Sunday, 24 August 2014

Boxiana Vol. 1 extras: Five rounds with Trevor Von Eeden

Over the next few weeks, this blog will be featuring a series of exclusive previews and 'extras'  relating to the content of Boxiana: Volume 1, which will hopefully whet your appetite and persuade you to buy the full volume, which will be available as a paperback book (RRP £9.99) or ebook (RRP TBC).

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an extract from the second chapter of Volume 1, written by myself, which charted the history of boxing-themed comic strips and comic books. That theme continues today with an exclusive interview with comic book legend and Boxiana contributor Trevor Von Eeden

Trevor is a crucial contributor to Boxiana: Volume 1; not only has he written a brilliant and heartfelt article about Jack Johnson which is included in the volume (this piece will be previewed here in the next few days), but he has also produced a series of dynamic, exclusive and original pieces of art which will be showcased throughout the volume. The black and white illustration of Jack Johnson at the top of this page is just one such example. To see the others, you'll have to wait to see the final, printed edition of Boxiana which will be published in November!

I first came across Trevor's art when I was a young comic-book fanatic in the 1980s. His work was full of energy, creative daring and crackled with a spirit of experimental adventure. Years later, I discovered that Trevor had produced a two-volume graphic novel based on the life of Jack Johnson. As a huge Johnson and boxing fan, I was both excited and thrilled to discover how one of the comic book heroes of my youth would bring to life perhaps the most important boxer who ever walked the face of the earth - and The Original Johnson, as this landmark work was called, certainly didn't disappoint.

Not long after reading The Original Johnson I got in touch with Trevor and was delighted to discover that he was a real gentleman with a keen intellect; even better (for me!) was the fact that he liked the sound of my concept for Boxiana and was willing to contribute both artwork and prose to the volume. He's been a constant support and encouragement ever since, and a true pleasure to work with.

 As I said earlier, I'll be printing a preview from Trevor's article on Johnson in the next few days. In the meantime, here's Trevor's thoughts on five questions which I'll be posing to all of Boxiana's contributors over the next few months as we count down to publication in November.

Boxiana goes five rounds with Trevor Von Eeden

Round 1: Can you remember the first boxing match you ever watched?
The first boxing match I remember seeing was the Ali / Liston fight. It was truly mythical- almost biblical in its effect on my psyche (Samson blinded, yet still overcoming the Philistines - loved it!), and it changed my life forever. Then, when I was introduced to the essence of confidence, natural intelligence, love, and joy that was Muhammad Ali’s personality, I remember thinking that with that man in the world, I never need fear losing anything important to me, ever again. He showed me that you can fight for, and win, whatever you wanted in life, as long as you believed in yourself and persevered, despite whatever odds.  I was around 12 or 14 at the time. Before Bruce Lee, Ali was the first (non-white) man in my life to conquer an entire, racist world (not just American society) simply by being himself, and by believing in the fruits of his own labor. An inspiration that has never dimmed.

Round 2: Who are your favourite boxers and why?
Muhammad Ali (the absolute GREATEST of all time), Jack Johnson (one of the greatest MEN to ever walk the planet - period), Sugar Ray Leonard (a miniature version of Muhammad Ali, who did his idol justice), Manny Pacquiao (the Bruce Lee of boxing - blatantly cheated out of his title after the Bradley fight, because he’d become a born-again Christian, which is apparently bad for a boxer’s image, to the powers that be, in Las Vegas…), Sugar Ray Robinson and  Joe Louis also come to mind.

Round 3: Is boxing morally justifiable?
From what point of view? Is sex between consenting adults morally justifiable? It is, in private. When sex becomes a public affair, for profit, that’s when the issue of morality arises. Same with boxing. Fighting sports are as old as civilization itself (especially since most civilizations were built and maintained thru warfare in the olden days) and boxing is but one of the many martial arts that have existed throughout history. If the question refers to boxers being unscrupulously exploited by callous, greedy men, at the risk of their physical and mental health - that presupposes that the average boxer is a punch-drunk idiot, incapable of handling himself in a business arena - which I think is a long dead cliché, in the 21st Century. Men from Jack Johnson up to Muhammad Ali and beyond, have shown conclusively that being a boxer definitely does not preclude one’s also having the gift of superior intelligence, as well (the “punchdrunk palooka” is a cliché born of jealousy, as are most prejudices). Sex and violence are staples in every civilised society - they’re usually the main ingredient in every popular movie, and most other forms of social entertainment. Two men voluntarily beating the hell out of each other in a ring is undoubtedly morally repugnant to the more squeamish and sheltered people in life - but in a free society, boxing, MMA, and the ever-popular, albeit physically brutal sport of American football, will live on for as long as athletes (and couch potatoes) exist. Does the argument against moral justification take into account the free will of all the parties involved, or is it just another attempt at moral dictatorship by the ever-present, passive-aggressive “moral majority” in every society? America itself was born as a reaction to religious persecution by a malevolent majority - who felt  the right to determine and dictate the “correct” stardard of morality to others. But did they take into account the free will of the parties involved? Boxing is not prostitution, there is no treat of a public health hazard thru communicable diseases involved. It’s a form of self-defense, necessary in an unrelentingly violent world. Boxing is a martial art. One of the oldest in history. It’s simply mutual combat, unlike rampant, wanton prosmiscuity, which is never justifiable - ask anyone who truly loves their sexual partner. Physical love is the most personal, selfish thing that a human being can experience, not something to be bartered about in the marketplace like a piece of cloth, cheese - or meat. On the other hand, is (the Art of) self-defense morally justifiable? Well, who in their right mind would ever say “No” to that question?

