Former athelete turned gym coach, Chuck Fairlane left the game of football in disgrace after getting into brawl with a mascot. While Chuck has moved on with his life towards teaching others the game, there is trouble brewing for him in the form of other mascots out for revenge. This is the story for Down Set Fight!. Chris Sims and Chad Bowers unite again, but bring along artist Scott Kowalchuck (Oni's The Mysterious Strangers) along for the ride.
The trio talked to Newsarama about the graphic novel, some of their favorite wrestlers and the corralation between the book and wrestling, and of course, given the surreal scenario, what their mascot would be.
Newsarama: So, Chad, Chris, how exactly did you come up with this story for Down Set Fight! It's pretty insane!
Chris Sims: It's actually very autobiographical. In order to fund our first few comics, Chad and I took jobs as suit actors at a local theme park, and after a few bad decisions, we ended up in the underground costume fight pits. You would not believe how vicious someone in a Magilla Gorilla costume can be until he's got his foot on your throat and he's screaming about who runs Bartertown.
Well, no, not really, but that would probably be a more exciting story than what it is. It seems like a crazy premise, sure, but comics have a pretty longstanding tradition of tough guys punching out dudes dressed as animals. It's been happening since the '40s, our trick is just figuring out how to set that up in a way that we didn't think anyone had ever seen before. We've been working together for a long time, and whenever we grab lunch or drive to a con, we just bat around ideas for hours on end trying to figure out how to get there, and Down Set Fight! sprang out of those. It's changed so much since that first conversation where we got the core of the idea, revising it over and over again until it was something that we were really proud of.
Chad Bowers: You think it's insane now, you should've see the original pitch! No, honestly, what Chris and I took to Oni way back when wasn't all that different than what we ended up with -- ex-sports star versus costumed weirdos on a cross country brawl that takes America by storm -- but initially, Chuck wasn't just fighting mascots. There were psycho ninja cheerleaders, enraged fans, commando coaches, and the literal ghost of Vince Lombardi. And it was all just way too much. Credit where credit's due, Charlie Chu, our editor, really helped mold Down Set Fight! into what it is. He's the one that saw our mascots as being the real gold nugget in this little rowdy, and wonderful yarn, and Chris and I can't thank the dude enough!
Nrama: Scott, you're somewhat of an Oni alumni at this point, how did you get wrangled up with this tag team?
Scott Kowalchuck: Waterboarded. I was mercilessly waterboarded for hours until submitting and agreeing to draw the book. I don't want to point fingers (or just one finger) at the guilty party(ies), mostly because I was threatened with more waterboarding upon revealing that person(s) identity. Comics is a rough business, man.
Sims: I'd like to point out that "enhanced contract negotiations" are perfectly legal.
Nrama: Chris you're quite the unabashed wrestling fan, did your love of that come into play when working on this?
Sims: Oh, definitely. Chad and I both have gotten to the point where we tend to be pretty sparse in our panel descriptions, because when you're working with an artist like Scott or Erica Henderson (who draws Subatomic Party Girls, our Monkeybrain book) or Matt Digges (artist of Awesome Hospital, our webcomic), it's really best to just trust them and get out of the way so they can do their thing. But I actually really love writing fight scenes, they're probably the most detailed that I get, because I love staging out the action in my head and trying to build these cohesive action pieces. It's like one part pro wrestling and one part Jackie Chan -- the stuff with the salt and the frying pan in the fight with Barclay is something that came out exactly as Chad and I wanted it to, I think, and Scott's a guy who really gets that. We could go in there and write "Chuck hits this guy with a German Suplex and then rolls him over into the Boston Crab," and he'll not only draw it, but he'll throw in a Stan Hansen lariat for good measure.
Kowalchuck: Chris, who is your fav all-time wrestler? I've never asked. Chad, Lan? Mine has always been the Honky Tonk Man. Though when Lanny Poffo was at the top of his game as the Genius it got to be neck-and-neck. I'm pretty sure this could quickly just turn into Chad, Chris and I talking about wrestling for hours. Oh man, and I haven't even mentioned my adoration of Jesse Ventura or Roddy Piper...
Nrama: A top three would include Hogan because he's Captain America and Santa rolled into one, Bret Hart because he's pratically Canadian Batman, and Mr. Perfect because why not.
Sims: Mick Foley, definitely.
Bowers: For me, it's The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. Look, there were only ever two bad dudes in this world. One was John Wayne. The other's Dusty Rhodes. And I know he didn't look how the athlete of the day was supposed to look... but that never kept him from being the best, and staying the best, daddy! Take that, Rick Flay-ah!
Nrama: Chad, Chris, you're both from the South so did that also influence any elements of the story?
Sims:When we went back and read it after it was all done, Chad pointed out that he didn't think there wasn't a single scene where someone said "isn't" instead of "ain't."
Bowers:Yeah, the South, and Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia, specifically, were a big influence. If you know anything of how our particular neck of the woods interacts with sports, then you know Down Set Fight! is about two Miller Lights away from being a thing that happened. This is Southeastern Conference territory, and birthplace of the WCW. It's basically ingrained in the fabric of everyday life. I mean, the sports page IS the front page of most local newspapers.
