The Shoot: Michael Kingston on creating the perfect wrestling comic book
The Shoot is a first-person point of view piece written and shared directly from the people inside the business of professional wrestling. In the column’s debut, “Headlocked” comic book writer Michael Kingston details his journey of putting together the most compelling wrestling comic book in the history of the genre.
That’s the tag line for the fourth volume of the “Headlocked” comic book kickstarter.
Think of Headlocked as an HBO-style drama set in the world of wrestling. It is a coming-of-age story chronicling a college theater major’s journey from wrestling fan to professional wrestler. The story begins from the moment he falls in love with wrestling and follows him through the seedy underbelly of the wrestling business as he chases his dream of making it to the bright lights and the big stage of the WFW.
As any longtime fan will tell you, wrestling and art are one in the same. At its core, Headlocked is a love letter to the craft of professional wrestling. But in order to fully do it justice, we can’t gloss over the ugly bits, either. And we don’t. This comic book is far more than just a pro wrestling story. It’s a pro wrestling story written and drawn by the wrestlers, themselves.
The cover is created by Jerry “The King” Lawler. The interiors are drawn by Michel Mulipola, a Samoan wrestler from New Zealand. There are pinups by Tugboat and Lince Dorado. And the book also features short stories created by Ric Flair, Mick Foley, Cody Rhodes, and Kenny Omega. We strive to have different voices that cover different fan bases. Ric Flair’s experience is very different from Kenny Omega’s, and the stories reflect that. Mick’s tale is our first Christmas-themed Headlocked story. While we’ve had the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Booker T, and Rob Van Dam contribute to the series in the past, this is the single biggest lineup we’ve ever had.
We just added Penta El Zero M as our first stretch goal. I’m such a huge fan of him as both a wrestler and a character and we’ve never had a bona fide luchador contribute. So this was a perfect opportunity to be able to come up with a story featuring a different part of the wrestling experience.
Crafting a story, and seeing it come alive in the pages of a comic book, is my passion. I’ve also been a lifelong fan of wrestling… and spending so much time with wrestlers has only helped hone my skills as a storyteller. From the stories they tell in the ring to the tales swapped on the road, these guys are the masters.
I was at dinner with Paul Heyman, Shane Helms, and Christopher Daniels at the San Diego Comic Con a few years back. I told one of the details out of sequence, and Paul Heyman cut me off – Paul said, “That’s not how you tell a story! You need to let it build, kid!”
I was being schooled in the art of storytelling over nachos.
To me, wrestling and comics is a no-brainer. I mean, wrestlers are the closest thing to real life superheroes that you’ll ever find. But not everyone has seen it that way. When we initially pitched Headlocked to comic book publishers, everyone turned us down. A rep from one of the largest publishers in the industry straight-up laughed in my face. Another one asked me, “Do wrestling fans even read?” A store in my own town told me that no one would ever read it.
So we made it ourselves.
I spent the next year working two jobs to fund our first print run and a round of convention tables. And we built an audience by going to wrestling shows and comic cons… bringing it to the people. And once Kickstarter became a viable option, we were able to take Headlocked to the next level.
Still, in this age of social media and endless entertainment options, it’s still hard for an independent to gain awareness. I work 60-hour weeks at what I call my “Clark Kent job” and then I’m on the road every weekend trying to introduce new audiences to Headlocked. From our social media, the process probably looks a lot more glamourous than it is, but there are a lot of solo six-hour car rides and way too many empty energy drink cans on my writing desk. Because I work nights, the first day of any comic con is usually done on zero sleep. But, as many of the wrestlers I know will attest, when you’re doing something you love, that grind is a pain that you don’t feel.
Sometimes people are wary of the idea of comics. These days, though, comics are at the vanguard of original storytelling. Just like all wrestling isn’t WWE, all comic books aren’t just superheroes. No one thinks of Road to Perdition, History of Violence, and Ghost World as comic book movies, yet all were comic books first. The fact that we’ve been a lot of people’s first comic is the part of this journey that I am proudest of.
If you like wrestling, comics, or cable dramas, Headlocked is definitely your unicorn. But despite the names we’ve collaborated with, we’re still very much underground and DIY. We’re not sponsored by WWE, Marvel, or DC. It’s just us, hustling from town to town, bringing original and creative content to the masses. If I may be so bold, I might say we’re the ECW of comics… only our canvas is stained with red ink.
If you’re interested in checking out Headlocked, ordering the books through Kickstarter is the method that helps us most… and you get thirty extra pages in your book for doing so. Even if you’re new to the series, you can still get caught up on all the books. The current campaign ends on May 1.