Michael Kingston has to be the heavyweight champion of Kickstarter projects and his wrestling comic Headlocked is the belt that seals the deal. Kingston’s back on the crowdfunding stage with his new book Headlocked: Tales from the Road, an anthology book featuring new and reprinted stories that cast a wider storytelling web on the comic’s wrestling universe.
Tales from the Road unites Kingston with several big name wrestlers to add even more playing pieces to the Headlocked universe. Gangrel, Shane “Hurricane” Helms, Rob Van Dam, Christian, Taya Valkyrie, MVP, Dolph Ziggler, and more lend their storytelling talents to look at the other corners of the comic’s wrestling world by creating new narratives and angles for Headlocked’s characters to square off in.
The project, which is on the last days of its campaign, has already reached its financial goal and is not too far from landing on one of its more exciting stretch goals: an additional story by a mystery contributor to be announced at a later date. Judging by the quality of the other stories in the book, the prospect of an additional brand-new tale should inspire everyone to open up their wallets to make sure this happens.
For those of you unfamiliar with the main story, Headlocked follows Mike Hartmann, a young guy who wants to become a pro-wrestler. What’s special about the story is that it isn’t interested in defending or denouncing the industry’s culture. It doesn’t paint sports entertainment as a ravenous soul-crushing machine that devours naïve up and comers, but neither does it present it as a magical journey towards greatness ushered by wrestling legends.
Kingston treats wrestling as an art form, complete with all the baggage that comes with it. It’s as inspiring as it is gut-wrenching, a hard kick to the solar plexus with hundreds of camera flashes lighting the spectacle. The same idea bleeds over to the short stories in Tales from the Road. These range from wrestlers meeting dangerous fans (in classic EC Horror fashion) to the discovery of a famous creature that could have a future in the industry (in a callback to the man-vs-bear matches from wrestling’s early circus days).
With Kingston overseeing and developing each of the stories with the guest wrestlers, each tale feels like a special tag team match of Pay-Per-View proportions brought to you by the actual tag team champs.
The Beat sat down with Kingston, via email, to discuss “Tales from the Road” and how it could very well pave the road for an expanded universe ready for some Sweet Chin Music.
Ricardo Serrano: It often seems like wrestling works best when it feels like it’s all part of a large, interconnected, and lived-in universe, as is the case in superhero comics. Headlocked ticks all of those boxes. Is this idea of a shared universe something that you hope to further develop with “Tales from the Road?”
Michael Kingston: Since the beginning, our theme has always been to showcase wrestling as an art form. That’s why I made Mike a theater major. That’s why I collaborate with so many wrestlers on story and art. I love writing Mike Hartmann’s journey and it’s very much a coming of age drama that focuses on a small part of the universe. With “Tales from the Road,” not only can we explore different characters, settings, and promotions but we can play around in any type of genre that we choose. In this series, we have stories about Bigfoot, secret agents, and urban legends but they all tie back into wrestling in a real and meaningful way.
Down the road, if there’s interest, I definitely would love to do some bigger stories, maybe a limited series or OGN featuring some of the characters that we’ve met either by crossing paths with Mike Hartmann or that have been introduced in “Tales From The Road.”
Serrano: The stories in this new book are co-created by big name wrestlers and they feel very personal and anecdotal, cautionary even. Was this something you encouraged or were the wrestlers just ready to draw from experience in their stories?
Kingston: I don’t think it’s a secret that people produce their best stuff when they’re excited to work on it. For instance, Jerry Lawler is a big Norman Rockwell fan, so that’s how we came to do the Saturday Evening Post homage covers. So when it comes to the stories, I try to let them drive it as much as possible.
Some of the stories, like Mustafa Ali’s, are definitely based on real-life experiences and to me, that makes them even more powerful. But some of them, like Gangrel’s story, just spawned from us throwing out dumb ideas and spinning it into something entertaining.
Serrano: It’s interesting that you use the word ‘folklore’ when you describe what these stories mean for the Headlocked universe. Why is having that element be present in the stories so important for you as a creator?
Kingston: For the longest time, the art of wrestling essentially existed as a form of folklore. Because of the secrecy around its presentation, it was largely something that was passed down from teacher to student. And because it was largely an oral history, it led to so many myths and legends within the business itself. It’s one of the more fascinating parts of the subculture because most of it, as you would expect, is just hype but sometimes those legends turn out to be true. And eventually, that’s what I’d like to build with Headlocked.
Serrano: As is the case with the main Headlocked book, coming into “Tales from the Road” with wrestling knowledge means readers can pick up on a lot of references. I wouldn’t say it’s a requirement, but it does enrich the experience. What would you recommend readers keep in mind or look up to get the most out of these stories?
Kingston: Honestly, I really would just like folks to enjoy the ride. We created all these stories with the idea that any one of them could be someone’s first time picking up Headlocked. I think sometimes in entertainment, too much insider knowledge can hurt the actual experience of consuming the story. And sure, lots of characters in Headlocked are inspired by real individuals but we’re really not trying to say anything about anyone in particular…we just want to tell fun stories.
Serrano: What’s next after “Tales from the Road” is out on the shelves? Where is Headlocked heading?
Kingston: After this, we get to Headlocked: Painkiller which will be Volume 5 of Mike Hartmann’s story and I gotta tell you…it’s wild, man. We’ve been ratcheting up the tension on him for four books and now we’re going to blow the lid off!
The plan is to alternate releases with Headlocked and then “Tales From The Road” and keep it going that way. Ideally, if we can keep growing the series, we can do one of each, yearly.
Serrano: Thanks for the time!
Kingston: Thank you!
To access the Headlocked: Tales from the Road Kickstarter page, click here.