That said, I think there's a Southern progress angle to Down Set Fight! that walks alongside the whole football/mascot/wrestling brawl-thing. I hope people see some of that in there too.
Nrama: Scott, how did you come up with some of the visuals for the characters and mascots? Was it sort of left up to you or did you have some direction?
Kowalchuck: I dropped a ton of LSD and let them come to me in a vision. Jim Morrison-style! That's not true. That's my 'weird naked Indian' friend talking.
Lots of research. Which, upon realizing I had been looking at pictures of mascots and had been for hours-and-days-on-end caused some self-reflection on what led me to this point in my life. Some of the mascots had actual dialogue, so I had to cherry-pick which to reveal a face for (which adds a layer of awesome when you have a guy's head hanging out of an elephants mouth).
Others like the yet to be revealed Dogpound (my favorite character in the book) really developed pretty organically. As did his 'DP' logo. Yup, DP. Hashtag it.
For my main characters in any book I always cast an actor or celebrity, someone who I like and who I could see acting and reacting given the situation of the character. Makes the process lots of fun for me, and gives me an excuse to watch movies while I work.
Nrama: Chad, going back to all of the stuff that was from the initial story, was there anything in there you really wanted to put in but just couldn't find room for?
Bowers: Not because of room, no. But I was really excited about the whole Lombardi's ghost idea. It was carryover from an earlier football character idea I had, and I loved it, but no matter how much I wanted it to work, it just wouldn't have been right for Down Set Fight! Ghost Lombardi would've muddied Chuck's overall relationship with Al, and cut into the drama between those two in a way that weakened their whole dynamic, so I'm glad we got rid of it.
One I didn't mention before -- and I don't even think Chris and Scott know about this -- but at one point, I wanted for Chuck to have grown just this massive beard by the end of the story, a la Mean Joe Green. Just because. I forget why I cut that, actually...
Nrama: Scott, how would you describe your style to people unfamiliar with your work?
Kowalchuck: Rad-tasmic! So rad-tasmic, in fact, folks should just preorder the book. Seriously, what else is that money going to go toward? A box of condoms? Dude, I have some bad news for you, chick's aren't into guys with neck hair. Better to just buy Down Set Fight! You can thank me later.
Nrama: What was the collaboration like among you all? Did you guys learn anything about each other during the process?
Bowers: Scott Kowalchuk can hold his breath underwater for 12 minutes, and Chris has a mole on his... never mind.
Sims: Chad and I have been writing comics together since late 2007 -- and we're currently doing our ongoing series for Monkeybrain, Subatomic Party Girls with Erica Henderson and Jazzy Josh Krach -- so I don't know if there's anything new to learn. Mostly it was about the process for us. When we wrote Down Set Fight!, we'd done single issues and webcomics, but never anything as big as an original graphic novel. It takes a slightly different approach, and we ended up just having to basically set aside a weekend to get together and finish up the last bit, instead of going back and forth with it.
The other new thing was, of course, Scott, but honestly, there wasn't a whole lot to learn. We really clicked almost immediately. I mean, if a guy spends his free time drawing Destro and HISS Tanks, there's a pretty good chance we're going to get along. Chad and I have spent maybe a thousand hours of our friendship talking about Smokey and the Bandit. Very early on, Scott sent us his inks for the big double-page spread on pages 2 and 3, and we saw he'd drawn the Bandit's Trans-Am down there in the lower-right corner. We hadn't even mentioned it to him, Scott just drew it in there as a joke for himself. That's when we knew we were going to work pretty well together.
Kowalchuck: Chad has a massive inferiority complex, which necessitates a lot of tip-toeing.
Scott: "Hey Chad, what's new?"
Chad: "What does that mean? Are all of my achievements to date not enough to satiate you? I need to have done something wonderful and la-dee-da NEW since we last spoke? Is that it!"
Chris, on the other hand, only Skype's topless. And, for some reason, insists on rubbing baby-oil on his chest. He claims it's to help his tan, but I have my suspicions.
Chris: Jealousy doesn't become you, Scott.
Nrama: Scott, you've sort of stayed away from stories involving capes and powers, so what was the appeal of Down Set Fight that drew you in?
Kowalchuck: Down Set Fight! was this strangely endearing story about a big, black dude beating the living hell out any and every mascot he could get his hands on. I mean, had that been the pitch, I can't imagine anyone turning it down. You'd have to be bat-s--- crazy!
Speaking of bat-s--- crazy, don't get me wrong, if the opportunity ever presented itself I'd draw the [crap] out of Batman and King Tut sharing a soda at a local diner, after Bats took a blow to the head and believed himself to be a reincarnated Cleopatra. The [crap] out of it.
Nrama: Last call, guys, if you could have your own fake mascot, what you would be and why?
Chad: Ghost Lombardi!
Kowalchuck: A Mayor McCheese that vomits wet toilet paper and mayonnaise.
Chris: Pink Destro with just a giant laughing head and a wrist-mounted t-shirt cannon.
The first two chapters of Down Set Fight! are available now on comiXology.