The love affair between comic books and professional wrestling continues to grow as this year we can expect a comic book about wrestling (Ringside by Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber) and a professional wrestler diving into the world of superhero comics (Drax, written by CM Punk). Beyond those most mainstream releases, Frank Gibson and his friends circle of LA-based cartoonists — collectively known as Muscle Temple — are repping their love for wrestling with Muscle Temple #1, an anthology of original wrestling comics, comedy, and illustrations currently being funded on Kickstarter.
Frank’s a bro — he invited me to my first Pro Wrestling Gurerilla show, which basically changed my life – so we wanted to take some time and shoot the shit about our favorite bizarre, dramatized athletic performance art.
Wrestling comes from the world of carnies and hucksters, so there’s a lot of lingo that may not be clear to a casual reader, so feel free to check out Grantland’s oh-so-convenient pro wrestling glossary if you ever find yourself confused.
Danny Djeljosevic for Loser City: The crossover between comic books and professional wrestling goes back to (AT LEAST) that time Spider-Man selfishly tried to beat up a pro athlete for money, but in recent years lots of comics creators have been vocal about their love for the King of Sport. Why do you think so many comics people love wrestling, and why do you think that enthusiasm has grown?
Frank Gibson: I think there’s all sorts of things in play here. Wrestling hasn’t shed its stigma as a cultural gutter, a lot of the way wrestling is written will prohibit that for quite a while, but I think there’s a sincerity that really resonates with comics people. It’s another maligned medium. I think now that the wrestling-is-fake stuff has mostly disappeared and we’ve got away from some of the more gross stuff that was happening in the ‘90s, a lot of cool nerds have grown up and become the kinds of wrestlers they wish they’d been seeing.
There was also a really great creative period for WWE involving these kinds of characters around a year and a half ago with CM Punk, The Shield, The Wyatt Family, and Daniel Bryan that grabbed a lot of people. Also, the rise of indie wrestling online. There’s a lot of factors. I’m just glad to be able to come back to wrestling and see more of the kind of stuff I wish I was seeing. I think the same is true for comics.
LC: Wow, you’re right — in comics, all these kids who were into anime and video games have grown up and changed the dominant aesthetic. With wrestling, I feel like a lot of these younger guys and gals entering the major leagues from the indies shared my love for the first two hours of any given WCW Monday Nitro and just wanted to be like Blitzkrieg and Billy Kidman instead of Hollywood Hogan and Lex Luger.
FG: There was actually a thread on Reddit where people were showing GIFs of super gross deathmatch CZW wrestling and the “wrestling is fake” thing came up again, which is such a weird argument for anyone to have and both sides always come out looking ridiculous. The prevailing mainstream idea seems to still be that wrestling fans think it’s real, which is so weird since WWE is so entrenched in actual popular culture these days and enjoyed such huge ratings ten years ago that most people at least should have tangentially “got” wrestling at that point.
LC: My running theory for comics’ wrestling obsession has been that professional creators are “insiders” and can’t be “fans” anymore, so that part of the mind that needs to obsess over a hobby transfers to wrestling. It’s something that a creator can still be an unabashed fan of, as an outsider to that world. I think this is especially true of people who grew up with superhero comics, because they’re really, really similar. Except now, it’s not weird to like comics, but if you mention that you’re into wrestling you still kinda have to explain yourself through all the side-eye.
FG: I think you’re totally correct on comic creators and fans needing a secondary obsession. I use wrestling to put away comics a lot, I think I watch more wrestling than I read comics or think about comics at this point, which is really weird, but I figure football fans do that when they’re not working as well. Sometimes I feel guilty about giving it so much headspace.
LC: So, let’s compare notes — what got you into wrestling to begin with?
FG: When I was five a friend of mine had these poseable WWF figures, his dad built him a rad wooden ring for them. I never watched wrestling but I enjoyed the rules of playing with wrestling action figures as opposed to the free-wheeling world of G.I. Joe where you can just “blow up” Cobra Commander and then the other kid has to retcon it like a bad improv show.
After that I forgot about wrestling. When I was 12 it was the height of Rock/Austin, a new TV channel in New Zealand started showing PPVs for free and I was curious what the mean kids at school were talking about. I really liked X-Pac, to start with, gravitated towards the mid-card guys like D’Lo Brown as they’d have matches I found more interesting than rookie Rock. Loved, loved Mick Foley, but what really kept me involved were the matches in WCW. I loved Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Kidman, La Parka. Around the time of WCW’s decline is when I thought about training as a wrestler, after destroying a bunch of furniture in my parents house, that didn’t work out so well for me or my knees. My neck still makes pretty weird noises when I stretch it.
