Step Into The Ring with "Undercard"

Superheroes, true crime, science fiction, cowboys and Indians, Indians from India, 20-something angst, 30-something angst, romance, manga, Mormanism, Satanism, fantasy, horror, politics, espionage, mod rocker magicians, and more postmodernist pornography than you can shake a stick at. Today's comics are richer and more diverse than they've ever been. No matter what their tastes or walk of life, one would think there's a comic on the stands for everybody.

One may wish to think again, as CBR News was hard-pressed to think of anything out there representing the ultra-obscure, rarely-tapped "boxing comics" genre. That is, until we heard about "Undercard."

Created by Chris Gumprich and Dennis Culver, "Undercard" is the sort of small press book that reminds us why comics are such a unique medium. A lifelong boxing fan, Chris Gumprich felt that boxing was an undeservedly forgotten genre on America's bookshelves. A lifelong fan of drawing people getting the crap kicked out of them, Dennis Culver was eager to test his abilities as an artist. The two paired up and in the best indie comics tradition, simply did the work.

The fruit of their labor, "Undercard" #1, is available for preorders now. CBR News sat down with the self-publishing pair for a special interview - illustrated by Dennis Culver - to talk about "Undercard," boxing, old timey comics, Earth 2, and revenge.

Why don't you guys start out by telling me a little about your backgrounds and how you got into comics.
Dennis Culver is proficient in 12 different unarmed fighting systems (Karate, Kung-Fu, Jujitsu) and is highly skilled in the use of edged weapons. He has received extensive training in mountaineering, underwater demolitions, jungle, desert and arctic survival, and some forms of holistic medicine. Qualified Expert: All NATO and Warsaw Pact small arms.
Uhhhhh ...
Actually, that's from Snake Eyes' file card.
I'm every bit the cliché of a comic book writer. Skinny white guy who read comics from a very early age and fell in love with the form.
I started copying "Peanuts" strips on the back of old paper bags when I was five because my grandmother was too cheap to buy paper I presume... Anyway, "G.I. Joe" and "Secret Wars" got me in to comics and I kept drawing off and on for the rest of my life. I decided to get serious when I was 25. Six years and a few minicomics later, I've got this comic "Undercard" out.
I used to get the big yellow legal pads from my mom's work.
Wait, Chris did you ever draw? I have a theory that most comics writers have some budding drawing skills.
Not well. Took a class about five years ago - I know a lot of the theory, I just can't make my fingers work a pencil the right way. I believe that all comic writers are failed artists. Seriously, I became interested in writing comics because I wasn't very good at drawing them. Found out I had an aptitude for it, and made the decision five years ago to pursue it seriously.
How did you two get hooked up?
Chris swears we met at APE before he emailed me out of the blue, but I honestly don't remember.
We met - very briefly - standing in line waiting to talk to Tom Beland in 2004. I had heard of Dennis through the message board-o-sphere and followed up later. I ended up trying to talk to Dennis later, but he was out schmoozing, so I bought his Funwrecker minis from Josh Smeaton.
Anyway he asked me to work up a pitch called "On The Edge" that we later abandoned.
Technically we haven't abandoned it - there are still two publishers who haven't gotten back to me.
That pitch was not our finest work but we enjoyed working together and we did a mini called "Round Four" as a tryout for something bigger, which was to become "Undercard."
So, you're telling me you didn't say all you have to say about boxing in "Round Four?"
Dude, "Round Four" was eight pages.
And Steven Grant read more into it than I had written. But it was an experiment for me in two ways - one to see if I could write a convincing boxing scene, and two to find out if Dennis would be the right artist for it.
We had more to say. Well, Chris did anyway. I just like drawing d00ds beating the hell out of each other.
Let's talk about "Undercard." What did you learn from the "Round Four" experiment and how was it applied to the new book?
The good will from "Round Four" definitely built up our confidence.
"Round Four" was far and away the most successful comic I had done, which showed me that there was an audience for a boxing comic. The basic story for "Undercard" was there from the beginning - a boxing story that didn't read like "Rocky MCMLXXXVI." I wanted to show the other side of boxing - the thousands of other boxers who don't get a title shot, aren't mixed up with organized crime, and never get their TV shot. What keeps them going into the ring?
Where did this boxing fascination come from?
I'm less a fan of actual Boxing and more a fan of stories about boxing, you know?
I've been a fan since high school, back in the Tyson era. Probably goes back to the "skinny white kid" thing. Got into it again a couple of years ago, now I watch it any chance I get.
There aren't any melodramatic boxing-related stories in your past?
I was once ignored by Donny Lalonde, but I can't say that was all that traumatic.
My father was a boxer but was killed by the mob when he wouldn't take a dive.
They got him with a needle in the glove, and framed his best friend.
Yes, but I avenged him with my radar sense.
OMG are you guys writing a comic right now, as we speak?
ZOMG I am ripping off Stan Lee.
Dude, I don't know about you, but I was ripping off Wildcat. Unless Stan Lee also ripped off Wildcat - Somebody call Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed!
Oh! Wildcat versus Battling Jack Murdock! Excelsior!
"Boxing" conjures up a lot of genre trappings. When you write a boxing comic, are you trying to pay homage to a certain kind of aesthetic, or are you trying to put a new spin on it?
Boxers have always been background characters in comics, but outside of manga, I think the last boxer to headline his own series was "Pep" Morgan.
You're of course referring to the pulp adventure character who appeared in "More Fun Comics" in the 1930s and 1940s.
Of course. And I'm not consciously trying to imitate anything, nor am I trying to blaze a new trail or anything like that. I take my writing style from old time radio and old films - show, don't tell. This was another form of hard-boiled story, really.
Tell us about your art studies, Dennis. You've been synthesizing a lot of influences, haven't you?
Yeah. Like I said before, I only started to get serious in the last five or six years and I discovered I had a lot to learn. Still do. But yeah, my influences come from all over lately. Herge, Loomis, Toth, Kirby, Sickles, Crane and Caniff to name a few. It's weird, I still feel like I'm being pulled in a lot of different directions while I try to figure out how to draw correctly and develop my own style.

Like anyone else who draws, I can only see the flaws when I look at my stuff but there is a lot I'm proud of in "Undercard." Nothing accelerates the learning like having to draw 22 pages.
Pardon my ignorance, but who's Loomis?
Andrew Loomis, old fifties advertising artist. He put out a great book on figure drawing that mysteriously remains out of print . He's incredible.
Oh shit, yeah, I know his work. Never knew his name.
Tell me about the color on the "Undercard" cover. It's unusual.
I wanted to design something that would catch the eye. Almost like a gig poster. I carried the color scheme over t the back cover as well. We'd like each issue to have a ringcard girl on the back.
The cover was 100% Culver, but he managed to convey the fundamental theme of the story - no matter what's going on, it's always about the Ring.
What's coming up next from you guys?
Issue #2, I hope.
Yeah the plan is to put this out quarterly ourselves unless we can get a publisher to pick it up, then it's hookers and coke for six months and then the eventual trade.
I had Coke in a glass bottle the other day. It tasted like the regular shit. No nostalgia there.
Is this some Canadian euphemism?
It would be if I told you I also had a Tootsie Pop.
Er, thanks for talking to us at CBR, guys!
We can say that we feel this is the best damned project we've ever worked on.

"Undercard" is available for preorders now.

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