Sports

Elks tap into Edmonton’s rich football tradition for comic strip feature

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Jed Roberts is a bit of a stand-up comic, his friend and former teammate Henry “Gizmo” Williams is most certainly an animated character.

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Both were Grey Cup winners in 1993, both continue to live in Edmonton long after their retirements from the Canadian Football League. For those reasons and more, they emerged as logical leading men in the Elks’ latest graphic approach to reaching a new generation of fans.

The dynamic duo will be featured in comic strips produced by Toronto-based writer Bill Yu and artist Te’Shawn Dwyer that will appear on the Elks’ Instagram and Facebook pages prior to each home game this year.

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Yu, who is also a physical education teacher and lifelong football fan, connected with Elks president Victor Cui by direct message on Twitter. Yu’s first pitch for a graphic novel was rejected, but Cui responded with an idea for an educational comic strip aimed at youth.

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“My hope was to highlight positive aspects of Edmonton fandom, history, game-day experiences and keys to the game,” said Yu. “I wanted to think of something that could engage, not the older, hardcore fan because they don’t need this, but younger fans, new fans who like animation. I agreed with Victor, this could be a different way to attack it. We know you want modern methods as well, hype videos and player interviews. This is just a different channel to reach specific demographics.”

The project cried out for characters with big personalities, making Roberts and Williams the natural fit. Roberts, the former defensive end, is active, engaging and occasionally hilarious on social media. Williams, the energetic former kick returner, has always connected easily with young fans.

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“I needed recognizable people. I wanted champions. I wanted people still active in the community,” said Yu, when asked how he chose Roberts and Williams to star in the project. “I also wanted to include somebody younger but the fear was, what if we included this person, they had a season-ending injury, got cut or traded? Grey Cup champions, legends, would be the better way to go, because of the fact we are going to use part of this as a teaching tool. We also wanted people who encountered adversity and Grey Cup success in Edmonton. And people with a specific look; Jed’s ponytail, Gizmo who is short and mighty.”

Yeah, about that look.

“The way they drew me, it looks like I’m wearing Lululemon pants and I’ve got Popeye forearms, but I’ll take it,” Roberts laughed. “Who doesn’t want a comic made of them? It wasn’t hard to twist my arm. I grew up collecting comic books and I loved the idea of trying to engage with the younger generation and show them the traditions this franchise has. It’s a no-brainer for me. My kids think it’s cool, so I’m finally cool to my kids.

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“Some people will look at it and go ‘what is that?’ They won’t really get it, but I get it. Just a really cool way of meeting the younger generation on their terms and on their turf. When we started the stay-in-school program, Gizmo and I, way back in the early ‘90s, that was the idea, to get into the schools and talk to the kids. This is sort of a modern day version of that. Social media is so prominent now in everyone’s lives, it’s a great way to build a bridge.”

Indeed, led by Cui, the Elks’ new management team is trying to repair what had become something of a frayed relationship with its fans under the old regime, which had the difficult task of navigating the franchise through a long-overdue name change.

“I think that the Elks kind of wanted to build a bridge back to the traditions, and there is such a gold mine there,” said Roberts. “You’re talking about people like Jack Parker, Billy Stevenson, Dave Fennell and certainly Willie Pless. It just seems in the last two or three years in particular they kind of moved away from that and understandably so. They wanted to make their stamp with the new brand and all of that. But it just seemed they threw the baby out with the bath water.”

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DAN’S WEEK 3 PICKS

Saskatchewan at Montreal

Thursday 7:30 p.m. ET — Saskatchewan by 3.5

Riders will likely add to the impressive 13-sack total since elusive QB Vernon Adams is out with COVID and Trevor Harris isn’t as mobile. Key injuries affecting both teams, so it ought to be close. Saskatchewan by 3.

Hamilton at Winnipeg

Friday 8:30 p.m. ET — Winnipeg by 4.5

The Tiger-Cats are 0-2 and reeling after giving up a 24-point lead to Calgary last week, while Winnipeg eked out back-to-back wins over Ottawa and haven’t dominated on defence. Yet. Winnipeg by 4.

Edmonton at Calgary

Saturday 7 p.m. ET — Calgary by 9

Should be the no-brainer of the week. Stamps QB Bo Levi Mitchell turned back into himself in the second half last week in Hamilton, and the Elks have turned in two straight sad-sack efforts on defence. Calgary by 8.

Toronto at B.C.

Saturday 10 p.m. ET — B.C. by 4.5

The Argos, gifted a win when Montreal kicker David Côté missed a 21-yard gimme, would need a much stronger offensive game than was evident last week to keep pace with Lions QB Nathan Rourke and his considerable weaponry. B.C. by 7.

Record

4-4

Lines by covers.com

All games on TSN

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