Tag Archives: lucha libre

Fandango de la Folk Tree: Retrato Familiar

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While I wasn’t able to make the annual pilgrimage down to Pasadena for the Folk Tree show’s final reception, I did hear from quite a few of my local folk-les that it was one of the best turnouts in years. It’s a testament to just how important the store has been during it’s glorious lifetime, and how much the efforts of Rocky, Gail, Victor and the whole “FT familia” affect the holiday’s culture, and people’s understanding of it.

It also reminds me as to why I’ve worked exclusively with them, in regards to crafting show pieces for the holidays. I’ve documented my issues with the local “import store” culture in previous postings, but that doesn’t account for the fact that even the best vendors up here in Seattle do little to actually honor the holiday and traditions that have proven to be so profitable for them, over the years. My sister and I made a sojourn to Milagros in Pike Place Market last week, while she was making her annual Halloween visit: the shop’s one of the more prominent purveyors of Oaxacan art and dia de los muertos-related collectibles, and its location gives it an unprecedented degree of tourist flow-through. As such, I naturally expected that they’d do their part to float the true roots of the holiday, or at least offer something in the way of an exhibition-quality ofrenda, or…

something...

… but no.

It was a day just like any other day, with the same stock, the same window dressings, the same general attitude. It’s not really that big an issue–Seattle’s appreciation of the Hispanic heritage that exists at the roots of calacas and Posada prints pretty much begins and ends with people who realize that it’s really easy to whip up some half-assed sugar skull makeup when they haven’t bothered to actually put together a real Halloween costume–but I wandered out of the shop again reminded just how fortunate I am to be able to ply my trade at the Folk Tree, and how fortunate the world is to have the store in the first place.

But all that aside: I had one last consignment at this year’s show, and I think it’s probably one of the best top-to-bottom constructs that I’ve made, this year.

... mi familia, su familia, la familia.

… mi familia, su familia, la familia.

The piece owes its genesis to the very cool “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling (Photographs by Lourdes Grobet),” which I’ve been a proud owner of for about ten years. The book’s a fascinating study of “street-level” lucha culture, but–for me–the main attraction is the colorful portrait-style sittings that Grobet specialized in back in the 1970’s. In it, wrestlers like Solar are photographed with their families: the luchadores are, of course, sporting their masks and some ridiculously swag suits, but their wives and kids are simply dressed in their Sunday best, positioned politely alongside their paterfamilias and his superhero physique.

As I’ve blathered on about endlessly, I’m a fan of wrestling in every one of its 31 flavors: as such, it occurred to me that doing a portrait with all of the family members sporting their masks was a fun wrinkle on this, and it gave me the opportunity to dust off my old “Nippon Sports Mooks” from the early 2000’s as a basis for coming up with custom mascara designs. The pictures in the background are custom versions of Grobet’s actual portraits, which I figured would be a cool homage to a truly unique artist.

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As of 11/1, the piece has sold: I couldn’t be happier, both in terms of the work that I put in for this year’s exhibition, as well as the fact that it brought in some well-deserved consignments for the hosts. Definitely a nice note on which to welcome the next seven months of winter malaise, up here the good ol’ PNW…

PWX: Confessions of a Lucha Mooch-ah

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Much like Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas,” I always held at least one distant dream dear when I was a wee lad: amidst these furtive, week-long obsessions with becoming a great three-point shooter, a mortician’s assistant, a children’s book illustrator and an actor were a few constants… following in my mother’s footsteps and becoming an opera singer, or parlaying my love of all things that went “va-va-vroom” into a career as a race car driver.

Likewise, I also—as long as I can remember—wanted to be a video game designer. One of my earliest recollections of discussing the more “serious” side of our bi-weekly trips to the video arcade with my old man was when I asked him outright how they got all of that stuff into a television screen. I’m sure his answer—which would have been shelved somewhere around 1984—was an educated guess about cathodes and computer coding, but it proves out a hindsight point about that lifetime obsession. Wherever I’ve gone and go, the grand-scape of gaming and my fascination with it continue to swagger along with the passing years in lockstep.

