There’s what you know about professional wrestling… and what you think you know about pro wrestling.
Cutting through the reality, the rumor, and the storylines are Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno with the upcoming The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling: A Hardcore, High-Flying, No-Holds-Barred History of the One True Sport graphic novel. And Sitterson is uniquely position to tell the real story of the staged sport of pro wrestling in comic book form – a former Marvel editor turned comic book writer, who has worked inside WWE’s Stamford, Connecticut offices and currently runs his own hit podcast Straight Shoot.
With the OGN scheduled for release October 2, Newsarama talked with Sitterson and Moreno about The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling, which traces the origins from the 19th century to the modern-day renaissance of wrestling worldwide.
Newsarama: Aubrey, Chris... let me start by being devil's advocate - why is professional wrestling's history interesting enough to fill out an entire graphic novel?
Aubrey Sitterson: The truth is, this thing is 170 pages – that's 8.5 issues of a normal, 20-page comic book series for those keeping track at home – and it kills me how much material we had to leave out. I'm already dreading hearing from the hordes of people who are upset because I didn't include their childhood favorite wrestler, or didn't give enough attention to a specific old promotion. In fact, it's already started – Pro Wrestling Guerilla's Excalibur, who gave me notes on an early draft of the script, took me to task for a couple omissions!
While it shares similarities with other mediums, wrestling is a wholly unique art form, stretching all the way back to the carnival circuit of the late 19th century – that's a lot of ground to cover for a medium that is often misunderstood, one which has been historically maligned. With this book, we've set out to do something that hasn't been done in any medium, which is to tell the entire history of – not just a specific wrestler, promotion or era – but of wrestling as a whole. So…fill out an entire graphic novel? Brother, I could fill volumes. In fact, I'm already champing at the bit to do some appendices covering all the great stuff that had to be left on the cutting room floor.
Chris Moreno: What he said.
Nrama: So then what are each of your personal connections with pro wrestling?
Moreno: For me and my brother, it was watching Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant, and all the WWF superstars on TV, and Hulk Hogan's Rock n' Wrestling cartoon on Saturday mornings. It was also wrestling my dad in the living room as "The Flying Moreno Brothers." I'd dropped off as I'd gotten older, but I've always poked my head in throughout the years.
Sitterson: I've been a fan of wrestling since I was a kid. Ultimate Warrior was my favorite and he's still in my top five. I even remember watching wrestling with my great grandmother, which was awesome, because as anyone with any experience with wrestling knows, the best, most excited wrestling fans are always kids and old southern women – we covered both bases! I was a little kid during the 80s boom and I was a high schooler during the 90s boom, so wrestling's influence was pretty much unavoidable.
But when I was working as an editor at Marvel, I fell fully down the rabbit hole, at first because I was looking for a non-comics hobby, and wrestling scratched a lot of the same itches as superhero books, but with some significant and fascinating differences. This led to a stint as a writer and producer for WWE.com, time doing interactive marketing for the WWE Games at 2K, countless bylines writing about wrestling on the internet, and my long-running, critically-acclaimed wrestling podcast, Straight Shoot.
Nrama: Superheroes and pro wrestlers have a lot in common - so to borrow a term, does pro wrestling have a 'secret origin' that people would be shocked by?
Sitterson: With wrestling's rise in popularity the past few years, a lot of folks have been going on the journey that I did, migrating from fandoms of other serialized, action entertainment like comics, television, and film, focusing largely on their similarities to wrestling, so this is a great, important question.
If I had to point at the one big, major point of divergence, I'd have to say its wrestling's carnival origins. I don't want to give the milk away for free, because it's something we explore in the book itself, but wrestling is best understood not as a violent soap opera or a live action superhero comic or even violent theater, but rather, as a con or magic trick. And it should come as no surprise, because it was the union of rather unscrupulous wrestlers, promoters and bookies that transformed a folk competition into what we now know as wrestling.
Nrama: For many decades, wrestling was hidden behind a shroud of secrecy in an effort to present it as a legitimate sport and not an athletic acting event. Did the kayfabe nature of the business get in the way of trying to do an honest history?