LC: For me, I was beginning middle school, nWo was in full swing, and it was something my new friends excitedly talked about (“Sting rules! I hate Hogan! Etc!”), so I checked out a random episode of Nitro. The first thing I saw when I turned on the TV was Glacier.
FG: Oh god, Glacier. I remember being into the idea of Sub Zero as a wrestler but I was so aware it was a rip-off that it made me angry. Who did they think they were tricking? And then when they brought him back after he’d been rejected, they just did the same thing again yeah? Or was there a Vince Russo twist?
LC: They turned Glacier into a jobber, shot segments where he literally sold his outfit, entrance, and music to Ernest Miller and Kaz Hayashi, AND THEN repackaged him as a high school football coach style manager named Coach Buzz Stern. Not exactly as embarrassing as Disco Inferno’s descent into a Sisqo parody, but still, what a fall from grace!
FG: Aw, man, Ernest Miller! Remember when they had James Brown come out unadvertised on a PPV for a huge amount of money and then they lost the rights to his song on the replay? Old WCW! I don’t even remember Coach Buzz. Is Disqo any more embarrassing than Juvy as The Juice doing the people’s elbow?
LC: I have SO MUCH love for WCW midcarders, more than teachers, firefighters, and personal role models combined. Those were the guys I would watch before being forced to go to bed every Monday, so whatever Hogan and Warrior were up to in the last hour were relegated to anecdotes shared by classmates the next day.
For all its goofy, short-sighted decisions, WCW felt so classy and sports-like to me, while Attitude-era WWF felt like watching Jerry Springer. I still kept up with it because, y’know, Steve Austin.
FG: By the way, I flew from New Zealand to Australia to go see Nitro, we drove through a bush fire to get there to see Rey vs. Juvy in a ladder match, but Juvy took too many drugs, stripped naked and punched a cop in the hotel lobby. They said they were replacing Juvy with Kidman, but then the ladder match did not occur at all, classic WCW. I got Steiner vs Sting in the main event, one of two Sting main events I got to see in my life, the other was Sting against Jeff Jarrett, where Rick Steiner did a big old heel turn on his “best friend” Sting, which was established earlier in the night. The upside is I got to see my beloved Lance Storm.
LC: So what led to the decision to finally jump into the wrestling comics game with Muscle Temple? It looks like we’re coming up on a wealth of wrestling comics content with Muscle Temple, Ringside, Headlocked, Screwjob, and an eventual new volume of Super Pro K.O., among others. How much care are you taking to make sure that Muscle Temple stands out among the crowd?
FG: The whole Muscle Temple thing was just my house. Roommate and friend for years, Zach Marcus, was curious about my past with professional wrestling and I introduced him to the best parts of the sport, showing him matches like Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi, strange high-flying stuff like Kota Ibushi’s stint in CHIKARA, he fell in love with El Generico and laughed his ass off at Scott Steiner, then respected him because of his amazing matches earlier in his career. Then it grew. Our neighbor Joaquin was way into wrestling and was just getting back into it following “the break.” You know, when so many wrestling fans left around the botched WCW/ECW Invasion angle, then dabbled when ECW was revived, then gave up again?
Then it grew — it turned out a bunch of cartoonists were into it since they were kids and the ones who weren’t were super open-minded. We did GIFs and weird drawings for fun, then we got more involved in the sport, hitting up indie shows and now it’s time for us to share our vision of wrestling. Some serious, some not, some goofy, some weird. We just want to show a variety of facets. We want a bunch of really different takes on it by talented people and that’s what we’re getting.
LC: It’s really cool that what began as a fun friendship activity has grown into an physical book that strangers can enjoy. What inspired you all to turn it into a big release as opposed to just continuing to put stuff on Tumblr?
FG: So, the cool thing about the book is we were originally going to do a compilation zine, and that’s still an idea we have for a later date, but since we all do comics we decided to go for brand new material. It just kept getting more professional as we went on. I guess I have a problem where everything I have kinda has to be my job too? Wrestling was my only hobby and now it’s part of my career. I’m not sure what that says about me.
LC: It’s supposed to work that way, right? Turning your passions into art. It’s cool that wrestling is re-emerging as a prominent thing that people are paying attention to again — enough to be able to incorporate it into your comics career! A few years ago I’d have to admit to being a fan with some hesitation and self-deprecation, but since then I’ve felt less willing to downplay my enthusiasm. Conversely, with comics I never feel that kind of — what do you even call that? Inferiority complex? Preemptive embarrassment?
