Sims, Bowers & Kowalchuk Go Bare-Knuckle Mascot-Brawling in "Down Set Fight"

"Down Set Fight" tells the story of ex-football player-turned-football coach Chuck Fairlane and his path of football mascot obliteration. Fairlane got in a pretty huge fight in high school that involved the other football team and a mascot -- stuffing flying everywhere, googly eyes floundering about. The fight got him expelled and ruined his football career. Years later, he's trying to move on. But the mascots won't let him.

It's a catchy, albeit psychotic premise, brought from the ethers of insanity to paper by writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, and artist Scott Kowalchuk. With the book set for a February release from Oni Press, the creative team spoke with CBR News about the dynamics of working together, football and getting into fights with mascots.

CBR News: Chris & Chad, this isn't the first time you guys have worked together. What's the secret of your partnership?

Chad Bowers: Yeah, Chris and I have worked with each other, writing and creating comics for about six or seven years now, but "Down Set Fight!" is our first graphic novel together. I guess, for me, the draw is simply making comics with my friend, and I also really get a kick out of having an immediate reaction to something I've written instead of having to wait weeks and months for somebody to read what you've done. From a purely selfish standpoint, Chris forces me to be a better writer, and while I wouldn't exactly say we try and one up each other, knowing he's probably bringing something good to the table makes me try new things, and hopefully bring something equally as good to the writing myself.

Chris Sims: What's fun about it for me is that we tend to like the same stuff, but we're just different enough in personality that different things appeal to us and we come at them from different directions. Like, if you asked us to pick our ten favorite comics, we'd probably have the same answers for #1 − 9, but then we'd fight like we were trying to murder each other over what should be in the #10 spot. And then the other's #10 would inevitably be our own #11, anyway.

As the title suggests, there's a ton of fighting in the book. With sports mascots. It felt like some bizarrely awesome game I downloaded. Where did the idea come from?

Sims: Chad and I used to work together at a comic book store, and whenever we'd be bored at work, or on our way to a con, or stuck somewhere hanging out, we'd kill time by pitching stories back and forth to each other. "Down Set Fight" started out like that, with this really simple idea of how fun it would be to tell a story where the ultimate jock fought the ultimate nerd. It obviously turned into something very different, but that was the start of it, this incredibly physically powerful guy being put into this weird situation and having to figure out what was going on. I mean, within the first ten pages of the story, you see Chuck win a fight that's so huge nobody should be able to win it, so you know the kind of powerhouse you're dealing with. But when dudes dressed like elephants start coming after you, that's going to confuse even the best of us.

Bowers: Let me just say that Chris and I are super approachable if anyone wants to turn "Down Set Fight!" into a game! Super approachable.

Sims: A big part of it was coming up with these funny ideas for fight scenes, but the tough part is figuring out how to make you care about it. We wanted to do more than just have a guy tackle a dude in a bear suit or whatever, because that makes a great image, but if you don't care about the characters, you're not going to be interested in seeing who wins. We did our best to make Chuck someone that you could really get behind -- that first fight is something that he gets into for pretty selfish reasons, but the next time you see Chuck throw a punch, he's got a really good reason for it.

Has the development process been any different between the two of you for this particular project? Have you learned anything new about one another working on "Down Set Fight"?

Bowers: Well, like we said, we've been working together for a while, so I don't know if we learned anything new about each other. Except maybe just how little either of us know about professional football. But I feel like the development of "Down Set Fight!" probably came together the easiest of anything we've done before. So much of what you see in the book is what we intended to be there without any kind of struggle to make it happen, or forcing the story along. I think Chris and I wanted to tell the same story from the get-go and that's not always the case with us.

Sims: This is definitely the most we've ever had to write at one time, and I think it was tough to get through it in a lot of ways, just because we weren't used to it. We wrote about the same amount of pages for "Awesome Hospital," but those were pages we'd write sometimes the day before they'd be drawn, spread out over a couple of years, so it wasn't all at one big go like it was with this. We did our usual style of going back and forth and writing and rewriting each other, but eventually we had to just kinda lock ourselves in a room and knock those last thirty or forty pages out. We really wanted to make sure we got exactly what we wanted out of the climax, and that was something we hadn't really done before, a kind of marathon writing session where we worked it all out. Of course, Scott made it really easy on us.

