Lance Briggs: The world’s toughest comic-book geek
By Christopher Borrelli
Lance Briggs sank into the squishy red upholstered chair at Challengers Comics on Western Avenue. He sank so deeply his chin peeked above the table top before him. And though he looked a bit uncomfortable, he smiled like a kid who just found the compatriots he never knew he had.
He turned to Tom Katers, who sat across from him, whose face was half the size of Briggs’ neck, and he said, yes, he was like Katers, he was a member of their “secret society.”
Briggs said later he doesn’t usually admit to that, certainly not to his friends or his teammates.
Not that he’s ashamed.
It’s just that, well, you know, he works weekends, has this intense job, and doesn’t meet many people as obsessed with comic books.
Indeed, Briggs, 29, may be the most nonchalant comic book geek in the world, understandably oblivious to the taunts and snickers that greet your average, physically less-intimidating hard-core enthusiast.
So there was Briggs at Challengers the other night, prowling its aisles, stooping to examine a cover, then adding it to the expanding mound of $3 issues he was gathering beneath his arm, his eyes never leaving the racks. He’s a big reader of “The Darkness,” “New X-Men,” “Pitt,” “Silver Surfer.” His total bill, a couple of hours later: $154.54.
Reginald Sampay, a friend of Briggs who runs the athlete’s Briggs 4 Kidz outreach program, said if you’re off the field and around Briggs long enough, you can’t help but get drawn into comics: “Because if you’re not, you’re left out of the conversation.”
How serious is he?
So serious that, later, he agreed to sit in the back of the store for an hourlong interview with “Around Comics,” a weekly podcast hosted by similarly dedicated Chicago comic book fanboys, including Katers and Chris Neseman, one of the organizers of the Windy City Comicon.
Serious enough that a couple of months ago, Briggs started an online social-networking site for comic book fans. It’s called Lance’s Comic World and, basically, it’s a place to talk comic books, discuss plot lines (“my soaps,” he call comics) and share gossip. At last check it had 144 members — not bad considering that knowledge of it has primarily passed through word of mouth and there’s no link on his official site (or on the Bears site) to his comic-book site.
“I’m doing it because, well, because who do I get to share my interest with?” Briggs asked. “I love comics, but outside of my agent, who is an even bigger fan than I am, though that is completely coincidence — I didn’t find out until a few months after we met and he saw one of my books — aside from him, there are not many people I can talk to about this.
“But the people coming to my site are fans of comics, real fans, which is encouraging because I’m a real fan. I have a long history with comics and a knowledge. If there are teammates on my site, then they’re there out of support probably. But I doubt any of them are on it. I don’t really talk about this with them.”
Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins refers to himself as “Wolverine” and keeps an extensive collection of “X-Men” comics. He’s probably the most visible superhero fan in the NFL.
But Briggs is serious enough, though discreet enough, that when asked what kind of superhero he would be if he could be a superhero, he just sighed and rolled his eyes — what a pathetic, shamelessly nerd-baiting sort of question.
Then he replied:
“Well, I wouldn’t wear tights. I would have leadership qualities. I would love to be a mind reader. That would be my power. But no tights. A snug fit, but no tights. What color costume? You want to hear me say orange and blue. No, something dark. I would be strong, dark, macho. A medium build. I would wear a loose jacket, a contemporary costume. I am not a tights guy, man. You get caught in tights, and you can not get out.”
Neseman sees Briggs as the real deal — “Fans always hear of professional athletes who are comic-book fans and usually that means they just have a Superman tattoo. And lots of athletes play video games. We know that. But Lance — he understands this medium.”
A few minutes before Briggs arrived at Challengers, co-owner Patrick Brower, a beach ball of a guy, said excitedly: “You know how important a guy like this could be for the comic-book industry? A guy with that kind of a stage who doesn’t see it as a problem that he reads comics all the time and is this into it?
“The industry could use a guy like him. Lance could do for comic books what celebrities have done for the dairy industry, with those milk ads.
“A guy like that? He could get others to admit they read comics.”
Briggs said got into comics at 7-years-old and, unlike many older fans, never lost interest.
“My mom and I were into sports cards,” he said. “And she still is. But one day at this collector’s shop I saw a comic on a wall and I picked it up — probably an issue of ‘X-Men’ — and I was hooked. Batman was a favorite for awhile. Then Spider-Man. Silver Surfer. I own a ton of ‘Spawn.’
“My prized possession is an ‘Invaders’ No. 1, but a lot of my comics are tattered. I read mine. I keep meaningful issues in plastic, with cardboard backing. I know their value, but I’m not interested in this as an investment. I like the stories.”
A mark of a true fan.
He buys comics every couple of weeks, stocks up before trips, reads them on the plane on the way to games, but doesn’t seek out comic-book shops — and he has no plans to get into the business itself. If someone wanted to collaborate on a book, he’s game. But this is a hobby.
During the podcast, Brian Salazar, another Windy City Comicon organizer, asked Briggs if he ever considered doing a Spider-Man posture after an especially impressive tackle or adopting some superhero characteristic during games.
No, Briggs replied, because you can’t get away with anything flashy in the locker room of a professional football team. You would get taunted. Not that he minds.
“It’s fine,” he said. “You do what you love to do and I do what I love to do.”
Yes, us comic fans, Katers said wistfully, we have developed thick skins, haven’t we?