Oni Delivers a Knock-Out With SUPER PRO K.O.
Oni Delivers a Knock-Out With SUPER PRO
Yo! You think you got what it takes to be the best of the best? Because only the best pro wrestlers dare apply, when you take on the champions of the Super Pro K.O.!
Following the story of newbie Joe Somiano, there's a lot of hits, heart and humor from the latest book from Oni Press and writer/artist Jarrett Williams. Examining the high-flying thrills of pro wrestling -- as well as the uphill battle everyone takes to follow their dreams -- we caught up with Williams to talk about his influences, about mighty Joe Somiano, and how he creates this crazy collection of masked men.
Newsarama: Jarrett, tell us a little bit about yourself, and how Super Pro K.O.! came to be. What is it about the pro wrestling world that you thought was too good to pass up?
Jarrett Williams: I'm a pretty laid back guy. I grew up in New Orleans and was definitely your average kid. I geared more towards video games and reading than sports. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too coordinated on the football field.
I've always drawn though. My mom took notice and had me in a lot of Art Programs growing up. I was also an only child until I was about 6 so I was already reading comics and playing video games by that point. By 5th or 6th grade, I knew I really wanted to be an adult to get out of school. I ended up being a part of the Lego Club and NASA Club. I owned a Game Gear and used to play Bart Simpson vs. The World 24-7. My brother and I beat Illusions of Gaia for SNES in 2 days. I flipped out when I realized all you had to do was stand completely still for 3 minutes to pass that God Awful waterfall in Earthbound. And the Scholastic Book Club Forms were the highlight of my week. So yeah, I was cool nerd, which I’m proud of now :D
I used to watch pro wrestling with my older cousin on Saturdays. He was 7 years older than me so if he thought it was cool, I knew it was cool! He would be watching the Mid-South and WCW stuff. I remember us laughing at all of the insanity. Macho Man and Elizabeth. Harlem Heat and the Bodydonnas. It was a real life superhero comic to me. I loved it! It's funny how I've been able to merge all of these truly unique interests into SPKO. Today, my cousin and I still talk to each other about the latest happenings in wrestling. It keeps us tight!
Nrama: For those who don't know about the book, can you fill us in a little bit about the story of Joe Somiano? Who is this guy?
Williams: Joe Somiano is the young upstart in the wrestling promotion, Super Pro K.O. He's a rookie that truly wants to be Heavyweight Champion one day. He's truly a naive kid, bright-eyed, and optimistic about where things are going for him. This first volume chronicles his first day in the promotion and how he deals with suddenly performing on the largest stage of them all, Super Pro K.O. Live TV. He’s pretty broke coming into the company and he doesn't have the strongest family support. He's sacrificed a lot to be at SPKO. Now he's determined to go for Gold! You learn that he left college to pursue a career in wrestling, so he doesn’t have much to fall back on. It’s all or nothing for him!
Nrama: How about the other colorful characters in this world? How'd you think up some of these people? And which of the wrestlers of the Super Pro K.O.! circuit is your favorite?
Williams: I always would watch wrestling and would think about all of these ideas for characters. Yoko NoNo is like a combination of Yokozuna, E. Honda, and Rikishi. My interests in old Hollywood and that whole scene sparked some wrestlers like Glitz -n -Glam. But then, some wrestlers like Nega Spider are truly random. The Other is a nod to all the wrestlers that hail from parts Unknown. That always sounded so mysterious to me. I remember reading the backs of Marvel trading cards and when I saw that a characters origin was "Unknown," it freaked me out a little bit.
So yeah, I pretty much pull from everything: comics, games, and my friends. I have a lot of favorites though. I pour a lot of my own mannerisms and thoughts into Joe more than anyone else. El Heroe’s great because he has such a strong luchador legacy. Over the course of SPKO, I’m really excited about developing his story even more. The Wildchild Twins are also favorites of mine. I love showing sibling relationships in my comics because I can relate to it (me and my little brother are close). The Wildchilds are so much fun to draw because I can have them bounce off each other like true brothers do.
Nrama: Now, something that's particularly interesting is that you're a one-man band, both writing and drawing this book. For you, how'd this influence your approach?
Williams: It wasn't too much of a stretch. The drawing process comes natural; I really have to work at the writing angle. I usually plug away at a script for a couple months trying to hammer out everything. It's pretty crazy how exhausting that can be. I don't get stuck there though. I draw throughout the entire time I'm writing, even if it's just a character design or an idea I'd like to flesh out visually. I've learned to be somewhat flexible. I feel like as an artist, you have to make time to draw all the time. For me it's daily. For some it's every other day; whatever works for you.
I don't let what I want to draw dictate what I write though. For example, if a scene calls for an audience full of panicked people, I'll draw that. No shortcuts. I've been taking lots of reference photos of cars, hotels and highways because this story's going to call for a lot of those types of locations (even though I don't particularly like drawing streets and stuff). I approach each page with the attitude that the composition should lend itself to the story. I'm also looking at what mood I'm trying to get across. Drawing a comic about pro wrestling lends itself to more dynamic layouts and arrangements. You'll notice that many of the word balloons are arranged a lot differently than in most comics. I also play up the use of icons and sound effects in pretty fun ways too. The spectacle of the sport is so important so I try to keep that at the essence of everything I'm doing artistically.
