Q&A with Chad Dundas: Writer of BOOM!'s Undertaker graphic novel talks all things Deadman

BOOM! Studios has been cranking out some awesome WWE books in the past year or so and that train will keep on running when its hotly-anticipated “WWE: The Undertaker” graphic novel hits stores in October.

The graphic novel will be manned by writer, novelist, journalist and combat sports expert Chad Dundas, and artist Rodrigo Lorenzo from the company’s existing WWE series. BOOM! says the graphic novel will run through the historic career of The Undertaker, and will even touch on “new revelations and surprises about some of the most pivotal moments” in his time with WWE.

Dundas is an author with Putnam Books, lead MMA writer for Bleacher Report and co-host of the Co-Main Event podcast.

Dundas, the writer of the novel, was kind enough to answer some questions from The Court of Nerds touching on questions about the book itself, his personal fandom and what he was allowed to do with this project.

The first question that comes to mind as a wrestling fan, is how much access you were given to the WWE and/or Undertaker in coming up with ideas for this? How much input did they have, was there any communication with Undertaker?

My contract is with BOOM! Studios, who have a deal to produce comic book content for WWE, so I didn’t have any direct contact with anybody at WWE. Of course, WWE gets final approval over the scripts and what ultimately ends up in the book, but I didn’t have any direct access to anyone there or to Undertaker. That’s probably for the best, so I could maintain some semblance of cool and not fanboy out too hard in front of Mark Calaway.

Were you given any no-go topics or things of that nature ahead of time?

No, none at all. There are some rights issues, of course. For example, WWE doesn’t own the likeness rights to Hulk Hogan so we couldn’t put him in the book. But for the most part I had the freedom to write what I wanted.

Being a sports journalist and wrestling fan, how did you land this gig? Not only continuing WWE and BOOM!'s awesome work in the past year or so, but locking down a dream character that will organically draw a diverse, massive following?

I met BOOM! editor Chris Rosa through my MMA podcast, The Co-Main Event. We exchanged some emails and I expressed an interest in working on some WWE projects for BOOM. The only downside was that between having a family, working as an MMA writer for Bleacher Report, recording the podcast and doing fiction projects on the side, my time was pretty limited. So, Chris and I had been going back and forth trying to find a project that seemed like a good fit for me and one that I could work into my schedule. When the Undertaker book came up, I jumped at it, because Undertaker has been my favorite wrestler since I was a kid. The idea of getting to contribute to that character’s story in some way, however small, was too enticing to pass up. You could say it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

With Undertaker being a character that has changed and evolved so much over the years, is there a certain era of ‘Taker you're going to hone in on or is this going to be a tale exploring his entire career?

The book is a career retrospective, so it includes every incarnation of Undertaker from his original “western mortician” persona all the way up through today. Actually, it’s more than that since it begins with Undertaker as child and attempts to show some of the formative events in his early life.

Being a journalist myself in my actual full-time job, how much of a challenge is switching over from that realm to this one? To me, as an avid reader of comics, as well, the writing styles are vastly different but I feel like the prep work could be considered similar in the sense of studying tape and taking notes and all of that.

As a freelancer, I’m pretty used to keeping a lot of plates spinning at once. I don’t know too many writers or artists in today’s market who have the luxury of doing only one thing. So, for me, it’s not unusual to have week where I write both fiction and journalism and also do some script work and record a podcast. In some ways, I think good writing is good writing, no matter what the format.

You’re right, though, that the one constant is probably the research. I went back and watched a lot of old Undertake footage for this project. It’s amazing how doing the research can open up new creative avenues. When I got to places where I felt stuck or had some minor writers block, going back to watch footage would usually jar loose a few new ideas.

Even from your "Champion of the World" novel to this BOOM! graphic novel, feels like such a different form. How do you bounce back and forth from combat sports news reporting, book writing and graphic novel writing?

Well, this was the first time I’ve ever tried to write a comic book. Half the battle was getting comfortable with the format. I read some sample scripts to try to familiarize myself with the medium and the idea of writing from panel to panel. Honestly, once I got used to it, the writing went pretty quickly. I was lucky to have a bunch of pros at BOOM! holding my hand and giving me pointers.  

As for your background in wrestling, I'm just curious when you started watching, what moment locked you into this industry and the characters that had the biggest impact on you?

I was lucky enough to grow up during the two modern golden ages of professional wrestling in America: First, as a young kid in the ’80s during the “Rock n’ Wrestling” period and then later during the “Attitude Era” of the 90s. I did the whole ’80s experience of renting VHS tapes like “Most Unusual Matches” and stuff like that as a kid and later dumped a lot of money into pay-per-view with my buddies in the ’90s. My first favorite wrestler early on was Junkyard Dog, but after Undertaker debuted at Survivor Series in 1990--when I was 12—he was my guy.

I loved your tweet announcing the gig, and just wanted to ask the boilerplate question of, how much does this mean to you, not only as a writer but as a wrestling fan?

It’s very exciting. It’s also a little bit intimidating. As a lifelong wrestling fan, you don’t want to screw it up. So far, though, it’s been a terrific experience. I’m proud of the work we did and I think the book is going to look great when it comes out on October 31.

Do you have a personal favorite incarnation of the Undertaker? How about favorite matches of the Deadman's?

I’m kind of a sucker for the original Undertaker look, to be honest. As I said, I went back to watch a lot of old footage in preparation to writing this book. I was surprised how striking a lot of the early Undertaker stuff remains. Just vastly different in tone and presentation than almost anything in wrestling—certainly in WWE/F—at the time. Some of the stuff, like the famous vignette where he locks Ultimate Warrior in the casket, for example—is borderline legitimately scary. I think it resonated with me as a young kid because it was so different and I still feel that today. Plus, I have the nostalgic attachment to those early days. It’s a great compliment to Calaway’s ability to bring the character to life. If they’d had the wrong person cast in the roll, it could have been a disaster. Luckily, they had exactly the right guy and that’s a big reason why we’re still talking about the character almost 30 years later.