Monday, October 12, 2009

Pawn jab to Knight's solar plexus: Real World of Chess-Boxing inspired by a Comic

Serbian born, French comic fine artist, Enki Bilal has an impressive string of credits in the European bande dessinée (the French term for comics. Literallly, “drawn strips”). Since starting with Pilote in the 1970’s, he has grown to become one of France’s most popular comic creators. His fame spread to North America after the Heavy Metal featured his work on numerous occasions, prompting English translations of his work in album form.

His most famous work to date is the Nikopol trilogy, a series of 1980’s graphic novels that took over a decade to complete. The central story follows Alcide Nikopol, a recently awakened/released cryoprisoner who returns to a 2023 Paris under fascist rule after two nuclear wars. Floating above the city is an alien pyramid ship peopled by aliens with animal heads based on the Egyptian pantheon of Gods. Nikopol is chosen by Horus, a renegade, eagle-headed alien, as his mortal vessel to wage a private war in return for helping Nikopol settle a few scores.

The books were popular enough to spawn a video game, Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals by White Birds Productions and a movie written, designed and directed by Bilal himself, Immortel.

Comics have inspired comedians and musicians but rarely (except perhaps for Todd McFarlane’s highly publicized love of baseball) do we see comics make an impact in the world of sport… much less create a new one.

1980’s La Foire aux immortels, the first book in the Nikopol trilogy, “outed” hockey for the violent, bloodsport is has become by using it as futuristic gladiator ring, complete with multi-bladed sticks used more for hacking off opponent’s limbs than for scoring goals.

1986’s follow-up, La Femme piège, stayed away from the sports altogether, although it did still have plenty of blood and other unique story elements. For one, it revels in a bizarre “egg war” between Berlin and London in which both sides literally drop giant eggs on each other.

Also, like The Matrix more than a decade later, a red pill plays an important part in La Femme piège. The tale’s homicidal lead character Jill, commits murder several times, always taking a red pill after each crime to forget she ever knew the person. The Matrix would make later make red and blue pills famous... only their apple-coloured pharmaceutical represented knowledge and embracing the painful and pleasant truth of reality that freedom from the Matrix brings, while the blue pill allowed you to ”go back to sleep” and enjoy the blissful ignorance of the illusion.

But I digress.

1992’s conclusion, Froid Équateur, returned Horus, Nikopol and Nikopol’s son Nick to the world of violent sport But this time Bilal engaged mind and body with the hybrid sport “Chess-Boxing”. In 2001, Dutch artist and comic fan Iepe Rubingh grew so intrigued by the concept of Chess-Boxing, in which competitors go toe to in the boxing ring and the chess board in alternating rounds, he began organizing actual matches. Competitors may win by a knockout, judge’s decision, checkmate, or if their opponent allows their twelve minutes of chess time to elapse without a move.

Rupingh himself fought under the name lepe the Joker and won the first world championship from Luis the Lawyer in Amsterdam in 2003 (as seen above). The sport has steadily grown in popularity and is now governed by the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO). Their motto is “Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board.”

Chess Boxing is good news for the kid's in Chess Club who used to get the snot beat out of themafter school. Now they can do their own bullying in class AND on the playground.

In their introduction to their youtube videos, the WCBO explains:

The basic idea in Chess Boxing is to combine the number one thinking sport with the number one fighting sport into a hybrid that demands the most of its competitors - both mentally and physically...

...One of the goals of this sport is the old ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body. During a Chess Boxing fight the control of aggression plays a big role."

Wikipedia points out two cinematic allusions to such a sport previous to Bilal’s graphic novel, Joseph Kuo’s Ninja Checkmate (English title: Mystery of Chessboxing) and a 1991 Finnish movie, Uuno Turapuro – herra Helsingin herra, in which comedian Vesa-Matti Loiri’s popular character, Uuno Turapuro (Numbskull Emptybrook), “plays blindfold chess against one person using a hands free telphone while boxing another person.” Later in the film, Uuno becomes president of Finland.

Don’t know it Bilal was inspired by the earlier film, but it’s safe to say he would have been well-along on Froid Équateur by the time he’d have any opportunity to see the Uuno flick.

Comics creating a new sport? Bilal and comic fans wins by a TKO.

For more on Chess-Boxing, check out the Times online, Time magazine, ESPN and the World Chess-Boxing Organisation (WCBO)

Beavers Up!

1 comment:

  1. So not only to get a chance to win by check-mate but also I can KO my opponent? I had never heard of this type of hybrid before but it certainly looks funny.