World Wrestling Entertainment presents Wrestlemania 26, their huge sports entertainment extravaganza, tomorrow in Phoenix (and, of course, on pay per view). With this being a big wrestling weekend, I thought it might be fun to do a trio of posts that show the intersection of wrestling and the world of comics.
To kick things off, I spoke to Keith Champagne, the writer of Titan’s licensed WWE Heroes comic, which hit shops last Wednesday. Along with artist Andy Smith, Champagne is taking the larger-than-life roster of WWE superstars and turning them in comic book heroes. In addition to being available in comic shops, the book is also available directly from the WWE’s website. And you can find a free prequel comic available for the iPhone.
My thanks to Keith for answering my quetsions and to Titan Publishing for setting it up.
JK: When did you first become a wrestling fan, and who were some of your favorite wrestlers back in the day?
Keith: It was a glorious, late-spring day back in May of 81, I remember it well. Killer Khan leaped off the top rope, driving both of his knees into Andre the Giant’s ankle. A giant red ‘X’ flashed across the screen, censoring the Giant’s agony from my young eyes and I was hooked from there.
The day Andre got his revenge against Khan in a stretcher match was the greatest day of my 11 year old life. It might still be.
JK: Were you still following it when you got the WWE Heroes gig?
Keith: Definitely, but it had been a couple of years since I was watching on a weekly basis. I was following more through the Wrestling Observer and talking with friends to keep up, as well as the occasional show. I’ve since become acquainted with the current roster pretty well. I’ve even thought about applying to be a part of the WWE writing staff.
JK: I imagine with a roster as deep as the WWE has, you’ve had to pick and choose who to focus on. Who should fans expect to see in the comics?
Keith: This has been one of the more tricky aspects of the assignment, balancing out my favorites with the guys and divas who are most well known, and still trying to include some of the newer guys and mid-card talent.
In general, look for the most well known grapplers to be featured: HHH, Undertaker, Cena, Vince, Jericho … those guys. And hopefully a fair representation of the rest of the roster. We should see everyone at one point or another, even if it’s only a cameo.
JK: What WWE Superstars have you had the most fun writing?
Keith: I enjoy the Big Show, he’s surprisingly sensitive.
JK: Are there any WWE Superstars you didn’t have room for or who you couldn’t use who you wish you had?
Keith: I’ve gotten A LOT of people asking me about the WWE Superstars from the 80’s: Honky Tonk Man, Greg Valentine, guys like that. I’d LOVE to do something with that generation of superstars but some have passed away and likeness rights make using others tricky. Always in the back of my mind, I’m trying to find a way to pitch it that makes sense, ties into what we’re doing, and is logistically possible.
JK: What can you tell us about the plot of the book?
Keith: The basic plot of our first story arc involves establishing the mythology the overall story is set against: an eternal battle between two brothers, The Firstborn and the King Of Shadows. They’ve been duking it out since the dawn of time and their age old rivalry is about to boil over and consume the WWE. It’s surprisingly ambitious. Check out our cool trailer:
JK: How involved has the WWE been in the content of the comics?
Keith: They’ve been pretty hands off, all things considered. We have an approval process as we go. WWE has a few suggestions of what lines not to cross and so long as I keep that in mind, we’ve been able to play around in our own little sandbox here. It’s a pretty headache-free process, really.
JK: Do you get any feedback from the WWE Superstars themselves? I’d imagine you’d want the Undertaker or Triple H to be happy with how they’re portrayed …
Keith: I’ve heard that a few WWE Superstars have posted art of themselves on their websites but no one has contacted me directly. They’re more than welcome to and I might even use their suggestions so long as they bribe me with free tickets!
I hope the guys are all happy with how they’re portrayed, I’m not trying to make anybody look ridiculous. Except for the Big Show. I know jiu-jitsu though, so I’ll take him down if I have to.
JK: How has it been working with Titan? They seem to be putting a lot of support behind the book.
Keith: I’ve been really impressed with Titan. My editor, Ned Hartley, is top notch and very supportive. We’ve got a good, back and forth rapport and he also has a lot of top flight theories on LOST.
Where Titan really shines is in their efforts to market this book and make the public aware of it. The website, the Twitter page, the facebook page, the video preview, the PR…no one has put this kind of effort into anything I’ve written before. It’s really cool to see and I think it bodes well for the future of the books–especially if/when the WWE starts throwing their considerable muscle behind getting the word out.
JK: So, the big three matches this year at Wrestlemania are John Cena vs. Batista, Shaun Michaels vs. Undertaker and Chris Jericho vs. Edge. Who are your picks to win each of those matches?
Keith: I think Michaels vs Undertaker will steal the show and ‘Undertaker never loses at Wrestlemania. I think Batista will beat John Cena via controversial means and their feud will continue to rage on. And Edge will beat Jericho, I’m calling outside interference on that one.