Frank Gibson is best known to readers for his works on Capture Creatures, Tigerbuttah, and as the eponymous Frank of Becky and Frank fame and their online hub, Tiny Kitten Teeth. His current obsession is his Kickstarter for Muscle Temple, his and several dope friends’ love letter to their lifelong fandom of Pro Wrestling. Almost funded and with less than a week to go, Comics Bulletin spoke to Frank. We break the kayfabe of both comics and wrestling fandom and come into an earnest and exciting look at what it takes to make your passions happen.
Rafael Gaitan for Comics Bulletin: What do you most take away from a great comic? A great wrestling match? Are you attempting to translate this to the reader and if so, how?
Frank Gibson: It always changes based on the kinds of stories. I’m not much of a horror or a drama guy, I dig comedy and it’s super hokey, but I love the idea of making someone feel joy reading something. It’s what I look for. Wrestling is just another storytelling medium, there’s an act structure to a match, to a storyline. With the new rise of indie wrestling on the Internet, there are genres of wrestling and when WWE is at its best there’s something for everyone, different styles of matches, characters, stories.
CB: Do you remember what got you into wrestling? Comics? How did the two meld for you?
FG: I think for both mediums you are in the pop culture gutter to start with and then you start to find those shining gems that make it worthwhile. I think most fans, myself included, approach both with the same weird obsessiveness. The WWE is just Marvel or DC. For comics I was grabbed by the Ninja Turtles, I’d buy the shiny kids TV version of the comic at the local corner store then I’d use a hole punch so I could put them in a binder. I read a lot of Classics Illustrated due to a great teacher I had, Mr. Schmidt, then dabbled with Batman but I didn’t really get it. Spider-Man was my guy, then the guy who worked at Quality Comics in Perth, Western Australia suggested I check out a little book called Bone that ended up changing my life. I wouldn’t be making this stuff without Jeff Smith.
For wrestling it was a similar jumping off point, but much quicker, WWE was on top and I immediately went for the struggling, not quite as well written or with as big characters, but the one that had the mid-card with the best wrestling, which led me to tape trading. Wrestling happened VERY fast for me, I got way into it over a period of like 4 years.
CB: Speak more to this tape trading. It’s a phenomenon bred inside of wrestling fandom but has similar echoes to the collector vibe and love of obscurity of the comics community. Do you recall the moment or the tape that made you cross over into the full-on wrestling fandom?
FG: I remember some very early Dudley Boyz matches, back when there were too many Dudleys. Bubba Ray and D-Von weren’t even the originals. I loved the history. I love seeing the beginning of Taz’s character, where he played a caveman. It’s great to see people working out their gimmicks, I love seeing the start of something. It connects me to it, I invest in the character a lot more. Lance Storm matches in ECW really gave me an appreciation of the craft of wrestling, the guy who amongst all the chaos is putting on great, smart and creative matches.
CB: Did you find yourself doing any unorthodox research for Muscle Temple? Did you reach out to any pro or indie
wrestlers for guidance or their takes?
FG: We’ve been super fortunate that The Young Bucks have offered a tier on the Kickstarter (which is sold out), which was super-kicking a fan in the face. We’ve had some secret chats with some other folks, everyone has been really nice. We know a bunch of people who have been on the peripheries of the industry, I don’t think we know everything, but we know a bit about how stuff works! Today I was watching a bunch of old Karl Gotch and Lou Thesz stuff, reading the history of wrestling, but that’s mostly for fun.
CB:Did you encounter many challenges/ revelations in translating something as kinetic as wrestling into sequential art?
FG: A lot. I love fight comics but they’re so hard to do. Guys like Jarrett Williams totally own that genre of wrestling comic. There’s some action in the one I’m writing and it’s challenging me a lot right now. I think there are going to be a couple quiet comics in here too. Sam Alden’s idea that he pitched to me is fantastic, about wrestling promos.
CB: What drew you to crowdfunding as opposed to soliciting publishers?
FG: I love working with publishers but for a project like this it. I’m not sure this is the most marketable project. I grew up just making whatever I wanted on the Internet and that’s translated to my self-publishing most of my projects. I just wanted to make what I wanted and what my friends wanted and put it out there in an unadulterated fashion. So I went back to the Kickstarter, this is something like the 15th Kickstarted book I’ve been involved with in some way.
