17 Mar

The Hollywood Reporter: How ‘Kill a Man’ Writers Crafted an LGBTQ+ MMA Story

Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson unveil the project centering on two gay fighters of different generations.

Announced last year, AfterShock Comics’ upcoming graphic novel Kill a Man is a sports story with a difference, following the complicated relationship between two MMA fighters of different generations with a shared history. Ahead of the book’s June release, The Hollywood Reporter has a first look, as well as some words about the project from its writers.

“Yes, we’ve seen combat sports narratives before. Yes, we’ve seen coming out and LGBTQ+ struggle narratives before. But a gay lead has never been allowed to be the star of this type of underdog combat sports narrative before,” writer Steve Orlando said in a statement about the series. “Every time [Phillip Kennedy Johnson] and I work on the book, I’m inevitably texting him about how this moment or that moment is something that’s never been put to page before…. We want to give the Rocky-type narrative to the LGBTQ+ community and say, loudly and unflinching, that we toodeserve a hero that overcomes, goes the distance, and finds victory on their own terms.”

Kill a Man is definitely part of the Rocky/Creed tradition, but the dynamic between main characters James Bellyi and Xavier Mayne starts from a completely different place from anything we’ve seen in those other stories,” added co-writer Johnson. “Mayne represents the old guard of the MMA tradition, one of the original pioneers of the sport…a gay man whose career started to go wrong when he beat a bigot to death in the ring. Then, a generation later, the dead man’s son grows up to be James Bellyi, a legit MMA superstar who gets outed as gay leading up to his title shot. Bellyi begrudgingly turns to Xavier Mayne, the man he grew up hating, to train him, setting up one of the most complicated and fascinating relationships we’ve seen in a coming-of-age story, one I’m honored to have a part in telling.”

“There just aren’t many books about MMA on the comic shelves right now, which continues to mystify me. It’s the most dynamic and exciting sport on Earth, practiced by some of the most driven, dedicated, and gifted athletes in history, and Kill a Man reflects that,” Johnson continued. “Of course, it’s crucial that every LGBTQ+ reader who picks up the story recognizes that it comes from a true perspective, but it was also hugely important to me that every MMA fan recognizes the fights as being written and illustrated by creators who know the fight game.”

Orlando added, “It’s vital to us to not just present a gripping, groundbreaking story but also provide an unflinching and authentic look at the MMA world for all its ups and downs. This isn’t sugarcoated; it’s every bit as triumphant and toxic, petty and perilous, exciting and eccentric as the modern fight world is outside our window.”

The 128-page graphic novel, illustrated by Al Morgan with letters from Jim Campbell, will be released June 3. Some of Morgan’s artwork from the book is below.

05 Oct

The Hollywood Reporter: ‘Kill a Man’ Graphic Novel to Tackle MMA and LGBTQ Identity (Exclusive)

The new project comes from writers Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Alec Morgan.

Independent publisher AfterShock Comics will expand its line of original graphic novels next year with a new title combining mixed martial arts with the personal fight of one gay man to be recognized for who he is for the first time. Unveiled at New York Comic Con, Kill a Man is likely to surprise more than a few fans when it hits shelves.

The graphic novel offers the chance for Steve Orlando and artist Alec Morgan to reunite — the two had previously collaborated on DC’s acclaimed Midnighter series — with Phillip Kennedy Johnson joining to co-write with Orlando.

Kill a Man is about forging your own identity in the shadow of the past,” Orlando explained in a statement. “James Bellyi is a fighter, desperate to carry on his family legacy, even though his late father’s reputation was complicated at best. He was an early, iconic MMA fighter, cut down in his prime after slurring his queer opponent. For James, surpassing his father’s potential has been his only goal, being the man his father would have been had he not been killed in the ring. It’s enough that James hides his own secret — he himself is queer, something his father would never accept.”

James’ secret doesn’t stay hidden for too long, however, the writer shared.

“On the cusp of James’s title shot, he’s catfished and outed by his opponent, losing his entire support system, labeled a traitor by his family,” said Orlando. “With no choice but to live on, James turns to the only man left in the world that will still train him on his quest to take back his title shot — the man that killed his father.”

The graphic novel is “a story I’ve wanted to tell since I broke into comics, to capture both the complicated internal and external struggle between identity, family expectation, society, and masculinity,” explained Orlando. “To put our lead through hell, admittedly one of his own making at times, and finally let him be the hero, let a queer man, a queer fighter, go on that heroes journey made famous by Rocky Balboa or Adonis Creed, and come out the side stronger, find family where he had none, and pride where he had shame.”

Added Johnson, “Anyone who keeps up with politics understands that this is an extremely relevant story right now. The U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear a case on whether employees can be fired for being gay. And while MMA is at the height of its popularity, I don’t think it’s a sport or a culture in which a gay male fighter would necessarily feel comfortable coming out.”

He continued, “We’re living in an important and dynamic time in American History, when we have the power and responsibility to decide what kind of nation the United States is going to be going forward. Telling a story with such an unlikely crossover — male queer culture and MMA culture — is Steve’s, Alec’s and my way of making that decision for ourselves.”

The graphic novel is set to be released next summer.