Patrick Horvath (Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees) is coming to Zoop to bring a physical release of his breakout indie project, Free For All

In the future, the world finally knows peace! Food, healthcare, housing, and all necessities are now provided by an organization called the World Finance League. How is this funded? A lottery where the wealthy citizens of the world are picked randomly to give up half their wealth. The catch? They can keep it…if they win a fight to the death.

The Beat caught up with Horvath to delve deeper into the project and explore the creative process behind it, uncovering the intricacies of Horvath’s uniquely twisted imagination that brought this comic to life!

DIEGO HIGUERA: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind Free For All on what led you to explore this theme of wealthy individuals facing off in a global arena?

PATRICK HORVATH: So I started, coming up with the idea of Free For All right around, like, the end of 2016. It just felt like the whole country slash the world was starting to go insane. It kind of struck me that a lot of it stemmed from not necessarily a lot of this weird, I don’t even know how to put it, like, it felt like a lot of confrontation was happening around issues that honestly, didn’t really seem to be, you know, worth all the sort of fighting that was causing it. So much as these underlying symptoms of the stressors that kind of felt like, directly related to money or capitalism.

So I ended up coming up with this kind of scenario of like, I feel like we could solve a lot of this, if we all just didn’t have to worry about how we were going to pay for rent and food and medical bills, you know? Then the income inequality gap of, you know, those few billionaires that have a ton, and then the rest of us that are sort of fighting for crumbs! like it felt so desperate that it was just the cynical answer. For me it was sort of eat the rich idea, we could solve a lot of problems if they actually had, you know, donate like, half of their wealth. Then perhaps if they don’t, then they would be forced to defend it by fighting to the death. I know, for a fact there would be some people that would gleefully be like, I’m fighting to the death for this money that I feel like I’ve earned, like all on my own, I had no help whatsoever, you know? So that’s kind of where it came from.

Free For All

HIGUERA: Beneath The Trees Where Nobody Sees was a massive success. How does it feel to follow up on that with Free For All? Did the reception of your previous work influence your approach to this new project?

HORVATH: It’s funny because I made this a long time ago, 2018 2019, which is not that long ago. But it’s been out for a couple years. I put it up digitally just for fun, I mean, I had no presumption that it was going to be anything more than just an example of me doing sequential art. So other people could see that I could do that would possibly hire me, which did serve that purpose. Really well, W Maxwell Prince was considering to do a comic with me doing full interiors, which was the first time I’ve ever done anything that had been published for a larger publisher.

So I was able to say I did do this. He looked, he’s like, yes, okay you can do nice couple dozen pages. I’m glad to see this. Yes, this is pretty fun. Okay, cool. So that’s kind of where it came from. It was also very inspired by Scott McLeod’s destroy, just in terms of it having a sort of a one-shot that was like under 50 pages. It was just kind of a very tongue-in-cheek, you know, sort of violent thing that, was just a way to sort of get some, a little bit of catharsis, and then also just have a fun piece of work at the end of the day.

Free For All

HIGUERA: Free For All started as a web-only comic but will now be printed for the first time through this campaign. How does it feel to see your work transition from digital to print format?

Horvath: It is super cool. It’s hard to know what it’s gonna feel like until I actually hold it in my hands. Just the fact that this is even happening is sort of tied into the success of Beneath the Trees, it’s exciting! Honestly, I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it yet. So it’s all just kind of–it’s just a whirlwind right now it’s cool, man. I’m super excited.

HIGUERA: The premise of Free For All touches on themes such as wealth inequality, power dynamics, and the human condition. How did you approach tackling these complex topics within the context of a graphic novel?

HORVATH: The initial thing that drove me to it of having like these billionaire gladiators fighting to the death to keep their money as opposed to just helping out the rest of humanity was, it was the original nugget. You’ve got this scenario, where a sort of almost utopian kind of world waiting for us in the future. It’s funded by these billionaires, and then, you know, some of them fight to the death for our amusement. Beyond that, I ended up having this story emerge, that’s essentially the main, you know, narrative direction of the graphic novella. Ted Brooks, a real estate magnate who’s sort of the main antagonist from the start, and his relationship to Louella Dominguez, who was his business partner, and actual spouse, and they were married and famously divorced because he refused to divest his funds. So he saw that split was unacceptable to him, so he chose money over love.