It's difficult because I want to throw so many ideas into the "pot of SPKO gumbo," but my editor will tell me to "hold off on that for now" or "that's not really necessary." And honestly, they're usually right. So I’m learning how to pull back and focus on what each volume of SPKO is trying to get across in relation to the series overall. I’m learning to trust my instincts but also learning that it’s okay to let an idea go if it just doesn’t fit.
Nrama: Since there's so many angles you can take to the wrestling approach, how'd you get your head in the world of Super Pro K.O.! Are there any making-of stories that really stood out to you, whether it was a match that really resonated, or one of the wrestling personalities that influenced you?
Williams: Hmmm. That’s really tricky. When I imagine the world of SPKO, it’s totally this psychedelic place stuck in the 70s/80s though they have modern technology like smartphones. I want to play that up more as the series moves forward. In the earlier stages of developing it, I read most wrestler auto bios out there like Chris Jericho’s A Lion’s Tale or Mick Foley’s Have A Nice Day. But I also have watched a lot of matches too. I tried to recall some of my favorite rivalries and what made them great to me. I’d say Rock/Austin, HHH/Kurt Angle, RVD/Jerry Lyn, Kane/Undertaker are my favorite clashes just to name a few. I can’t really narrow it down too much. I was always that kid that liked the Mid-carders, in some cases, more than the Heavyweights. I was a really big fan of the Cruiserweights like Rey Mysterio Jr. and Juventud Guerrera. I loved the Japanese HUSTLE stuff. If you haven’t seen it, it’s insane! As far as personalities, The Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man, Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Sting, Stone Cold, and The Rock definitely stand out. Oh, and Jamie Noble, that guy never got enough credit in my opinion.
Williams: There's a couple of similarities between the aspiring pro wrestler hustle and the aspiring professional cartoonist hustle. They're both truly niche fields that definitely have an air of mystery about them. I tried to relate Joe journey for gold to my journey trying to break into comics. You meet lots of crazy people, encounter things that are quite above your head early on, and you still experience self-doubt even when you’re clearly on the right track. Just like I can have a bad day and create the most "crap-tastic" piece on the planet, a wrestler could have the worst match ever at any moment too. So it was pretty easy to try and relate my own experiences when building SPKO.
It’s a gut-wrenching feeling when you realize your dream job comes with all sorts of crap that you didn’t foresee. It’s a weird thing. You build something up for so long and idealize so many things about it. Believe me, I'm so grateful for where I am now. But a lot of what I experienced on the self -publishing circuit is sort of the same thing I'm currently experiencing on the published circuit with ONI, just on a larger scale. It's super important not to get too caught up in yourself as you start to gain some sort of momentum in your dream field. I try to relate all of those same feelings into what it must be like for Joe Somiano. He’ll be dealing with stuff like that a lot throughout his young career. How will he balance his personal life when he's always on the road? Will he be able to meet the demands of the job? How can he stand out? I think these are things all of us can relate to.
Nrama: I'm sure a lot of people will be comparing you to Oni's most recent cartoon-style release, Scott Pilgrim. So, to give you a chance to separate yourself a bit -- what do you think the books have in common, and what qualities do you think sets Super Pro K.O.! apart from the pack?
Williams: I can see how a quick glance might suggest that we have similar influences and tastes. But Scott Pilgrim approaches the Action with a Romantic Slant. O’Malley also throws in the Video Game stuff. Readers will see those fun sorts of Easter Eggs in SPKO. I throw a Dragon Ball reference and a “so-slight-you might-miss-it” Speed Racer shout out in volume one. But I think that’s where the similarities end. Overall, SPKO’s more about Pro Wrestling and how all of these rivalries are built over time. It has more of that macho, “Who’s stronger than who vibe”. A lot of the characters are motivated by their egos and desire for the SPKO Heavyweight Belt. It’s a lot more Testosterone filled, but fun and light hearted at the same time. When you read SPKO, you’re getting an overdose of the spectacle that is pro wrestling and everything that makes it so unique.
Nrama: Finally, for those who still aren't sure about Super Pro K.O.!, what would you tell them to get them on board this book?
Williams: SPKO is a hot comic. It's fun and upbeat, but also slightly tragic and odd in some spots. It's a lot of fun taking readers on this really unique journey. In SPKO # 1, it's about introducing you to this crazy world and watching Joe Somiano realize that his dream comes with all sorts of physical and mental challenges. He's realizing that he's only at the first leg of his career so he's excited, anxious, nervous; all of those "great" things you feel when you're setting out into the unknown. The series of SPKO overall will really surprise readers. By the end, I hope I've made readers laugh, shout in anger, and possibly even ached a bit from sitting so close to a page because they were caught up in the matches. SPKO's that weird little book you didn't know you were missing. If you want a comic that hits all those beats a story about pro-wrestlers should, this is it.