Of course, there’s also a minor point to add to this unedited daisy-chain of late-night thought (And one which I hope is moderately more interesting than another explanation as to why it’s been months since I’ve updated this sucker… that story lacks drama and nutritional value, if it’s any consolation), and it’s as follows: of all those haywire daydreams of mine, the only one that I really achieved did actually turn out to be the game design thing. In around 2002, a slippery slope of happenstance put me in touch with a guy named Dave Wishnowski, who had this insane notion of a homebrew pro wrestling game which would be released on the same basic tenets as an independent movie. In a pre-Steam, pre-wireless, pre-damn-near-everything-that-defines-contemporary-game-distribution-world, this cockamamie concept was as far-flung as it was far-sighted, and my involvement with the development gave me a chance to actually create an entire “diegetic” universe of pro wrestling characters from every corner of the globe. The satchel-full of memories that resulted—hazy afternoons in a stripped-down office space in Vancouver’s industrial quarter, piling around the show floor at e3 and holding meetings with publishers, doing “research” at low-fi independent wrestling card headlined by a then-unknown Bryan “The American Dragon” Danielsen—are some of my fondest recollections of what turned out to be a pretty otherwise-lost decade of twenty-something years… so when Dave asked me if I’d be interested in coming up with a few calacas as a “tier sweetener” for a Kickstarter initiative that he recently rolled out, I was only too happy to do a cannonball back into that particular swimming pool.

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(See? There was a point to all that nostalgic daisy-cutting!)

Now, if I recall correctly, El Tirador was the first character that I came up with for the game. I think I sketched him out during a math class at Citrus College, on nothing more than a random whim about a wrestler with a Crusader-cross motif (Something that Rey Mysterio Jr. would ironically wind up featuring heavily on his ring gear about three or four years later). I didn’t intend for the guy to become anything more than a filler spot on the roster, but the design really took off with our slavishly devoted fan base, and he wound up also being the first character to feature in the Pro Wrestling X demo that we took to e3 in 2004. It seemed only natural that he’d also be the go-to for the Kickstarter tier, with two stalwart dona-teers ponying up the extra cash for their very own desktop “Shooter.”

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After some contemplation, I decided that I didn’t want to mold the same figure twice. I spend so much time rankling artistic repetition on this very blog that it’d read like a son of a bitch to admit that I’d done exactly that thing for the sake of ease: instead, I decided to put together two separate “looks” for Tirador. The first, as seen in the pictures above, is his “classic” design: brighter red and yellow, “Crusader Mask” t-shirt, EMLL national lightweight title on his shoulder.

puro macho.

puro macho.

The second is pretty much how I think a modern “reimagining” of the same character would look: darker red, different accents on the mask, and the EMLL’s “Triples Tag” title brandished in a similar pose.

nu-wavo.

nu-wavo.

The t-shirt he’s got on features the character originally intended to be his tag team partner—“Aztlan”—and the old “LPI/Los Perros Infiernos” logo on the front. I do realize that the amount of weird, insider-style detail that I wound up pouring into each design is a bit odd (I mean, seriously: nobody other than the readers of this blog or those who have been following the game since Day 1.7 would understand what the hell that’s referring to), but… as mentioned above, it was just a great chance to step out of the day-to-day shoes of the working stiff and slide into the slippers of what was.

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And hey: we’re on the short road to October, again. Expect some life to be breathed into this spot, as the sun finally starts to shine over Seattle, and the annual show pieces start to come together. The shop’s tided up, I’ve got time to burn, and my fingers are itching to get crusty-coated with paperclay. Stay tuned.

Loteria Number Two: La Mascara (The Mask)

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As the dia de los destinos continues to get closer and closer—and I get my bags packed for my impending California foray—my thoughts have naturally been cranking into a winter-wise direction, particularly in terms of contemplating what the heck I’m going to do after November 1st in terms of calaca-related creations. The September-October window is really the bone harvest for anybody in this line of work, as the macabre trappings and pagany celebrations of the Halloween season give way to the warmth of Christmas in a truly rapid-fire fashion. One day, an ofrenda seems like a profound reminder of those we’ve lost, and a beautiful expression of chthonic artistic traditions: the following morning, that same altar suddenly looks jarringly creepy, back-dropped against cornucopia cut-outs and daisy-chains of colored lights.

Winter just isn’t kind to skeletons, be they crafted from clay or otherwise. It’s likely that mortality—even festive, joyous recognition of the fact that we’re all giving up the minutes until we become dust—is just too heavy to labor on when the entire natural world is becoming threadbare and covered in snow, which means that I usually wind up hanging up my tools until the thaw. To date, I have yet to sell a SINGLE calaca between the months of December and April: it’s a soft market for the online casual buyer to begin with, but things get real thin around this time of year.