Bowers: Yeah, Scott's the real MVP of the book, as anyone who reads it will see.

Sims: We have this habit of asking the artists who work with us to draw just the most ridiculous stuff. Man-on-mascot punching probably isn't the weirdest thing we've put in a script, but it's up there.

Speaking of which, Scott, how did these guys talk you into a book about an ex-football player beating the snot out of mascots?

Scott Kowalchuk: Look, what I won't say is that Chris & Chad got me drunk one night, then just 'happened' to have a contract handy in which I apparently scribbled my signature on, legally binding me to draw this book. I won't say that. Even if it were true. Which, legally, I cannot claim.

Sims: You know what they say: "Don't pass out when there's contracts about." 

Scott, this isn't your first time working with Oni. What's the appeal?

Kowalchuk: Oni's real good to me. They get me involved with some really talented people, Chris Roberson, Chris Sebela and, yes, even Chris Sims & Chad Bowers. Which should stand as a Pro Tip to any up and coming artist reading this, work with writers named 'Chris' and you're more likely to be published. Rule of thumb.

For me, creating my own zany worlds has always been the appeal to comic books. And all the lovely, and often extremely sexy, folks at Oni have been gracious enough to support me on that.

Bowers: I'm about two Chrises behind Scott, but I can't argue with what he says. Unless both Sebela's and Roberson's middle names are "Chad," then I'll take the co-credit, because that's what I do.

So what's it like working with two writers? Is two better than one?

Kowalchuk: Chris and Chad suffer from what is technically termed Idioglossia or more commonly known as Cryptophasia, 'Twin Talk'. They speak in their own private language which can be...challenging to work with. I'll give you an example:

Chris: Chad, remember that episode of 'Regis & Kathy Lee?'

Chad: From 1989?

Chris: Yes, right.

Chad: Man, the story Kathy told about Frank and Cody...

Chris: Exactly.

Which was how they would describe story elements to me. It's like that "Star Trek: TNG" episode where Picard is stranded on the planet with the alien who only speaks in metaphors.

Chris & Chad, having now worked in digital and print comics, do you prefer one over the other, and what benefits do you see from each format?

Sims: The best thing about digital is how immediate it is. When we were doing "Awesome Hospital," or even working with Monkeybrain on "Subatomic Party Girls" with Erica Henderson, you see things happen a lot quicker. You write it, someone draws it and it can be out within a couple of weeks, while that initial rush of being excited about it is still going on. With "Down Set Fight," because it was such a long book, and because it was going to print, we had a much slower burn for it. When we got to read it all together, it had been long enough that it felt like something that was new, even though we'd lived with it for months.

Bowers: For me, it's not really a matter of format so much as a matter of reach. With the webcomics, and "Subatomic Party Girls," there's this enormous potential audience who are, basically, only a click away from reading something we've done. And as Chris mentioned, sometimes they're seeing it just hours or days after we've finished, so there's that immediacy of return you get form digital comics, and it's unlike anything else I've done artistically, save maybe live music or whatever. But outside of the wait time that goes along with a print comic, I don't see any real difference these days between what we'd do as a print comic and what we would do for a digital release.

Final question: Did anyone here play football or ever get in a fight with someone in a costume of any sort?

Kowalchuk: I had actually forgotten this until you asked the question. In Grade 9, I tried out for the football team. I was fat then -- not anymore, though (thanks Dr Atkins!), and thought football was the obvious choice for me, as I believe it is for most fatties. Anyway, after trying-on ill-fitting equipment for, like, an hour I finally gave up and went home. That night was all "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" and Dr. Pepper. I'm much healthier now.

Bowers: I played a little football in school, and while I'm not sure if it qualifies as a costume, I once threatened a dude in a tunic.

Sims: Literally everything we've ever written has been based on a true story. Even the comics about Dracula. Especially the comics about Dracula.

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