PERFECT: "Street Fighter" Turns 20 with UDON Tribute Book

Are you ready to feel ancient? "Street Fighter" is 20-years-old.

Designed by CAPCOM, the classic game and its numerous iterations, most notably "Street Fighter II," pitted a cast of international fighters against each other and defined the after school hours and weekends of a whole generation, with kids all over the world pumping coin after coin into noisy arcade machines in a ceaseless tournament of strength dexterity and skill. Many of those early players grew up to become some of today's most exciting illustrators, and they're giving back to "Street Fighter" on the occasion of its 20th birthday in the form of UDON's "Street Fighter Tribute," a deluxe 320-page volume of original artwork by talents from across the globe, reflecting the game's international premise and appeal.

The book will be available as a limited edition hardcover at this summer's conventions beginning with Comic-Con International in San Diego, and as a softcover in finer comics and bookstores in September. Those who pre-order the hardcover before May 30 will receive a free UDON Convention Sketchbook and will be entered into a CAPCOM video game giveaway contest. Remember, that's pre-orders made before May 30.

Included among the more than 200 pieces in "Street Fighter Tribute" is new work from Adam Hughes, J. Scott Campbell, "Penny Arcade's" Gabe, Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, Bobby Chiu, Alvin Lee, Arnold Tsang, Omar Dogan, Jeff "Chamba" Cruz, Joe Ng and many, many more artists from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Japan, India, Israel, Italy, the Philippines, Singapore and the United States.

To learn more about "Street Fighter Tribute," CBR News spoke with UDON editor Jim Zubkavich and contributing artists Bryan Lee O'Malley, Arn Tsang and Saejin Oh about the auspicious commemorative project.

"The game blossomed at a crucial time in video game history when everything was up for grabs," Jim Zubkavich told CBR News. "Generic gameplay gave way to unique experiences and a fighting game like 'Street Fighter II' never played the same way twice. It was an ever-rising challenge of strategy and egos clashing as people fine-tuned their play. After 'Street Fighter,' the 'fighting game' genre exploded with dozens of imitators. Almost every aspect, from the way characters blocked to special moves and combos have been copied by every fighting game since. Add that to the colorful and memorable cast of characters and it really is a legacy."

It was "Street Fighter's" iconic cast of characters that truly propelled the franchise to superstardom, giving players a number of distinct avatars with which to represent themselves, each with unique styles and moves. "The characters weren't just different colored versions of the same sprite, they were individualized personalities from specific parts of the world with lots of detail and unique traits," Zubkavich explained. "You could choose a character based on their look, the way they played or their nationality and it meant something about who you were as a player. At that time, there was no other game that gave players so many identities they could assume."

Such memorable characters and attitudes naturally lend themselves to artistic interpretation, hence the wildly diverse contributions to "Street Fighter Tribute." "The book takes that idea of individuality to a different level," Zubkavich said. "These characters are interpreted by each artist in their own way. The characters they loved to play or hated to go up against, the characters that visually jumped out at them or that they discovered later on -- all of these things set against their own art style."

"'Super Street Fighter II Turbo' was the reason I got a job when I was 14 years old," Bryan Lee O'Malley told CBR News. "I just absolutely needed to buy a Sega Genesis and have the home version. Sadly, my little brother is way better than me at all video games, especially Street Fighter, so I'd tend to get discouraged easily. I'm pretty bad at it."

The creator of "Scott Pilgrim," which itself features absolutely no shortage of high energy video game-style battles, O'Malley has roots with UDON, who gave the award-winning cartoonist his start. O'Malley was pleased to lend his talents to "Street Fighter Tribute," turning in a piece featuring Ibuki and Makoto from "Street Fighter III."

"I made them look really cutesy and child-like," O'Malley said. "I always loved the character designs in that game, especially the females. And I figured more artists would want to draw the classic 'Street Fighter II' characters, and I wanted to be different."

O'Malley added, "I went through high school during the golden age of fighting games, and obviously it's had an influence on me ever since. I never spent an exorbitant amount of time in arcades, but I was definitely obsessed for a while there."

As to the criteria by which he chose contributors for "Street Fighter Tribute," Zubkavich endeavored to throw the net as wide as possible. The special nature of the project allowed for the inclusion of illustrators whose work would normally clash with the well defined UDON style, and Zubkavich availed himself of the unique opportunity to work with as many diverse artists as possible.

"Obviously there were certain artists we had on our wish list, big names in the industry who had never done a Street Fighter piece before or artists who we've worked with in the past whose work we love," he said. "Beyond that I wanted to get visions of Street Fighter from unexpected professional sources -- concept artists, designers, cartoonists and fine artists that no one would ever expect to see in a Street Fighter book. "

Additionally, Zubkavich initiated a contest by which artists from all over the world could submit their illustrations for possible inclusion in the book. "The response we received from online art communities like deviantArt was jaw-dropping," he said. "More than 1300 submissions from all around the globe slammed our inbox within one month, many of them from top-notch professional talent across all kinds of creative fields. Working with Capcom to narrow down the submissions and compiling illustrations from our invited artists gave us a wonderfully diverse and inspiring selection of art, far more than we ever imagined we'd have."

