In Super Art Fight, artists fight one against the other in a live competition


OROne Saturday night in May, inside Union Stage, a music club in an alley in southwest Washington, a hundred people working in a dark basement. They wore T-shirts with anime and comic characters. Several young women gathered at the bar seemed dressed for the battle on Themyscira, the mythical island from which Wonder Woman was born.

A DJ turned up the electronic music and the lights on the stage lit up. Where normally the gears of a band are placed, dominates a large wall of white paper. Metal buckets filled with fat markers hung from both ends. The fans set themselves in what would have been Mosh's tomb for a better view of the night's event: the live drawing competition known as Super Art Fight.

Behind the scenes, Jamie Noguchi was getting ready to move on. At the first art fight in 2008, Noguchi and his friend, the Baltimore artist Nick DiFabbio, had tried to outsmart one another in front of a few friends by drawing funny pictures and attacking the work of the other. Ten years and more than 200 shows later, what they created became an amalgam of Pictionary and a WWE wrestling match with a large dose of improvised comedy. A revolving cast of artists, many of whom are cartoonists like Noguchi, fight in the character. There are 2 drinks Alex, known for his nerd jokes after a couple of cocktails, and Baron Von Sexyful, who looks like he's out of the "Zoolander" set. There is a band of resident girls called Bra & lers. And there's Stompadon, a human-sized blue monster inspired by the Japanese film tradition of Kaiju – thinks Godzilla, just lovable and with a Sharpie.

A few moments before, Noguchi was taking care of the other nine artists who would gather in four matches of the competition that night, asking if they needed more pizza or a drink. Now he has been transformed into his theatrical character: Angry Zen Master, King of Brush Style. Covered in red and black, Noguchi sported a robotic arm that had sculpted from a light foam and adorned with layers of liquid neoprene rubber and metallic paint. It looked like the armor of a sensei cyborg. Instead of a sword, Noguchi brandished an inked brush and a jar of traditional Chinese black Yasutomo ink. His theme music exploded through the speakers, and he rushed to the stage to make loud applause.

Angry Zen Master is an amplified version of Noguchi: a boy from the suburbs of Bethesda with a first generation Chinese mother and an American Japanese father. A comic book nerd watching the hours of Tokusatsu – the Japanese animated action films released in America through shows like "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" – because it was nice to see characters that looked like they were kicked in the ass .

A clock ran from 25 minutes, the time allotted for the meeting, and Noguchi frantically drew it as part of a team challenge against two other artists. The ink flowed well on the paper, but it was difficult to cover his tracks if he was wrong. It does not matter. In the heat of battle, you could not think too much about your work. You had to draw with bold and bold lines so that your sketches would earn a quick recognition and the love of the public, which would have decided the winner through applause. Some skillful shots and Noguchi made a trail of killer bees attacking his opponents' drawings.

At 41, Noguchi was many years older than many of his competitors. He illustrated comics for more than half his life, playing minor roles in the gigantic, successful commercial publishing machine, coloring for places like Marvel, while trying to come out with a series of his own. His work has earned the kind of recognition that brings him a small page on Wikipedia and regular invitations to attend conferences, but not enough to allow him to quit his job as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator. Within a decade, Super Art Fight and Angry Zen Master may not make it rich, but they are two of Noguchi's longest-running and most enduring creations.

To win at Super Art Fight you need many of the same skills required to be successful in the comic book industry: talent, ingenuity, oversized fantasy and storytelling ability to capture the loyalty of an audience in a minimum of moves. At the end of the evening, Noguchi and his tag team mate had the most noisy applause. Noguchi uttered a guttural cry as he hoisted the SAF award belt over his head. In the world of comics, there is an endless array of heroes, villains, monsters, weapons, vile plans and alternative universes. But there was never anything like Super Art Fight.

Angry Zen Master, King of Style Brush: Jamie Noguchi uses traditional Chinese ink during his Super Art Fight attacks in place of the markers. He illustrated comics for more than half his life.

Bra & # 39; lers: Jamie Baldwin, left, and Colleen Parker are a duo who fights under the names of Jamie the Judge and Killer Colleen, Princess of Darkness.

