I spoke to Mike Kingston, creator of the comic Headlocked yesterday about the Kickstarter for the remastered first edition of the book. Kingston talked to me about working with Tony Atlas, Samoa Joe, The Young bucks and much more, as well as the obstacles he faced while trying to create a wrestling themed comic. You can contribute to the Kickstarter at this link.
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For those unfamiliar, tell them about Headlocked.
"I was a wrestling fan and a comic book fan from the time I was 8 years old. Whenever a wrestling comic would come out, I'd go get it and they'd always not be very good. There was always Undertaker fighting demons, the Ultimate Warrior stripping Santa Claus naked, Kevin Nash as Mad Max. It wasn't about wrestling. I became aware that they weren't going to make the wrestling comic that I wanted, so I decided to make my own. I made a book called Headlocked, which is about a theater major in college who falls in love with wrestling and decides to become a wrestler. He quits school, and its his journey from day zero where he navigates the underbelly of the business."
What has the reception been like within the industry for Headlocked?
"Unbelievable, really. I'd like to say Headlocked is sort of my love letter to the industry, but some of the negative aspects are what drives the story, so you're sort of walking a line. We seem to have hit on it just right. Right from the very beginning, Hurricane Helms and Rob Van Dam bought copies at San Diego Comic Con. Christopher Daniels had bought a copy from me. Everyone has been universally positive about it. I haven't met anyone who has given me a hard time. Even old school guys – Tom Prichard liked it, Jim Cornette was really jazzed about it. I'm pretty happy with the reception."
I know in previous installments you had stories from wrestlers. Will that continue?
"How I get the books funded is through Kickstarter. One of the things that has been that the comic book industry is a difficult one to navigate. It's very superhero heavy, it's run by a couple of large publishers, so if you don't go through those publishers, you really can't get a book made. So what we do is fund our books through Kickstarter, and then the people who back the books on Kickstarter get stories from famous wrestlers. We've had Hurricane and Rob Van Dam, Booker T, a bunch of different guys have contributed art or stories. For the books that we have now, we have Samoa Joe, MVP, The Young Bucks, Tom Laruffa, Scott Lost, Papadon, Danny Havoc."
You're had a ton of input from wrestlers, so it's not like you jumped in to this without doing your homework. You seem immersed in it.
"One of the cool things to me is I can go into locker rooms and it's not like 'What's this guy doing in here?' They kind of accept me. That's kind of neat. For where we are in the story, we don't need a lot of input, but it's good to know it's there if I need it. We're there at the beginning where he's bumping and running the ropes and hasn't had his first match yet. I'm dealing with mental and emotional things of him following his dream and going through hardships. I spent some time in the ring when I decided I was going to write it. I spent a couple of days bumping around, and I think that helped inform my sensibilities of the book, too. When guys tell me 'this is how I felt when you're going through it,' I feel like I've captured the concept of breaking in."
Do you think comics and wrestling are becoming more of a married concept now?
"I started this way back in 2008, and I pitched it to a guy from one of the largest comic book companies in the world and he straight up laughed in my face. Even now doing what I'm doing, it's not something widely accepted in the industry. There are a couple of wrestling comic books that are starting to come out, but I feel like we kind of laid the ground work for that. I think now you get a lot of the Attitude Era growing up and getting in more prominent spots, and The Rock's success as an actor, people are more open to taking it seriously. It's definitely more accepted than it's ever been, which is weird because the ratings aren't as successful as they were."
I looked down your list of guest creators and saw names, the name Tony Atlas stuck out to me. That had to be an experience.
"(laughs) It definitely was an experience, because he's an old school guy. He's an artist, and he works in pointalism, with these little dots, and he's this giant man, even at his age. I can't picture him hunched over a table, making art with little dots. One of my favorite things about doing this is the random guys that have come up to me and asked if they could do something for me. The first thing Ken Anderson ever said to me was 'Hey, can I do a piece of art for you, bro?' He's not a guy you'd think has art skills, but he does. I've been texting back and forth with Sam Shaw who is doing a piece for the book. It's funny, you never know. Tugboat came up and told me he has some skills with pen and ink. It's amazing to see guys who are so talented in one area be talented in another."
You mentioned that Samoa Joe, MVP and the Young Bucks were involved. How did that come about?
"Some guys just like what I do and respect comics. Joe has been a supporter since before Headlocked was even fully formed. MVP actually reached out to me on Twitter because he was interested. I've known the Bucks for a while because I'd set up at indy shows to help build my audience and they would see me there. A lot of the guys in the business see me everywhere, that's how you build your audience. You can't just put your stuff on Twitter and expect people to find you. I'm out on the road almost every weekend. I have a regular job where I work 60-65 hours a week. These guys see me at shows and know I'm putting in the miles. It was really important to have those particular guys in this particular book. We're remastering our first book. When I started in 2008, none of us really knew what we were doing, and almost everyone working on it, it was their first time working in comics. First time colorist, brand new artist, my first book. Since we went on Kickstarter we've had brand new artists, Jerry's upped his game. That first book, I feel, doesn't hold up quality wise to the other two. It certainly became apparent we were going to have to do something. We're not changing the story at all, we're re-inking and recoloring the first book, Jerry's putting a new cover on it and putting 15 pages of content in it. I have a ton of guys that want to do stuff for me, but having these guys was important, because when I started, people laughed in our face, even my friends said I should try something else first. All of those guys have succeeded despite conventional wisdom. Samoa Joe didn't portray a typical Samoan wrestler, Young Bucks break every rule there is, and when everyone wanted to go to WWE, MVP wanted to go to Japan. I think having those particular guys on that book is sort of a celebration of how far we've come."
Tell the people a little about your Kickstarter. I know you have a ton of incentives on there.
"Yeah over at Kickstarter.com. Our first tweet is a link to that. For us, we use Kickstarter as a pre-order mechanism. Comics are very expensive to make. There are four people involved in the process – myself, my artist, my colorist, my letterer. We also have guest artists and an editor, and all of those people get paid. I don't get paid and I don't care. Any other dollars go right back into the book. I do more shows or bigger shows, or get a better space at a bigger show to make sure we get in front of more people. I love what we're doing, I think if you're in comics to get rich, you're in the wrong business.
"We have a lot of incentives. You can be drawn into the book, which is a popular incentive. Those always go first. You can be drawn in as an extra or a speaking role. We have books and shirts that are signed, we have a poster that's signed by 17 people that contributed to the book, all the big names. You can get our first book or all the books in digital form. I try to make every Kickstarter accessible to everybody. The Kickstarter books are better. We don't sell those anywhere else. They generally have 30 extra pages an art by famous wrestlers. I try to make sure the backers get the best experience possible.
"This is the only year where we're going to do two Kickstarters in one year, and volume four is coming soon. We're going to have the biggest line-up we've ever had. Right now I have Mick Foley, Rey Mysterio, Zack Sabre and a couple other names I'm 99 percent sure on. It's just going to be an unbelievable collection. We're working on an incentive for people who own all of our Kickstarter books."
Let the people listening and reading know where they can follow you on social media.
"All of my social media-- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, is all HeadlockedComic. The whole nine yards. That's our website too."