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Lucha Libre

San Antonio Current

ˇMucha lucha!
Xavier Garza illustrates the chaotic joy of Mexican pro wrestling

As a child growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, Xavier Garza remembers being mesmerized by reruns of now-classic El Santo movies. Religiously, he followed the exploits and adventures of the legendary silver-masked Mexican wrestler, whose battles against monsters, mummies, and mysterious mujeres scarcely compared to the dramatic confrontations ringside. Still, nothing he had seen on TV prepared him for experiencing lucha libre in person while visiting cousins in Monterrey, Mexico.

As an adult writer and illustrator, Garza conveys that rush of awe and excitement through Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask, his loving homage to the sense of wonderment and surprise he first felt upon encountering his idols.

Garza calls lucha libre "el teatro de los pobres," the poor-people's theater. In the spirit of Brechtian theater, wrestlers, as skilled, trained, professional athletes, rehearse choreographed acrobatic tricks and interact with the passionate, boisterous audience while playing scripted roles neatly divided into good and bad. (By themselves, Garza injects, "it's just grown men in costumes," but with spectators "it's a show.") Furthermore, by wearing the mask "they become the living embodiment of cultural stereotypes," or social anxieties, he says, larger-than-life characters that "play on all our fears and hopes."

Xavier Garza's bilingual story, Lucha Libre, features 38 full-color illustrations. In Lucha Libre, Garza sets the action in Mexico City's massive Arena Coliseo. Inside, television crews broadcast twice-weekly matches nationwide, while outside vendors sell T-shirts and masks emblazoned with the likenesses of famous and favorite wrestlers. Young Carlitos and his father, Papá Lupe, have come to cheer on as The Man in The Silver Mask - a not-so-subtle reference to El Santo - joins El Toro Grande, the Mighty Bull, and El Gallo Enmascarado, so named because he has "the fighting heart of a rooster." This trio of heroic técnicos faces off against the villainous rudos El Cucuy, El Vampiro, and El Cavernicola, a Captain Caveman gone bad. The rudos, as expected, try anything to win but despite their dirty tricks they're no match for the spirited técnicos. Pow! Pow! Pow! In the world of lucha libre - unlike real life - at the end of the rounds the just always prevail.

Without resorting to the kitsch or comedy that plagues so many other pop portrayals of these masked men, Garza's hyper-exaggerated, vibrant illustrations - similar to the series of paintings he's shown at Gallista and other galleries throughout South Texas - spring to life from the book's pages and convey an aura of reverence and awe befitting his young protagonist. Carlitos has a blast and, chances are, you will, too. It's the next best thing to having front-row seats for the Friday-night match.

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