Baron Von Sexyful: Michael Bracco seems out of the "Zoolander" set. (Photo by André Chung for The Washington Post)

Clockwise from the top: Angry Zen Master, King of Brush Style: Jamie Noguchi uses traditional Chinese ink during his Super Art Fight attacks in place of the markers. He illustrated comics for more than half his life. Bra & # 39; lers: Jamie Baldwin, left, and Colleen Parker are a duo who fights under the names of Jamie the Judge and Killer Colleen, Princess of Darkness. Baron Von Sexyful: Michael Bracco seems out of the "Zoolander" set. (Photo by André Chung for The Washington Post)

AIt's a child, Noguchi loved superheroes. He discovered the comics when he and his younger brother, Mat, unearthed their father's childhood collection. Noguchi liked the narrative shorthand of comics, the way visual narration created an imaginative spark for the reader. The gutter between the panels of the illustration "delineated the time, and anything could happen in that void," he said. As a reader, you have to fill in what may have happened, working in a creative symbiosis with the writer and the artist to complete the story.

Growing up, Noguchi was inspired by traditional Chinese watercolors that his maternal grandmother would have painted and loved to draw. His visual style has developed to include strong manga and anime influences. After college, he took on a full-time job as a colourist in a company that outsources professional artists to comic book publishers. An inking would send him some pages, and his job was to connect the color, create the shadows and add the highlights. Noguchi's work has appeared in the books of Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, among others. The work was intended to be a foot in the door of the industry, to lead to draw concerts, but it never happened. After two years, Noguchi resigned. "I had finished coloring the work of other people," he said. "I wanted to create mine."

With the advent of the Internet, independent artists such as Noguchi could evade press obstacles and self-publish online. One of Noguchi's first webcomics went online in 2005 and saw a group of his friends fight monsters. It was indeed a long battle scene, and just as he was bored with drawing it, he met a writer named Rob Balder. They collaborated and created a webcomic called "Erfworld", which Time magazine has named among the 10 best graphic novels of 2007. Yet the offer to grow an audience, not only with its comics but also through the conventions and the Kickstarter campaigns turned out to be a grind. "You feel" no "a lot in this area," said Noguchi. "There's a lot of rejection".

Going with the first thing that comes to mind is a kind of journey.

Jamie Noguchi

Around 2006, Noguchi met Nick DiFabbio when they both worked at the comics convention circuit, selling their creations. They hit, and soon a mutual friend was booking them for a live event held at comics conferences called Iron Artist, a heavyweight audiovisual design competition inspired by the famous TV show "Iron Chef." One year, the AV equipment failed in front of a crowd of about 1,000 anime fans at an event in Baltimore, according to Marty Day, which he did as emcee. Since this was the main event, "the room was full," said Day, who lives in Baltimore and improvises when he does not work in a computer software company. "Nick and Jamie knew it was not going as planned, and you could see the gears spinning in their heads."

They began to attack pieces of billboards together, said Day, and when they began to attack the designs one of the other – turning the face of a face into a teenage Ninja Turtle, or castrating a robot's gun by wrapping it in a bun and making it look like a hot dog – the crowd adored him. "It was incredibly engaging," said Day.

A few months later, Noguchi and DiFabbio hosted their first Super Art Fight at a club in Baltimore called Ottobar. There were also Ross Nover, graphic designer and illustrator, and Day, and from the second show the two jumped on stage to provide humorous play-by-play.

Like many successful comics, Super Art Fight has become the work of a collaborative team of like-minded friends. Together they perfected the show. Each game would start with a general theme, like Aliens vs. Monsters or Dark Superheroes. They developed a computerized projection of a revolving wheel called the Wheel of Death and filled it with strange ideas crowded in crowdsourcing by early fans. Participants should integrate these topics into their drawings every five minutes. They attracted artists from all over the region to compete. Most used the supplied felt-tip pens, but Noguchi "was the first to go up there with a brush and an ink," said Day. "It's part of him that he wants to point out the most traditional tools of art, and people have remained amazed at the fact that he pulled out in such a hectic environment. "

In the comics, the line is re – thickness, weight, angle all inform the personality of a character or the action in a panel. Some well-placed swooshes and your hero is running. "[Noguchi] knows when to place a line, where to place it, and knows how thick or thin it should be, "said Jamie Baldwin, who has competed against him since the first year of Art Fight and is a member of the Bra & # 39; lers. his style on stage is like poetry, "he said.

The original crew brought the Super Art Fight on the road, accumulating cars for long trips to conventions across the country and to Canada. Sometimes there were 500 people, sometimes 15. In the constellation of artists who contributed to the creation of Super Art Fight, Noguchi found nerd and outcast comrades, friends who snorted for the same geeky jokes and were the first to queue Last movie of superheroes. He found a creative home where he did not need to explain every reference; they just had Noguchi had found his people.

