Headlocked: Tales from the Road Vol. 2 – A Love Letter to Comics and Pro Wrestling

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Headlocked: Tales from the Road v. 2 features several stories from Michael Kingston and professional wrestlers he collaborated with to create a unique comic book series set in the world of Headlocked, a professional wrestling comic book. I sat down with Kingston to discuss Headlocked, and this is the story of how all of that came about.

Comic books and professional wrestling have many parallels. From larger than life characters wearing colorful costumes, to villains doing dastardly things to defeat their opponent and dominate everyone in their way, to titanic clashes between heroes when they just don’t see eye to eye, it is easy to see how the world of both comic books and pro wrestling would share many fans in common.

Michael Kingston was one of those people. From an early age, seeing Captain America and Spider-man fighting on the cover of a comic book, he was hooked and couldn’t keep away from the comic book rack at his local grocery store. Similarly, when channel surfing, he discovered George “The Animal” Steele eating a turnbuckle on WWF television, and he couldn’t tear his eyes away. Just like with comic books, he was hooked for life.

Ring of Honor was the gateway that led Kingston to realize what the medium of pro wrestling could be with their storylines, including an elevated level of in-ring action. The stories of CM Punk and Raven, or the trilogy with Samoa Joe and CM Punk over the ROH World Championship opened his horizons and led him to the rest of independent pro wrestling.

His story with comic books was similar to his story with wrestling, expanding to independent comics as he grew in his fandom as he got older, moving into Preacher, and many creator-owned comics, rather than the mainstream.

As Kingston grew up, he read every comic book he could find and watched whatever wrestling he could find too, but every attempt at a crossover between the two worlds left him unsatisfied. WCW and the WWF (now WWE) have both tried to cross into the realm of comic books over the years, but never really achieved the kind of storytelling you would expect from the world of comic books.

Kingston decide he wanted to write a comic book set in the world of professional wrestling with the type of storytelling he wanted to see. When he pitched Headlocked to comic book publishers, they all rejected him, with some literally laughing in his face, saying that “Wrestling fans can’t read.” A similar sentiment from all publishers was held until Mick Foley’s book became a best-seller, but the reputation remains, even to this day.

Kingston then decided he was going to do it himself. He jumped on the internet message boards and advertised his comic book, traveling to wrestling shows, comic book conferences, and whatever gatherings he could get into to put the story in front of people. The hustle of traveling to each comic con and trying to get the comic in front of people who would give it a chance had some parallels to the story of Mike Hartman in the original comic book, as Hartman did everything he could to make it in the wrestling business.

Kingston also sent an email to Jerry Lawler cold through his website to see if Lawler wanted to provide art for the comic, and Lawler joined in, doing the covers for the entire series, and Headlocked became a reality. Kingston’s journey of getting the comic book published found a great platform that changed the game for him once it became available: Kickstarter. Once Kickstarter launched, he found a new way to produce and raise funds for the comics and found a way to deliver the comics to the hands of supporters in a much easier way.

The journey of giving everything to follow a dream makes up the core emotional story of Headlocked and is a universal story that everyone can relate to, whether they are comic book or wrestling fan. Kingston’s own dream of publishing this comic book led to him initially meeting wrestlers like Christopher Daniels and Shane Helms (The Hurricane) at Comic Cons and they loved the storylines.

It was through meeting these pro wrestlers that the idea for collaborating with wrestlers inside stories set in the Headlocked universe came to him, and Headlocked: Tales from the Road began. While the main storyline of Mike Hartman trying to make it in pro wrestling is contained to the Headlocked comics, the Tales from the Road are stand-alone stories that flesh out the world of Headlocked more and contain a lot of nods to the main Headlocked storyline.

The thing that always drew in pro wrestling was the characters. Similarly, it is characters that draw people in comic books. Without characters that you can invest in it is just action in the ring disconnected emotionally from the audience. The characters are what draws you in, and this is something Kingston attempted to do with both Headlocked and Tales from the Road.

Creating an original character that people can invest in is the hardest part of any story, and it’s why Kingston enjoys NXT 2.0, for example, because it is a group of young wrestlers trying to figure out their characters. Seeing a character click and then develop is a very compelling thing, and finding the line that is authentic while highlighting the reality of the wrestling business and the struggle within it is what Kingston was aiming for with Headlocked. Having pro wrestlers join as the collaborators for Tales of the Road has led to having that feeling of authenticity, as the wrestlers themselves have unique and interesting stories about the business as a whole.

In Tales from the Road, we see a story written by Shane Helms as a wrestler sitting in the emergency room wondering if his career is over. Rob Van Dam provided a story, his second in Tales from the Road, in a 1960s style story that could only come from the mind of RVD. Thunder Rosa joined for a story about how women are presented in wrestling, wrestling (pun intended) with all the issues surrounding that, and the challenges that women face in the business.

Each story from Tales from the Road has a very personal touch from each collaborator, and just like the diversity of each wrestler in the wrestling business, each story has its own style and signature. As Kingston said, “If there is a ring and the promise of a payday, something interesting is happening,” and that is reflected in all the Tales of the Road.

One unique contributor to this volume of Tales from the Road was Danhausen. Danhausen has been one of Kingston’s friends for years now, and Kingston knew he wanted a creative mind like his involved for a story. As Danhausen was recently injured, breaking his leg at an independent wrestling show, the Kickstarter for Tales of the Road features options that result in money going directly to Danhausen’s recovery, and the story that Danhausen writes is one that Kingston is very proud of.

There are many stories that Kingston has yet to tell, so there are many more Tales from the Road to come, including an upcoming Christmas story, and stories co-authored with Jerry “The King” Lawler about a wrestling journeyman. As it stands, however, Volume 5 of Headlocked and Volume 3 and 4 of Tales from the Road are currently being produced, so it is needless to say that the world of Headlocked has a lot more to come.

The unique aspect of Headlocked and Tales from the Road is that Kingston has found a way to blend the storytelling you would see in an HBO Drama with the world of professional wrestling in a comic book form. If you are a professional wrestling fan, the comic book will appeal because it truly highlights the struggles of trying to make it in the wrestling business. If you like comic books, it is the kind of quality story you would expect to find from independent comics. If you are a fan of both professional wrestling and comic books, it is the perfect mix of both worlds that will appeal to you directly.

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Will Mike Hartman finally make it to the big time in wrestling? What new tales will we hear from the other wrestlers in that universe? At this point, we don’t know, but Kingston is excited to take us along the journey with him and has crafted stories that draw us all in. Diving into the world of Headlocked, including the Tales from the Road, is something that any wrestling fan would enjoy.

You can purchase all the previous issues of Headlocked and Headlocked: Tales from the Road on the Headlocked website here: https://www.headlockedcomic.com/

You can support the Kickstarter for Headlocked: Tales from the Road Volume 2, including many support tiers for Danhausen, who is recovering from surgery, here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/headlockedcomic/headlocked-tales-from-the-road-volume-2

Finally, you can follow Michael Kingston on Twitter for all the updates concerning Headlocked here: https://twitter.com/HeadlockedComic