To those on the outside, mixed martial arts (MMA) may appear violent and exclusive, but for practitioners and spectators, the sport is incredibly moving. It’s one of the most challenging sports, requiring as much physical strength as mental. Even though it has traditionally been a male-dominated sport, women have been making inroads into the art of MMA since the early 2010s.
This shift is what inspired Fred “Juice Lee” Mckinstry to create the comic book series Skrap, which follows Shannon Noble, a 19-year-old African American fighter with a black belt in martial arts. She meets Slaishe and Lonnie Haverson, siblings who run a local gym. Their encouragement and expertise lead her to the world of MMA and amateur fighting.
The second issue, which was released this spring, focuses on Shannon’s commitment to regular training and education about the art. She overcomes the odds by pushing her body to extraordinary lengths and paves the path for future female fighters to follow in her footsteps. She’s well on her way to achieving high-ranking positions and establishing a reputation, making friends–and enemies–along the way.
Like many other comics creators, Mckinstry was introduced to comic books at a young age. Seeing characters like Spider-Man fight for the good of society always stuck with him. These characters were underdogs who represented much more than simply crime fighting. “His villains constantly underestimated,” he says. “What people don’t realize is that Peter’s mind got him out of more situations than his powers did.”
Reading comics was a favorite pastime that delved into writing them, taking inspiration from his favorite comic book authors Dwayne McDuffie and Paul Dini, who were responsible for fan favorites like Justice League Unlimited and the animated Batman series.
“Other than making music and wanting to write movies, [creating comics] was the only other thing I really wanted to do with my life,” Mckinstry explains. “The pandemic actually jumpstarted me diving into working on this.”
Skrap has been in the works for more than six years, but the pandemic gave the creator the time he needed to play around with the concept even more. The series came out of his love of MMA and his own experiences studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. His amateur training in the sport over the years deepened his love and respect for it, so making a comic book about it was an opportunity to broaden his horizons.
His characters are emblematic of a wider effort to increase media representation of people of color and prove that MMA is for everybody. Impactful change in the comic book business is long overdue. By actively creating narratives from diverse voices, Mckinstry wants to spark change in the medium he loves so much.
“One of the big things that inspires my writing is trying to tell stories with people in roles that Hollywood would never give them,” he says. “With this story, there is a colorful cast of people, most of which would never be in a big budget Hollywood project.”