Fortunately, there’s at least some silver scrim on the off-season, this time around: I recently had the opportunity to touch base with an old buddy from my four-year foray into independent game design—Mr. Dave Wish—and amidst the topics we wound up hashing on was the possibility of creating branded lucha calacas for the impending release of his long-gestating PC pro wrestling opus, Pro Wrestling X. The offer was a timely one, since I’d just wrapped up the finishing touches on this fine fellow:

 

UNA CHIASO!

Next to dia de los muertos and spaghetti western serapes, lucha libre is probably the most single, immediately-identifiable iconic symbol in Mexican culture. Even a person who doesn’t know Santo from Hurican Ramirez can immediately tell you what a luchadore mask looks like, and the fact that you’re bound to find at least a ripoff of a Rey Mysterio Jr. cowl at anywhere from your local temp-class Halloween costume shop to the booths at the Puyallup State Fair (Pravda!) says a lot about the degree to which that symbol has stretched itself across the American cultural landscape. The fact that your average wrestling fan only has a passing appreciation for what “la mascara” actually means to its native culture is an interesting proxy when it comes to calaveras: on a skin-deep level, there isn’t much difference between the workaday appreciation of, say, Psicosis’ old 90’s-era WCW mask and what most people think of a sugar skull. It’s exotic, it’s interesting, and it looks badass on a t-shirt… but to stop there doesn’t really give just how truly profound that aesthetic and cultural “coolness” really is.

Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of virtual ink spilled on the tradition of the lucha mask, so I’ll spare the sharing of my own watered-down Cliff’s Notes version of that summary: instead, I’ll just use this opportunity to comment on how the pursuit of authenticity is problematic when it comes to actually selling a piece like this, since—to the lay person, anyway—it comes off as being really damn confusing.

 

Uno… dos… tres… PALMADAS!

For a lucha aficionado, the  basic premise is fairly self-evident: with the mask of a conquered foe firmly in fist, El Payaso Gigante, here, enjoys a moment of violent victory. For some reason, I remember seeing tons of images in this vein when I was a kid, taken from such venerable Mexican wrestling venues as Arena Naucalpan (on postcards, even!): a pair of bloodied, barely-conscious man-hulks trying to rip the eyeholes out of each other’s sacred mascaras, with both fans and officials staring on in bloodthirsty amusement. In the traditional trenches of lucha libre, few things are more serious than a wrestler putting his mask up against another wrestler’s (The variations of this stipulation—hair versus hair, belt versus mask, and so forth—have similar gravitas, but nothing’s quite as potentially ruinous for a combatant’s career than the loss of their cowl, and the identity that it provides), and so—bingo, bango, bongo—we have the basis of the second in the loteria series.

 

Sustantivos, sustantivos, sustantivos.

La Mascara. Not a mask. The mask.

But, as noted above, something gets lost in translation, in terms of the depiction. People wonder why the guy’s got two masks; they don’t get why he’s missing a piece of his own. The iterative of “mascara” leads to assumptions that there’s eye makeup involved, which really shoots the works. Compared to the relative simplicity of this piece…

 

El Capitan.

… the efforts to really capture an essential aspect of something that I’ve loved the stuffing out of since I was a wee geek really works against it’s commercial appeal. The piece above, which was entitled Capitan Chiapas is—in hindsight, anyway—a less detailed and sophisticated piece of work (I had a hell of a time figuring out how to model a set of relatively anatomically-correct ribs, and getting them to stay put), with as generic a base as I’ve ever committed to a piece, but it sold—literally—within an hour of being put up on Etsy.

Ol’ EPG, on the other hand, has been sitting patiently at The Folk Tree for two weeks now, and was collecting dust on that same Etsy tip for at least a month and a half prior. It’s a classic case of how even the most seemingly infinitesimal differences in a basic premise can have a blunt-ended impact on a piece’s commercial prospects… but it also reminds me just how important it is to do what you want in this artistic arena, rather than trying to figure out what the heck people are actually going to be falling all over themselves to buy.

As the great Joel Hodgson once put it: “(We) never ask ourselves who’s going to get it… we always tell ourselves that the right people will get it.”

Words to live by; words to craft by.