Off the Mat: Michel Mulipola

When it comes to Auckland-based artist Michel Mulipola, we’ve covered a wide variety of topics here on NZPWI – specifically his love of comics, his artistic ability and that tendency to beat up people in the ring as IPW’s Liger. For fans of the Strong Style Supervillain, it’s been entertaining watching his Pride grow. For fans of his comic-based creative endeavors, it’s been amazing watching Headlocked: The Last Territory gain success. With the next volume currently on Kickstarter, the time is right to catch up again with the man behind the mask.

Michel at SDCC 2014

Michel at SDCC 2014

Time has flown since we last caught up with Michel. All the way back in 2012, he was at San Diego Comic-Con for the first time as an artist. This year, he was there again, having an amazing experience.

“The feedback I’ve been getting for Headlocked: The Last Territory has been fantastic. While in SDCC, Frankie Kazarian was impressed with the amount of detail I put into the wrestling aspects of the graphic novel. He said it was like I had taken photos and drawn over them.

This was a huge compliment for me as I made sure that any of the wrestling action shown in the book was going to be legit. As a worker and someone who respects the wrestling craft, I aimed to make wrestling in comics look real and dynamic rather than cartoony and completely over-the-top. My artwork was like little Easter Eggs for fellow workers and to some extent, smarks, who know the inner workings of pro wrestling. The grips, the breakfalls, the lifts and sells, all giving Headlocked that authentic wrestling look.

Michel with John Morrison

Michel with John Morrison

I think the respect we show for pro wrestling in the Headlocked comic is why we’ve been able to garner the support from internationally renowned wrestlers like Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, Booker T, ‘Hurricane’ Shane Helms and Rob Van Dam.”

One of Michel’s highlights at SDCC was being a part of the Comics and Wrestling: Not So Strange Bedfellows panel alongside TNA’s Ken Anderson, Headlocked writer/creator Mike Kingston, and former PWG wrestler Scott Lost. This panel gave Michel opportunity to discuss both the similarities between the two art forms, as well as public perception.

“With their larger-than-life characters and conflicts between good and evil, comics and pro wrestling have many common threads. One common aspect I brought up in the panel was that of the common misconceptions of both art forms.

People look at comics and see superheroes with cool poses and think that is what comics are. People see cool wrestling moves and think that is what pro wrestling is. Those are just surface elements of both art forms. Comics and pro wrestling are all about the storytelling. Taking your audience along a journey and experiencing the highs and lows that you want them to, is what makes a story successful.

You want to have your audience emotionally invested in the story you are telling. You can impress them with splash pages and high spots but if there is no emotional connection, you will fail to keep their interest.

Michel with Headlocked creator Mike Kingston

Michel with Headlocked creator Mike Kingston

It’s this kind of approach I use when I’m drawing comics and when I’m in the ring. I find immense satisfaction in manipulating my audience in ‘feeling’ what I want them to feel rather than impressing them with Superheroes and Superkicks.”

The task of getting 115 pages finished under a tight deadline wasn’t an easy one, as anybody who’s tried to draw sequential art can attest to. Talent only gets you so far and success requires patience and dedication above all else.

Michel with Scott Steiner

Michel with Scott Steiner

“Working on the Headlocked: The Last Territory graphic novel was a ‘Rude Awakening’ for me. Before working on it, most of my comic stories were 6-12 pages long. Now, I had to draw 115 pages in three months. So I decided to knuckle down and do the work, drawing at least one page a day, sometimes two and three pages.

In fact, while I was in Wellington at Armageddon this year, I was still working on the book. I was on the last issue at the time so near the finish line. While my fellow IPW wrestlers were sleeping, I was up completing comic pages.

During IPW shows, I would be backstage with my computer all set up so that I can have my match, beat someone up and then head back and draw some comic pages.

Working extensively on the Headlocked graphic novel instilled a work ethic in me when it came to my artwork. Also, being able to accomplish such a daunting task in a short time frame proved to myself that I can do the work and that I love what I do.”

A strong work ethic yields many results, and not just in the finished product itself. The connections you make along the way can create many memorable moments. One of the favourite artists that Michel met at SDCC was Ed McGuinness, well known for his work on Deadpool, Superman/Batman, and Hulk.

Michel with Ed McGuinness

Michel with Ed McGuinness

“What was even cooler was that Ed was a huge wrestling fan as well. So we got to chatting and hanging out.

We gave him a copy of the Headlocked: The Last Territory book and then a couple of weeks after SDCC, he flicks me an e-mail. He loved the book and loved my artwork and storytelling.

That was quite the highlight for me on my trip. Having one of my fave artists actually take the time out to not only chat with me but also to read my book and e-mail me personally.”

The next volume of Headlocked: The Last Territory will continue the journey of aspiring wrestler Mike Hartmann, while featuring even more guest wrestler contributors than before, as well as guest comic creators. WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler returns to provide the cover for the book, joined this time by fellow WWE Hall of Famers Booker T and Tony Atlas, who are providing art for pin-ups. The Kickstarter provides exclusive back up stories by AJ Styles, John Morrison, and Frankie Kazarian.

On the comic side of things, Jill Thompson (Sandman)—whose work may be familiar to wrestling fans from her CM Punk WM29 shirt and Daniel Bryan’s ring gear—returns to provide chapter breaks for the book. Other comic book contributors include Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), Jamal Igle (Supergirl), Ramon Villalobos (Young Avengers) and Box Brown (Andre The Giant: Life and Legend).

“One of the most interesting things to come out of my experiences with Headlocked and SDCC is that these pro wrestlers who we’ve seen on TV and admire, have become good friends of mine.

Michel with Al Snow and Ken Anderson

Michel with Al Snow and Ken Anderson

Guys like Shane Helms, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Ken Anderson have become my buddies thanks to Headlocked.

It’s actually kinda cool that I get to work with these world famous wrestlers in a different capacity than in the squared circle.”

“Kinda cool” is a pretty understated way to put it. But that’s what Michel is all about – he’s confident in his abilities, as you need to be, but it’s all about the work and getting it done. Everything else is the sizzle on a steak—a talented, internationally recognised steak—that’s still cooking. Whether on the page or in a ring, the best is still very much to come. We’re all looking forward to it.


You can support the next volume of Headlocked on Kickstarter or by visiting the Arkham City Comics booth at Auckland Armageddon this weekend – where Michel Mulipola will be selling copies for $40 along with a quick sketch in each book.

Keen on more info? Check out Michel Mulipola’s:


“Headlocked – the ONLY wrestling comic that’s real. Everything else is just fake.”