INTERVIEW WITH BRYAN G. BROWN
As fight movies (Red Belt, Warrior), fight novels (Suckerpunch, Choke Hold), and modern fight pulps (Fight Card MMA: Welcome To The Octagon ... Coming January 2013) have expanded the fight fiction genre to include the world of mixed martial arts (MMA), so to have the fight comics. In 2010, the venerable Joe Palooka – star of innumerable strips, comic books, and films from the ‘20s to the ‘50s – was rebooted in the caged octagon and splashed in vivid panels of color between comic book covers and web-based formats.
Recently, Bryan G. Brown, a young teller and illustrator brought his “real life experience entering a mixed martial arts tournament” to the pages of the professionally produced comic book series First Fight. Brown’s tale is that of an everyman – an average Joe with little or no fight experience who sees in the physical combat of MMA a personal calling and redemption. First Fight is filled with uncertainty, determination, set-backs, promise, and hope. However, what makes First Fight so differ rent is the personal sense of vulnerability in the tale spread across its pages. It is this vulnerability, the true sense of tapping in to Brown’s feelings that make First Fight a first rate illustrated narrative.
In the three issues of First Fight published so far, Brown has given us a new ordinary hero for whom to root – one who flies in the face of conventional comic characters. First Fight not only gives us a new spin on fight comics, but expands the larger comics genre for a new generation of fans.
Brown graciously has taken time from his busy schedule to talk with Fight Fictioneers Magazine about the Genesis of First Fight and where his tale is pointed in the future ...
FFM: Tell us about your comic book influences. Were you aware of other fight comics before creating First Fight?
I have too many influences to name, but I’ll throw out a few: Al Feidstein, Johnny Craig, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Erik Larsen, Sam Keith, Todd McFarlane, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Frank Miller, Alex Ross, Ralph Steadman, Jon Krause, Goya, Frida Kahlo – As I said, too many! I’ve read tons of comics, which had fight scenes in them, so I was definitely aware. When I first illustrated First Fight 1 in 2008, however, I had never read another fight comic featuring mixed martial arts (MMA).
FFM: How extensive is your personal background in boxing and/or MMA?
I first started training back in 2007, and stopped after several months. In 2010, I started training at Balance Studios and have since competed in numerous grappling tournaments like Grappler’s Quest and NAGA. Balance is headed by Rick and Phil Migliarese III. At Balance, we do some sparring with gloves, but primarily we focus on the art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu and rolling with our gis on.
FFM: How did you come to decide to tell an autobiographical story in comic form?
Before I started training, I felt like I’d hit some sort of art block. After competing in my first Grappler’s Quest tournament, I felt very motivated to express myself and ended up using the language of comics.
FFM: What did you want to achieve through this style of storytelling?
After competing in my first tournament, I felt pretty crushed … drawing the comic really helped change my perspective. It was pretty much like art therapy for me. I just wanted to create something honest and true to myself while trying to show the beauty of mixed martial arts.
FFM: How long does it take you to produce an issue of First Fight?
It takes so long it’s ridiculous. I do everything in the comic while I’m also juggling other projects on a regular basis, so its taken me more than a year to finish an issue at times. I’m stepping it up though, and from here on, my goal is to put out two issues a year.
FFM: Tell us about the mechanics of self-publishing a comic book project.
In December 2009, I won a Xeric Grant for the first issue of First Fight and that’s pretty much what motivated me to go for it. I began selling stuff at conventions and it’s gone really well. With the money from the grant, I’ve been able to get my work out there, but I want to do a whole lot more. There are many great people and organizations who have helped me including Ka-Blam Comics who handle the majority of the printing.
In addition to having them as a sponsor, I am also indebted to Brian Cimins, president of Grappler’s Quest. They are the largest grappling company in the US and are referred to pretty prominently in the First Fight series. Through his organization, Brian has helped distribute issues of the comic at their events nationwide. You can get the comics through their site (www.grapplers.com), through the Indyplanet catalogue, or you can download digital versions of the comic at www.drivethrucomics.com.
FFM: What have you learned in this process?
I’ve learned a lot about myself through this experience. Training gives you a whole new way of looking at things, and I wake up every day giving thanks for what I get to do. It’s kind of a funny balance to have one foot in the art world and the other in the world of martial arts, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
FFM: How have you gone about promoting First Fight? Is it difficult wearing all the different hats (writer, illustrator, publisher, promoter)?
It’s as hard as you make it out to be. I love my life and I’m just really thankful for the people who have helped support my artwork as well as the comic. Promoting can be tricky because at the same time you need to be producing other work, which I do on a regular basis, so you just have to accept the fact you can only get so much done each day. I’m realistic with my goals, but I have big plans for this series even though it may take me a decade to finish it. Heck, if it takes 50 years I’ll enjoy every moment..
FFM: What are your plans for First Fight, both in its storyline and as a physical comic series?
First Fight will be a limited series, approximately 12-15 issues long. I have other projects in the works, which may determine the actual length of each comic. Expect to see a lot of shots of Balance Studios, where I train, as well as its many interesting members.
FFM: Do you have any personal favorites among fight films or fight novels?
I love all types of fight films like Rocky, Bloodsport, The Matrix, and Fight Club. I also really enjoyed he Kill Bill films as I love Tarantino’s abilities to put his own spin on fight scenes. I also revere Sam Sheridan’s book, A Fighter's Heart, and I'm currently reading the sequel, A Fighter's Mind. Fiction-wise, I read mostly Stephen King paired with something written by Eckhart Tolle. Of course, I read tons of comics – Erik Larsen draws my favorite fight scenes in his comic, Savage Dragon. I always love hearing suggestions on what I should read - send them to my twitter @bryangbrown and throw me a follow while you’re at it.
Thanks to Bryan G. Brown for talking with Fight Fictioneers. For more on his comic series First Fight visit the website at www.bryangbrown.com