Impact of Mecha: Chris Impink, a collaborator of Super Art Fight for 10 years, wrote the code for the "Wheel of Death" of the competition.

Stompadon: the character of Kelsey Wailes is a blue creature inspired by Japanese kaiju monsters.

Red Erin: Erin Laue arrives on stage with a sweet smile "and then tears you off with her art works." She goes for the jugular, "says Noguchi. (Photo by André Chung for The Washington Post)

Clockwise from the top: Mecha Impact: Chris Impink, a Super Art Fight contributor for 10 years, wrote the code for the "Wheel of Death" of the competition. Red Erin: Erin Laue arrives on stage with a sweet smile "and then tears you off with her art work." She goes for the jugular, "says Noguchi. Stompadon: the character of Kelsey Wailes is a blue creature inspired by Japanese kaiju monsters. (Photo by André Chung for The Washington Post)

OROn Friday in June, the doors of Ottobar were opened at 8 pm. for the tenth anniversary of the Super Art Fight. The floor and the balcony filled up quickly. People wore shirts with the names of their favorite art fighters.

Noguchi took the stage first to defend his title in a tag-team match. Some competitors mentally prepared the show by drawing up ideas in advance. Noguchi preferred to attack him, playing with other artists. You have to overcome the fact of being too precious with your works ", which is really strange for an artist to do," said Noguchi. "Most of the time, we're doing our best to create something perfect, to make it look exactly like our heads – it will not look great on stage, but it could be fun, it could be fun. in mind it's a kind of journey. "

The audience broke loose as the Wheel of Death began to spin, singing "Wheel of Death! Wheel of Death!"

Looking at Noguchi's design, I could see the connective tissue of his creative thought as it came to life: the pure joy of an idea that is formed and found buying in the conscious brain, then makes its way to its hand, towards the brush, towards the page and, in a fraction of a second, transmuting laughter and applause in public.

Yet, art is commerce. Making a life as an artist means prospering in the incessant cycle of inspiration, creation, refinement and, too often, rejection. If the result of your creative work is a success, you could live to create another day. And maybe you can win big enough to leave the concerts to pay bills and support your creative industry once and for all.

A referee in a black and white striped shirt lifted a decibel reader over his head as the audience screamed. The artists who obtained the highest applause were considered the winners. "Remember: if you whistle, you also record on a decibel counter," Day told the crowd.

Tonight, Noguchi lost in the beginning. It does not matter. You win, you lose, you keep showing yourself. But look at the crowd. They loved him. And this was the point, really. Something that had helped to create and nurture over a decade had filled this club. "Artists rarely come on stage and make people applaud them, as if they saw their favorite band," Noguchi said. "There's something magical about the immediacy of that audience interaction, and I guess that's what has fueled us for 10 years."

The first half of the competition ended and the artists took a break. A pop-punk band called Cowabunga Pizza Time – a show of Ninja Turtles – came on stage and kicked in a loud and hoarse set. Many of the SAF fans scattered in the bar for a beer, at the merch table for a shirt. Some climbed into the corners, the anemic glow of their phones lit up their faces.

General Stormsketch (Chris Scott) and Stompadon face off during a Super Art Fight event in Baltimore in June. (André Chung for The Washington Post)

Noguchi was standing behind the counter next to Baldwin. Lately, Noguchi said, he stayed up late after his day of work to work on collaborations with two writers. He would not have given much detail because both comics were presented to publishers. One was a science fiction education story focused on high school kids, another historical fiction set in Japan during the Sengoku period.

At 20-something in an anime t-shirt he made his way through the crowd. He approached Noguchi and Baldwin and stood awkwardly out of their orbit, silencing the courage to approach. Noguchi saw him and nodded his head. The fan shouted to be heard over the deafening lament of the band: "You guys were fantastic!"

"Thank you, friend," said Noguchi.

The fan provided a copy of the SAF poster that Noguchi had designed for the tenth anniversary. It features a Transformers-like robot crouched in battle mode on a cloud of smoke, next to a monster with a red artist's paintbrush for a tongue. "Do you want to sign this for me?" Churches.

Noguchi smiled. "Fuck, yes, we'll do it." He felt his pockets for a pen, but came out empty. It had never occurred to him that someone wanted his autograph.

Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson is a writer in Baltimore.

The annual "Holiday Hootenanny" show at Super Art Fight is December 15th at 8pm. at Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard Street, Baltimore. $ 15.


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