[I don’t follow wrestling as closely as I used to, but if there’s one sports entertainment superstar that you can’t ignore, it’s Mick Foley. Whether you were laughing at Mankind, Dude Love or Cactus Jack, Foley’s stellar, often poignant promos, absurdist gimmicks—Socko?—and ability to take more chair shots than anyone should, made him one of the most entertaining wrestlers ever.
But besides being one of the toughest and most engaging personalities of the WWE Attitude Era (thought by many to be Wrestling’s greatest moment), Foley has avoided the nightmarish post-ring careers of many wrestlers by becoming a writer. And not just a “I hired a ghostwriter” writer—an honest to god writing voice with an insightful humorous style that is as standout as his wrestling career.
There aren’t many nerdlebrities that I still wanted to interview, but when Papercutz offered me a chance to talk with Foley on the occasion of his new book, WWE Superstars, I couldn’t say no. And while reading WWE Superstars before the interview I was amazed to find that instead of a “Hulk Hogan Rock and Wrestling” type kid fest it was…well to be honest, it was kind of the WWE comic book version of Roadhouse with the WWE superstars reimagined as players in a corrupt town—Titan Town—that’s ready to blow at any moment. While it won’t win any Eisners it’s way more entertaining than it had to be.
Foley doesn’t wrestle much these days instead spending his time writing and traveling doing a one mans show that mixes humor with wrestling memories. Mick Foley is a born storyteller, and I think some of that come across in our conversation.
WWE Superstars #2, co written by Foley and Shane Riches, with art by Alitha Martinez, is on sale today. ]
The Beat: I just read the first issue of WWE Superstars and it’s pretty wild.
Foley Well thank you, wild in a good way I hope.
The Beat: How on earth did you come up with the idea of making a wrestling comic more like Road House or Red Harvest?
Foley I guess I’ll take those as compliments! When I got together with my co writer Shane Riches we did not want to just give a comic book version of the WWE show. We just didn’t want to give fans the same thing they can see every Monday and Friday night on television.
The Beat: Right. You were previously the star of a comic book from Chaos Comics.** Did you read that when it was coming out or did you see it?
Foley: Yeah, I did and I liked the people who did Chaos Comics. As a matter of fact [I just got home from a flight] and I watched Two Guns, which was written by the same gentleman, [Steven Grant.] He shared with me that the title Two Guns had been inspired by one of my wrestling catchphrases which was “bang, bang.” Although I thought he was a great writer, that story was a little dark for me and I wanted to cast a little light in there and add a little more humor along the way.
The Beat: So how do you go about working with the characters? Obviously there’s so many different levels to it. There’s reality and then the storylines on Monday nights, storylines about characters, and I don’t think the book is really breaking kayfabe, but how did you decide what characters to use and who were going to be the bad guys and the good guys? That changes all the time on Monday nights.
Foley: Well, you start out from early on with John Cena as a must have character. I learned that lesson when I sent a children’s book to a very good friend of mine, Jill Thompson who is known for working on The Sandman and Wonder Woman, and Jill’s great. And she’s also illustrated two of my books and her main comment was, how can you have a book and not include the most popular character in WWE? So in that case I wrote a subplot involving a giant elf and in this case we knew we wanted John Cena all along and tried to come up with a way to echo that kind of divisive nature to his character. We had him as a [good guy riding into town] who has been wrongly accused, he’s kind of beloved by half the population and loathed by the other half.
The Beat: Because the personas are larger than life, I noticed they do fit pretty naturally into some of the roles. There’s the loner, CM Punk….how will he survive…
Foley: Yeah, and the warden and Del Rio and their aspirations for running things across the city…
The Beat: …and the two timing, femme fatale, AJ.
Foley: Yeah, so I think that we were kind of holding our breath when we submitted it to Papercutz and WWE because we were certain they were thinking they were going to get back purely a wrestling comic, so we had to kind of dig in our heels and explain why we felt this was a better vision. One of the things it might do is, sword might get around this is an entertaining read, even for people who weren’t in the habbit of watching out little show.
The Beat: Right, well it’s already gotten at least one review that is talking about just how many in an unexpected way it is. So, it’s getting out there.
Foley: Unexpected is good.
The Beat: Did you get any push back from Papercutz or the WWE? Did you have to go in and kind of explain?
Foley: We did on episode 3. Apparently there are some forms of physical retribution the company wasn’t comfortable with, so we had to alter some of the content, but they’ve really been great, they’ve really embraced the whole idea of taking a chance and putting it in an alternate universe. And part of what I enjoy about the alternate universe is that we can add characters from different generations who are kind of immortalized in comic book format.
The Beat: Oh really? So we might see some super stars of the past?
