Headlocked Creator Brings In Wrestling Legends For Latest Volume

Comics and wrestling are intertwining more and more these days. The episodic nature of professional wrestling is quite similar to the release of comics where fans can get their fix of their heroes and villains squaring off in morality plays. 

Michael Kingston and Michel Mulipola's Headlocked blurs the lines even more. After almost ten years together, the team is back with a new volume Headlocked: The Hard Way, exclusively through Kickstarter. ComicBook talked to Kingston about the project and his own hard way through the comics business. 

ComicBook: Now, Michael, you just launched Headlocked's fourth volume on Kickstarter and it seems to be going pretty well. You're asking for $20,000 and you're already more than halfway done with over $13,000. 

Michael Kingston: Yeah, we remastered our first volume last time so this would be number four. 

And you've been doing this for so long and Headlocked as become its own thing. We were both there at New York Comic Con this past year and at your booth, you had legends such as Mick Foley and Ric Flair, so how did your relationship come about with them? 

I'm definitely living the dream. Well, it seemed to me that comics never did wrestling the right way. A lot of times they were licensed and there was never really a place for them either so one of the things I'm trying to do now is to create an experience at conventions for wrestling fans. We try to have a lot of people at our booth and you never know what's going to happen. I mean, in New York, Sting randomly showed up. 

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(Photo: Michael Kingston)

You didn't set that up?

No, no, that's what I mean. If you have a place where wrestlers are, other wrestlers show up there and cool stuff happens. You know when CM Punk won the WWE title and did the whole "quitting" angle, he showed up and crashed the panel as it was part of the angle, but then showed up at my booth and it was the only stop he really made on the floor. That's a big deal. 

It was a crazy line up at New York Comic Con as well. You know, we had Mick Foley, Noelle, Ric Flair, Christian...and it's funny because Colt Cabana used to dub them "Sad Wrestlers Alley". You know what I'm talking about, right? There'd be like three or four guys trying to get your picture money. So I wanted a better experience for wrestling fans. 

For those uninitiated, can you tell us what the central focus of Headlocked is about? 

It's the story of Mike Hartmann who is a theater major and grew up with the traditional mentality that wrestling was dumb and fake. When he's begrudgingly taken to a wrestling show, he falls in love with it immediately. He drops out of school and decides to become a wrestler. He's then able to relate to it on a completely new and deep level. It's the story of his journey through the wrestling business on Day Zero. 

For me, it allows for maximum accessibility because you don't need to know anything about wrestling to read Headlocked and it allows the reader to learn the craft of wrestling along with Mike while viewing it through the eyes of a performance artist. 

And much like with any fringe entertainment, we see the seedy side of things. We're trying to bring the element of the girl getting off the bus in Hollywood and make it interesting. I mean, nobody would read a book about a guy taking bumps all day. 

Can you talk about the early days of Headlocked and how eventually it picked up momentum? 

I was completely uninitiated into the business of comics, but I never realized how ridiculous of a business it is, I guess. So I had been a wrestling fan since I was 8-years-old, and comics just as long, and it just got a point where I realized nobody was going to make the book I wanted to read about wrestling. So I decided to put it together myself. 

I wrote a script, a marketing plan, and I started talking to publishers. The first thing they said to me was "where is your art?" and I was like, look I'm a writer and you're a comic book company, why would I supply the art? That seemed weird to me, but okay, so I found an artist and we went along and I got laughed out of the room by so many high-profile editors and managers. I mean straight up laughed and that is something you don't forget. 

So after being turned down by everybody, I had hooked up with Visionaire Studios and we struck up a deal for the first four single issues. To promote those, I took a week off of work and went to every single comic shop in three states. I put in the zip codes into the comic shop locator and wrote down all the stores. 

Every shop owner I talked to said they had multiple subscribers that were wrestling fans but I was told to my face more than a few times that they didn't think anybody would ever read this. I looked at the orders through Diamond and they weren't great and I was getting killed on MySpace--if that gives you a time reference--about how this looked so cool and how they wanted to read this and it just occurred to me with how the direct market was structured, I was never going to make this work. So, I just built my audience one show at a time, but for a long time I was just really bitter about how I was treated by the comics industry, but ultimately it made the property stronger.

So let's talk about the lineup you have on this latest volume: Cody Rhodes, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, and of all people, Kenny Omega. Two legends and two legends in the making. How did you wrangle this sort of level of talent this time?

HTHW Promo
(Photo: Michael Kingston)

I had done a couple of shows with Flair and Foley which allowed me to show them what I'm doing and also how it could benefit them. Flair was a bit trickier as he doesn't completely understand comics, but all these guys are storytellers all the same. I feel like it's an easier sell than most.

Cody was one of those guys that were at the top of my list but figured he was going to be under contract for life, but the minute there were rumblings of him leaving WWE, I had to get a hold of him. He was super easy to approach at a show and I showed him what I was doing and he was instantly in.

As far as Kenny, I'm friends with the Young Bucks and they saw me at every indie show and they respected my hustle. They had done a few shows with Kenny and when I approached him he was down and said he wanted to be a part of this. 

I've got a lot of cool names in the wings, but I don't know if we'd ever be able to top this lineup. 

We just passed $13,000 last night and when we get to $15,000, we're going to announce our stretch goal and I think people will like it. If I'm being coy, I will say that I have zero fear that people will like it. 

For people that are late to the party, you can still get all of our old stuff through the Kickstarter. 

You have Ed McGuiness and Robbi Rodriguez on board this time around. Can you talk about their contribution to the new volume? 

Years ago I met Robbi when he was still doing Hero Camp. He was super into what we were doing. We had struck up a deal for a six-page story that was going to be in the back of another book, but then that fell through. We lost touch over the years, but I think it was NYCC two years ago and he was on board to do a pin up. I love him as an artist and as a human. 

Now, Ed has been a fan since we were first coming up back at San Diego Comic-Con years ago. Somebody brought him over to our booth and he just loved it. lt's a big deal to have both of these guys on the book. It shows to me that we're making forays into comics. 

Hartmann Arena Shot
(Photo: Michael Kingston)

Lastly, do you have a final end goal for Headlocked? Anything outside of comics? 

If I could write Headlocked for ten years and not make any money, but not lose any money, I would be perfectly okay with that. I do have an end goal for Mike Hartman, and wrestling has such a rich culture and there's so much to it. I could tie it up two books from now or I could write it for a hundred book. 

I'd like to see it expand into other mediums, sure, if I had my way I would make it a late night cartoon and have a lot of wrestlers provide voices it. I think it would be something neat and give some of the boys a voice credit and that could help launch something else for them.