One thing I often lament when I’m reading comics, regardless of how well crafted they are, is that I wish they were more fun. Comic books themselves are also known as funny books, but sometimes, they can get a little drab. And when everything reads like the end of the world, even the apocalypse can feel like something run of the mill (CC the infinite dystopian novels out there). But when something is energetic and surprising and exciting and comes from a genuine place of heart and nostalgia? Then things like that can feel as bright as the sun.
Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports No. 1 feels like that to me.
I know I’m late to the party, as the comic it originated from – Fantasy Basketball – was a critical darling almost two years ago and an Ignatz Award winner last year. But now that Nobrow Press has rereleased it in a beautiful, full color package with wonderfully aromatic paper (paper smell is an important element to me), I’m onboard, and very glad to be.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s a simple and odd one, but it also packs a ton of charm in of itself. Wiz and Mug are partners at The United and Ancient Order of Mages, and they work together to gather magical artifacts but they’re both begging for reassignment. They both subscribe to different tactics for dungeon crawling, but when their boss the Archmage tells them to stick together and do the job, they’re left with no recourse but to go and attempt to recover treasure from a mummy’s tomb. When it turns out they have to defeat the mummy – named He of the Giant Steps – in a game of basketball to earn their booty, things get magical.
And yeah, I mean that literally, but also figuratively. As someone who grew up crawling dungeons in games like the Legend of Zelda and the Final Fantasy series as well as being a hardcore hoops head, Fantasy Sports hits a very rare intersection of those interests for me. Bosma’s cartooning is remarkable, and to see him depict the basketball sequences in the book, you can tell he’s also a big fan of the game. For my personal enjoyment on a reread, I looked through the art to try and think of who the inspiration for each player’s game was. Best bet? Mug and his upright post up game and pull up jumper show him off as a squat version of Russell Westbrook, Steps and his skyhook has Kareem written all over him, and Wiz feels like Steph Curry with her slick handles (check that hesitation crossover!) and heat check threes.
Yeah, I got into it. But that speaks to how multi-faceted my enjoyment of the book is. That’s not to say you have to be a fan of basketball to get into the story, but for me, it helped a lot.
Bosma’s artwork is what earned him his Ignatz Award, and reading through the book it’s easy to see why. The way that he delivers the story, from the quieter open to the ruckus in the pre mummy maze all the way to the climactic basketball sequence, is packed with a ton of energy but never lacks clarity on the page. In a way, his art reminds me of what Hayao Miyazaki’s work may have been like if he had been raised in America on John Tesh era NBA on NBC, Hellboy and a steady Super Nintendo diet. His character design for Wiz really feels like a Miyazaki player to me, especially the adorable hat and general school girl look she’s adorned with early on.
It reads art first in many ways, and the way he tells a story visually really enhances the overall impact of specific moments. There are a lot of different ways one can bring a comic to life, especially when the person is writing, drawing, coloring and lettering the story themselves. The possibilities are infinite, or however endless one’s imagination is. Clearly, Bosma has a refined sense of how he wanted to convey the happenings of this tale. There are some sequences in this book that had me contemplating an emphatic fist pump, or at least letting out a Marv Albert-esque “YES!”. In particular, the moment where Steps changes into something a little more comfortable for a game of one-on-one is perfect. Bosma slowly showcases He of the Giant Steps gearing up, with the final panel displaying Mug with a generally pissed look as Steps says, off panel, “Lace ’em up, youngblood.” It’s as if Bosma’s saying to us, “ya’ll are most definitely not ready for this.” But by god, we are.
Those little sequences in comics are where the magic lies, and Bosma’s a gifted enough cartoonist that he can deliver a section like that with nuance and enough oomph to hit hard at the end.
The script is lively and enjoyable, and wonderfully showcased by Bosma’s hand lettering. It’s a funny book, and one that made me smile on the regular with simple elements that come naturally from the characters, like Mug’s dopey physicality and Wiz’s brainy moments of frustration. Little affectations like the skeleton captain who works for the Mummy having a British accent or tiny Mignola like touches where Bosma works in handwritten SFX around characters help give the book more personality and characters more rounded personalities, and enhance the experience overall.
On top of all of this praise, it’s worth noting that this book is young reader friendly. I certainly wouldn’t give it to a five year old without any knowledge of them and how they react to things, but the story is fun and its more adult moments don’t really have rough edges to them. Even its moments of violence are handled with humor in mind, and leave you thinking things like “that Mug!” rather than making you gasp from shock. It’s an enjoyable yarn that is a quick enough read that most kids wouldn’t feel the burn, and that’s an appealing characteristic in its own right.
One other thing worth mentioning again is the production value. It was mentioned earlier, but Nobrow’s work on this oversized edition is beautiful, and it is made of a sturdy and resilient stock. This isn’t the type of book you’ll pay twenty bucks for it to quickly fall apart. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and functional, and really adds to the overall experience.
Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports No. 1 is a very well-crafted comic, from cover to cover. Even better, it’s fun, and in a way that feels unique and wholly its own. In short, it’s something comics needs a whole lot more of. To say that comics like this should be the norm would be to downplay Bosma’s rare abilities as a cartoonist, but it was wildly enjoyable for me to pick this book up, dive in and leave with a smile on my face. If you’re like me and missed this story the first time around, the good news is you have another chance. For those looking for a little more entertainment out of their comic experience without sacrificing the craft, this book gets the highest of recommendations.
Art in the article is from Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports, with the second image a shot from my phone (it was too good to not include). You can find Fantasy Sports in reputable comic shops nation wide.