Then the rest of it is Louella having to rebuild up her own fortune so that she can get back into the lottery and then face him in the arena. It was this idea of having the confrontation of love and capitalism, right. That you can’t really reconcile the two because capitalism is just at odds, it feels like to me with just human existence and humanity. It doesn’t have its interest in mind at all. So, that was what I was able to just kind of sink my teeth into. It just feels like an unfortunate thing that we’re always kind of stuck dealing with. Yeah, that was it. That’s what was my main guiding star through it.

HIGUERA: How does your art continue to influence the narrative? I understand it’s your creative expression, but I’m curious about how it guides your choices, like transitioning from cute yet gory themes to the freedom of expression in this version. What motivated your exploration of brutality and other themes?

HORVATH: Yeah, it gets bad. It’s interesting because in Free For All the societies, everybody’s really excited about these fights very much in like a sort of an ancient Gladiator, you know, concept of having these people cheer on these fighters that are fighting to the death. That, there’s a horror to what they’re doing, but there’s also like this weird, reveling in it that happens.

I feel like that’s, that’s kind of the main, you know, very cynical viewpoint of it in how, a lot of people are into it. So the violence kind of needed to be you know, it needed to be sort of disgusting and at the same time, not enjoyable. At the same time, it needed to be, it needed to be kind of over the top, I guess is the best way to put it. It’s problematic, and it should be. The way that the violence shows up in Free For All,  it’s one of those things where it’s that weird, toeing of the line. It’s hard to look at, but you can’t stop looking at it. Beneath the Trees, in regards to the horror, a lot of the violence is really grounded in a way that it feels while Free For All is over the top. I felt in Beneath the Trees, I needed to ground that violence to make it sort of sit with the sort of adorable cuteness of everything. Because it, it kind of is this weird balancing act with that book. So it’s definitely different. Violence is a spectator sport, right?

With Free For All it gets into the weird violence that we see. Like boxing, football or even hockey, where it’s sort of baked into it. It’s something that people are into, and when it goes too far it feels like, oh, I shouldn’t have probably seen that. Yet at the same time, it’s a spectacle! It’s meant to be watched, which is strange. It’s really weird to have society code, certain types of violence, that’s acceptable. Again, this is over the top but it’s also evolved. So because it’s in the future there’s something about it that also dovetails with the way that society is able to villainize folks pretty easily. To then want to see comeuppance. It’s kind of dealing with all that

HIGUERA: Kind of a deeper question here, the idea of Free For All came from things that were going on in 2017. The concept of a lottery, determining who must give up their wealth or fight to the death is both intriguing, but It’s also chilling. You’ve told me how you developed that premise, but with What you’re envisioning through this comic what do you think it says about society and human nature? 

HORVATH: It’s both sides of it being like, we could solve a lot of the problems that we have, if everybody was just able to not have to worry about all these things that specifically have to do with money.  It’s also sort of chilling to think that we would like just be able to be so cool with the fact that there would be people fighting to the death for it. There are protesters throughout Free For All that you see that are on the periphery. They’re very much against the idea of, righteous violence, or that any violence is sort of justified.

I think that’s sort of the dark side, the thing that nobody’s talking about in the in the comic. I feel like it’s been throughout human history, and I feel like it’s another thing like capitalism that we haven’t been able to shake. So it felt necessary to put it in, to have that be part of it.  It’s horrible and strange, it’s also something we can’t seem to escape, having these weird, justified, situations where, well, people have to die. To me, that’s one of the most chilling things society.

HIGUERA: Any last thoughts or things you liked to share with readers?

HORVATH: You can find pretty much all the info on me through Patrick And on there, you can find my social media. And lastly, my newsletter through Substack. It’s just a good spot to go and find whatever I currently got going on. Including this campaign to go and click on as well. Also what, cons I’ll be going to throughout the rest of this year, which will be a lot.

To find out more about Free For All, check out the project here!