Whether it’s through wrestling noir in Hell is a Squared Circle or crime horror in That Texas Blood, Chris Condon is showing the comics world he’s unafraid to break all the rules to get at a different kind of darkness.
In his wrestling book, which was illustrated by Francesco Biagini, a down on his luck wrestler called Mooska goes down the traditional noir route of death, doom, and gloom to tell a story about mistakes and misguided runs at redemption, but his journey embraces the hell the title references almost literally in parts and it ends up being more sinister than the genre’s usual offerings. In his neo-Western/crime/horror book That Texas Blood, illustrated by Jacob Phillips, sheriff of Ambrose County Joe Bob goes down memory lane to revisit some of his most gruesome and bizarre cases for a look at a career marked by bat cults and movie-like serial killers.
Not one of his stories conforms to expectations, feeding off unpredictability to set himself apart from the rest. In a sense, one of the defining features of Condon’s work lies in his ability to stretch genre conventions and then mold them into whatever shapes he wants them to take.
Hell is a Squared Circle in particular is a supreme example of this, playing out like a morality tale wrapped around a haunted noir. It doesn’t have supernatural elements in the story, but the way he frames his tragic wrestler as a man stuck in a metaphorical and mental hell allows for bad things to acquire terrifying new dimensions.
The Beat caught up with Condon at NYCC ’22 to talk wrestling, crime, and horror. Personal attempts at buying Hell is a Squared Circle at his booth were not successful because he ran out of the comic fast, showing people wanted the book bad. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve been happy to not have gotten my hands on a comic at a convention. It was a sign of success, of the kind you want to see more of in comics.
RICARDO SERRANO: What landed you on the noir path for Hell is a Squared Circle?
CHRIS CONDON: I think that there is a certain darkness to some of the ‘behind the scenes’ stories in wrestling, like the stuff we see in Dark Side of the Ring. It lies beyond the kayfabe but it’s unique because it still happens in the context of wrestling. Having said that, even though Squared Circle is a dark story, it’s also a sort of ‘climb to the top’ story. Those narratives aren’t ever darkness free. You still need to contend with the possibility of doing dirty things to get to the top. That’s just inherent in wrestling. It’s present in every industry, but in wrestling it takes a different shape because of the history and the spectacle.
SERRANO: These past few years have seen an influx of wrestling comics. You have The Crimson Cage, Do A Powerbomb, the BOOM WWE comics, Glow, among others. Did you look at any of them when putting your story together or find something you wanted to bring in from them?
CONDON: I wouldn’t say that I looked at any fiction with the intent of taking from them directly. That’s not to say I didn’t do my research. I did. I watched a lot of wrestling. And that’s a big part of it, just watching it and enjoying it. I also listened to a lot of podcasts. I read books, especially on the old territories and stuff like that. It is interesting our books have come out at pretty much the same time. The Crimson Cage, that’s one I really enjoyed. Do A Powerbomb is fantastic.
There’s also a book across from my booth, The Motherfucking Fucker by Max Fuchs, which is a really funny wrestling book that looks and feels completely different from all the others we’ve mentioned. It might be tempting to think we all just kind of had the same idea at the same time, but what’s interesting is that our books are so different from each other. It’s really fun to be a part of that, of this wrestling renaissance.
SERRANO: That’s a good observation. Each book is different, and they do show how flexible wrestling can be as a source of storytelling.
CONDON: It’s like gimmicks. Just as each wrestler has their own gimmick, each wrestling comic has their own too. That’s essentially what makes our comics different.
I grew up with so many great gimmicks in wrestling. NWO Hulk Hogan, WCW Randy Savage, Doink the Clown, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, that was the stuff I watched as a kid. My era was the Attitude Era, the Monday Night Wars. It wasn’t as exaggerated as the eighties stuff, but we got a good set of gimmicks. I feel that bleeds into our approaches to wrestling comics and it helps us come up with our own gimmicks.
SERRANO: Switching over to That Texas Blood, the first arc of that series made me believe we were in Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Criminal territory, to an extent, but with a Texas flavor. From arc two onwards, though, we see a shift towards horror that’s given the book an identity all its own. Kolchak and Scream have served as inspirations for these. What made you pivot into horror?
CONDON: I always think that crime and horror go hand in hand. They’re blood relatives. For me, there’s nothing scarier than the idea that somebody can come in your house and invade your sacred space. And not necessarily just to kill you. It can just be to steal stuff. I mean, what would you do if you woke up in the middle of night and the things that you love are being taken by a stranger? There’s just nothing scarier than somebody defiling your privacy.
I always wanted to skirt that line between both genres and then dip into it further, and I think we see that in volumes two and three along with some of the one-shots we’ve done in between them.
SERRANO: Any other genre’s you’ve got a mind to delve into with the series?
CONDON: There’s definitely other stuff that I want to do with other horror subgenre, ideas I want play around with. That’s something that we’re doing with each arc, so that they end up being their own thing. We’ve already done cults, slashers, and even a kind of ghost story. There’s a story coming up where we explore a bit of fantasy from the point of view of a character that makes everything comes off as a fable. It’s a sandbox and we want to play with everything we can.
SERRANO: So that means we could get a That Texas Blood in Space arc?
CONDON: Yes. Sheriff Joe Bob in space.