Interview: Ross Nover of Super Art Fight

Ross Nover is a busy, nerdy man. A graphic design professor at American University, he also writes The System, a wittily bizarre web-comic that uses generic figures you’ll typically find in instruction manuals. Recently Nover co-authored “So you found something cool on the internet,” a flowchart that instructs users how to share lulz properly. With the help of Zach Weiner and Tom Tomorrow, two web-comic heavweights, the chart went viral and will (hopefully) be an excellent guide for giving credit where it’s due.

With all that on his plate, Nover is also co-host of Super Art Fight, a one-of-a-kind performance that combines spontaneous creativity and hilariously infantile humor. There have been over 40 shows, both at local venues and conventions. And this Friday Nover is bringing Super Art Fight for the ninth time to the Ottobar in Baltimore.

For those who are uninitiated, please explain Super Art Fight.

The pitch we like to give is, “Pictionary meets pro-wrestling.” When we started, it was a lot more Pictionary than it was pro-wrestling. Basically two artists walk up to a canvas and are given a starting topic. The clock is set for five minutes, and they’re allowed to draw whatever they want until the Wheel of Death, our name for our topic generator, selects something else. This goes on for five rounds. It’s important to note they’re working on the same canvas. There is a chance for the artists to sabotage each other’s work by drawing over their stuff, thereby turning the art into something else. Hilarity ensues, and once the two artists are done, the audience chooses the winner.

How is it more like pro-wrestling now?

The quality of the artwork is now secondary to the quality of the performance. The artists have realized the audience doesn’t care if a drawing is amazing or merely OK as long it’s funny. They’re asking themselves, “How quickly can I draw the funny thing?” as opposed to “How well can I draw the funny thing?” When we started, the artist really took their time and the competition was the joke. Now the competition has gotten serious to the point where I’ve had entire conversations about art fight strategy.

What is an optimal strategy for novices?

At the end of the day, there aren’t really any rules. We don’t have a referee most of the time, and when we do, he’s too busy drinking. Even if an artist is given a topic, he or she can leave it in the dust and do whatever they want. The best thing to do is draw BIG, with strong lines, and make it funny.

I’ve been to two art fights now, and have noticed the artists have personas and egos.

There’s definitely been an evolution in that process. At first artists were just happy to be there and having a good time. Now it’s gotten to the point where there are definitely “good guys,” and others who have taken the role of a “bad guy.”  At Super Art Fight 8, there was a new guy named Josh Taylor. Not only is he an amazing artist, but jumped right into his character. Behind the scenes, he’s the nicest guy, but when he hits the stage he becomes the biggest asshole I’ve ever seen. It came across so well. When the topic of “Super Art Fight Does Christmas” came up, Josh looked at the canvas, wrote “NO,” and just kept going. The audience cheered for him, so he flipped them off and they loved him for it!

What would be some good topics that’d pander to BYT’s audience?

“Hipster moose” has been a good topic. Actually, it’s on the Wheel of Death Hall of Fame, which means I’ve kept it for every Art Fight we’ve done. One time Hipster Moose was wearing an ironic t-shirt. One time he had an argyle sweater vest and was drinking a PBR. It’s always funny to see how artists interpret the character.

What is your role in Super Art Fight?

I was actually an artist in the first show, and afterward the creators, Nick “Ghostfreehood” Borkowicz and Jami “Angry Zen Master” Noguchi, asked me to host the event along with Marty Day. I had a lot of fun hosting the next show – Marty and I are good friends – so then I asked whether I could keep co-hosting. Jamie and Nick said, “Sure! We don’t want your job!” And I said, “Great, I don’t want your job!” It worked out well. I should say that while the four of us are the core of Art Fight, there’s a whole long list of people without which we couldn’t do it.

What are some other popular topics?

Top hats and monocles are always a winner. I guess people want the show to be as classy as possible. Then again, there are times when the audience secretly wants to the show to get as crass as possible. The audience is happy when boobs and dicks get drawn, particularly when they’re on a pop culture icon.

How racy has the show gotten?

We did two shows at Intervention, which is this internet-culture convention that happens every September. There was the normal show at 8pm and the “unleashed” show at 11pm, where we could be completely uncensored. It got so bad we asked the people who attended to never post what they saw, ever, on the internet. Now we have a lot of crazy shit posted on the internet, so when we ask that something not get posted, you know it’s serious. To give you some idea, I thought it was funny when someone took the GI Joe COBRA logo and morphed it into a vagina.

I’ve been to Art Fights in Baltimore and Rosslyn. Are there any plans to bring the event to DC proper?

For as long as we’ve had Art Fight, it’s been a passion of mine to bring it to DC. We started at the Ottobar because Nick was putting art shows there already. Those of us in DC would really like to do shows of that size/caliber in the city. Here we’ve had shows at the Artisphere, Counterculture Fest, and at American University. We’ve proven the audience is there, they want to see a full show in DC, so we just have to find the right venue.

Thanks for talking with me!

No problem! Be sure to mention this week’s upcoming show.

Don’t worry. I will.