On the mat and between the panels

120713_liger“I find inspiration in everything. With comic books, everything around me is inspiration: people, friends, family, conversations, comic books, TV, movies, cartoons, music. With wrestling, I find inspiration from my favourite wrestlers like The Great Muta and Mitsuharu Misawa. Also matches on the internet can inspire me to try something new in the ring.

Comic books and wrestling pretty much go hand in hand. Both are different forms of storytelling. The characters, the over the top drama and costumes also bear many similarities.”

Right now, Michel Mulipola is standing in San Diego, California, in the middle of the biggest pop culture event in the world – the San Diego Comic-Con. This isn’t his first journey there but it is certainly his biggest so far. For he’s not there as a fan – he’s there as an artist. And, as you may know, he’s an artist who regularly dons a mask to deal out damage on unsuspecting opponents. The line between superheroes and wrestling is hardly ever more blurred than with the man who IPW fans know best as the strong style super-villain – Liger.

It’s been fascinating watching the growth and development of Michel’s talent over the years I’ve known him. Michel made his home base at Onehunga’s beloved Gotham Comics, and I’d enjoyed his early work on DMC’s NZ comics anthology New Ground before I met him. As it turned out, he’d followed a very similar path to me in finding a love of all things Spandex.

“I’ve been reading comic books since I was five, ever since I found a stash of my uncle’s Rom the Space Knight comic books. What drew me to comics was the imagery, the colours and the action. It was the same thing when WWF was on TV. I’d stay up late watching these spandex clad heroes take on the dastardly villains with their larger than life personas bringing comic book style action to life.”

Mashing up the names of The Dynamite Kid and Jushin Thunder Liger, Michel created a wrestling character for a comic story called Smacktown. What started as a What If? story, about himself trying out as an actual wrestler, soon turned into reality as Kid Liger transcended from paper all the way to the wrestling ring in IPW. His character went through several evolutions, first looking very much like his favourite superhero Green Lantern, and then moving into his most recognisable look with the Liger mask designed by him and made by a mask maker in Mexico. The names of most of his favourite moves are in-jokes for comic lovers. When he eventually turned heel, the ‘Kid’ part was dropped, as he claimed it was time to put aside childish things. But his passion for drawing never abated.

“As long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to draw. I think the discovery of my uncle’s comic books lit a creative spark in me and started my dream of drawing comic books.”

Michel famously faced many other entrants in V’s ‘Pimp My Life’ competition. Knowing he needed to enlist the help of everyone he knew, Michel offered a free sketch to anyone that voted for him each day. It worked. He drew a lot of sketches. Dominating the competition in the end, it gave him the money to upgrade his artistic technology to professional levels, while also paying for his first trip to SDCC. Once in San Diego, he was one of the few there hand-picked to get his portfolio reviewed by DC’s Art Director Mark Chiarello. Michel got great feedback and continued to work hard at his craft. Drawing daily, he constantly set about improving all aspects of his work. It was this dedication that led to me employing him for an eight-page project of my own, as I wanted a comic of my own characters to show off during my recent trip to Chicago. His work blew me away – especially considering he completed it in only two weeks – and also turned some heads over in the States. One such head that I got to talk to was Michael Kingston, the creator of the wrestling based comic series Headlocked.

“I remember getting the first couple of issues of Headlocked at Gotham Comics a couple of years ago because a) it was a wrestling comic and b) the covers were by Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler.

I met creator and writer, Michael Kingston, at San Diego Comic Con last year and introduced myself as a ‘worker’ from New Zealand. After a good conversation with him, I also mentioned that I draw comic books as well.

I guess on your trip to Chicago when you met Mike at C2E2, you reminded him of my stuff, so he contacted me about doing some work for a San Diego Comic Con exclusive Headlocked comic book.”

Once I realised Mike had met Michel and liked his stuff, I was extra keen to give him the comic Michel had done for me, to show him that Michel’s art was always improving. But I suspect Mike was already thinking of adding Michel to the fine roster of talent working on his series. That San Diego Comic Con exclusive Headlocked comic is now available at the event, and Michel has done a six-page story for it, as well as the cover and some promo images for some of the characters. Soon after seeing Michel’s work for that, Mike offered him the gig of being the regular artist for when he re-launches the comic book.

What I’ve always felt has helped Michel get his success so far, in both wrestling and in comics, is these simple truths: He has the right attitude, he works hard, and he works smart.

“Though drawing comic books feels more natural to me, it also gives me an edge when it comes to stepping into the squared circle. I know how to tell a story.

At the end of the day, as a wrestler, your job is to tell a story. Get the crowd emotionally invested in your match. Comic books are exactly the same. The story you tell has to be coherent and understandable or else you lose your audience. Cool moves and splash pages will wow the crowd momentarily but they won’t care in the long run.

I think that drawing comic books is the more challenging craft of the two. It’s a constant inner struggle trying to put onto paper the vision you see in your mind.

Wrestling isn’t easy though. Drawing comic books is much easier on the body.”

What’s probably the least strain on his body – with the exception of his signing hand – is working the Headlocked booth at SDCC this week. With internationally recognised wrestlers like Shane Helms, RVD, and Velvet Sky also manning the booth with him, he’s in some pretty good company. Spending time with such talent is a great advantage to both of his crafts, with the possibility of international wrestling work in addition to the doors already being opened for his art. At the end of the day though, being a comic book artist is his true passion.

“My goal is to draw comic books professionally. Wrestling is something I love to do for fun but it’s drawing comic books that is my real passion. I’d take a contract from Marvel/DC over a contract from the WWE any day.

I guess that’s one of the main reasons I have no problems putting other wrestlers over. In the end, wrestling means more to them than it does to me so they’re the ones that should benefit.”

No matter the canvas he’s using, whether the ring or the page, Michel Mulipola is nowhere near leaving his final mark. His action-packed story is still just beginning.