Interview: 'Major Failure' on 'Zoofights'
|INTERVIEWS - TV|
No real animals were harmed for this interview (though many fictional ones were pulverised)...
To some he's a financial journalist, to others he's a member of the pirate-themed rap group Captain Dan and the Scurvy Crew. To most, however, he is Major Failure: a man who once a year brings animals from across the world and combines them with technology from the darkest recesses of his brain in order to have them fight for the pleasures of a baying mob. He is the mind behind Zoofights, and Shadowlocked was able to drag him away from his workbench for an interview.
Nightmarish animals beating each other into piles of goo for the delight of a betting audience - how did it all start?
Zoofights started in the early summer of 2005, as a panic response to having a week to finish a 12,000 dissertation on the history of zoos, and absolutely nothing to show for it. My morale was flagging, and so I decided to think up 16 theoretical animal fights and put them online for strangers to argue over instead. The name, by the way, was a line from TVGoHome, the brilliant TV listings satire written by Charlie Brooker.
And what's your background? Had you written or illustrated before?
I've been writing things here and there for years, and I have a crippling lifelong habit of drawing animals, spaceships and cyborgs on any piece of paper within arm's reach. Ridiculous "Which would win?"-type questions are also very close to my heart, and so in a way I've been thinking of Zoofights my whole life.
How many people did you have working on the first Zoofights?
Just me, but I got quite a lot of suggestions and a couple of written contributions from the forums I posted it on, at somethingawful.com.
What did you make of its reception?
It was great - I thought it might raise a chuckle, but about a hundred people started discussing the fights I posted in earnest detail, and really got me stirred up to do more. The sheer verbal dysentery that followed loosened up my writer's block, and I got my dissertation done, although gorillas with chainguns were never far from my mind.
Zoofights 2, very much the dark horse of the series, what exactly happened there?
By the time I decided to do a second Zoofights, the forums had grown a lot, and I was a bit overwhelmed by how quickly things snowballed. Due to the enthusiasm of the crowd and the event happening in a particularly reckless period in my own life, I sort of lost control of the tournament and it became some kind of bizarre procedurally generated roleplaying game between the members of the audience. Quite entertaining in itself, but not really what I'd set out to do. Think of it as the Star Wars Holiday Special of Zoofights.
Out of 1 and 2, the only events which were largely unillustrated, which characters were your favourites? Were there any that you'd like to have explored further? How about any that you'd really like to see illustrated?
The whole fight between the gorilla machine gunners and the plate-mailed giant squid from Zoofights 1, definitely [Fight 4 - A Noble Death]. That really set the tone for the whole series, and was a lot of fun to put together.
Is there a chance that we'll be seeing more of them in the future?
Yes, later on this year I have a couple of things in mind.
Zoofights 3 marked a change in tone. For the first time you had an overarching story, not to mention fully illustrated characters and fights; you illustrated all of the fights in the main rounds, only later having them inked or coloured by others. How did you manage all the extra effort?
The art style you use is very distinct, everything has a very dilapidated, industrial feel - lots of hazard panelling - what would you say are your main artistic/aesthetic influences?
The black and yellow hazard stripes are hands down due to Sonic 2 on the Megadrive. 2000AD has a lot to answer for, as well. And although I'm admitting to something horrendous here, there's a lot of Warhammer 40k in there, too.
There's a very strong sense of roleplaying, both with the character stats and how the fights are decided. Are you a fan of pen-and-paper RPGs?
I like the idea of pen and paper RPGs, but haven't ever really played one. In terms of the character backgrounds, I think giving everything a backstory and having that influence events puts a lot more potential humour and drama behind the fights. It's like pro-wrestling, basically.
The ending of 3 was nothing short of epic, involving a video of an enormous airborne platform crashing into a beast from hell. As the fight developed it involved some illustrations that were of exceptional quality. Do you work with professional illustrators/artists?
I'm lucky enough to have had some really talented people come back to work with me year after year, and some of them draw for a living. When it's 3am on the night of a Zoofight and I'm scrawling my eighth drunken draft of a rhino biffing a whale, I feel very grateful that my ropey doodles are accompanied by some seriously quality stuff from them.