Sitterson: Along with "Wrestling is a Con Game," I had a couple other thesis statements coming into this thing – part of an effort to make sure it's an actual story we're telling and not just a series of anecdotes. And you've just touched on another one! The fact is, while wrestling as a medium, and a lot of fans even, would have you believe that not too long ago no one was in on the fact that wrestling is fixed, that couldn't be further from the truth. Going back to the earliest days of professional wrestling in the mainstream, I'm talking before World War I, there were already major, public claims that big, massive matches were fixed.
This shell game – a sliding scale of when wrestling claims that it was "real" – happens constantly, and, as you correctly assumed, it makes it challenging, especially for an outsider like myself, to write about professional wrestling honestly and openly. We got around that as best we could through the use of multiple, multiple sources (this thing was heavily, painstakingly researched), along with my own interviews and conversations with actual wrestlers, with the hopes that if we line everything up and figure out where it overlaps, we can at least get a pretty good idea of what the truth is.
Nrama: How did you divide up the story since history is rarely a linear narrative?
Sitterson: My original plan was to go completely linear, but as you seem to have already guessed…that didn't exactly work out. We still kept things largely chronological, but with detours to cover some international forms of wrestling that we just didn't think we could do justice in the other, largely America-centric chapters. We start with a look at wrestling pre-history up until World War I, then cover the post-war revival and the innovations of the Gold Dust Trio, before diving into the rise of the National Wrestling Alliance and its glory days from the 1940s to the 1970s. Then, it's individual chapters on lucha libre, Japanese wrestling, and British wrestling, before we return to our chronological approach for the 1980s Golden Age, the Monday Night Wars and, finally, the new millennium up into the present.
Nrama: Chris, how was it for you to draw these theatric personas without going down a full-superhero route?
Moreno: I'm a big fan of non-fiction comics like Will Eisner's old P.S. Magazines that he'd created for the Army, and the Paradox Press "Big Book of..." series from the 90's, books that used a range of styles, from cartoon-y to realistic, depending on the subject matter. For all of the in-ring action we're depicting, we're also focusing on the backstage dealings, managers, promoters, and all those non-muscled characters in-between. So I felt like it was more effective (and fun) to utilize different approaches throughout the book to help illustrate the concepts presented, rather than referencing or drawing inspiration strictly from superhero comics.
Nrama: Aubrey, you worked for a time at WWE. How did your time there influence this book?
Sitterson: While I do have a few funny stories about interacting with wrestlers at WWE, you'll have to find me at a con and buy me a beer to hear those. And really, running into wrestlers in the WWE gym wasn't the most influential, important part of working there. What I got out of my time at WWE was an opportunity to fully immerse myself in this weird, amazing, one-of-a-kind medium. We had to watch everything – good or bad – we had old stuff playing in the offices all the time, I had walking encyclopedia Howard Finkel down the hall if ever I had questions (and I had a bunch), and, the most important part: I got to see scripts for weekly television and pay-per-views, which gave me a chance to fully understand, from the ground up, how wrestling is produced at the biggest, most successful wrestling promotion in history.
Nrama: So then finally, what are your ultimate goals with this book?
Sitterson: Coming in, I had two goals that, if I wasn't careful, could have ended up working at cross-purposes. The first was to do something that would be a respectful, serious, in-depth look at a medium that I love – the last thing I wanted was to do something that would cause wrestlers to cringe, which is why I ran so many questions and ideas by the wrestlers who have appeared on Straight Shoot. Professional wrestling has never been covered like this before, never with such an all-encompassing, comprehensive approach, so I knew that I needed to get it right, and do it in a way that would challenge and interest even the most jaded hardcore fans.
The second goal was to create a kind of wrestling primer for folks, something that would welcome newcomers into this amazing art form, giving them all the tools and knowledge and context to understand what they were seeing on the screen each week. Most fandoms have a problem with gatekeeping, and wrestling fandom is no different, which is why we designed this thing to be a crash course in all things wrestling, one that will allow you to shut down the "Well, actually " people with a firm, "Yeah, I know."
Moreno: Beyond trying to do the story Aubrey presented in the script justice, I was looking to re-connect with something I loved as a kid and maybe draw in someone who might be coming to pro wrestling fresh. I also wanted to make sure there were enough fun references and easter eggs for the hardcore fans.
Sitterson: Whether you've been watching obscure tapes for decades, or if you've only just started to think about dipping your toe into wrestling, my goal was to challenge, entertain, and inform you to the point where you're just as hopelessly in love with “The One True Sport” as I am.