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FCBD23 Interview: Punch Up!

Free Comic Book Day, FCBD, Oni Press, Punch Up

The Wide Plains Fighting Tournament is finally here, and orphan Pitch will do whatever it takes to convince his idol-and possible father-fighter Sonny Han to compete alongside him in the Free Comic Book Day sneak peek of Zachary Sterling's upcoming shonen manga adventure Punch Up! Vol. 1.

We caught up with series writer Zachary Sterling to learn more about what inspired the extraordinary characters, what we can expect from their upcoming titles, AND to rifle through some really fun rapid fire questions! 

Check out the full interview below and be sure to head to your local comic shop on Saturday, May 6 to celebrate FCBD in all it’s glory! To find a participating comic shop near you, use our FCBD Store Locator. 


Free Comic Book Day (FCBD): Set up your title for those that might be new to your comic book: What will new readers need to know before diving into your Free Comic Book Day issue? 

Zachary Sterling: Punch Up! is the story of a young and talented fighter named Pitch; an orphan who has spent every year of his young life learning martial arts at the monastery he dreams about leaving for the big city so he can enter the Wide Plains Fighting tournament. Pitch isn’t seeking glory or riches, however—he wishes to meet his idol, aging prize fighter Sonny Chan, in the hope of becoming his pupil. There are challenges and dangers that await Pitch and Sonny around every corner, including Sonny’s own hidden motives for teaming up with Pitch...


FCBD: What are some of the core themes present in your book? What do you hope readers take away from your title?

Zach: A lot of the themes in my book are inspired by all of the anime and manga I read and watched growing up—particularly the themes of perseverance, focus, discipline, and the importance of fighting as hard as you can to chase your dreams. My protagonist, Pitch, is so singularly focused and determined that he’s absolutely incorruptible and pure of heart. I hope readers find inspiration in a character like that, because I think we could all use a little bolstering when it comes to our hopes and dreams and the fight to keep from losing focus on them.

Free Comic Book Day, FCBD, Oni Press, Punch Up

FCBD: What part of the book was most fun to write?

Zach:I probably had the most fun drawing all of the fight scenes. My book is full of the weirdest characters, and they all have weird attributes or powers. In general, fighting is the language all of these characters have in common, and it was a really fun challenge to try and make every fighter’s style and ability unique from each other. (The fights are also where some of the biggest humor moments of the book come out, and I’m a big enough dork that I laugh at my own jokes, too.)


FCBD: Can you share some of the inspiration behind certain characters, settings, etc.?

Zach: I got a lot of inspiration from classic Hong Kong kung-fu cinema and shonen anime and manga. I was particularly drawn to a lot of the classic archetypes present you always see in these stories: incorruptible, powerful-yet-naive heroes, surly and cynical fighters who deep down have a heart of gold, wise older masters, maniacal  villains who would do anything and everything to win, whacky side characters from far and wide that add a ton of jokes and extra humor to the story, etc. The settings of my book take the same inspiration: sprawling temples full of history and culture, the juxtaposition of traditional martial arts settings and modern, almost sci-fi cities, and extravagant fighting tournament grounds full of pageantry.


FCBD: If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?

Zach: I think I would just ask them if they could teach me a super-secret special move or two...


FCBD:Looking to the future, is there anything you can tease about what’s coming up for the title and its characters?

Zach: I don’t wanna give too much away, but I can promise a really fun adventure from start to finish. From the first page until the last, Punch Up!’s story will take the reader on a ride.

FCBD: Many newcomers will pick up comics for the first time on FCBD – what was the first comic you remember reading?

Zach: One of the first comics I remember ever reading was the comic book adaptation of Tim Burton’s Batman. I got it from this great shop that isn’t around anymore. I read that thing over and over again until it started falling apart. The art looked exactly like the movie, so it was really easy for me to follow at a super young age.


FCBD: What is your favorite part about working in the comic book industry?

Zach: My favorite part of the industry is the readers, hands down. So much of making comics is incredibly isolating—you can spend years working on a book all by yourself for the most part, and sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re doing. Getting to conventions and talking with readers who love your work, or newcomers who are picking up your book for the first time, rejuvenates me like nothing else does. It’s always so gratifying to see in real life how your work affects other people.


FCBD: Tell us why everyone should read comic books!

Zach: Everyone should read comic books because it’s unlike any other medium. There is something that only comics can do: first, comics combine artwork and written word in a way that no other art form does. Secondly, it’s an extremely participatory art form as well. Every sequence of panels in a comic asks the reader to fill in the blanks. Comics aren’t like a movie where you see how everything connects—you have to connect those things in your mind, and when you read a comic book that really resonates with you, I think all of this makes the reader connect with the story in a personal way that only comics can.


FCBD: Now, we have a series of rapid-fire questions for you! They’re, ya know, mostly related to comics... Answer as quickly as you can and try not to over think it!


Do you listen to music while you’re creating?

Zach: Without fail. I actually can’t work unless I have music.



What’s your favorite comic book genre?

Zach: My favorite genre at the moment is probably action/adventure. That being said, there needs to be a really clear emotional side to the story for me to connect with it so it’s not just action for action’s sake. 


Are you more productive in the morning or at night?

Zach: At night, unfortunately. I always mean to be a “normal” and functional member of society, but a lot of my inspiration/work marathons happen at night. Maybe I was a nocturnal animal in another life.



Do you think you could survive in a zombie apocalypse?

Zach: I dunno if I would survive for long, but I think I’d last for a little while...If worse came to worse, I think I could use my sense of humor and cooking skills to befriend someone more capable than me to keep me alive.



Would you rather be invisible or have the ability to fly?

Zach: Fly, for sure. Airports/airplanes are some of my least favorite things in the world, so being able to just take off on my own would be so convenient. (Minus all of the bugs that would probably get caught in my teeth!)



If you were a comic book character, would you rather be the hero or the villain?

Zach: The hero! I think there’s something to the fantasy of being a crafty evil genius and everything, but at the end of the day, I don’t have the stomach to be a villain.


What’s your favorite comic book or graphic novel?

Zach: This is incredibly hard to answer, but I’ve been reading a ton of manga lately, so I’ll just answer what my favorites are right now: Chainsaw Man, One Piece, Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, and One Punch Man.





Find a participating comic shop near you to celebrate Free Comic Book Day 2023!



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