(Dark Horse Comics)

A Rose City collaboration: The Dark Horse connection that made PTFC's stars into superheroes

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers’ and Thorns FC collaboration with Dark Horse Comics reflects a relationship of mutual admiration: PTFC admiring a local business that’s become one of the most recognizable brands in the comics world; and Dark Horse having a series of employees who count themselves among the club’s annual members.

“I wasn’t into soccer, not until I went to my first game,” Kari Yadro, Director of Custom Programs for Dark Horse says. “The thing that turned me into a soccer fan was the Timbers Army. I’d been to sporting events before, but I’d never experienced anything remotely close to the love, dedication, and energy of the Army.”

Five years after attending her first games, Yadro found herself in charge of a project that brought some of PTFC’s most prominent faces -- Diego Chara, Tobin Heath, Christine Sinclair and Diego Valeri -- into the comic-book world.

“When I learned I would be the project manager on the comics (the business side, our editorial team handled creative), I was ecstatic and pretty nervous,” she remembers. “I just really wanted it all to go well.”

The product speaks for itself, with four of the club’s most prominent members depicted in superhero form. Apparel with Dark Horse’s depictions will be available for fans at the Timbers and Thorns team stores, with backstories and art also available on the club’s website and via social media.

Other Timbers and Thorns fans within Dark Horse have already seen the finished product, with artist Ron Chan’s work tapping directly into their fandom.

“It’s great,” assistant editor Brett Isreal said of the final product, though he was unable to settle on a favorite rendition. “Hard to choose, but as a big Tobin Heath fan, specifically, loved getting to see those designs. Also, I’m all in on Valeri sitting around playing guitar.”

Chris Gaslin, Dark Horse’s Director of Product Development whose time at Timbers matches dates back to the club’s NASL era, “[wondered] why it took so long” for an idea like this to come to fruition. His memories include names like Clyde Best, Jimmy Conway, Clive Charles, and Mick Poole, and his favorite Timbers memory is when “all of the sunflowers went cascading into the air as the Timbers scored during ‘You Are My Sunshine’ in the last match of the USL era. The Valeri version is his favorite of the four, with Gaslin recalling how the Maestro’s goal “brought the house down” at an MLS Cup party he hosted.

The enthusiasm of fans like Gaslin made for a natural fit when it came to a collaboration between PTFC and Dark Horse, but it also stands in slight contrast with the artist that brought the superheroes to life. Ron Chan is Portland born and raised, is a graduate of Benson High School, and has been to a Thorns game before. He’s not naturally drawn to sports, though, even if he’s done PTFC-related work before.

“I have actually drawn art for the Timbers and Thorns, before, through the Oregon Lottery,” he said, the memory coming to mind as he described his lasted PTFC-related effort. “A few years back they did some lottery tickets. They did three designs: one that had a guy with a chainsaw, Timber Joey; one that had a male player with the Timbers; and one that had a female player with the Thorns. I drew those three tickets that they ran … I think it’s somehow just a coincidence that I drew that and this.”

Chan went to art college in Savannah, Georgia, and works as part of an artists’ collective, Helioscope, that’s located in downtown Portland. For Dark Horse, he is regular artist, currently working on the company’s Plants versus Zombies book and, last year, got the call to bring PTFC’s quartet into the animated world.

“It was fun to draw. I was little intimidated at first,” Chan said. “But then I was like, ‘No, it’s fine. Trust the material. Figure it.’ And thankfully, they liked it.”

For Cara O’Neil, Dark Horse’s social media coordinator, Chan’s work brought a love she’d fostered since 2010 into her professional space.

“Like my worlds were colliding, in the best way!” she said, when asked about the collaboration. She’d been a Thorns fan from day one of the team, harboring Heath’s title-winning free kick in 2013 as one of her most cherished PTFC memories.

Even with that Thorns bent, though, it’s difficult for O’Neil to single out any one of her company’s depictions.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite,” she admits, “since all four are among my favorite players, but I love Captain Sinc.”

Ultimately, though, the success of the project will be in how fans receive it. From her project manager’s seat, Yardo already knows how much the work means to Dark Horse’s Army and Riveter contingents.

“I hope the fans enjoy what we’ve created,” she says. “It’s near and dear to our hearts, and fingers crossed that there is more to come.”

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