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Patrick Horvath discusses 'Free For All,' a sci-fi love story made for the Trump era

Comic Books

Patrick Horvath discusses ‘Free For All,’ a sci-fi love story made for the Trump era

‘Free For All’ is now being crowdfunded via Zoop.

In recent months, writer-artist Patrick Horvath has made waves with Beneath The Trees Where Nobody Sees. As it turns out, that’s not the only totally violent, decidedly relevant slice of poignant storytelling that Horvath has cooked up. As part of a brand-new Zoop campaign, he’s digging back into his own archives with Free For All.

Originally released as a web-only comic circa 2020, Free For All is a sci-fi story that’s massively relevant and yet unlike anything we’ve seen before. Here, the world’s a veritable utopia, as “all of the basic requirements for living are now provided for by the World Finance League.” There’s a catch, though, as this version of world peace involves a lottery where the most wealthy individuals are allowed to “either donate half of their assets for the greater good of the world, or fight to the death to keep it all.” The story proper sees “two former lovers square off in this global arena to settle their differences once and for all.”

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So, think Hunger Games in reverse, or maybe Gladiator for the Trump era. Either way, it’s a mix of thoughtfulness and gore that’s come to define Horvath’s ever-growing career. And now you can own it yourself as the Zoop campaign of Free For All runs through May 31. (The campaign has a goal of $4,000; head here to contribute). Ahead of the launch, we caught up with Horvath via email to field some essential questions, including why he revisited the book, the larger messaging and scope of the story, his singular approach to depicting violence, and a future for Free For All.

Patrick Horvath discusses 'Free For All,' a sci-fi love story made for the Trump era

Courtesy of Patrick Horvath.

AIPT: I want to begin with the success of Beneath The Trees Where Nobody Sees. What was that response like for you, and did that help motivate you at all to revisit Free For All?

Patrick Horvath: The response has been overwhelming in the best possible way. I really wasn’t prepared for people to be so enthusiastic about it, and I’m barely starting to wrap my head around it. It was definitely part of the reason I decided to go forward with a print run on Free for All, but a lot of it had to do with Zoop reaching out directly, asking if I’d ever done a physical print run for it. I’d always wanted to, but for a long time it seemed like Kickstarter was probably going to be the only way I could make it happen, and I just didn’t have time to put together and manage a campaign. When Zoop came on the scene, I had it in the back of my mind to try going through them, and once Eric Moss reached out, I figured the time had arrived.

AIPT: It’s been a few years since Free For All debuted (which these days is an eternity). Has its storyline and/or its relevancy changed or shifted for you at all?

PH: I’d say it’s remained as relevant as ever for me. I came up with the idea at the end of 2016 in response to what seemed like an acceleration in a lot toxic trends that all seemed linked in one way or another to money. It seems like it’s only gotten worse, so if anything it just resonates even more for me.

AIPT: Obviously this is a pretty political story (even if exploring the need for more social systems like this shouldn’t be as divisive). Do you worry at all about people with opposing ideas — do you hope a story like this changes hearts and minds?

PH:I’m not worried about folks with an opposing view, everyone’s entitled to their own points of view, and I’m not trying to preach or walk a thin line. I actually don’t know if this would be the way to change hearts and minds, but I’d be majorly curious to hear if it did. To be honest this was mostly created as a cathartic project to get out a lot of the frustrations I had. Obviously this sort of take on “eating the rich” is majorly problematic, but it was a very tongue-in-cheek way to offer a solution to equalizing the income inequality plaguing the world.

Patrick Horvath discusses 'Free For All,' a sci-fi love story made for the Trump era

Courtesy of Patrick Horvath.

AIPT: I instantly thought of The Running Man when I was reading this. Were there any other specific inspirations, visually or thematically, for you?

PH: The Running Man was on my mind a bit, but I was also inspired by Scott McCloud’s DESTROY!! There was something really appealing to me about having a small one-shot, concentrated blast of work that got it all out of my system. If you’re not familiar with DESTROY!!, I highly recommend trying to track it down. It’s a fantastic stand-alone piece of work that’s huge, oversized, extremely violent, and extremely tongue-in-cheek.

AIPT: I love the way you capture gory and violence — there’s a directness to it but also a sense of grace. Is that important to you, especially with a story like this with so many layers?

PH: I feel like it’s dealing with violence as spectacle (especially in the framework of this whole neo-gladiator setting), but I wanted to have it cross a line for many viewers, maybe giving them more than they wanted to see (or should see at all). It felt important to have an element throughout that played counterpoint to a blind enthusiasm for all of it.

Free For All

Courtesy of Patrick Horvath.

AIPT: I think with the love story element you offer a deeply humanizing aspect (without hampering the story’s larger social relevance, of course). Why is that element so important or notable in this story specifically?

PH: When I initially thought of the idea for the comic, it was mostly just that kernel that became the first fight that we see between Cameron and Ted. Once I started developing the story, I realized I needed more to sink my teeth into, and that’s when I came up with the story between Ted and Luella. It felt like the most natural thing to have love/humanity be the antithesis of wealth/capitalism.

AIPT: I feel like a big theme of this story (beyond the politics) is self-image and perception. We’d like to think we’d behave one way, but we don’t know that’s true till it’s really tested. Is there something to that idea in this story?

PH: Yes, I think that’s a big part of it, and also the weird hang-ups we have centered around ego and pride. There’s also the strange hold that the ideals of the past have over us, and I think that’s also majorly at play even though we don’t talk about it nearly enough.

Free For All

Courtesy of Patrick Horvath.

AIPT: There’s heaps of great visuals here. Do you have a favorite page/scene that really captures what you were trying to do with this story?

PH: I have two pages in particular that are my personal favorites. They get at these weird sort of mantras/philosophic engines for Ted and Luella. Both pages appear on either end of the book, and depict a kind of bizarre anatomically exploded head with inlays. They definitely stand apart from the rest of the book, but both felt like these necessary little digressions that got at the kernel of each character.

AIPT: Could you see yourself revisiting this “universe” and/or doing a similar story sometime down the road?

PH: Oh, yeah, I’d love to revisit this world. There’s a ton more to explore with it, and this little story barely scratches the surface.

AIPT: Why should anyone support the Free For All campaign?

PH: For anyone who’s only now aware of my work from Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees, it’s a great opportunity to see some more work from another facet of my brain. Also, if anyone ever had any interest in checking it out, grabbing a limited copy of a physical print run is the best way to do it. I’ve always had a soft spot for limited print runs. It’s a marker of a very specific moment in time, and a fun way to participate in the comics community. And lastly, it’s just flat out a great way to support creators. If you’ve liked anything I’ve done so far, a great way to increase the chances of seeing more is to support books like this :)

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