iam8bit's Combo Attack art exhibition will celebrate Street Fighter's 25th anniversary.
In 1987, Capcom released Street Fighter, the first installment of what would become its seminal fighting game series. This year marks the franchise’s 25th anniversary, and Capcom has been eager to celebrate the milestone with a 25th anniversary panel at Comic-Con, a Street Fighter 2 Turbo tournament at EVO, and a series of Street Fighter tournaments, just to name a few. On August 3rd, Combo Attack, an exhibition of artwork from over 50 artists inspired by and celebrating Street Fighter, will premiere at iam8bit's studio in Los Angeles.
Jon M. Gibson, founder and partner of iam8bit, began playing video games at an early age, and those experiences informed his career path. "It started in my basement in Michigan, where my older brothers had stashed their Commodore 64 and NES," Gibson said. "To this day, I know the dungeons and world map of the original Zelda like the back of my hand. I’d spend hours glued to the TV, sitting cross-legged and often forgetting to pee."
Gibson began writing video game reviews when he was 15. By the early 2000s, he'd written for several magazines and embarked on a freelance writing career. As his career in journalism waned, he began writing scripts for children's animation. He was soon surrounded by creative artists, and realized that everybody had one thing in common: they all loved video games.
Gibson saw a potent mixture of talent, passion, and nostalgia, but nowhere to display it. That realization held the genesis of the first iam8bit exhibition.
"Personally, I think Street Fighter often gets the short end of the stick."
"The shitty part was that all this talent was only being shared on Post-Its and doodles around the studios," he said. "I always thought it was a shame that there wasn’t a showcase for all these awesome artists. The first iam8bit was essentially all of my artist friends bouncing around in the playground that was 80s video games."
That first exhibition benefited from a lack of expectation. Nobody worried about sales or "street cred," and the enthusiasm showed in the art that was produced. What began as an art exhibition grew, with the addition of partners Amanda White, Nick Ahrens, and Taylor Harrington, into a creative production infused with the spirit that inspired the exhibition.
"[T]he name iam8bit — it’s the essence of a bygone era and a badge of honor," he said. "The show, as well as our company, celebrates artistic interpretation and the power of imagination. Games were so crude and undetailed in the '80s that you really had to employ some serious creative thinking to grasp the weight of worlds like Hyrule or the Mushroom Kingdom. Sure, they looked cool and were stylized, but they left a lot of holes to be filled in.
"As a company, we think imagination is key, and experiences are heightened when you take calculated risks. But this all requires a leap of faith, which is exactly what being 8-bit is all about."
When Capcom approached iam8bit to create an exhibition as part of the ongoing anniversary celebration, the company gathered over 50 artists that encompass many different styles. As Gibson sees it, that variety has always been at the heart of the series.
"Personally, I think Street Fighter often gets the short end of the stick," he said. "It's such a badass, action-heavy series that all the sweat and combos overshadow what's at its core. It's actually really soulful, and was the first game to really embrace the idea of world culture. Think about it — every character in the game hails from a different country, region, origin, religion, discipline, philosophy. This seems simple enough, but a couple decades ago, that was insanely progressive and even revolutionary."
The Combo Attack art exhibition will run August 3rd through August 19th at the iam8bit gallery in Los Angeles. In addition to the artwork, adult beverages, and a food truck, the exhibition will include several one-night only events, like a real life Street Fighter-inspired bonus round where attendees can whack a giant piñata.
Planning iam8bit's elaborate exhibitions and requires loads of research and time, but Gibson explains that it's in the company's DNA.
"We really like to play in the universe of the brands we work with, exploring the mythos of each as deeply as they'll let us," he said. "And we've been lucky in that these brands allow us to get pretty much as nerdy as we want to."