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All illustrations by Xavier Garza “is as real as you want to get.” Pop culture of all kinds has meaning for Garza, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and could be across the border in an instant. From the old-school romantic music of Mexican film stars like Pedro Infante to Adam West’s “Pow!” and “Wham!” in the 1960s television hit Batman, Garza absorbed it all as inspiration his art. The following are excerpts from a recent interview with Garza: Texas Observer: Your illustrations aren’t typical children’s book illustrations. this bigger-than-life persona. The beauty of it is after the show is over, they can go to the dressing room, they can remove the mask, put on everyday street clothes, and they walk out and they blend with everybody else. That’s part of the allure, the mystery of lucha libre. It’s the closest thing you can come to having, I guess, the American counterpart of a Superman standing in front of you in real life. TO: You’ve been working on the paintings for a long time, right? XG: I started painting wrestling around 1996. I’ve known that I wanted to be an artist since I was 16 or 17 years old and started actively pursuing it since I was 18. I wasn’t sure what direction it was going to go, but I knew that I was going to be an artist in one way or another. I loved painting, I loved to draw, and I’ve always loved storytelling and I’ve always had a love for reading. I’m very glad the way that it all just kind of combined into one. I grew up in Rio Grande City, which is literally a stone’s throw away from Mexico. Mexico was right there. Growing up, I didn’t realize what I was Xavier Garza: I’m a painter first and foremost. I always loved to read. One day I started writing little short stories. Lucha Libre was originally “Santo, Santo, Santo,” which basically dealt with a boy’s first encounter with lucha libre. And then the story developed. When it came time to do the book, I asked if it would be possible for me to do my own illustrations. They weren’t traditional children’s book illustrations because I didn’t approach it as a children’s book, but as doing these different paintings, the way I’ve always painted. The colors are brushed on hard, putting a lot of accent on the eyes, even exaggerating the eyes on a lot of these characters. I grew up with all this. When I was working on the story, a lot of it was reliving my own childhood, basically. I would go see lucha libre and I remember the first time that I saw it. When you’re a child, it’s a playthe oldest play in the worldgood versus evil. Evil is winning and then somehow good will triumph in the end. As an adult, I see lucha libre as being a little bit more than just a show. To me it’s a poor man’s theater, “el teatro de los pobres.” It comes complete with protagonists and antagonists, and they work from a script. Perhaps the biggest tie to theater is the fact that they wear the costumes. While they wear this mask, this costume, they become bigger than life. They’re no longer someone named Alejandro Lopez or Horacio Baldera. They become Chicano Power, they become the Red Devil. They become DECEMBER 16, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25