Jon Towers was in the Army when he created comics character Jonny Axx, a hell-raiser loosely based on himself. After graduating from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Towers then became Johnny Axx, at least part time, as a professional wrestler. Now Jonny Axx is back in ink, as the anti-hero of The Heart of Abracax (www.jonnyaxx.com), the new self-published graphic novel about angels, demons, pain, hate and misery, written and drawn by the 30-year-old office worker who, on the side, works security at Heinz Field.
What did you do in the Army?
I was a combat engineer, attached to a mechanized unit. We drove around in these little tanks, and then jumped out and ran through mine fields with backpacks full of C4 and let people shoot at us and things like that.
How did you start wrestling?
I got into it real heavy watching it on TV with some of my college buddies. We'd come over to my apartment, trash it wrestling and drinking all over the place.
A high school friend of mine had just started a wrestling promotion. I worked a deal with him where I was going to do some letterheads and logos, and they were going to train me how to wrestle. It's just like you see on TV, not like backyard, I have to stress that. The biggest crowd I ever worked in front of was 600 people.
What was your most memorable bout?
My best friend is a 6-foot-9, 325-pound guy. He's in my book, he's "the Dream-maker." He knew it was my last match. We were on last and we brought in all this barbed wire and thumb tacks and stuff and we just basically -- we went on the philosophy, "If you can't beat the hell out of your best friend, who can you beat up?"
Any connection between wrestling and your artwork?
The one thing that surprised me that I got to learn wrestling was how to tell a story. We call it wrestling psychology, but it's a story arc. I tried to design a guy who is physically vulnerable and psychologically vulnerable. He's like way under what anybody just walking the street would be.
The way my book is structured, there's a lot of action in the first [part] and the last [part]. You go in, you've got this bad guy who's rough around the edges into a situation. You try to make him sympathetic, and the easiest way to do that is just watch him get the crap beat out of him. You introduce someone that's a lot more powerful than him, or skilled. No one wants to see this crappy, down-on-his-luck guy get his ass kicked around. Eventually you want to see him win. In wrestling it's called a "hope spot": Right where you think the good guy is gonna pull it out, and then -- he just gets bashed down again.
I would try to hold the payoff for as long as I could. It's just like in wrestling: You milk it for as much as you can, then when you can't do it anymore, you pay off.
When I first started the book, it was just going to be a comic book about my wrestling character. And then the more scabs I peeled off to write the book, the more it became something a little bit deeper than that, I think at least for me.
What inspired the Heart of Abracax story?
A lot of it is actually personal metaphor. I've had some villains in my childhood. When you're a victim of something like that, it leaves dark scars on you. Sometimes it takes some kind of crazy miracle underneath to absolve yourself of it or just realize that stuff happens, man, and you've just got to be happy with who you are and try to make that into a positive.
Abracax includes both references to Gnosticism and visuals from the Jewish cabbala.
A lot of people are just like, "Man, I don't even know what the hell that is." But that's cool. I think there's something artistic in not being understood.
There's female nudity, too. It seemed gratuitous.
Yeah, it was pretty gratuitous.
There's some creepy stuff in here. Is any of it from nightmares?
I'm not a dreamer. When I dream it tends to be really really boring. It's like, "I forgot my locker combination in high school," stuff like that. You walk up the impossibly steep set of stairs. It's completely horrific to me, but to everybody else: "You forgot your locker combination? Big deal."