Also contributing to "Street Fighter Tribute" are a number of UDON's in-house illustrators, including Arnold Tsang, who's been involved with the publishers numerous "Street Fighter" projects since day one. "I am very proud to still be drawing 'Street Fighter' after all these years," said Tsang, who created the cover artwork for the tribute book. "I wanted to have many different characters from the different generations of street fighter on the cover, but I was having some trouble choosing which ones to use. Then I realized there aren't actually that many female characters, so I just drew them -- plus they are fun to draw. Chun Li is my favorite part of the cover. Since she's been illustrated the most, almost every pose has been done, so it was a little challenging to get a strong and unique one. I took reference from videos of female WuShu competitions as reference."

Like his colleague Bryan Lee O'Mally, Arnold Tsang comes to his "Street Fighter" work with many memories from childhood, not all of them pleasant. "There was this guy iI went to elementary school and high school with who I could never beat," Tsang confessed. "He could beat me with one hand in the arcades! Once he beat me and another friend more than 20 wins to zero using only Zangief... sad."

At least one "Street Fighter Tribute" artist can hold his head high, having completely mastered the game and littered the world with fallen opponents. "The first 'Street Fighter' game I ever played was in some dusty arcade in Korea, which almost always had that image of smoke filled room with people you didn't want to associate yourself with," said UDON's Saejin Oh, who contributes a piece featuring Chun-Li, Cammy and Sakura. "At the time, 'Street Fighter 2' was the most cutting edge, revolutionary thing out there. And since then I played through various editions of 'SFII',' SF Alpha' and 'SFIII.' So far, I have been fortunate enough to be that kid who beats everyone in the arcade.

"'Street Fighter's' appeal to me has been changing and evolving over time. With 'SFII,' when I was young, I liked it because it was 'cool' and 'hip.' and then as I grew older I started enjoying its tactile and tight control (I never could pull off moves easily in 'Fatal Fury'), then the expanded system in 'Alpha' (air guarding, custom combo, and etc), and finally the blocking system in 'SFIII.'

"There's simply so much satisfaction to be had in winning. Especially when it is a game you grew up with and can connect to!"

"Street Fighter Tribute" comes in the tradition of UDON's annual summer releases of deluxe material. In 2005, the publisher released an English translation of the "Street Fighter: Eternal Challenge" art book, followed by 2006's "Street Fighter Ultimate Edition,' an oversized collection of UDON's first "Street Fighter" comics along with extra material. Last year saw the release of "UDON's Art of CAPCOM," a compilation of the publisher's licensing artwork and never-before-seen illustrations and tutorials. It was in this book that the idea for "Street Fighter Tribute" was born.

"In that 'Art of CAPCOM' book was a small gallery of new pin-up material called the 'Tribute Gallery,'" explained Jim Zubkavich. "The UDON art crew busted out new illustrations of their favorite CAPCOM games in their own style and reminisced about playing the games and other good memories. That really struck a chord with the artists and our fans, so when I attended a CAPCOM Licensing Summit in November of 2007, I brought up the idea of broadening this concept into a whole book of tribute pieces, with UDON artists and other friends of the company all doing their own 'Street Fighter'-themed illustrations. Expanding that seed into a full proposal, I worked with Francis Mao, Creative Director at CAPCOM USA, to champion the concept through the corporate hierarchy and we were off to the races. The whole thing blew up from there and became far larger than any of us expected."

CAPCOM asked that "Street Fighter Tribute" remain true to the rating of the games -- PG, meaning no extreme violence or nudity. "Beyond that, they were pretty open to my vision of the book and once they saw the awesome variety and quality of work we were gathering, they became really excited about it, "Zubkavich said. "We've been working with Capcom for five years now, so it's a pretty open and strong relationship. I don't think most large corporations would let outside people lead so much on a project like this, so I'm thankful for that."

Twenty years on, "Street Fighter" doesn't seem to be going anywhere. UDON plans to release a brand new "Street Fighter" comics series in the Fall, and CAPCOM itself is working on its own commemorative efforts. One thing can be sure, and it's that "Street Fighter," arguably more so than any of its contemporaries, has transcended its origins as a fighting game. "A pop culture icon as big as 'Street Fighter' is broad enough to cross over into other forms and mediums intact," Zubkavich said. "It's like orchestral concerts of a Jimi Hendrix track or hip-hop remixes of Broadway show tunes. Part of what makes them iconic can't be lost and it broadens the appeal that much more. I think that's a fitting tribute."

"Street Fighter Tribute" is available for pre-order from UDON, and those who do so by May 30 will receive a free UDON Convention Sketchbook and will be entered into a CAPCOM video game giveaway contest. Remember, that's pre-orders made by May 30.

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