Comic books and professional wrestling have much in common, and now those worlds come together with a wrestling comic book anthology written by some of the wrestling industry's biggest stars.
Headlocked: Tales from the Road picks up on the long-running independent comic book series Headlocked by Michael Kingston and Michel Mulipola, which follows the fictional life of a pro wrestler through a long and painful journey in the industry. With Tales from the Road, Kingston and Mulipola welcome in pro wrestlers and other comic creators who were fans to tell their own stories in this world.
The wrestlers writing in this anthology include the Young Bucks, Dolph Ziggler, Samoa Joe, Mustafa Ali, Hurricane Helms, Christian, MVP, and Rob Van Dam.
On the art side, Mulipola is joined by Ed McGuinness, Jill Thompson, Josh Adams, Mark Poulton, and even wrestler/announcer/artist Jerry "The King" Lawler.
Headlocked: Tales from the Road is currently taking pre-orders on Kickstarter (opens in new tab) after surpassing its goal in just days, and we caught up with Kingston - who acts as writer and project manager of all this - about the anthology, combining the two entertainment mediums, and how he got all these wrestlers on the same page.
Nrama: Mike, what does wrestling mean to you not only as a fan but somebody who creates something like Headlocked?
Michael Kingston: Wrestling, to me, is one of the few uniquely American art forms. When it hits the right way, there's nothing more powerful. We all know its not an athletic competition but we all still find ourselves sucked into the drama. Much like comics, I think we're just scratching the surface on what can be done with the medium and over the past few years with shows like Lucha Underground and the recent crop of cinematic matches, it does feel like people are finally open to expanding their idea of what wrestling can be.
My goal with creating Headlocked was always to showcase the craft of wrestling because I think for a long time people were so reflexively dismissive of it and you had these performers literally risking their bodies to bring you their art. And I really just wanted to make a cool wrestling comic... never in a million years did I think I would ever befriend and collaborate with so many of my heroes growing up.
And to be fair, Headlocked would never have grown to the levels it has without them. So as a kid, they were my heroes growing up and as it turns out, they ended up being my real-life heroes as well.
Nrama: Wrestling is in the same boat as a lot of sports and for the most part, not holding events. What do you miss about going to live events?
Kingston: To me, wrestling is the sports equivalent of jazz... at its best, its at least slightly improvisational and always before a live crowd. There's no denying that its presentation loses something watching it on television in an empty arena. The art form was literally built around manipulating crowd reactions and the connection between the performers and the fans is what makes wrestling what it is...so creatively it's been difficult. Although, admittedly, the situation has birthed the concept of cinematic matches and that has pushed wrestling artistically in new directions, which has been a nice surprise.(opens in new tab)
Personally, I miss seeing my wrestling friends and from a business standpoint, it's definitely hurt not being able to set up a table at independent events, since that's also a big part of my business model.
Nrama: So Mike, how are you holding up with the COVID pandemic?
Kingston: I live in Upstate New York so it hasn't been too bad. I have a regular job that's considered essential, so I never stopped working. The absence of conventions has been tough though. By the most conservative estimates, I'd say it has cost me 5 figures in revenue. Thankfully, I've been able to stay busy creatively. There's always work to do on Headlocked, I picked up a few writing gigs, and I co-wrote my first movie script...so life is very different but somehow no less busy.
Nrama: Headlocked: Tales from the Road has several stories, some of which have been seen before. Can you tell us about the new stuff?
Kingston: In addition to a couple Kickstarter reprints, we've collected some stories we produced for a couple of crate-type services that a lot of folks haven't seen yet.
In addition to that, we have a Troma-inspired story by Nick Nemeth, better known as WWE's Dolph Ziggler, and AEW's Joey Janela. We have a few more names in the chamber, so to speak, for stretch goals. We also have a pin-up gallery featuring Ed McGuinness, Jill Thompson, Lauren Moran, and we're working on adding some independent wrestlers that have some art skills, so stay tuned for that.
Nrama: So what sort of incentives can fans look forward to with this campaign?
Kingston: Aside from the book, we also make available the Kickstarter variants from previous campaigns... they contain 30-40 extra pages of bonus content and we don't sell them at any other time.
For this campaign, we are doing a limited variant cover by Headlocked artist, Michel Mulipola, that is inspired by the Cannonball Run movie poster. Jerry "The King" Lawler will also be doing one of his iconic Norman Rockwell-inspired covers and, of course, there's a tier where you can get it signed by the King.
