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Headlocked’s Michael Kingston: Creating Comics ‘The Hard Way’

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Recently, I had a nice hour-long conversation with Michael Kingston, the writer and creator of the comic series known as Headlocked. Listening to Michael speak about the business and hearing him detail his unique journey in his own words not only sold me on helping back the upcoming release of Headlocked: The Hard Wayit also reminded me why I love this business so much and why folks like him make the pro wrestling community a better place. 

Just like the three previous volumes, Headlocked: The Hard Way is a Kickstarter project and as of this writing, it’s very close to meeting its $20,000 goal. Here’s a little bit of background on the books before we get into the interview. 

Following the events of “Headlocked: The Last Territory Volume 2,” we find Mike Hartmann, still in Texas training under Dr. Destruction, struggling to deal with his new reality. As Mike is starting to learn, when it comes to the wrestling business…(ahem)…there is no easy way. Since the first issue, we’ve been teasing the event that had left Mike Hartmann bloody, hospitalized, and blackballed from the wrestling business. In Headlocked: The Hard Way, we finally learn the details of what happened on that fateful night.

“Headlocked: The Hard Way”:
Writer: Mike Kingston
Artist: Michel Mulipola
Cover Artist: Jerry “The King” Lawler

Famous wrestlers contributing:
Jerry Lawler (cover art)
Ric Flair (story)
Mick Foley (story)
Cody Rhodes (story)
Kenny Omega (story)
Tugboat/Shockmaster (art)
Lince Dorado (art)

Famous comic artists contributing:
Jill Thompson (Sandman, Wonder Woman)
Ed McGuiness (Superman, Deadpool)
Robbi Rodriguez (Spider-Gwen)
Andy Belanger (Southern Cross)

Reward Highlights:

Digital tiers from 5 dollars to 40 dollars
One book for 25 dollars (early adopter price is $20)
One book signed by Jerry Lawler 35 dollars (early adopter is $30)
Art prints signed by Finn Balor/Sasha Banks ($100)
Commission from Michel Mulipola ($100)
Poster signed by over 15 contributors including Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, RVD, Daniels/Kaz etc. ($200)
Be drawn into the series: as an extra (125 dollars) speaking role (250) jobber (300) wrestler (400) starring character (500)

Why Kickstarter?

“I use this as a pre-order for the books. Some people think of it as charity because of the nature of Kickstarter. I like to think of it as a pre-order for the books. I just want people to get the books from us. I want people to pre-order the books so I can afford to pay the artists and fund the production of the book; it’s a 160 page book. Each pages costs over $100 just to produce the art for it.”

There are so many different rewards you can get for backing Headlocked: The Hard Way. Part of the ‘Onscreen Extra’ package actually gets your facial likeness drawn into at least one panel of the book. You could tell how genuinely happy Micheal is to include the faces of the folks who have been such a key part in funding the project in these stories.

“This is our 4th Kickstarter and I love the fact that the people who helped us out in the biggest ways have actually become part of the book. You can be drawn in as someone in the crowd, in a cameo role, you can get a speaking role, you can actually be drawn in as a wrestler; probably half a dozen of the characters in Headlocked are the faces of the Kickstarter backers. Just the nature of this book and the struggle for it was to get it where it is – I love the fact that it’s always been a grass-roots movement.”

Could Headlocked be adapted into an on-screen drama?

“At some point I’d like to see Headlocked become a late night cartoon or a AMC type drama. I had a guy who works with Hollywood say that Hollywood will never touch this. Nobody was doing wrestling comics when I started outside of shitty licensed WWE books with Undertaker fighting demons and Ultimate Warrior stripping Santa Claus naked and stealing his suit.

“If I had a dream and somebody said ‘here’s a blank check you can do it however you want,’ I would do a late night cartoon on HBO or something. We’ve always pushed the boundaries. We’re doing a non-WWE/non-superhero comic. Everybody said that was something that couldn’t be done.

“Also, I heard to film wrestling for TV, one bump you have to take like 100 times to film it from a 100 different ways. So, knowing what wrestling does to your body I’d feel guilty for someone to take all those bumps. My dream would be to do a late night cartoon and have all the voices done by wrestlers like right now where all the art is done by wrestlers. This adds a little star power too it at the same time and it’s another voice credit, another line of income for these guys other than falling down for a living. There’s not a lot of places to go after wrestling.”

Easily Accessible All Around

“You can start at Volume 1. I try to make the Kickstarter accessible for everyone, even though we’re kickstarting the 4th book. If you only have money to back one book we have a tier where you can get the first book . The Kickstarter is the lifeblood of our franchise.

“It’s a kid coming of age in the world of wrestling. What he’s learning about wrestling is also forming his journey to become a man. It’s accessible to everybody. You don’t have to watch wrestling, it’s like how people can watch Rocky without having to watch a boxing match. That’s kind of how Headlocked is. It’s the kids journey through the business starting on day zero; he’s a blank slate so you can be a blank slate and you can be informed along with him. I wanted to make it so anyone can follow it. The main sort of story of Headlocked is a love letter to the craft of wrestling as an art form and the negative aspects of the business tend to drive it forward.

