Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Splash Page: Comics and Wrestling (Part Two)

[A special holiday edition of the Splash Page that has nothing to do with the holidays. Read the first part over at Tim's blog and then come back here for the second half...]

Chad Nevett: What do you think of the matches themselves or the storytelling? The stories are usually quite basic, but have any caught your interest?

Tim Callahan: I'm amused by Sheamus's rise to prominence and this whole notion of whether he deserves the title or not, even though the pretty clear story is that he doesn't deserve the title and that's the whole point. But the other storylines I know of -- the stuff with Randy Orton and Legacy, the rise in popularity of Kofi Kingston, the betrayal/feud between Batista and Rey Mysterio -- these things seem compelling and yet utterly simplistic. I can see why kids can enjoy the theatrics of it, and I can certainly see the connection between wrestling and superhero comics, with the repetition, the clear good guys and bad guys, and the obligatory fights. But for me, wrestling is more akin to travelling theatrical troupes from the middle ages or early Renaissance. Taking their shows from town to town in a caravan. Entertaining the crowd.

And I think I like comics for the art more than anything else. The art of the storytelling. The style of the visuals. I understand that wrestling can have style within the matches, but the acting in the tv skits is just terrible, and the wrestling I saw in Albany was mostly boring. Not much high-flying action, just a lot of headbutts and crawling around on the mat. It was the equivalent of reading a Mark Bagley comic.

In wrestling, have there been any storylines with the depth of the comics of Grant Morrison or Alan Moore. Or Joe Casey or Warren Ellis? Or are they all Jeph Loeb stories, because that's what it seems like from my outsider's perspective?

CN: There have been stories that have gone beyond what's happening now, but not by a lot necessarily. Earlier in the year, the feud between Jeff Hardy and CM Punk was rather good with CM Punk winning the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania, which gave him a briefcase with a world title contract that he could 'cash in' at any time. He chose to do so after Hardy finally won the world belt off of Edge, which was surprising because Punk was a face at the time and that seemed a dick move. That began his slow turn to being a heel where they used his straight edge lifestyle as his selling point and he brought up Hardy's past drug problems. That was notable, I think, for them being willing to bring those real life personal problems up when a lot of kids probably didn't know about them. A feud between Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels last year was amazing in its construction and execution. Normally, I don't get too invested in storylines beyond superficial enjoyment, but that one had me. Jericho is, by far, my favourite wrestler and he had me hoping Michaels would win the culmination of their feud, a ladder match for the World Heavyweight Championship. That may not be as deep as some comics, but getting me to hope that the guy I like more than anyone else will lose, that's some damn good storytelling.

I think you're right that it is theatre and not as sophisticated as many superhero comics -- but that's because of the limitations of the medium/genre and that wrestlers use a style of acting that big and loud, which doesn't translate well to quieter moments (which is why backstage segments are often very bad). But, I also think that wrestling does action and violence better than 99% of the superhero comics out there. Even the quickest, most boring matches are more exciting, for me, than almost any fight I've seen in a superhero comic, if only because wrestlers know how to contruct a fight, a back-and-forth contest between two opponents, and writers and artists don't. Or, at least, the experience of wrestling gives them a big advantage that writers and artists seldom have. I guess we disagree there a bit. But, then again, the WWE doesn't often have amazing matches. I got the first Dragon Gate USA pay-per-view on DVD for Christmas and it was the best single line-up of matches I've ever seen. Lots of high energy, high impact matches with wrestlers from Japan and North America. Probably something more to your speed.

TC: Well, fight choreography is about movement, so it's no surprise that wrestling does that better than comics. Though I'd still rather read a Kirby fight scene, or one by Denys Cowan or Frank Miller, than watch a wrestling match, even one that's better than what I might see on WWE.

And since plot and character are less important to me than tone and style, I don't think I'll ever succumb to the wiles of wrestling. From what I've seen, the tone and style only allow for so much variation, while in comics anything's possible.

If you had to choose -- if you could only read comics or only watch wrestling -- which one would be your top pick. Which is more important to you and why?

CN: Comics is a medium, while wrestling is a genre, so I think the answer is obvious: comics. One big plus for wrestling, though, is that I can experience most of it for free on TV. That nearly makes it a tough call. But, no, comics is more important to me than wrestling. That's one thing I've really hated about this whole wrestling/comics thing at CSBG: I have to be far more positive about wrestling than I actually feel. It has a lot of faults like you've pointed out. Its storytelling is limited and relies exclusively on conflict whereas comics can tell stories that go beyond that. I don't agree about your assessment of how each handles the fights (I'd choose the best wrestling over the best comic book fight any day of the week without question), but beyond that, comics can do more than wrestling. Superhero comics can do more than wrestling. Wrestling is a very narrow and limited genre, which is fine, because it's very entertaining. But, it's fictionalised sport -- would you choose football over comics? Some would, of course, just as some would choose wrestling, but you can see my point: I'm interested in stories and how they're told and what they tell, and comics can do so much more than wrestling. Thankfully, I don't have to choose.

To end things, I just want to touch on comics about wrestling. Titan will be publishing WWE Heroes in March and I've got to know: will you be buying it for your son?

TC: God, no. I saw some preview pages of that and it looks like something Malibu Comics would have squeezed out in 1995. Only worse. So, no.

Not because it's about wrestling characters. Because it's drawn with the grace and dignity of wrestling characters.

Would I buy a Quitely-drawn wrestling comic? A J. H. Williams III one? A Chris Ware one? Yes. Let's make those happen.

CN: Most westling comics, particularly licensed ones, are pretty bad. I may pick up the first issue for reviewing purposes -- or if I can get a gig going discussing/reviewing issues, but otherwise, I'm avoiding it as well.

And that does it. I don't know if we actually accomplished anything or shed new light on any subjects, but it was fun.