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“All of the Sounders can be on the Uncanny X-Men”

G. Willow Wilson says that a soccer team is like a team comic, in that every member is part of the story.

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Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes Opening Party Photo by Jim Bennett/Getty Images for Museum of Pop Culture

How does one of the world’s preeminent authors of superhero comics become a Sounders fan? Well, it starts with Ted Lasso, and then it goes into Sunderland ‘Til I Die, and then it’s Kelyn Rowe scoring his first goal for his local, boyhood club. As he’s mobbed by his teammates, the crowd chants “2-5-3.” At the time, G. Willow Wilson just noted the power and emotion of the team getting behind the local boy who had returned, but then her fandom grew and expanded, and now she isn’t hesitant to say she’s one of us — she’s a Sounder, part of this community.

Wilson joined the Sounder at Heart podcast to discuss her journey to soccer — and especially Seattle soccer — fandom. A journey that unlocked her ability to write again. Like so many, the strains of the pandemic had reduced her writing, her normal.

Then I watched this, you know, that one Sounders game, and it was like a rubber band snapped in my head. And all of a sudden I was like, oh, I remember how to do this job. And it was really, it was phenomenal, you know, I don’t wanna derail things into one of these like ‘soccer saved me’ stories that we all seem to have, but it was kind of like that.

From that hour-long discussion with Willow, there are two main themes about soccer — the artistry of the players that comics can’t recreate and the nature of community.

There is this one photo, and again, I don’t know who took it and I’m gonna forget what game it was from, but it was last season where somebody got this beautiful shot of Raúl Ruidíaz as he was sort of right about to hit the ball with his foot. And it doesn’t look like he’s tethered to the ground. It looks like you dropped him out of the sky and he’s landing on the ball. And I look at it two or three times a week because it reminds me that there’s still things that art hasn’t touched yet, where real life exceeds our ability to replicate it in art. And for me, that’s really exciting. I think when you’re a storyteller, especially a visual storyteller, you’re always looking for ways to push the horizon back a little bit and say, “This is what I’m chasing.”

Willow knows a bit about communities and fandom. She’s written Air, Ms. Marvel, Sandman, Batman, Poison Ivy and much, much more. Now in the mainstream, her work with Ms. Marvel is getting re-noticed, as it is her version of Ms. Marvel — the origin story — that inspired that Disney+ show.

Somebody said jokingly that Ms Marvel’s real superpowers are her friends. And I was like, “No, it’s true.” And that’s one of her legit superpowers. You know, that was something that was very important to me as a writer, starting out with that series is that truly one of her super powers is her community.

She sees soccer teams as part of the team-up comic tradition, specifically saying that the Sounders would be the Uncanny X-Men. The group has to work together, and the coach like the writer has to find a way to feature all of them.

Having joined the Sounders community just under a year ago, Wilson has embraced the Rave Green on Twitter and on podcasts (she mentioned she listened to three other non-Sounder at Heart pods within the last week). That’s expanded into an interest in OL Reign. The focused dedication and generally supportive nature of the Seattle soccer fandom is what stands out to her.

Having been involved in many different fandoms sort of across the years, as part of my job, I have to say that Sounders fans are incredibly disciplined, which might seem like a weird thing to say. You know, everybody grumbles, there’s criticism, that’s just sort of a normal part of life, but having watched and been party to fandoms of things that kind of melt down — it’s incredibly disciplined, incredibly focused.

For those of us with a decade-plus following the club, like SaH staffers, it was a good reminder of the goodness of the Sounders. We’re in this special moment when the MVP of the Concacaf Champions League winning team can wear his medals and walk onto a ferry back to his house.

Stefan Frei just talked to Jeremiah Oshan about that.

Wilson is now a headliner at conventions with six-figure attendance. She’s seen the change that happens from the growth of fandom and still cherishes those times when she gets to a smaller convention, like her recent trip back to New Jersey for exactly that.

Sounders fans should cherish these moments while the club is a trophy juggernaut and the players are still among us.

The club will get bigger, the velvet ropes behind which, you know, the important people sit will appear. That’s just sort of how it happens when something grows. And you know, I think that’s good. Growth is good, but people will miss this. Like, this is this moment in time I think is really special. Once it gets big and unwieldy, it’s hard to go back to that.

There’s a freedom of just being a fan. With superhero comics, she started as a fan, but now she’s a writer with major credits. Soccer and the Sounders give her a bit of space to just be.

What’s fun about soccer for me is that I’m just a fan. I can just be a fan in a way that I haven’t been able to be for superhero comics or some of this other stuff in a really long time. That’s really cathartic, to just be a fan.

When asked what kind of Sounders stories she still wants to hear, Willow noted she’s diving into that right now by exploring the Sounders’ MLS origin story. She’s currently reading Sounders FC: Authentic Masterpiece by Mike Gastineau to learn more about the founding era of the Seattle Sounders MLS experience.

How can we replicate it? What are some lessons that we can take from this? Because that is rare. It’s rare in media, it’s rare in comic books, it’s rare in films. I’m super, super into that book now and really enjoying it.

She’s also engaged with the media covering the Sounders, because like all of us the process matters, too.

But one thing I have to say that I really have enjoyed is finding out, after having watched a game, what led up to that moment.

And about soccer unlocking her writing again? The latest Poison Ivy comic series is a result of that Kelyn Rowe goal and becoming an emerging Sounder-fan.

The minute after that first Sounders game... I went upstairs. I wrote a pitch for a Poison Ivy series — Poison Ivy of course, being the famous green-thumbed, femme fatale from the Batman books. I sent it to my editor. She wrote back and said, ‘This is crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this before.’ The first issue came out today. And there’s a Seattle connection. If you get to Issue 6, there’s a very small, but very profound thing that only Sounder fans will understand. It’s the first book that I’ve written entirely in my soccer fandom era.

You can find Poison Ivy #1 at your favorite comic book shop or Comixology. Ms. Marvel is currently streaming on Disney+. Willow’s comics-centered account on Twitter is @GWillowWilson; her soccer-centered account is @GWWOffside.