FG: Comics embarrass me all the time. When I was at New York Comic Con a few years ago there was a booth with women in cages. I think the Marvel movies and the Nolan Batman franchise made mainstream comics feel a little safer than they used to be, but I still feel weird saying I work in comics as a career because they might think I make reprehensible garbage, as opposed to thinking I make Garfield or whatever. Living in LA most people are pretty enthusiastic about that, but the further afield I go the weirder the reaction gets. I’m lucky to be surrounded by supportive people now, but it wasn’t always the case.
LC: That makes sense — I guess when you live in a comics bubble on the internet it’s easy to forget that there are still people who think it’s trash. But, do you/did you ever feel weird admitting to be a wrestling fan? A lot of people still consider that even more reprehensible.
FG: My parents think wrestling is the worst thing in the world, especially since I torched my knees at such a young age for no reason. There’s so much bad stuff that’s happened and continues to happen in wrestling. Too many people are dying or being crippled. Too many bad people still hanging around the industry. I feel like it’s shifting, much in the way comics is though. But yeah, I try to say I love wrestling with such an over the top enthusiasm to people, rather than hiding it. I think if I act way into it that maybe they’ll understand easier? I’m a weird extrovert like that.
LC: Can you talk a little bit about the content of the book, as far as what might entice potential readers? Are there any pieces in the book that took you by surprise when they came in?
FG: We’re commissioning all new material, everything is brand new just for the book. Nothing is set yet, but I’m really excited about the ideas I’m hearing for Sam Alden‘s mumblecore promo comic. I’m excited to finally do the wrestling high-school comic that Zach and I have been talking about forever. Geoffrey and Amanda are doing a fake RAW script based off the leaked ones. I’m just pumped people want to be in it and that people are buying the thing.
LC: Those pieces seriously sound awesome. Being familiar with most of the artists in the anthology, it’ll be really cool to see how each one interprets the sport through their individual sensibilities. Tell me more about your and Zach’s comic, tho! Are you imagining a series, or is this a one-off story? As a fan of both high school shit and wrestling, I’m extra excited.
FG: I’m having trouble pinning down what I exactly want to do with the high-school comic just because I have a bunch of ideas. I love the idea of the goth kid who hangs out in the rafters, the chaotic good kid. I love the idea that certain kids are referees and play support positions. Wrestling has so many wonderful broad character archetypes that are instantly recognizable in a high-school situation as everyone has that weird artifice to them and puts themselves in boxes. I think I want to focus on one pop quiz or test right now, make it manageable. If you try to do too much in five pages, which I’ve done many times, it doesn’t make for great comics.
LC: I love that already. It’s amazing how you can apply the dynamics of wrestling to other situations. For example, I use “kayfabe” to describe shit all the time. And it sounds like you’ve definitely got a lot of ideas for the concept. I feel you, tho. It’s so tempting to pack every story with as much stuff as you can — more bang for your buck, as it were. What are your personal favorite wrestling archetypes — gimmicks that always work for you?
FG: GIMMICKS! Oh man! The way Rusev was rocking his foreign heel gimmick, a dude with a Bulgarian tattoo pretending to be Russian with the pictures of Putin and stuff. That weird medal which went nowhere and meant nothing? It was so great and he just owned it so hard. Lana was incredible in her role too. That kind of archetype should be DOA these days but I love that the players manage to twist it into something wonderful.
I loved goth wrestling, if Abyss was around when I was a kid I would have eaten that up. Just a guy with a create-a-wrestler move set of chokeslams and bombs and no actual character.
Scrappy underdogs are the best though. I was the biggest Spike Dudley and Crash Holly fan there could ever be. Rey Mysterio did such a good job of it too, transitioning from just an amazing wrestler to an amazing character who didn’t even have to say a word.
LC: Imagine someone challenges you to show them an exemplary match that captures what you personally love about professional wrestling. What would you show them?
FG: I often show people a few matches. I got people in with Yoshihiko, the wrestling mannequin and Kenny Omega wrestling a child. The anywhere championship belt where El Generico wrestles in a lake is really good. There’s a CHIKARA fatal four way with one of the Bucks, Jigsaw, El Generico and Kota Ibushi that’s full of amazing high-spots. Shinssuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi is another one. If they’re a person who thinks maybe wrestling is hokey I show them Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi with no commentary. By the end they think it’s real.
If I had more time I’d do “I’m sorry, I love you” Ric Flair vs Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania or the Daniel Bryan double-header at Wrestlemania 30. To feel the emotional impact that wrestling can have. I love dudes crying.
Danny Djeljosevic is the co-founder of Loser City and the writer of The Ghost Engine, Kids Rule!!!!!, Final Derby and many other works. His most recent series is Big Fucking Hammer, a new collaboration with Final Derby artist Diana Naneva, which you can currently read for free.