From the moment most fans who get hooked into WWE get their first glimpse of that world, there's an appetite to know more. In the early stages, when the lines of fiction and reality are blurred, kids want to know as much as they can about the larger-than-life characters of WWE, and anything they don't get they act out with their friends via action figures or some other medium.
Even as fans get older, they commit to their favorite WWE superstars, debate the credentials with their friends and consider the subtle, often unseen motivations for certain decisions that characters make every week on WWE TV and pay-per-views. Even with dozens of hours of weekly content, for some fans, what's on Raw or SmackDown is simply not enough. Some fans commit to a certain character and dive in as deeply as they can, with their fandom responsible for driving everything from a voracious appetite for merchandise to a creative energy that inspires artists and writers to try to fill in the blanks with their own stories.
As is the case with any idea for which there's a strong appetite, a larger-scale option came into play. Over the past two years, Boom! Studios has taken some of the most iconic stories seen on screen on WWE TV and filled in the gaps with the unseen elements that add a lot more depth to those stories and the characters involved. From detailing the motivations of The Shield from formation to breakup, to Seth Rollins' Money in the Bank cash-in, to the women's evolution, the Montreal Screwjob and a number of other key moments in WWE history, Boom! Studios has been able to offer in-storyline reasons, narration and storytelling in a manner that has never really been seen before.
Even though they've been given the keys to handle some of the WWE's most iconic characters in their various comic series, and add details to those stories that never happened on WWE TV, Boom! Studios is taking a massive leap forward with its latest project. In October 2018, they will release "WWE: Undertaker," a graphic novel based on the career of a character that has been a cornerstone of the WWE for more than three decades.
"One of the big challenges is that he is such a unique character in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment," said Boom! Studios editor Chris Rosa. "Even though he has gone through multiple phases, multiple looks during that career, he's been the one constant in that universe for almost 30 years."
With previous projects focused on WWE characters and stories, Boom! Studios had to fill in the gaps for a period lasting anywhere from a single match to a couple of years. With more than 27 years of key moments, achievements and interactions in the WWE career of The Undertaker to work with, Boom! Studios had to put together a team as passionate and as knowledgeable as possible to make sure this project was true to the character.
To tackle the story, Boom! Studios turned to Chad Dundas, a longtime combat sports journalist and author of the 2016 pro wrestling novel "Champion of the World" who has followed The Undertaker's career from the start.
The major driving force behind The Undertaker over all other candidates was the overwhelming reach and appeal of the character.
"Undertaker was kind of a no-brainer, because his career encompasses the three major eras of modern WWE wrestling," said Rosa. "He's part of the classic early '90s era, he was obviously a key part of the Attitude Era, and he just wrestled at WrestleMania 34. There's no one else that really is that vital, regardless of if you're a recent convert to professional wrestling, or you're someone like me who's been watching it for 30 freaking years. You know The Undertaker."
In addition to cover art from Oliver Barrett, Boom! Studios tasked Rodrigo Lorenzo with capturing the essence and imagery of The Undertaker throughout his many on-screen iterations
"It's always a challenge trying to draw a comic with real people, as you have to put extra effort on the faces and the expressions so they are recognizable," said Lorenzo. "Luckily, right now it's very easy to find references and get videos and pictures."
Taking the iconography of the WWE and making new content based around it is no small task in any sense, especially because of the relationship fans have with WWE and The Undertaker in particular. When a fan creates a piece of art or a story, it's their own small homage to what they love. When Boom! Studios is doing it in comic form, with the blessing of WWE, it's the closest you'll get to canonical without it appearing on the WWE Network.
But in those challenges lie opportunities, and with a creative team that knows the journey of The Undertaker so intimately, the result is a well-considered, tonally appropriate story.
"One of the most fun parts of a project like this is getting to take those deep dives into these big relationships in The Undertaker's career," said Dundas. "Deep dive into how he got hooked up with Paul Bearer. A deep dive into his relationship with Kane. Trying to imagine what conversations between the two of them would have been like backstage after Kane debuts and The Undertaker realizes that this brother that he thought had died when he was a child, is still alive."
"WWE: Undertaker" will not be in any way a biographical documentation of the life of Mark Calaway, the man who has portrayed The Undertaker since 1990, though his performances over the past three decades will certainly inform the narrative. In the same way that comic books have enhanced superhero movies and TV shows in the past decade (and vice versa), this graphic novel will give fans with a voracious appetite for WWE content another outlet.
"With the content that we create, it's about building that connective tissue -- giving you the things that you didn't see or the moments in between," said Rosa. "It's an excellent metaphor for comics, because so much of what makes comics unique as an art form are the spaces in between. It's the page turner. It's the gutters in between the panel and how your mind fills in what you just saw, what you see on panel one versus how you connect that to panel two."
That's also not to say that this story is only for hardcore WWE fans who were there from day one, when the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase introduced The Undertaker to the world. Because The Undertaker appeals to such a wide range of generations of wrestling fans, there are many entry points to get into the story that will be told in "WWE: Undertaker."
"My vision for the book is, definitely, to produce [something] that would appeal not only to the most hardcore Undertaker fan in the world, but also maybe even the new WWE fan who has just started watching the product," said Dundas. "[Who] wants to find out everything that they can about this character that's been around for such a long time. I think that, in and of itself, creates a really exciting opportunity to fill people in on the story of this guy who will, certainly, be a first-ballot WWE Hall of Famer when it's all said and done."