CB: Was Muscle Temple always meant to be an anthology? Did you/ would you ever consider a more long-form story set in the pro wrestling world?
FG: Nope! It was just a group of friends who happen to be artists who expressed their love of wrestling through goofy sketches and stuff. It just snow-balled, originally we were going to do it on a riso as a compilation of old drawings and then it turned out to be more cost/time effective to make a real book. So here we are! A real book with new comics!
CB: Crowdfunding is often criticized/ controversial for the risk of delivery. Did you have any hesitation about the production/ delivery of the physical rewards? (Also hell of props to you for making the project itself accessible at such a lower tier)
FG: That stuff always scares me, but this is something around the 15 mark for crowdfunded projects I’ve at least been tangentially involved in. My first Kickstarter was five years ago for my kids book Tigerbuttah, I took a bit of a break and this is me easing myself back in (with the biggest project I’ve ever done).
Also it’s always important to me to get “the thing” in the Kickstarter, so many go astray and barely offer the product they’re making until you’re five tiers in. The book isn’t super long and we aren’t doing a nutty hardcover so we can actually afford to sell the book at a good price.
CB: From your involvement in so many Kickstarters and now launching your own, what advice or experience do you think you’ve learned that best helps you ensure for the success of Muscle Temple? Any glaring lessons you would give to aspiring creators/ crowdfunders?
FG: Line up your promo weeks beforehand. WEEKS! Involve people who can push the project very early in the production. This time I didn’t do it and all of our stuff is hitting right towards the end. These things don’t get successful because of Kickstarter, Kickstarter helps a lot with their newsletters, staff picks, tweets etc… You’re working with either people who know your work already OR you’re exposing new people to your work through promotion.
CB: Any collaborators who were unable to contribute but would look forward to?
FG: There are so many more cool people in the Muscle Temple crew who aren’t represented. We also got approached by a bunch of really talented people since the Kickstarter began who I’d love to work with in the future.
CB: The goal is met and the comic gets done and published. Do you see yourself expanding on the release and/ or publication? (advertising, second printings, retailing it?)
FG: I’m taking it one step at a time, we’re definitely getting it out to retailers and to distribution though. I want more people to be exposed to it. But after the initial print-run we’ll have to check the interest level. To be honest on most indie publishing projects, the vast majority of your sales is that original Kickstarter.
CB: Considering your animation experience, is the goal to extend the book into that field or perhaps create a companion?
FG: Cartoons are expensive! I love that collaborative experience, but I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to afford that. I’d love it though. Kickheart is so cool, Ultimate Muscle is super goofy and fun as well. I mean they did Scooby-Doo at Wrestlemania, so isn’t that work already done?
CB: The link between pro wrestling and comics is an easy through line to follow. Do you find that wrestling and your love of it guides or inspires you in any of the other projects/ aspects of your life?
FG: I think it’s made me really conscious of narrative structure. When wrestling is at its best it’s a perfect three acts and when it falls apart I think it’s often a lot easier for me to pinpoint compared to other media. It’s made me very aware of character archetypes. When wrestling tries to create a grey area it never works, but when a grey area occurs naturally it allows for great storytelling? Not to say I prefer shades of grey storytelling, I love a great hero narrative and wrestling does it just as well as any media, it can do it on micro and macro scales to great effect.
CB: Would you say Muscle Temple is your most personal work, in any degree? Do you think you’ve put any aspect or effort of yourself into this book previously un- or underutilized in your other work?
FG: Since I tried to train as a wrestler when I was a kid, I think there’s a lot of me in my little story. Capture Creatures is about how I see the world. Tiny Kitten Teeth was the sum of all the things I loved. Muscle Temple is my passion, I truly love professional wrestling and I can’t get enough of it.
CB: What elements of the comic would you most highlight to sell the book to non-wrestling fans?
FG: I think the level of talent involved. Everyone in the book is amazing for completely different reasons and some of the contributors, although known super well in animation, may not be as well known in indie comics circles and I’d love to change that. I love bridging gaps, which is what the entire project is about. I want people who don’t know about wrestling, but know great comics and cartoons, to find out why we love it. I want people who are into comics to get into our weird and insane pseudo-sport.