Interview with Down Set Fight! Author Chris Sims

The co-writer of Oni Press' Down Set Fight! talks about gambling, Jeffrey Tambor, and NFL SuperPro while I pretend to pay attention.

This week brings us the release of Down Set Fight!, a graphic novel from Oni Press put together by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, and Scott Kowalchuk. It’s also been released in digital increments if that’s your kind of thing. The book tells the story of Chuck Fairlane, a retired and disgraced football player who gets dragged into a strange reality of mascot fisticuffs. Athletes all over the country are being mugged by thugs dressed as sports mascots and considering Chuck has been targeted and he got in trouble for punching out a mascot to begin with, it’s safe to say that he’s somehow the center of all of this.

Chris Sims is a pretty groovy guy, although for a man co-writing a sports-based story, he admittedly knows nothing about any sport that isn’t a pre-determined male soap opera. For real, I described how one-sided the Super Bowl was and when I told him that the first play was a safety, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know what that is.” If anything, it’s rather tragic, as it means the poor guy never got to play the Tecmo Bowl games back in the day. That’s rough.

 

There’s Chris on the left and me on the right. No idea about the guy in the middle. He seems nice, whoever he is.

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I got to sit down with Chris and talk about crocheting. Three hours later, I realized we should probably start talking about his stupid book and we got to that. It went pretty well, all things considered. He’s really good at answering questions. He should make that his thing.

Den of Geek: Despite coming together like a really solid and logical story, Down Set Fight! is a pretty unique concept. Where did this idea come from and how did the collaboration build from there?

Chris Sims: The story that eventually became Down Set Fight! started with an idea that Chad had maybe ten years ago called The Jock. Chad’s been writing comics a lot longer than I have, since around the time that we met, and he has a ton of ideas floating around, to the point where it seems like he’s got a new one every week. Subatomic Party Girls, the title at least, was another one from around the same time, although it changed a lot. Anyway, one day we were doing a high school book fair together representing the comic book store where we worked, and since this was before the Avengers movies when all the kids wanted to talk about was manga, we had a lot of free time. We batted around this idea, The Jock, and ended up shaping it into something that was very close to what it eventually became. The only thing was, we’d shaped it into a revival of Marvel’s NFL SuperPro.

 

It became pretty abundantly clear that Marvel wasn’t going to let two unknown writers roll up and do a six-issue NFL SuperPro miniseries as their very first project, but we liked the core idea of this unstoppable jock going up against this master manipulator in a series of weird fights. So when Oni asked us if we’d like to pitch anything, after they’d seen what we’d done on a self-published one-shot called The Hard Ones that we did with Rusty Shackles, we pitched them The Jock. They liked everything about it but the name, so it became Down Set Fight!

What writers or comics do you think really laid down the inspirational groundwork for what you and Chad have written here? As if pitching it, in your mind, what would this book best be compared to?

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That’s tough. When we first started writing together, Chad phrased it as, “doing a Brubaker and Fraction on this,” and I think you can draw a pretty good parallel to the feeling that we got with Immortal Iron Fist. There are big weird fights and bizarre characters in that run, but at the heart of it, it’s about the characters, which is something that we really tried hard to pull off. The reaction I’ve gotten from a lot of friends is that they’re surprised it’s not just fun, over-the-top violence, but that there’s an actual story behind it, which we really tried to do, especially with Chuck as a main character. It’s one of the reasons that you see him get into a fight for pretty selfish, angry reasons at the start of the book, and then the next time he throws a punch it’s to protect someone. He’s grown up and become a more sympathetic character. At least, that’s the idea.

Beyond that, well, we’re influenced by a lot of stuff. I think it’s pretty obvious that we read a lot of comics and watch a lot of movies, and a lot of the ideas in this book were formed pretty directly because we love bronze age comics and Hal Needham. So if you like Cannonball Run and Power Man & Iron Fist, this book is probably going to be your jam.

 

Scott Kowalchuk knocks it out of the par– scores a touchdown with his art, which is perfect for the tone. How did he get involved with you guys? Was it blackmail? Now that the comic is finished, are his loved ones released and okay?