Round 4: Time travel has been invented and you are able to match up two fighters from boxing history. Who would they be and why?
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Louis; Ali vs. John L. Sullivan (in his prime); Sugar Ray (either one) vs. Jim Corbett/Billy Conn/Willie Pep; Marciano vs. Frazier; Pacquiao vs. Mayweather (lol) A young Sugar Ray Leondard vs. Manny Pac would be epic, actually … I’m sure I could think of more, but these are the ones that came immediately to mind. What I’d LOVE to see, if I had a time-machine kinescope, are the fights and fighters from the bare-knuckle era (including the great John L. himself, natch), and the early days of glove boxing. Nowadays, in our 12-15 round bout encounters, it’s inconceivable that boxing matches went on for 50-100 rounds  at a stretch - and that’s without gloves, or any other form of protection! ( I’d imagine the ever-popular kick to the groin must’ve had a field day back then…)

Round 5: What achievement or piece of work from your professional life (writing or otherwise) has given you the most satisfaction?
I have two favorite jobs in my career, so far: The Batman Annual #8 (’82) - the first job where I consciously decided to pull out all stops and draw the script as I saw it, instead of translating (and expressing) it thru the styles of the artistic heroes in my head (Kirby, Adams, Buscema, Swan, Toth). I literally sat down and wrote down a “mission statement” about what I wanted my new style to be, and how I wanted to express myself through it. To this day, it’s the book I’m most proud of, in my 25 year career at DC Comics. I was able to ink it myself, and also got my girlfriend at the time, Lynn Varley, to colour it - her first job in comics. I’d met her at Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios, where she was one of the top inhouse color artists there. She later went on to marry well, and helped her husband, Frank Miller, become one of the most successful creators in comics history during their 20 year marriage. I’m very proud of what Lynn has accomplished in her career, and the Batman Annual #8 is a permanent record of a very happy time, for me. The other “most satisfying” book of my career is The Original Johnson - the first book I’ve ever written and drawn. Unfortunately, dealing with an unscrupulous and untalented publisher has resulted in a lesser quality presentation of my book than I’d designed and expected (for one thing, the cover painting I’d specifically created for my book—my first cover painting ever - was not used. The book was also half inked by someone other than myself, due to the underhanded actions of my publisher. Fortunately, I liked the other inker’s work, but it displeased me not to be able to ink the entirety of my own first book. I’m currently hauling them into court to receive the royalties that they still haven’t delivered, in over four years … the bums.) These actions by others are the reasons why TOJ is not my “most satisfying” job - but it IS my most personally expressive, and I’m very proud to have created it. The book was also very well received by both critics and the fans, which is tremendously gratifying to me.

Thanks to Trevor for sparring five rounds with Boxiana!

TREVOR VON EEDEN was born on July 24th, 1959, in Georgetown, Guyana (formerly British Guiana) - the only English speaking country in South America. He came to America with his family in 1970. In 1976, at age 17, he became DC Comics’ first black artist - and the youngest they'd ever hired. His first assignment was to co-create their first original black superhero, Black Lightning (the black GL knock-off, John Stewart, had debuted shortly before.) BL is still alive and well in the DC Comics Universe. Over the years, Trevor has also received favorable acclaim for his work on Powerman/ Ironfist #56-59 (1979); The Batman Annual #8 (1982); The Green Arrow mini-series (1983); the cult favorite, Thriller (1983-85); The Black Canary mini-series and subsequent regular series (1990-1993) and Legends of The Dark Knight #149-153 (2001) - his last work for DC Comics, to date. His first self-written/drawn graphic novel The Original Johnson, the story of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, was released in December 2009 to generally positive acclaim from fans and critics alike. A quote from the New York Times Book Review graces both covers of the two volume paperback set. Trevor is currently at work on his second book, The Story of HERU: The First Hero, and resides in the Gun Hill Road section of the Upper Bronx. He is single, lives alone, and enjoys his own company quite a bit. When it comes to sex, he likes women - but infinitely prefers them to be smart, rather than dumb. A good wife would be helpful - but not mandatory - for achieving happiness and peace of mind in life. He has no major complaints nor regrets to report.

Boxiana: Volume 1 will be available through Troubador PublishingAmazon in the UKAmazon in the USA and all good traditional and online booksellers.
Further exclusive previews of Volume 1 content, as well as further information about Boxiana's contributors will feature on the Boxiana blog in the coming weeks.

Boxiana: Volume 1 is an anthology of never before published boxing writing and takes an in-depth look at the sport’s past, present and future. Original, startling and thought-provoking, Boxiana examines pugilistic themes, characters and issues ranging from the personal to the universal, combining exclusive interview material with meticulous research. The book’s fresh approach will both intrigue and delight all serious followers of boxing.

Featured in Volume 1: comic book legend Trevor Von Eeden analyses the significance of Jack Johnson; Mario Mungia tries his hand at amateur boxing; Ben Williams uncovers his grandfather’s bareknuckle boxing career; Matthew Ogborn considers the issues boxers face on retirement; James Hernandez catches up with Jon Thaxton; rising light heavyweight Chris Hobbs recounts his life in the military and the ring; Rowland Stone recalls a heady night in 1992; Corey Quincy attempts to solve the Wladimir Klitschko conundrum and Luke G. Williams examines the meteoric rise of Deontay Wilder and the under-rated career of Chris Byrd. 

No other boxing anthology can match Boxiana’s eclectic range of subject matter, or its in-depth examination of issues and characters from boxing’s past, present and future.

Luke G. Williams

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