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Professional wrestlers are telling their stories through comic books

A page from a comic book on wrestler Lanny Poffo. It is authored by Palm Harbor's John Crowther. (Courtesy of John Crowther)
Published May 24, 2018

Due to its salacious scripted story lines mixed with choreographed violence, professional wrestling is often referred to as a kind of soap opera.

But Palm Harbor's John Crowther sees it differently. Professional wrestling, he said, is a comic book story played out on TV.

"When you think of a superhero, it's someone who puts on a costume, is bigger than life and can fly," Crowther, 46, said. "That describes wrestlers. They can even fly — from the top rope."

Crowther is now further merging the two through his Squared Circle Comics, colorful comic books he writes that tell the authorized biographies of those who portrayed some of professional wrestling's iconic characters. Some of the wrestlers even hail from Tampa Bay.

Comic Nikolai, for instance, tells the tale of how Josip Nikolai Peruzovic defected from Communist Yugoslavia and later became the Russian wrestler Nikolai Volkoff.

A book he is currently writing on the recently deceased Bruno Sammartino includes how, during World War II, as a young boy, the future heavyweight champion hid from the Nazis by living in a tent village in the mountains of Italy.

In the case of Clearwater's Lanny Poffo, known as "Leaping Lanny" and "The Genius," his time spent feuding with Hulk Hogan is the culmination of the tale.

"It's like the USA Today version of my story," said Poffo, 63, whose book mentions his late brother, Randy Poffo, also known as Randy "Macho Man" Savage. "It's a synopsis. And the comics are fun."

Poffo's story took one book. Tampa's Brian Blair's story will take three. The first has already been released.

"As a kid, I used to get on my knees and pray to become Superman," said Blair, 59, best known in the wrestling industry as "B. Brian Blair" and one half of the Killer Bees tag team. Blair went on to become a Hillsborough County commissioner.

"I never had an S on my chest or could leap tall buildings, but I was able to leap over a 6'3 man while wearing tights and survive having a 350-pound man jump on my chest," he said. "And now, like Superman, I have a comic."

Comics on four wrestlers — Volkoff, Poffo, Blair and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan — are currently available at inversepress.com.

And besides the pending book on Sammartino, Crowther is also working on stories about World Wrestling Entertainment's Hall of Famers Rocky Johnson, who fans may know as the father of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and the Rock 'n' Roll Express tag team, among others.

"We are booked through 2020," Crowther said.

Like those grapplers he chronicles, Crowther also has an alter ego. By night, he's a comic book writer. But by day, he's a lawyer who was once deputy court council for Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Hillsborough County and today specializes in real estate and probate law.

It's a combo career he said he should have seen coming.

As a kid growing up in Orange City, he would purchase comic books at the local drugstore and then read them at his dad's law office before heading home to watch professional wrestling.

Still, it wasn't until a few years ago that Crowther decided to delve into comic writing. He came up with the story of superhero Rochelle: The Teen Cockroach, a teenage girl with that bug's DNA, and took a chance by mailing the idea to Dell Barras, a comic illustrator whose credits include Batman and Superman.

Barras agreed to work with Crowther, and Rochelle was picked up by AC Comics in 2015 before later signing with the larger Antarctic Press.

Through a friend, Crowther met Peruzovic, who portrays grappler Volkoff and who was interested in turning his life story into a comic.

Once it was published by Inverse Press, other wrestlers took notice and the Squared Circle Comics brand grew.

"These guys are superheroes," Crowther said. "And like comics, if you can suspend reality while you watch wrestling, there are few things more entertaining."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com.
Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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