (Actually, a new addition to my family is my top priority right now, but in the world of comics-making, yeah, Brave Play’s the focus.) Then I have a dissertation to complete and a new academic text to launch from Continuum International Publishing, namely Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books & Graphic Novels. It features scholars from all around the world as well as creators like G. Willow Wilson, Sauarv Mohapatra, Douglas Rushkoff, and Mark Smylie. Once I get to 2011, I hope to share a few shorter stories that have been developing separately and potentially recollaborate with mpMann.