The line between comic books and wrestling continues to blur, and one of the pioneers of that is returning with a new story-arc with some of the business' top talents. Headlocked's Michael Kingston and Michel Mulipola have recruited wrestlers Ric Flair, Mic Foley, Cody Rhodes, and Kenny Omega, along with artists Ed McGuinness and Robbi Rodriguez, to take part in their fourth volume, Headlocked: The Hard Way.
This past weekend Kingston and Flair appeared at Emerald City Comic Con as part of the launch of a Kickstarter campaign, and just four days in they're already halfway to their $20,000 goal. Newsarama talked with Kingston about this new volume of his creator-owned drama, becoming part of the wrestling business, and what the four wrestlers are writing for the new volume.
Newsarama: Michael, Headlocked returns – what’s going on in this new arc?
Michael Kingston: Headlocked: The Hard Way deals with Mike Hartmann’s continuing journey to break into the wrestling. Mike is definitely coming to the realization that there is no easy way into the business, hence the title. Think about the optimism you have in your youth… particularly when you’re coming out of college. You think the world is going to bend to your will but, sooner than later, most of us realize that’s not how the world works. So then you either get to work or you fold. That’s where Mike is in his journey…and you know the wrestling business isn’t going to make it easy on him.
The big reveal in this issue is that we’ll finally discover what happened with Mike Hartmann that got him blackballed from wrestling. Since the first issue, we’ve been teasing an incident that left Hartmann beaten, bloody, and blackballed. In this volume, we’ll finally reveal what went down on that fateful night!
Nrama: You mentioned this is a story hinted at for some time - do people need to read the previous collections to understand this arc?
Kingston: It’s a continuation of the series, so background information would be helpful. But with the Kickstarter, we offer tiers where new readers can just get the first volume as an affordable way to jump on but still support the creation of the new series.
Nrama: How far along are you and Michel Mulipola in writing and drawing the issues?
Kingston: I’ve got it roughly plotted and have begun scripting but because we have so many likeness rewards in our Kickstarter, we usually don’t start official production until after the campaign ends.
Nrama: How has writing Headlocked been affected by your getting to know wrestlers yourself over the years?
Kingston: If anything, it’s just been a deeper dive into the culture. And in as much as people think the whole business is exposed, there are definitely still elements that aren’t. Now, if I have a question I can text someone that will know the answer for sure. I’m always striving for authenticity and the fact that I have an actual wrestler as the artist helps keep me on that path. A lot of times when you read wrestling fiction, you can tell that the extent of the author’s knowledge is that he reads the internet.
The one thing that getting to know wrestlers has most assuredly changed for me is how I consume wrestling. It’s real for me again. Now I’m rooting for my friends to win… because I know that’s better for their career. On the flip side, it’s tough watching people you are friends with take hard bumps and work ladder matches because you know the real toll that inflicts on them.
Nrama: In addition to your own stories, this arc will have guest stories by several pro wrestlers ranging from Ric Flair to Mick Foley, Cody Rhodes, and Kenny Omega. How did they get involved?
Kingston: While we’re not as well known in comics, per se…we’re definitely well known in wrestling. I’m out almost every weekend slinging comics at wrestling shows or at comic cons. I think I’ve definitely earned a lot of respect from that and boys that know our story respect our hustle are down to help us grow.
And the guys that love comics usually come and find me. One of the most rewarding things for me is when a wrestler that I’ve never met approaches me at a con or DM’s me on Twitter to ask about contributing.
This volume is pretty much one giant bucket list as far as I’m concerned. All of these guys were at the top of my list to work with and to get them all for one book still doesn’t feel entirely real to me.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about their stories?
Kingston: We haven’t worked out stories with all of them as of yet. I like to do that in person in most cases. Mick and I are working on a Christmas-themed Headlocked story which will be a lot of fun. Ric and I sat down at Emerald City Comic Con to hash out his story and I’ll be doing the same with Cody and Kenny at a later date.
Nrama: You also have a self-avowed big wrestling fan who is a huge comics talent: Ed McGuinness. He recently did a short for BOOM!'s WWE comic, so how did you get him involved here?
Kingston: Ed is a big fan of Headlocked and offered to help out. And I’m a big fan of Ed, so it was a no-brainer. We’re both really excited for the team up.
Nrama: How much are you looking to raise with this Kickstarter?
Kingston: We’re shooting for $20,000, which will pretty much cover the art costs and some of the printing.
Nrama: When do you expect the issues to be released?
Kingston: The short answer is “when it’s done.” It’s tricky because we all have regular jobs and we’re producing a 160 pg. book. Realistically, we’re shooting for 8-10 months.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals for Headlocked in 2017?
Kingston: Last year we took a big leap as a brand and I’m hoping to keep that momentum going. I would like to see Headlocked eventually grow to other mediums…I could definitely see us as an AMC-style drama or even a late night cartoon. I just want to keep growing. Getting to do this is literally a dream come true.