We have tiers where we use your facial likeness to turn you into a wrestler that exists in the Headlocked universe...but for this campaign, that will be carried out by Ed McGuinness, Jill Thompson, and Lauren Moran. We have tons of autographed books and convention prints. And for the first time ever, we've made our stock of limited edition convention prints available in a Kickstarter which covers everything from Harley Quinn-inspired Alexa Bliss to a Kenny Omega riff on a Jack Kirby Thor cover to a Grindhouse Steiner Math poster. There's a little something for everyone.
Nrama: You just added a new stretch goal with four wrestlers basically creating their own wrestlers. Who did you get for this?
Kingston: I'm always on the lookout for wrestlers with art skills to collaborate with and I've met a bunch...but for the most part, they haven't traditionally done much with their talents. Outside of Jerry Lawler, Bret Hart, and Dexter Lumis, I don't think wrestlers ever really had reason to apply themselves artistically because it wasn't easy to monetize in wrestling. But with social media and merch sites being so prevalent now, this upcoming generation of wrestlers I think are the first to really nurture their artistic gifts.
So I wanted to connect with some creative cats from this new generation and see what kind of stuff we could dream up. So I reached out to Danhausen, Lee Moriarty, Sloan, and Treehouse Lee and we're going to create some new wrestlers for Headlocked and introduce them into the universe through pinups in Tales From The Road. They'll design them and we'll figure out a backstory and where in the universe to place them...and then down the road, you can bet we'll see them again.
Nrama: Do you feel like you're at the point in your career where wrestlers are approaching you to get on board with Headlocked or are there still some you have to chase down?
Kingston: It varies. Almost anyone who is into comics has heard of Headlocked and will find me and a lot of guys will reach out to me that are on the convention circuit because we have the only wrestling-related booth at most of the bigger conventions...but I still have to chase some folks down, for sure.
When I started, there weren't a lot of people making wrestling content outside of WWE but over the past couple of years, we've seen the explosion of wrestling shows, streaming services, and content makers...so it's definitely a more crowded marketplace than ever before. It never stops being a grind.
But thankfully, there are so many folks that are very well-respected in the business that like and will vouch for me/Headlocked, that it usually doesn't take more than one text to set up a phone call or a connection.
Nrama: We recently lost wrestler/actor Shad Gaspard over the summer and he was dabbling in comics writing, what do you remember about him?
Kingston: Shad was the best, man. He could kill you with his bare hands but never made anyone feel uncomfortable. He was always laughing and smiling...it was impossible to be in a bad mood around him. After he passed, social media was lit up with stories from guys in the business about how Shad had helped them. He was as close as you could get to a real-life superhero. I mean, we did a signing in Fort Lauderdale a few years back and afterward, he literally took down an armed gunman that was robbing a gas station.
His death hit a lot of us really hard. Shad and I were working on a Headlocked story together and he had literally given me the final edits four days before he passed. We had been friends for years, and I'm so grateful we actually got to work on something together. No one who knew him will ever forget him.
Nrama: Headlocked itself has been going on for almost a decade, what's been the biggest personal change for you as a creator in that time?
Kingston: My time attempting to break into comics was a frustrating one...as it is with most people, I'm sure. I spent a lot of time chasing publishing and writing gigs and all that. And even after we produced the first two volumes, I was still looking for a publisher to pick it up.
I eventually came to the realization that I didn't need anyone else to do this...that I could just keep making it myself. It was going to require a lot of grinding and not a lot of sleep but at the end of the day, I'm much happier making the books I want to make and I think the series is stronger for it. We've probably produced somewhere close to 1000 pages of original content and collaborated with close to 40 wrestlers....how many wrestling-based comics have done that?
Nrama: Do you see Headlocked wrapping up anytime soon or is it something that will go on and on like the stories in wrestling themselves?
Kingston: There are so many places I can take Headlocked. The wrestling subculture is so rich...I could explore it forever and never run out of ideas. My plan is to keep doing it as long as it's fun...and right now, creatively, it's the most fun it has ever been. The main Headlocked series is like writing my own HBO series and Tales from the Road lets me play around with secret agents, hatpin grannies, urban legends, and bigfoot...how can you ever get tired of that?