The lights dim, the entrance music hits and the competitors are introduced. They walk out in front of a sold out crowd and wait for the competition to begin. A referee stands between them, there to keep order once the bout is underway.
But this isn’t a pro wrestling match. There will be no physical altercations. When the bell sounds, the combatants pick up Sharpies and begin to draw.
This is Super Art Fight, a Baltimore-based drawing competition that was conceived as “pro wrestling meets Pictionary.”
On Friday, October 12, Super Art Fight took their show to The Red Palace in Washington, DC. In front of a sold-out crowd, they offered a card featuring three matches of “multi-person mayhem,” with live burlesque performances in-between.
The opening bout saw “The Nicest Team In Super Art Fight,” Brandon J. Carr and “Red” Erin Laue take on “Team Business Ninja,” “Charm City Shinobi” Dann Malihom and Ash Sketch’em. It was a match filled with as much drama and intrigue as any WWE showdown. Laue and Sketch’em had faced each other in the finals of Super Art Fight Idol 2012, so Laue was looking to avenge her loss. Carr, the former Super Art Fight Champion was fresh off the loss of the title and was competing in a tag match for the very first time. Malihom was forced to compete without his normal teammate, Henry Alexander, so he was looking to expand the Team Business Ninja stable with the addition of Sketch’em.
The second bout, an Elimination Three-Way Dance, featured a trio of colorful characters. There was “Baron Von Sexyfulness” Michael Bracco, sporting a jaunty red hat and a leopard print jacket. He was taking on Ghostfreehood, an evil rocker, and Jamie “Brawlin’” Baldwin, a charismatic, larger-than-life female competitor.
The final match up had the potential to be the most chaotic. With the tag team belts on the line, the four-man Team Impact found its members squaring off against each other. Bryan “Silent But Violent” Prindiville and Darl “Apocalypse” Gnau challenged their stablemates Jamie Noguchi and Mecha IMPACT, the current tag team champs.
The matches are 25-minutes long. The competitors begin with a theme – like books vs. video games or the Apocalypse – and begin drawing characters and objects that fit into that theme on their side of the canvas. Before long, their art begins bleeding over to the other side, so that, for example, Harry Potter is attacking Mario. For tag matches, only one team member can draw at a time, until the last five minutes, which allows all four competitors to draw at once in a free-for-all.
Further complicating things is “The Wheel of Death.” The wheel is made up of submissions from Super Art Fight fans online and includes topics like “Muppet Grindhouse,” “Dinosaurs on Bikes” and “Sherlock Hulk.” Whenever there is a call for topics, they receive around 400 entries online, which are culled down to 50 – 75 usable ones. Every five minutes, the wheel is spun and each competitor is assigned one of these user-submitted topics, which they must work into the canvas.
On stage with the competitors and referee Brandon Chalmers are two announcers – Marty Day and Ross Nover. Day and Nover stand off to the side, offering commentary to the crowd. At times, the commentary is helpful – explaining what a competitor is drawing in case a fan misses the pop culture reference depicted or has an obstructed view of the canvas – but just as often they are there for comic relief.
At the end of 25-minutes, the winner of the match is decided by audience applause. A handheld decibel meter is used to gauge the cheers, making sure the victors are fairly decided.
It’s an unique format and one that has evolved over time, through trial and error. In fact, the entire Super Art Fight concept came out of a desire to tinker with another established drawing competition, Iron Artist. Nick “Ghostfreehood” DiFabbio was competing in Iron Artist with Jamie Noguchi when things began to go awry.
“Midway through the show, there were some technical difficulties and they weren’t necessarily being resolved,” said DiFabbio. “So Jamie and I just started drawing on everybody else’s pieces and each other’s and just turned it into kind of this free-for-all.”
That improvised moment was the impetus of Super Art Fight. Things have continued to evolve and change over the past four-plus years as they settled on the most audience-friendly format. There were also a number of logistical challenges that cropped up as they booked and coordinated the early shows.
“Our first couple of shows, it was like we were planning a prison escape,” said Nover. “There were blueprints and it was like, ‘People will go here, this will go there.’ Now, all that stuff is smooth.”
One thing they tinkered with early on was the length of matches.
“We used to do 45-minute bouts, which got a little old for the audience, but the artwork was beautiful,” remembered Bracco.
Shortening the matches and reducing the quality of the finished artwork meant the show needed to have another draw.
“We had to bring the characters out more because the art can’t be what it was,” said Braco.
Characters were certainly on display at The Red Palace. Carr, sticking to his nice guy persona, hugged the announcers, the ref and his competitors before his match. Malihom, the stealth ninja, entered from the crowd, instead of behind the curtain, and pulled a knife on his unsuspecting competitor Laue.
While all of the combatants played to the crowd, Baron Von Sexyfulness was clearly the biggest ham. He would stop mid-drawing to toss beads to the crowd. And every time the Wheel of Death was spun, he’d hold up a “Veel of Death” sign, playing off of his cheesy German accent.
“I came up with Baron Von Sexyful just to do something that was really over the top and had a very stupid voice to go along with it. And I think I succeeded with the stupid voice, if nothing else,” said Bracco.
The main event saw the most chaos. Team Impacted tested referee Brandon Chalmers throughout the bout. Since they were all one big faction, they would tag in each other at random, meaning that two members of the same team would be in the match while their opponents waited to be tagged back in. And every time Chalmers turned his back on a tagged-out competitor, they would sneak in to draw on the canvas. If he went to scold that competitor, the other tagged-out combatant would sneak in and begin drawing.
In the end, the Nicest Team In Super Art Fight defeated Team Business Ninja, Ghostfreehood bested Baron Von Sexyful and Jamie Baldwin and the tag titles changed hands as Silent Apocalypse defeated their stablemates in Team Impact, Jamie Noguchi and Mecha IMPACT. Laue got her revenge on Sketch’em, Carr got to rebound from his recent loss of the singles title and Team Impact managed to avoid imploding. And, if that wasn’t enough, between bouts Reverend Valentine and Valeria Voxx performed burlesque.
While they may play up their rivalries for the crowd during the show, when it was over the competitors all celebrated together.
“At the end of the day, backstage we’re all friends,” said Day.
As Super Art Fight continues to grow and evolve, those involved are looking for ways to do as many shows in as many areas of the country as possible. With almost five years and around 75 shows under their belt, they are looking to bring this unique event to people across America.
“We have spouses, we have kids, we have mortgages,” said Day. “So we don’t have that crazy 18-year-old idea of ‘Let’s jump in a van and make it happen.’ But if we can find a way to make this work for us, if we can find a way to take this and see the country with it, it’s a definitely a long-term goal. As it stands, we just try to make each show fun.”
Chalmers puts it a bit more plainly.
“What I hear constantly from many fans walking up to us is: ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before,’” Chalmers said. “I want to have more people say that in different accents.”
Bracco isn’t as worried about the future. For right now, he’s just enjoying every opportunity he can to be Baron Von Sexyfulness on stage.
“My favorite aspect of Art Fight is that it takes an artist and gives them that rock star moment,” said Bracco. “As an artist, you never get that.”
If Super Art Fight takes off and continues to sell out venues as it did on October 12 at The Red Palace, Bracco and the rest of the gang are all poised to become rock stars after all.
Photos and article by Joel Murphy. For more information on Super Art Fight, visit their official website. You can learn more about the individual artists and their current projects by visiting the Super Art Fight roster page.