Scott was suggested to us by our editor at Oni, Charlie Chu. We were all pitching stuff around the same time — we were actually writing Down Set Fight! while he was drawing The Intrepids at Image — and from the moment we saw his stuff, it just clicked. I think it was seeing him draw a piece from Kane — the Paul Grist crime comic, not the wrestler — that really sold us on him. I love that comic, but you never hear anyone talking about it, so it’s kind of obscure, and that he was a guy who got it really said a lot. We clicked pretty immediately, and he did such a great job. Like he takes the most ridiculous stuff we have and does it perfectly.

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In an earlier conversation, you told me about how an amazing moment involving a dragon mascot (which I won’t spoil for the readers here) was originally meant for another scene that got cut from the rough draft. Are there any totally sweet moments, subplots or even characters that you had to completely drop for better or for worse?

One of the ideas for the original SuperPro pitch was that Phil Grayfield was going to be haunted by the ghost of Vince Lombardi, which actually did kind of make it into Down Set Fight!, although it’s way toned down. We batted around a lot of ideas about how far we wanted the mascot conspiracy to go, whether it was going to be just sports teams or whether theme park mascots and small business mascots were going to get involved, too. A lot of it was just pared down naturally through conversations with Charlie Chu, who really helped us shape the book into what I think is a really awesome story.

The only thing that we wrote that ended up getting cut was the scene with the parade dragon, where it crashed a bus into Chuck’s house and prompted him to go on the run. It just felt a little repetitive to do it so soon after the fight with Barclay in the bar, but we liked the mechanics of the fight so much that we kept a lot of ’em for the big last punchout.

 

The whole battling mascot thing escalates. We get a couple here and there in the beginning, but more and more show up, each more outlandish than the last. How did you keep coming up with all these different designs? Did you just spend an afternoon coming up with how there should be a guy dressed as Humpty Dumpty, a chef, a platoon of clowns, etc. or did you just tell Scott to go hog wild?

Those are almost all Scott — I laugh every time I see the Lacrosse Lumberjack. The only exceptions are the Gamecock and the Tiger, the mascots for our big sports rivalry down here, between Clemson University and the University of South Carolina. Even if you don’t pay attention to football, that stuff is unavoidable, so I felt like we had to throw it in.  The story really has less to do with football and more to do with gambling. Do you have much of a history with that? Any interesting stories of Vegas trips gone wrong?

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I’ve only ever gambled on pro wrestling, which is actually way more fun than it seems.

 

The first guy Fairlane takes a swing at is Crockett, the creepiest-looking of all the mascots, but also someone who pops up later in the story. Considering we never see him without the giant mascot head on, I have to wonder: whose voice do you hear when you write his dialogue? I like to think he sounds like Steve Buscemi.

That’s pretty good casting! Oddly enough, I think Jeffrey Tambor in full-on George Bluth mode could pull off Old Crockett pretty well too. Also, I love that Scott draws him without ever removing that big foam head. He’s like a doofy Judge Dredd.  

Let’s say Down Set Fight! really gets some momentum. You get a couple sequels, a movie starring Terry Crews and a breakfast cereal out of it. Then you’re given a choice to do a crossover story with anyone in the comic multiverse. Who does Chuck Fairlane fight with and/or against?

I feel like you could drop Chuck right into an issue of Spider-Man and he’d be right at home. The Rhino, the Kanagroo, the Beetle… punching out those dudes is right in his wheelhouse.  Thanks for time. What else do you crazy kids have down the pipeline? Chances are, if someone’s still reading this, they’ll care about what you have to plug.

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The third issue of our ongoing MonkeyBrain series, Subatomic Party Girls, is out the same day that Down Set Fight! hits print, so that’s a pretty big day for us! Plus, you can catch Chad and I writing about comics at MultiversityComics.com and ComicsAlliance.com respectively. For Scott, check out http://scottkowalchuk.tumblr.com, and all three of us are on Twitter at @theisb, @chadbowers and @scottkowalchuk!

 

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