Saturday, March 05, 2011

Let's Get Ready to Colorrrrrr!

The Super Bowl is a distant memory. The NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup playoffs don't kick off till April. We've barely started spring training, so the World Series is just a gleam in Derek Jeter's eye. True, we've got March Madness to work our way through, but even the finals of that don't happen till next month. So if you are a diehard, head-to-head competition fan, and you have to see a championship crowned, what are you to do till then?

You head down to Washington to see Michael "Spaghetti Kiss" Bracco defend his title. Currently ranked number 1, with a record of 7 wins and 2 losses, he'll have to bring it all to hold off the likes of Nick "Ghostfreehood" Borkowicz, Jami "Angry Zen Master" Noguchi and the unpredictable Bryan "Silent But Violent" Prindiville. There in our nation's capital, at a venue called "The Red Palace," those three will be joined by 6 other hot hands as they go canvas to canvas in a Super Art Fight.

Described by one of the creators as a punk-rock mixture of "Pictionary meets Pro-Wrestling," Super Art Fight started in Baltimore in 2008. It grew out of a contest called "Iron Artist" that was held at the Katsucon Anime Convention, a three-day fan fest now in its 17th year. SAF, as the hosts like to call it, was the brainchild of five local webcomic creators: the aforementioned Borkowicz and Noguchi, along with Chris Impink, Marty Day and Ross Nover. Impick also competes, while the other two have settled into hosting duties.

SAF, at its most basic level, is an art showdown with a live crowd cheering the artists on. Each starts with a fistful of markers and a sheet of paper about four or five feet square. Prior to the bout, each participant is given a starting topic, with which they must begin their piece. Once the whistle blows, they have 30 minutes to complete their drawing. But it's not quite that simple: over the course of the bout, each contestant is given a new topic every five minutes to incorporate into their work. Those topics are chosen randomly by a spin of the "Wheel of Death," which has new ideas posted on it as suggested by the audience.  Past helpful suggestions include "monocle" and "owls attack," not to mention "Christopher Walken riding a unicorn."

Finally, to add a little more easel-to-easel excitement, participants are allowed... encouraged even... to "attack" each others art, either by completing a piece left unfinished by their opponent, or by subverting it with their own special additions. So a macabre Gothic leviathan can be "tweaked" by a competitor with the guerrilla addition of a Valentine Day-esque heart in the middle of its chest. Living proof that even in the arts world, war can be hell.

The crowd gets treated to play-by-play and color commentary, courtesy of Day and Nover. The whole thing is accompanied by an indie-rock soundtrack, the cheers and jeers of the audience and the occasional sideline interview with the artists. It's like Iron Chef, only without the pots and pans. And no panel of semi-well know judges here: the winner is chosen by the audience. Loudest cheers means the champion.

In truth, the contest has changed over the years since it began, though "matured" is a putting it a bit strongly. As co-founder Ross Nover explains on the group's website, "The quality of the artwork is now secondary to the quality of the performance. The artists have realized the audience doesn't care if a drawing is amazing or merely OK as long it's funny. They're asking themselves, ‘How quickly can I draw the funny thing?' as opposed to ‘How well can I draw the funny thing?' When we started, the artist really took their time and the competition was the joke. Now the competition has gotten serious to the point where I've had entire conversations about art fight strategy."

"Art fight strategy:" three words you probably never though you'd find in the same sentence. But while it may not have a ball, a helmet, a bat or a stick, its no less a contest than the sports that use those pieces of gear. And If they can call golf a sport, this has got to count too. So lace up your markers, strap on your highlighters, head on down to The Red Palace, and let's get ready to color.


Marc Wollin of Bedford can only draw stick figures. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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