As regular consumers of the Comic Bastards product may or may not know, I’m something of a reluctant pro wrestling mark. Most of us in the bullpen are, to some degree or another. Mine is a love-hate relationship, which, like the one I have with comics, I can personally chart back to my formative years in the 1980s and early 90s.
As such, I was born under an arguably “bad” sign; one that set me smack-dab in the middle of the then-WWF’s contentiously flamboyant "rock 'n' wrestling” era. And like most fans of my generation, I still look back on that period with a great swell of nostalgia, even while admitting its many, many flaws. Even still, it’s hard to deny the few, truly gripping moments of the period; one of which, unquestionably, was a segment originally aired almost exactly 25 years ago to this day.
The infamous Funeral Parlor interview in question starred The Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker, his manager Paul Bearer and one of the gaudiest caskets ever deigned for fake internment. In it, The Undertaker viciously attacks The Warrior with mighty blows and prop urns before locking him in the aforementioned air-tight coffin, leaving him there to suffocate in front of thousands of witnesses fans.
(SIDEBAR: Sad to think that, including the announcing team, only Vince McMahon and, ironically, the Dead Man himself, The Undertaker, are still alive today. The others -- Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Paul Bearer and The Warrior -- have all passed on since; a couple quite recently.)
The meeting between Taker and Warrior was a moment which, as a ten year old, was forever burned into my brain, but one that I thought was also lost to time and/or obscure Trivial Pursuit questions. That is, until our very own Kevin Beckham mentioned it on Episode 229 of the Comic Bastards Mother Fuckin’ Podcast, wherein he told us all about a comic book recounting of the event, appropriately titled Funeral Parlor. Needless to say, I had to check it out.
Written and drawn by Robert Young, Funeral Parlor is not just a fantastic play-by-play account of what happened during the titular 1991 segment -- replete with some genuinely incredible, lovingly faithful artistic renderings of the performers’ “acting” -- but also of how it affected the young... Young; which is to say, irrevocably.
As he writes in the first two pages of his lightning-quick, 17-page one-shot, this was, “One of the most traumatic memories from my childhood [...] watching Ultimate Warrior die on TV.” As you can see in its 10-minute entirety HERE, the segment hasn’t aged especially well (apart from the ever-incredible vaudevillian performance from the late, great William Moody, aka Paul Bearer). However, Young does an amazing job illustrating what made that moment so impactful on his (and, by extension, my) impressionable mind; so well, in fact, that I was brought right back there with him.
Admittedly, Young rips much of the dialogue directly from the event, but he threads it remarkably well within his very intimate obsession, showing his abashedly tearful outburst at the proceedings, while enduring a “wrestling is fake” kickback from his unsympathetic uncle. All the while, we watch Young himself die inside while he watches his hero literally (to him) dying on the screen.
It’s a fascinating story with an artistic style that is at once fantastically detailed, yet stylistically unfettered caricature; his thick, loose line work, itself standing as a thematically apropos childlike snapshot of 10 piquantly-affecting minutes of pro wrestling television.
And it’s great. It’s so fucking great.
Of course, I am biased, but there are elements in this book that would impress even the most diehard pro wrestling hater: the over-the-top, ghoulish facials of Paul Bearer and The Undertaker; the Warrior’s ridiculous casket surrounded by an eerie red myst; the streams of tears that regularly wash down Young’s emotion-beleaguered face; that last, gorgeous shot of a wrinkled flower and a dented urn. It’s innocent, sure, and endearing, but it’s also arresting; indeed, not unlike the event itself.
As an old WWF wrestling head, I love that Funeral Parlor exists, and recommend it highly to anyone like me, who grew up on this plasticine version of professional wrestling, and want to relive this, perhaps its most oddly arcane moment. Top marks all around, brother.
[su_box title="Score: 5/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Funeral Parlor Writer/Artist: Robert Young Self-Published Price: $15.00
[su_button url="http://www.robertyoungillustration.com/store/funeral-parlor" target="blank" style="soft" background="#000000" color="#ffffff" size="7" center="yes" icon="icon: archive" icon_color="#ffffff" rel="nofollow"]WEBSITE[/su_button]