Acclaimed journalist and author Chad Dundas (Champion Of The World) teams with illustrator Rodrigo Lorenzo (WWE) for the definitive tale of one of WWE's greatest Superstars.
The following highlights are from a conversation with Chad Dundas about the graphic novel, "Undertaker." Click the link above to hear the full conversation or subscribe to our podcast.
Sarah Aronson: What is kayfabe?
Chad Dundas: Kayfabe is an arcane term that refers to everything that is fake in professional wrestling. It goes back to the carnival days of the early 1900s and probably the late 1800s when professional wrestling was still passing itself off as a legitimate endeavor. Wrestlers would use the term “kayfabe” in conversation with each other in order to talk about stuff that wasn’t real and to tip each other off as to what was fiction and what was fact without cluing the audience in.
Let’s address the critics right off the bat: is professional wrestling fake or not?
Professional wrestling is certainly scripted, the outcomes are pre-determined, and the athletic performance you see is not competition based, so I guess I’m inclined to say that it’s fake, but at the same time the people who are doing it are incurring real injuries because there’s some stuff you can’t fake. So the fallout from out can be real. . .
You wrote the script for a graphic novel based on the WWE megastar, Undertaker, which is the stage name for Mark William Calaway, who’s noted as the “greatest professional wrestler of all time.” Can you tell me why this subject seemed like the subject for the book?
I’d become acquaintances with a guy named Chris Rosa who is a senior editor at the comic book company Boom! Studios. We’d been talking for a while because he’d read my novel, “Champion of the World” which is also about wrestling, and he liked it and kept pitching me ideas to write graphic novels. I kept having to tell him no because my schedule wouldn’t permit me to do it. Then he offered me “Undertaker,” and I thought: 1) if I say no to this they’re going to stop asking me, and 2) Undertaker was my favorite wrestler when I was 13. It was kind of like an offer I couldn’t refuse. The opportunity to contribute in a really small way to the existing canon about this character was an opportunity for me to indulge my nerdy, preteen brain in a fit of nostalgia and bring that up to date with the writing I do now. It was almost like I couldn’t tell them no.
What did you love about him when you were 13?
He was so different than anyone else who was in the WWF landscape at the time. I was kind of a Goth, punk rock kid to begin with. He debuted as this undead-western-mortician-type character and he was this massive human who was so unique and such a good performer that I was drawn to his macabre, supernatural vibe immediately. A lot of people were, frankly. He spoke to me directly as a weird punk rock 13 year old.
What can you say about professional wrestlers in general? What lures them to the sport and what do they have to have in their psychic make-up to do this kind of work?
When I was a kid, I was taken with the whole spectacle of the thing. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become more interested in different aspects of wrestling--certainly the history of professional wrestling, which is twisted and weird--but also the notion that this thing is so strange, why would anyone want to do this? The personal stories of professional wrestlers are fascinating because almost no one sets out in life and is like, “I’m gonna become a professional wrestler.” Everyone is like, “I’m gonna be a basketball star, or “I’m gonna be a gymnast,” or “I’m gonna be a football player.” And for one reason or another they wind up being professional wrestlers. At the same time the job itself is so physically demanding and grueling that you kind of have to love it, you have to have a true passion for it, or you’re not going to rise to the top and certainly you won’t be there for very long. The real physical stakes coupled with the more performative aspects of it make it fascinating to me. It honestly draws people from a lot of different walks of life, but at the same time you need to have that passion, you clearly need to have the athletic ability to do it, and you need to be kind of a con man, above and beyond all that. For me, as a fiction writer, that’s the perfect cocktail.
About the Book:
The Dead Man. The Phenom. The Legend who dominated Sports Entertainment for over twenty-five years. For the first time, the unrivaled career of the Undertaker is chronicled in graphic novel form from WWE and BOOM! Studios.
About the Author:
Chad Dundas’ debut novel Champion of the World was a 2016 Boston Globe Best Book of the Year as well as a finalist for the David J. Langum Sr. Prize for Historical Fiction and Reading the West Book Awards. His short fiction has appeared in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Sycamore Review, Sou’Wester and Thuglit. Since 2001, he’s worked as a sportswriter for outlets such as ESPN, NBC Sports, The Sporting News, Bleacher Report and the Associated Press, among others. He lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife and children.