"Lucha Libre" Unmasks at Image Comics

This September, Image Comics debuts a unique new anthology series following a group of masked Mexican wrestlers. The book takes its name from that form of free wrestling, "Lucha Libre," and features characters like the incompetent Professor Furia, mentor to masked wrestlers and The Luchadoritos, described as "part Peanuts, part Dennis The Menace and lots of Lucha Libre." CBR spoke with writer Jerry Frissen about his creation and bringing it to the United States.

"We created a universe with five different series and wanted to publish everything at the same time in the same comic-book," Frissen told CBR News. "That's why I don't think it's really an anthology. It's five artists and one writer creating one universe. All the series [in 'Lucha Libre'] are in the same universe but can be read separately. But you understand a lot of one series by reading another one. Over the course of time, you will see crossovers between characters in the different series."

Said Frissen, "The Luchadores Five are the stars of the first book, they're a gang of five aging Latino men who decide to fight back and give their neighborhood (East LA) back to the People. They dress like Mexican wrestlers and refer to themselves as King Karateca, Red Demon, Dr. Pantera, Diablo Loco and El Gladiator. They fight against werewolves, tiki warriors, Elveze (a Latino midget Elvis impersonator), a gang of French called Les Formidables and many others. It's about the regular people that you can see walking at night in East LA."

It's the City of Angels itself that Frissen credits as inspiration for these tales. "All the 'Lucha Libre' universe is coming from the city," Frissen said. "One day I was stuck in traffic in East LA, and I saw a bunch of Latinos talking in front of an old building and I thought they could be my characters.

"I see a lot of things that make me want to write. For example, one day I got my CD player stolen from my car and at night I was so pissed (mainly because of the Ramones CDs they took), I was having this fantasy about being a superhero and getting my revenge. I realized how pathetic that was and it inspired me to create the main characters of the Luchadores Five.

"That's the way I conceive my writing. I want to dive into myself to get ideas even if what I find down there can be a little bit miserable. My characters are a mix of great inspiration, courage and also selfishness and cowardice. They're okay facing danger, but if there's a way to avoid being hit, they'll choose that way. They're human I guess. I also like the idea of people who are not afraid of wearing a mask in public, I think it's a silly thing to do but it requires a lot of courage. For example, I'm fascinated by these people dressed as a Klingon at every comic-con I go to."

Prior to finding a home at Image, "Lucha Libre" was published overseas by Humanoids. With this particular form of wrestling having originated in Mexico and enjoying a following both there and in the United States, one might think it odd that the book was first published in Europe by a French outfit. "[It's] simply because Humanoids was the first publisher interested by the project," explained Frissen. "But it's not only about Lucha Libre, it's also about people struggling for recognition, people who try to make a living, people who dream to be what they're not: heroes. So, the interest from Humanoids wasn't only about the wrestling.

"In regards to publishing in the US," Frissen added, "we were talking to a few different publishers but we really wanted to go with Image because we believe they are the best fit for our project."

Playing to the strengths of the anthology-like format, "Lucha Libre" uses different artists – most of whom go by just one name, interestingly-- for each feature. "There are five main artists and some guests," Frissen said. "Bill, Gobi and Fabien M. are in their mid twenties. They've known each other since they were kids and dealing with them is like dealing with the Sex Pistols: they're out of control, full of rage and energy and are amazingly talented. Tanquerelle and Witko are a little bit older but as mean and punk as the rest of the gang, all of our artists already have multiple books published in Europe. They're nice people but if you put all of them in the same room, the building will be soon catch fire. Basically, they're what artists should be: unrespectful! Sometimes, I have to fistfight my way, but that's the way it is. I'm really pleased and lucky to work with people like that."

Frissen himself is originally from Belgium, where he worked as a graphic designer. "I was bored as hell," the writer said. "I guess if I would have stayed there, I'd probably be a serial killer right now. So I decided to move to a more sunny and interesting place: Los Angeles, where fucked up people can feel at home. The city really inspired me to write.

"I began a zombies series with Guy Davis called 'The Zombies That Ate The World.' It's also published by Humanoids and should be published here pretty soon.

"I met Bill, the future artist of 'The Luchadores Five' and we decided to work together immediately and that's how 'Lucha Libre' began. He introduced me to some of his friends, Gobi and Fabien M. I wanted to work with these guys immediately. When I got the green light from my publisher to add more series to the project I contacted Hervé Tanquelle and Witko. They jumped on board immediately. I can be very persuasive."

The American debut of "Lucha Libre" follows the same form as the European release in that the characters have already developed a cult following before the release of a single issue of the series, thanks to a popular line of designer "Lucha Libre" merchandise. Said Frissen, "When I began working on the 'Lucha Libre' universe, my good friend Robert Silva convinced me to create a company and do some toys out of the characters. We had two toys before the first issue was released in Europe and we have now four before the US release. We're pretty happy with the results so far. We want our toys to be flawless, so we're losing a lot of money trying to be perfect. We're broke but happy."

Frissen plans to stay active in comics, both within his "Lucha Libre" universe and without. "I'm still writing 'The Zombies That Ate The World,' Guy just finished the 4th installment. I'm also writing a one shot called 'Reverend 666.' My long time dream is to write a 'Doc Savage' comic book."

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