Former Bear Lance Briggs channels his inner superhero in new graphic novel 'The Trap'

Courtesy of Danilo Beyruth and Tamra Bonvillain

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For 12 years, Lance Briggs ran around Soldier Field like a superhero.

The former Chicago Bears linebacker made extraordinary plays look routine. He stopped running backs and tight ends in their tracks, and he chased down quarterbacks with lightning speed. Now Briggs is bringing that heroism to his science fiction graphic novel.

Entitled "The Trap," Briggs’ inspiration for the story dates to his childhood in the south area of Sacramento, California, where conditions were often less than ideal for Briggs’ hard-working mother and his siblings.

The premise behind Briggs’ graphic novel is the unfortunate reality he desperately fought to avoid.

“The Trap represents communities that I feel our governing bodies have failed,” Briggs said. “Every child should have a right to success. They should have a rightful opportunity to success, and if they are not given that, we are doing all of our own kids an injustice.”

Briggs’ passion for comics predates his love of football. When conditions called for Briggs to stay indoors growing up, he retreated to the safety of comic books.

“I’ve been reading comics since I was 6 years old,” Briggs said. “That’s before I even started playing football. Comic books were cheap, so my mom never had any problems buying me comics when I used to ask for three, four, five or six comics. It was economical. Comics allowed you to use your imagination.

“When you live in certain areas and you feel limited by certain things and you have to be home by a certain time and you can’t go to certain places and you played sports to make sure you stay out of trouble and stay on the right path, comics can take you wherever you want to go. That was cool for me. My mom was always on call and was always working, so when my mom was working and we had to be in the house, I could open a comic book, and it took me anywhere.”

After starring at Elk Grove High School, Briggs left home to play college football at the University of Arizona, where he was a two-time first-team All-Pac-10 selection. A third-round pick of the Bears in 2003, Briggs had a sensational run in Chicago, where he played alongside Hall-of-Fame-caliber defenders Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman.

Through it all, Briggs’ love for comics endured -- so much so that more than 10 years ago, Briggs started a website called Lance’s Comic World, where he and other comic book enthusiasts could discuss characters, storylines -- you name it.

As Briggs’ infatuation with comics became public knowledge, the All-Pro linebacker began to ponder a post-football future in comics.

In 2010, Briggs pitched to the publisher Top Cow Productions, Inc., an idea that led to the creation of the single-issue comic "Seraph."

Briggs’ initial foray into the comic world caught the attention of New York Times best-selling author and die-hard Bears fan Kyle Higgins, whose work at DC Comics, Marvel and Image includes Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Batman Eternal and Nightwing.

“So I happened across this profile on Lance [in the Chicago Tribune] about the very thing that I do for a living, and the fact that I’m a huge Bears fan, I felt the need to file it away for a later date,” Higgins said. “Lance and I ended up interacting for the first time on Twitter of all places. We eventually met in Chicago, and then I gave him a tour of the DC Comics offices in Los Angeles.”

After Briggs retired from the NFL in 2014, the pair broached the idea of future collaborations. About 18 months ago, the meetings turned serious.

“Our first sit-down at a cafĂ© in Los Angeles went for many hours,” Higgins said. “Lance brought these notebooks filled with character ideas, and there was some interesting stuff in there, but I wasn’t quite seeing how to build a book around any of them individually. Then as we just started talking about our backgrounds and where we came from, Lance started talking to me about his story and what it was like growing up in Sacramento.

“As Lance started speaking more about what Sacramento was like, it all started clicking into place. We started building the concepts of what has now become ‘The Trap,’ which is centered on positing a version of the future where Earth has been annexed into this interstellar coalition of planets but, for a variety of reasons we explore in the story, has become neglected over the decades and is also a valuable commodity in the interstellar, very illegal drug market. What that does is it basically creates a scenario and environment where the problems of oppressed groups and communities are now problems of our entire planet.”

Briggs and Higgins (cowriter and cocreator) assembled a team that included artist and cocreator Danilo Beyruth, colorist Tamra Bonvillain, letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and designer Sasha E. Head.

The process of writing a graphic novel is long and tedious, as Briggs soon found out.

“It’s a fun grind,” Briggs said. “Dealing with Kyle -- you know he’s an expert in the business. Having my ideas shot down left and right -- you got to have tough skin. It’s a good thing I spent most of my adult life in a locker room.”

The group took the 120-page graphic novel to Kickstarter, where the goal was to raise $50,000-$60,000 to ensure all shipping costs were covered and those associated with the project were paid.

“The reason we went to Kickstarter is because of the nature of the story. The format and the structure that we really fell in love with was the original graphic novel,” Higgins said. “The difference between a graphic novel and a collected comic book is that whereas a comic book comes out in monthly installments, a graphic novel could be the same material as five comic books, but it only ever comes out in one book.

“That makes building the material quite challenging because you’re not rolling it in increments. It requires so much more lead time and so much more labor up front because you are doing 100 to 125 pages before you ever release it. From a financial model standpoint, the only way to do a graphic novel and maintain ownership is to do it through Kickstarter.”

"The Trap" is the first arc of what Briggs and Higgins want to create together.

“We built out a world,” Briggs said. “Once this first volume is completed, and hopefully it’s well-received, there are hopefully three or four more volumes that we’d like to open up. I’ve always been attracted to adventure stories. This one has very current and modern issues laced in it. It’s a great adventure story and a great ride, and I think all the readers would enjoy going on the ride with me.”