Dan Steinberg's D.C. Sports Bog

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Careful readers of Sam & Lilah, a serialized online comic from D.C.'s Jim Dougan, will notice plenty of close-but-not-quite-exact D.C. references. Like Bake Love, the hip coffee shop and bakery. Or Lindy Wozniak, the cute, perky blond sports anchor.

For D.C. United, though, no names have been changed. The uniforms bear the VW logo. The scoring play goes Simms to Olsen to Moreno. The fans sit on the "quiet side" and the "loud side." And the cataclysmic scene involves a lightning strike at RFK Stadium, which crumbles into pieces. Art imitating life, there.

"If they were playing at a new stadium now, I might have done the same thing, but it might not have had the same resonance," Dougan told me this week. "You don't even need a lightning bolt at RFK."

True that. The Texas-based artist, Hyeondo Park, has never been to an MLS match, but he did a nice job with Olsen, telling me that the eyebrows were one of the distinguishing characteristics. And so, Olsen?

"Pretty good likeness," he said, while glancing at his comic self earlier this week. "I'm flattered. It's not too bad. He's actually more handsome than I am."

Let me back up for one second; Sam & Lilah is not a tale about soccer, nor is it a tale about sports. It's an exploration of themes of heroism and myth, set in D.C., riffing off the tale of Samson and Delilah. (The comic appears on Act-i-vate Comix, an online collective of the graphic works of both well-known and unknown comic artists.)

Dougan needed one scene to demonstrate "Sam's" otherworldly strength. And so he concocted the RFK and United storyline, in which Sam -- wearing a lion mask in honor of "Heart of a Lion" Ben Olsen -- holds up a section of crumbling seats to allow supporters to flee.

"My whole thing was I want to write about D.C., because it's underrepresented in fiction, but I don't want to do the political intrigue spy stuff," Dougan said. "I want to write about the way normal people live their lives. I wanted it grounded in things people would recognize if they just lived in D.C. . . . The comic is about sort of modern-day myth, and I was looking for an opportunity for the characters to demonstrate heroism, and I thought what's a large spectacle kind of situation where Sam could demonstrate to the readers that he has this super strength now? I thought, 'I really love soccer; I love United; why don't I just put it in there?'"

Dougan's United fandom isn't the casual variety. He was at the club's first-ever home game. He went to the rain-soaked MLS Cup at RFK, which he called "the best sporting experience I've ever had in my life."

He became a season-ticket holder and joined the Screaming Eagles when he moved back to D.C. from Chicago a few years ago. The United scene is filled with inside jokes, like Olsen joking that Bryan Namoff is the guy who usually catches the stadium when it falls down.

A new page of Sam & Lilah is released online every week; the five chapters will probably take another year or two to play out, unless a publisher expresses interest. And yes, United will appear again later in the story.

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