Super Art Fight
From shows at Baltimore's Metro Gallery and the Ottobar to venues as varied as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Super Art Fight is working to become a phenomenon. The touring art competition, launched in summer 2008, is the brainchild of five local webcomic creators: artists Nick Borkowicz, Chris Impink, and Jamie Noguchi (who compete in the matches) and writers Marty Day and Ross Nover (who host and offer commentary).
"The best way I've heard it described is it's Win, Lose or Draw meets pro wrestling," Nover says. A typical Super Art Fight bout lasts around 30 minutes and features 2-4 artists positioned in front of an enormous sheet of white paper. Each is given a topic to illustrate. Every five minutes, the artists are given a new topic via "The Wheel of Death," a random word generator made up of topics submitted in advance by attendees and "activated" by an oversized lever pulled by an audience member. Crowd cheers pick the winner. What really makes Super Art Fight stand out is the participants' ability to vandalize and sabotage the drawings of their competitors: a horrific Lovecraftian monster can be ruined in an instant by a well-placed cartoon heart, for example.
In anticipation of the upcoming free July 17 Super Art Fight at Artscape, City Paper sat down with the crew to discuss the event's inception, the art of art war, and a bizarre history with nerdcore rapper MC Chris. (Max Robinson)
City Paper: So how did Super Art Fight come together? What inspired it?
Marty Day: The catalyst was the Iron Artist [competition at anime/manga convention Katsucon] in 2008, where Nick and Jamie were both drawing and I was doing commentary. And what happened was Chris, god love him, put together all of this stuff--there would be video at this point . . . video at this point. . . .
Chris Impink: I should explain that a little bit. The Iron Artist show tended to have a theme to it, and one of the problems with it was you got an hour of people drawing and it got pretty dull. To spice it up, I'd been doing themes for a bunch of years.
MD: So the thing is, maybe five or 10 minutes into this hour of preplanned, well-plotted out show, the video stopped working properly. And you can tell the audience noticed something wasn't going right [laughs].
Jamie Noguchi: All Nick and I know is we're drawing against each other on these nice tables with these nice pieces of poster board, and at one point, one of us said, "Fuck it," and we took a piece of poster board and put it on the stage.
Nick Borkowicz: Eventually, that led to us running up and attacking each other's art. And then it just to turned into chaos.
MD: Yeah, and the commentary just got much more loose. And after that, Nick and I were walking back to our table and we were like, You know, we can do something bigger than this.
CP: Can you tell us a little about the first show?
Ross Nover: We did our first Super Art Fight, which was a small event, upstairs at the Ottobar [with headliner MC Chris].
NB: So originally it was going to be this side attraction in between bands. Sometimes when you go to shows, whether you're into the band or not, your attention wanders. Why not have something else going on?
MD: MC Chris is very particular about his opening acts. He likes to handpick them, he likes to have some control over them, and at the time we had no web presence. So he requested that weren't on the show. But Todd [Lesser] at the Ottobar thought that there would be an audience for what we do, so he said, "Alright, I still want you on the show tonight, but I'm going to put you guys upstairs." We were going to be very respectful. MC Chris goes on at 11 and we were going to finish at like, quarter of. So [we] go to the show, set up, and people are just entranced in the art [the competitors] are creating.
RN: And it's just so obvious that we're clearly capturing the audience's attention.
MD: In the transition period of us wrapping up and going downstairs, they had a DJ start playing upstairs.
NB: The volume levels were going up and, like, there was this party vibe in the room and it felt like something had exploded.
MD: We go downstairs. MC Chris is doing his thing, we're having a fun time. The bass from the DJ upstairs is so loud he can hear it onstage. And he calls us out, and he calls us "fags," and accuses us of trying to get on his show.
JN: So for our first official show, we wore shirts that said "White Rappers Hate Art Fight."
CP: How have the shows evolved since then?
RN: They keep getting bigger.
MD: Once we knew it would work with a live audience, we knew we needed to give them more, but in a more controlled format. So we were like, "Let's make it grudge matches! Lets have a championship belt!"
RN: Yeah, just getting the rhythm of the timing down a little more.
CP: One of the things I love about Art Fight is how crazy and frantic the matches get. What is it like to work in that environment?
CI: It really passes like a blur. You're reacting to the wheel, and you're reacting to what your opponent's doing, and those 30 minutes go by like that [snaps fingers].
RN: And you have to have the talent to draw whatever comes up.
NB: You know, sometimes it's "Christopher Walken riding a unicorn." You don't need to draw Christopher Walken's likeness, but you need to be able to package your art and get it across.
CP: Where would you like to see things go from here? More shows?
MD: Where we are right now is we're hitting the point where our shows are consistently growing, our audiences are consistently growing, and our goal is to continue to build this so we can take it and share it with audiences all over the country. This kind of show just doesn't exist elsewhere.
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