BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Le Tigre used to be one of the legendary Luchadores from the '70s masked wrestling circuit. But, that was over 30 years ago and now, he's just another wino walking around in Spanish Harlem. No one really pays much attention to the masked man, he's beneath their notice, but he isn't down for the count ... yet. Charles Soule and Allen Gladfelter are collaborating on Strongman, the original March debuting graphic novel from Slave Labor Graphics. Gladfelter stepped out of the ring, to give us a few details on drawing this tale.

THE PULSE: When I hear "Strongman" for some reason I think of those circus guys in the onesies lifting intense looking weights as if they were balloons ... just who is your Strongman?

ALLEN GLADFELTER:
STRONGMAN! Is Le Tigre, a legendary luchadore from the heady days of 1970ís era Mexican masked wrestling. These days heís been slumming around Spanish Harlem and nursing a drinking habit, but back in the day he was one of the greats. Santo, Mil Mascara, El Tigre.

THE PULSE: How did you get involved in brining his adventures to life in this Slave Labor graphic novel?


GLADFELTER:
Well, Charles and I started working on it about two and a half years ago. I believe I responded to an ad on Digital Webbing, he told me the story, and I drew a pile of sketches of a very sad wrestler moping around New York. He liked that I was trying to get a sense of mood in my sketches and badda-bing! I got the job! I drew ten pages and he shopped them around to find a publisher. While we waited, we did an unrelated short story together to help us get used to each other. Then, when Slave Labor expressed interest, we were off to the races.


THE PULSE: There's a movie out now, The Wrestler, that's met with a lot of critical acclaim. People hearing your Strongman is about a wrestler might think they are similar. But that's not the case right?

GLADFELTER:
To tell the truth, I havenít seen THE WRESTLER. It sounds like a nifty movie, though. You know, when we started working on STRONGMAN!, NACHO LIBRE with Jack Black had just come out, and we were afraid of being compared to that. Funny how things work out. So I donít think thereís much to compare between THE WRESTLER or NACHO LIBRE and STRONGMAN!. I believe STRONGMAN! has something more fantastic at the center of it, itís more unabashedly pulp. Le Tigreís past haunts him, he doesnít dwell on his glories, he dwells on his failure, and the harm that has befallen his friends. This haunts him, it paralyses him to inaction. This is why he has retreated to New York, there he can be anonymous. Nobody will pay any attention to a fat old drunk in a dirty wrestling mask in New York.


THE PULSE: Why does he continue to wear the mask? If he wanted to just blend in society, wouldn't maskless be easier?


GLADFELTER:
Thatís a good question. I spent a year drawing this character and wondering about that. Why doesnít he just take his mask off if he wants to disappear? I believe that it has something to do with his sense of who he is. He is Tigre; that is all he has left of his sense of self and in that way he still needs it. Without it, he really is NOTHING. I also think itís a reflection of his state of mind, heís kind of ruined and he has been for a very long time. The mask is something that he has that he hangs on to; it sets him apart, and reminds him of who he is. Identity is a funny thing and it can get tangled up with depression and an overwhelming sense of failure.

THE PULSE: So what happened to make him such a failure?

GLADFELTER:
Well, that's a pretty important part of the story ... I don't know if I should spill the beans. Something really, really bad happened that shook him to the core.

THE PULSE: Fair enough! I don't want you to spoil things. You told me you went to Mexico for research, what was that like?

GLADFELTER:
AWESOME! I only got to spend a day there, but I was so impressed with the people and what little I saw of the culture that I could easily go again and just drink it all up! I went to take in a Lucha Libre event. It was in a municipal auditorium that to my American eyes was so fantastic and colorful and vivid. I watched the Luchadores arrive wearing their masks, and I saw the kids mouths agape in awe of their heroes; the auditorium was loud, crowded and lacked air conditioning; the beer was cheap and plentiful and you just sweated it right out. The wrestlers are larger than life figures acting out a drama, and the crowd participates in the battle of good versus evil that is taking place before them. And yes, they make fun of Americans, but they do so without malice. Everybody there was nice to me and we were all there to have a good time. I could go on and on, but in general I felt a kind of sensory overload to the experience. The heat, the noise, the spectacle; itís a whole lot of fun.


THE PULSE: How important was it for you to be authentic as you illustrated this?

GLADFELTER:
Well, Charles brought me on this project because he wanted me to pay attention to the mood of the character and his story. Tigre is a larger than life figure walking through our work a day world. I felt that I needed to get the sense of place right so that the contrast posed by a figure like Tigre would be as stark as possible. See, at the beginning of the story, he really CAN blend into his surroundings pretty well, but as the story progresses, he starts to stand at his full height, and he starts to stand out more and more. This basic change is key to understanding the arc of the character. Most of this story takes place in New York City. Well, I had never been to New York and I didnít think I could get away with faking it. When he is walking around the streets, I wanted to give the readers that visceral sense of recognition that will convince them that this is really happening. I think getting the environment right goes a long way toward helping the readers suspend their disbelief.