Are many from overseas? Do you know of any contributors who live particularly unusual lives outside of Zoofights?
Yes, there's a good deal of people from across North America and Europe, and one contributor who lives in Afghanistan - as a result, part of the final for Zoofights 3 was mailed from an actual war zone.
How many people are involved now?
Hard to say - there's been about 50 contributors over the years, and about 25 working on ZF5.
Do you have any stand-out moments from 3 and 4? Any particular fights, characters or bits of art that you're particularly proud of, whether someone else's work or your own?
For some reason, my favourite thing I did was of a walrus with a beer and a broken pool cue, diving away from an exploding rocket thrown by a telekinetic cuttlefish in Zoofights 4.
There's normally a lot of fan art submitted, from paintings to models of characters - have any of these submissions led to the artist working on later Zoofights projects?
I will shamelessly try and recruit anyone who posts art - I like to get different people's takes on the contenders and battles.
So you try and make it as open as possible? What's it like for a creator to open up his work to be guided by others? Is it easy to let it go, so to speak?
It's good fun, yes. Pretty much anyone who enjoys the project enough to volunteer their help is already thinking along the right lines, so I'm usually happy to run with whatever ideas they have. A Zoofights tradition is the Loser's League, where the losers of round one are repaired and redesigned by contributors, before fighting again. LL is always driven by other artists, and always has a major impact on events.
You've recently announced Zoofights 5 by running 'Aminal Warz', tell us a little about that?
Aminal Warz was posted on April 1st, and was a sort of joke Zoofights. The theme for Zoofights 5 is pulpy apocalypse sci-fi, and so Aminal Warz was a way to get into the mood - it was Zoofights, as run by degenerate post-nuclear yokels. I basically got hammered and drew animals fighting on bits of ripped-up corrugated card, then scanned them and started dropping them into the middle of the forums, unannounced. People were pretty confused at first, but it was chilling how quickly they got into the spirit of things, posting angry cardboard messages of their own.
This year also sees the launch of www.zoofights.co.uk. In previous years the action has been mostly confined to the Somethingawful forums; this year, it's got its own site and you're hoping to reach a wider audience. How are you planning to do that?
I'm hoping that the 300-or-so people who've been following the build-up to Zoofights 5 will spread the word, and we've archived all the old Zoofights stuff on the site to show newcomers what it's all about. One day, I want Zoofights to be a staple time wasting site for everyone in the world who's wondered what would happen if a chimp with a gun fought a tiger with an egg whisk for a head.
How long in advance do you start work on a new Zoofights bout?
We started contender designs back in January, although a lot of the ideas came about last August, when I met up with some past contributors in the States.
Any hints towards the characters that you'd like to give for the readers of Shadowlocked?
Yeah - a radioactive snake with no face, a psychic onion, a Neanderthal police thug and a railgun that shoots lions. Plus 12 more. They will all fight until only one's left.
How do you see Zoofights developing in the future? Are there any other media you'd like to explore?
I want to see this as a Saturday morning cartoon. Failing that, I'm planning the fights for Zoofights 5 so they can easily be compiled into a bunch of 8 page comics that can be printed off and used as bathroom reading or whatever. If the next one looks good end to end, a publisher might even be stupid enough to let me make a graphic of it. I live in hope.
From its structure and sense of fun, it looks like it would make a fine table-top RPG or card-game of some kind, is this something that you'd be interested in exploring?
I actually play a lot of really nerdy board games, and a Zoofights one could work pretty well. I actually made [unofficial] Top Trumps cards for Zoofights 1 , but I think they got lost or I smoked them or something. Basically it's cyborg animals having fights - what can't you do with that theme?
A fine point. Finally, are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I'm writing a sort-of book, doing occasional stand-up, and I'm long overdue to write a rap album about the history of the British navy for Captain Dan at Nonexistant Recordings...
Zoofights can be read for free at www.zoofights.co.uk, Captain Dan's myspace is here, and I have been sworn on pain of death not to reveal the name of the financial publication that employs Major Failure.
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