Foley: We may see those dream matches that you can only speculate about in the real world. It comes to life throughout this story arc.
The Beat: That’s something to look for! The other thing that was mentioned was that you have this serious crime drama, and then suddenly everybody will start busting out with their atomic knee drop, or the vertebreaker or the stunner, I mean the wrestling moves and all that stuff. So how does that work in the story?
Foley: Well I think in that case you’re taking a page from the WWE in that there is no set formula for what makes a perfect show. There are elements of humor and drama, and that certain surreal nature that is an ongoing part of the show. So in that, since this has not been done before, there’s no right way or wrong way to do it, there’s only our way.
The Beat: I didn’t expect when I first heard about the comic that it would be the groundbreaking wrestling comic! [laughter] And I had no idea that Alitha Martinez was drawing it too. She’s actually an old friend of mine so I was thrilled to see her get a gig like this.
Foley: Oh yeah we’re thrilled with the finished product.
The Beat: Let me ask you a little bit about just your writing career in general. I read Have A Nice Day when it came out, and was blown away by how funny and insightful it was, as was everybody really. So now you’re the writing guy.
Foley: Yeah, I’m still benefiting from that low bar of expectations, so I just keep jumping from genre to genre and encountering low expectations. Doing this [comic book] is a case where I really did depend on my co-writer to help me with the structure because Have A Nice Day is almost two hundred thousand words long. And you really don’t need the adverbs in a comic book or graphic novel because you have your artist supplying the facials and creating the moods. So if it was up to me, it would have been a thirty thousand word graphic novel that nobody would purchase. We always felt that in WWE some of the most creative people did their best work when they were kind of reigned in a little bit and that’s one of Shane’s duties, to reign me in. My son just self-published a Christmas story. He’s 10 years old, he wrote a story to Santa last Christmas and I liked it so much I did a little editing, reigned him in a little bit when he was at school, just changed it without his knowledge.
The Beat: Which all the best editors do. [Laughs]
Foley: Yeah, we took a four thousand word children’s story and turned it into a two thousand word story. Which still bothers me to see two pages of text without an illustration and so I know that. Believe me, we wouldn’t be having the same conversation if it was me writing the book by myself because it would be mostly text. And it would be the Broadway edition of Frankenstein and it would be closed in a day. I don’t know, maybe that’s a dated reference. [Editor’s note now I would update it to I, Frankenstein.]
The Beat: How do you see your writing in the future? The comic’s going on now, but what other projects do you aspire to?
Foley: I do have a children’s book in the works for next fall and I really take the art of writing for the stage very seriously. That’s kind of my main job now is performing live shows [link] and I try to find ways to rewrite stories that people are familiar with so that it doesn’t feel like I’m rehashing things. And then I try to find little corners of the wrestling world, shine a light on them. Find something either funny, touching or surreal in those corners.
The Beat: You also travel, you still have a grueling travel schedule. Maybe not as bad as when you were wrestling and you’re not getting beat up or electrocuted all the time, hopefully.
Foley: Yeah, I do travel quite a bit.
The Beat: Do you still like it? I mean you obviously still have a little bit of wanderlust there.
Foley: I was not enjoying that long walk in the new JFK terminal 4 after that long flight. I was looking for the cart to take me. Seriously it was like a half-mile walk. And I can honestly say I did not enjoy any part of the travel this morning, including the ride home in the blinding snowstorm.
The Beat: Yes, it was a challenging morning. So does that mean you’re going to stay at home more or…?
Foley: No, I don’t really know what to do with myself if I’m home for more than a couple of weeks at a time.
The Beat: So travel kind of came with the business I guess. It came with your personality too.
Foley: Yeah, and I always did my best thinking on the road, too. I don’t know if I ever came up with ideas while I sat at home, they were always ideas behind the wheel of a car.
The Beat: Do you have anything else that you want people to get out of WWE Super Stars? The battle for the unnamed city is going to intensify, but what else shall we look for plot wise?
Foley: I guess further understanding of the characters, some plot twists and some surprises along the way. Things I learned through my years in WWE. [With comics] you don’t have the instant knowledge of whether or not something is working like you do in the ring, and so we hope we got it right. We’ve got 4 issues coming out for sure and more to follow if this is a success.
The Beat: Would you enjoy that if it did go on?
Foley: Yeah. When I did my other project with Shane called RPM, I dug into my old Marvel comics and probably read 50 of my old Incredible Hulks, so, you get a feel for it. And as I referred to, once you’re in that comic you’re kind of immortalized and so who knows. Maybe issue 181 of the Incredible Hulk gave us the Wolverine. Who knows what issue 1, 2, 3 or 4 of our new project might bring to the world!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.