THE PULSE: What influenced you the most as you decided how to bring this story to life and its look and feel?

GLADFELTER:
I gotta say that the most important influence I applied to drawing STRONGMAN! was the travel I undertook to explore the places we see in the book. I had two great life experiences visiting Mexico and New York, and I wanted to throw those experiences into the book to the fullest extent of my ability. As I went, there were several artists who were supportive in helping me settle into the style I that I have. In particular, Steve Buccellatto and Don Hudson were very kind and generous with their advice and input. I would frequently show them my work and they were very good about offering constructive criticism.


THE PULSE: Whom, if anyone, did you base the look of your characters on? Did you base them on any real people?


GLADFELTER:
I have a pretty cooperative circle of friends here in Boise to whom I can turn in times of need. Many of the characters are based on them. Other characters are based on famous people, I'll search the internet for reference photos or I'll do some screen grabs from movies. Also, you know, when I really get rolling with the drawing, I just draw, you know? I sit at my table and draw the characters as best as I can. I use whatever reference I've managed to collect, and then set it aside and just try to draw a good, clean picture.


THE PULSE: What was it like collaborating with Charles Soule on this project?

GLADFELTER:
Charles is a writer who comes to the task with a pretty clear idea of what he wants. Heís thought out not just the plot and the character, but also the PACING. He pays attention to the pages and how each one pile son top of the one before it. Also, I was happy to find that heís not unduly rigid. From time to time he would write something that I did not believe would work for one reason or another. He was always willing to move things around IF I made the reasons for my opinion clear. I couldnít just say ďI donít like this, I want to change it,Ē that would never fly, but if I could lay out my case like a lawyer, then he would as often as not see my point. Sometimes he would disagree with me, but it was never because he wasnít listening. So heís thoughtful, reasonable, flexible,.. I believe he likes puppies and small children and I have seen a photo of him helping a little old lady cross the street. Thatís just the kind of guy he is! Seriously, I would GLADLY work with him again.


THE PULSE: About how long did it take you to draw this GN and what were you doing as a day job while drawing this project?

GLADFELTER:
It took about a year and a half. Drawing it was my primary job. I would pick up assorted illustration and storyboarding gigs as I went, just enough to pay the bills. Toward the end of the project, I enrolled at Boise State University to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration degree. I already have a Bachelor of Science in Art Education and I'm working my way toward earning an MFA sometime down the road. I'm a full time illustrator and art student.

THE PULSE: Where else has your art appeared?

GLADFELTER:
My first published work was drawing a feature in Steve Buccellatto's COMICULTURE ANTHOLOGY called THE LOST TRIBE, written by Ben Raab. I was the editorial cartoonist of the Idaho Press Tribune from 2004 until 2007. From 2005 to 2006, I worked on an alt-weekly format strip in the Boise Weekly called INTREPID EVENTS. We're publishing a collection of those stories later this year. More recently, I have been providing covers for Boom! Studios' PIXAR CARS comics.


Heh, ten years slogging away, and that's it?


THE PULSE: That sounds like fun, working on Cars! How'd you land that gig?

GLADFELTER:
CARS is GREAT! Itís my favorite Pixar movie! That they came to me as asked me if Iíd like to draw it, well, thatís just about the coolest thing ever! Mark Cooper, my frequent and long time collaborator, and I had put together a collection of our Intrepid Events cartoons and were peddling them at the Emerald City Comic Con. Ross Ritchie came by and liked our work and handed it to their Pixar editor who asked us if weíd be interested in doing some sample pages for CARS. OF COURSE! We did the pages, they went up the grape vine and back down again and BADDA BING! They asked me if I would draw and color the covers for the first four issues! Isnít it funny how things work like that? Goes to show that the way to break in is to do your thing and let people take notice.


THE PULSE: How is working on a cover different than handling the interior art?

GLADFELTER:
It's just one picture and it's in color.



THE PULSE: Well, yeah, but the cover can sell the book. You have to have that image to catch the attention and don't you have to have covers approved by editors?

GLADFELTER:
All that is true. But the way I look at it is that if the interiors suck, nobody will buy the book either. And, yes, cover thumbnails and roughs for the covers have to be approved, but so do interior thumbnails and roughs. I just donít feel like thereís a big difference between covers and interiors, except that I get to spend a little more time on the covers than I would on an interior page.

Itís ALL got to be awesome!




Strongman! Is due in stores this March. PULSE readers can see some promo live action videos of the series here:
http://www.youtube.com/user/cdsoule






Strongman from writer Charles Soule and artist Allen Gladfelter is due in stores this March from Slave Labor Graphics.