Manning, Dirk, Tony Schiavone, and Friends. Butts in Seats: The Tony Schiavone Story. Source Point Press, 2021.
Review by Christopher J. Olson
With Butts in Seats, long-time professional wrestling commentator Tony Schiavone –with help from co-author Dirk Manning and several talented artists – provides a glimpse into his life both in and out of the ring, telling the story via Schiavone’s beloved medium of comic books. Schiavone drops kayfabe to pull back the curtain on the wild world of professional wrestling and show how it has changed over the course of his forty-plus-year career in the business (see Dru Jeffries’ article for more on how kayfabe operates in pro wrestling comics).
The book opens on Schiavone’s teenage years, when he first discovered professional wrestling as a sophomore in high school thanks to his Uncle John, who indulged his nephew’s burgeoning fandom. From there, readers follow as Schiavone graduates from college with a major in radio/TV/film, lands a gig as a minor league baseball announcer, and finally attains his dream job as an interviewer/commentator for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Along the way, Schiavone reveals how he met his wife and provides minor insight into the inner workings of the wrestling industry. He also offers a candid account of how the infamous “butts in seats” line, intended to denigrate Mick Foley (aka Mankind, aka Cactus Jack) winning the then-WWF title, affected him both personally and professionally.
Despite the book’s slim size, it covers a great deal of Schiavone’s life, from his discovery of the business to his eventual re-emergence as one of the voices (alongside Excalibur and Jim Ross) of All Elite Wrestling (AEW). It even includes bonus stories about pro-wrestling luminaries Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Chief Wahoo McDaniel, Sting, and Ric Flair. The folksy, conversational tone of the writing and the vibrant full-color artwork provided by multiple artists make Butts in Seats a fun, engaging read throughout its 148 pages.
While obviously focused on excerpts from Schiavone’s life and career, the book still offers valuable insight into the pro wrestling industry from the regional territory days (between the 1950s and the 1980s, small wrestling promotions dominated different parts of the United States) to the launch of AEW. In addition, Schiavone gives readers a peek behind-the-scenes of major national promotions like WCW and WWF (World Wrestling Federation, later renamed World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE). The stories are visualized via artwork that ranges from cartoonish to realistically detailed, though the different artists (such as Sally Scott and Josh Ross) all manage to expertly capture the larger-than life characters and over-the-top nature of the industry. Regardless of the style, the artwork remains clean and attractive, and the panels are laid out clearly making the story easy to follow. Publisher Source Point Press did a fine job with this title, which will primarily appeal to longtime wrestling and comic fans but should also be of interest to both wrestling scholars writing about the industry and non-fans who enjoy fascinating biographies.
Butts in Seats also shines a light on the convergent nature of professional wrestling. As conceptualized by media theorist Henry Jenkins, convergence refers to the process by which distinct technologies and/or media platforms share tasks and resources. As Jenkins and others (including PWSA founder, Dr. CarrieLynn D. Reinhard) have noted, professional wrestling, both the in-ring performances and the technical aspects of the televised event, is a highly convergent industry that intersects with everything from movies to comic books to video games. Butts in Seats highlights the intertextual overlaps between professional wrestling and comic books. While the two media have collided in the past, with WCW and WWE teaming with comic book publishers to varying degrees of success, it is only recently that comics have begun to explore the gritty reality of the business (see, for example, Michael Kingston’s Headlocked series). Professional wrestling, meanwhile, has increasingly tapped into superhero iconography, as evidenced by characters like the Hurricane, Rosey the Super Hero in Training, and Nikki A.S.H., as well as the various hero poses struck by the likes of Ricochet and Will Ospreay during high-flying matches. Indeed, professional wrestling often feels like a live action comic book in that it features larger-than-life characters wearing spandex and engaging in spectacular battles between good and evil. CHIKARA is perhaps the most obvious example of how wrestling converges with comic books, but Butts in Seats reveals that the professional wrestling industry itself, with its over-the-top characters (both in the ring and behind the scenes) and wild situations, is perfectly suited to the medium. More importantly, perhaps, it is just a cracking good read.