Fighting the Stigma

“When I started this thing, the initial process in 2006, people laughed at us. A guy from a large comic book publisher straight up laughed in my face; that’s something I’ll never forget for as long as I live. This is something that you believe in and you’re trying to put out in the world and you have some dude just laugh at you. I had people saying wrestling fans don’t read – it’s crazy. How many wrestling biographies have been on the NY Times bestsellers list. That’s the fight I have to fight against all the time.

“The businesses [WWE and comic books] are extremely similar – both dominated by a singular aesthetic. You think of wrestling and you think of WWE. You think of comic books and you think of super heroes. No one thinks of History of Violence, Road to Perdition or Ghost World as a comic book movie. People think of Superman, Batman, etc…, in a lot of ways the word comic book is still code word for superhero for a lot of people, just like wrestling is code word for WWE. You have to fight that sort of brand stigma. Some people think they’re wrestling fans but they’re not wrestling fans – they’re WWE fans. Some people think they’re comic book fans but they’re not comic books fans – they’re super hero fans. You have to battle all of that stuff. Both of those art forms are dominated by one group having an inordinate amount of power.

“I have stories in my book that are written by wrestlers; AJ Styles wrote a story for our book. I’ll deal with people who would rather read WWE fan fiction by somebody than read a story written by a WWE wrestler because it’s not about WWE wrestling. That’s a tough slog.”

The Biggest Compliment

“The biggest compliment to me is when guys read the first issue and they ask me if I was in the business. After the first issue of The Last Territory came out both Frankie Kazarain and Ken Anderson said, “you didn’t write this on your own, right?” “Where you in the business?” I was never in the business, I just did a lot of research. I have a bio chemistry degree and I’m a self-taught writer. Research is my bread and butter. I pay attention to the right details. I pay attention to the right people. I try to learn things. Sometimes people think the entire story of Headlocked is me talking to wrestlers and taking their stories and it’s not even that at all.”

Your 1109th Ironman Heavymetalweight Champion

“Now I can tell people that I’m a Japanese wresting champion; it’s pretty amazing. For a long time my entire creative team was title laden and I wasn’t holding up my end. Jerry’s got 168 world titles. Jill Thompson has 7 Eisner’s. Michel won a bunch of tag team titles and a bunch of titles in New Zealand: he’s a tag champ with Haku now. Now I’ve got belt so we can be like The 4 horsemen – the most decorated creative team in comics.”

Great Food Solves Everything

“When I was just starting out before I was hooked up with any wrestlers it was just me selling my books. I had this show in Toronto where I was stuck in a bad section where nobody was coming through. I got sick at the restaurant where I was and I left my bag there. Somebody broke into my cash box and stole all of money. My box of books broke open as i was going up an escalator. This was my third show and it almost made me want to quit comics.

“It was such a bad show for me so I was determined not to have bad experiences. I was determined to have positive experiences when I traveled independent of the convention. the easiest way to do that is through food because A. I’m a fat ass and B. there’s so much good food out there. It kills me to see people go to Applebees – that’s what’s hard when you travel with wrestlers because a lot of them have their customs. They just wanna go to Waffle House because it’s what they’re used to. Getting some of the guys off the norm is tricky but some of the guys get it. Chris Hero is a big foodie. When we were in Orlando he sent us a recommendation of a place to go to, a vegan restaurant. I ordered a cookie sandwich and I have no idea how somebody made it vegan but someone must have sold their soul.”

The Real ‘King’

“I go to art museums with Jerry [Lawler] which is ridiculous. We did StocktonCon and there was a museum in Stockton, CA that had the largest collection of J.C. Leyendecker art. He was the guy who did the Saturday Night Post before Rockwell and we do Norman Rockwell inspired covers for the books. They opened the museum up for us past opening hours and we walked around and looked at the art. People know Jerry in a very specific way. I know Jerry as an art nerd and I think that that’s funny. When he’s in town we’ll go to the Norman Rockwell museum, it’s one of the few places where no one bothers him. Jerry’s into everything from Ed Roth’s Rat Fink art to a lot of fine art. People wouldn’t expect that out of a dude who yells puppies.”

A Wrestling Guardian ‘Fallen’ Angel?

“When Chris Daniels won the ROH World Title, I legitimately got emotional man. He’s such a good dude and he will never get the full credit for everything’s he’s done for the wrestling business.

“It was really cool to see him at his age get the ROH title. I was watching him win and I had an idea that he was probably gonna win it but to see the crowd react, to see people blow up on Twitter…. I was at home working on a script and I had it on the left side of my computer screen and I was getting really emotional and the coolest thing about Christopher Daniels, that day, it’s wrestling guys are jaded and whatever but it was still a big day to him and on that day, that specific day where he had to travel to Las Vegas and have that match – he backed my Kickstarter. I don’t ever need a dime from Christopher Daniels, he’s done more for me than almost anybody but that’s the kind of human being that he is. On one of the biggest days of his career he thought enough about me and decided to send me some money. Just a good dude. I’ll be honest with you, the wrestling business has been amazing to me. I’ve been really, really lucky. I almost have a weird wrestling guardian angel.”

While Headlocked: The Hard Way may be extremely close to its goal, there only 21 days left folks and we’ll even let you in on a little secret. If this Kickstarter surpasses its goal and hits $25,000 – Pentagon El Zero M may even do a story. Keep that in mind.

You can back Headlocked: The Hard Way by visiting the link below:

Headlocked: The Hard Way

For more information, please visit the official Headlocked website, www.headlockedcomic.com

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