I first became familiar with the work of Jarrett Williams in the Fall of 2010. I had an weekend internship in New York at the time and decided to hit up a comic shop (and New York has some nice ones) to grab some books to read on my train ride back home. This particular shop I was in had an Oni Press spotlight display set up with some very cool books on it, the only problem being I had read them all already. There was one though I had never seen before, a digest sized book called Super Pro KO. I asked the clerk at the store what it was about to which he simply replied "Wrasslin."
Greatest undersell of all time.
Focusing on the journey of rookie wrestler Joe Somiano, SPKO was both a high-flying debut of a hungry young artist and an unabashedly fun over-the-top look at the world of professional wrestling. So when I had a chance to interview Williams before the release of SPKO's second volume a few months ago we discussed his own personal history with comics, his need to challenge himself, and how SPKO is almost biographical of his own career in comics.
Spandexless: Before doing Super Pro KO you were mostly known for your web comic Lunar Boy, what was your first real push to start doing comics?
Jarrett Williams: You know its funny, when I was a kid I went to art school. It was actually called the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. And it was cool because it was a great experience, I focused a lot more on the traditional arts like painting and fixed media type works like photography and things like that. But I would always go home and draw comics. My mom was really good about going to the grocery store and bringing me copies of Archie or Jughead just because she was familiar with those type of comics as a kid herself, and she used to read a lot of romance comics growing up. And she also bought me comics like Spider-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so she really kind of catered to the fact that I loved to read period as a kid as I was definitely more introverted as a child. The fact was I would just read anything as a child so she would just get it for me. And I would actually just sit there with a couple comics in particular and clip them out of the paper and glue them into my sketchbook and try to avoid reading from the sketch book for as long as possible so I could have a bit of a graphic novel reading experience, and now I look back and wonder why I was even doing that [laughs].
S: It's very cool that your family supported you with all of that, I've heard other artists talk about their families and they usually say something along the lines of "Really you want to do that?"
JW: Yeah, I look back and I'm really amazed because I have a bunch of friends who didn't have that experience. They had parents who were like "Why the hell are you doing that?" [laughs] So they have been really supportive.
S: Who were some of your artistic influences?
JW: Oh, man. There are so many, and I feel like every time I talk about it I add someone else to the list like "Oh yeah, forgot about that person." So, guys like Dan DeCarlo or Stan Sakai; with Sakai, it's funny because I was just talking to somebody and they were saying how he's still underground in way or super independent and although that's true in a sense, when you have a career that spans that many years at this point is really amazing and really says a lot about his storytelling chops. Other people that have influenced me now are my friends that are drawing comics now whether its Eleanor Davis or Drew Lang. And I read a lot of manga at one point so people like Akira Toriyama and Mika Takahashi. And as of late Osamu Tezuka even more so than when I was a kid, it's just timeless storytelling you know? And also, Jack Kirby. Growing up, I was just a big fan of his style and would try drawing Kirby dots and fists coming at you right out of the page. He's a big influence on my work.
S: Looking at the cover of Super Pro KO volume one, there are definitely some Kirby-esque influences there, especially in the way Joe Somiano is posed.
S: So, after Lunar Boy what was your inspiration to make Super Pro KO into a graphic novel?
JW: Okay, so this is kind of weird story. I had always been drawing these little doodles of these pro wrestlers in my comics, but at the time because of Lunar Boy they were based more around this world of children with kids running amok. And I had all these kid versions of these pro-wrestlers, so when I started drawing Joe, he was probably ten or eleven years old and really squat and just short. And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make a pro-wrestling comic. I like pro-wrestling. I like watching it, maybe this is something I should explore. But at the time, I was really focused on getting Lunar Boy out there and that was where my mind was.
Well, just through hearsay a teacher of mine met up with, I believe, Chris Staros at Top Shelf. And somehow my work came up and it was actually Chris that said, "Jarret Williams is a good artist, but I feel like that as long as he's doing Lunar Boy he's never going to have a chance to grow, and he's kind of locked himself in a box." And for whatever reason that totally got in my head and resonated with me, and I was like, "Man, I want to become the type of artist that can tell different types of stories over the span of my career." So kind of hearing an editor say something like this guy should really just try something else. And I heard it as a challenge, as a way to prove everybody wrong and that I can do this. So, hearing what people like Chris were saying about me in terms of trying something else, I think it really pushed me in that direction a lot more. And of course I had to stop drawing Lunar Boy a while ago just to make time for Super Pro, but as soon as I started going to cons and showing artists this stuff and just anyone there was this response that was just like, "Yes." Something about this was clicking with me while I was drawing it, but also the people that were reading it were getting something from it too.
So it really just came down to someone challenging me to do something different.
S: It really does seem like Super Pro KO is a longer form story. Is this going to get to the point where we'll eventually be able to buy twenty five volumes of Super Pro KO to fill up a bookshelf?
JW: [laughs] You know in an ideal world that would be awesome just because when I pitched it, I pitched this first arc you're seeing right now. And the more I thought about the kinds of stories that I was reading, they tended to go on longer than you wanted them to, but that was part of the investment in those longer stories whether it be Dragon Ball or what not. I think right now in terms of wrestling, when you talk to a wrestling fan, the best part of it is this generational aspect to it like how an event years ago built up to now. So if I could I would just show this character, Joe Somiano, and the whole roster just grow over time, which I think would just be remarkable in the end. Just that pay off of seeing a forty five year old Joe Somiano, seeing his whole career and the rivalries and feuds. That would be awesome but at the same time I'm like, “let’s just focus on getting this done right now and see what happens.”
S: So, what can we expect from Volume Two from a storytelling standpoint?
JW: I think on the surface there's this thing of Joe going for the championship and going to Super Pro and that one day he can get the respect he deserves from his peers and his family. It's funny too because when I look at Super Pro, a lot of it's biographical of how I'm working in comics, sort of working my way from going to cons, and being in artists alley and doing that side of it and web comics to what I'm doing now. So, Super Pro KO kind of definitely parallels some of my experiences leading up to working for Oni Press.
Even in the second book, there's this opening where Joe is sitting in this sort of convention setting, like a wrestling fan-fest, and nobody is in his line. And that is totally me seven years ago at my first convention, which was at Otakon Baltimore. I didn't really research it and I was just like, "Oh, I'll go to this anime con," because I felt my style kind of catered to that a little bit. And I got there and I had the books ready, and no one could've give a crap that I was there. Probably the most humbling necessary experience for me at the time because it showed me that I had a long road ahead of me, so if I'm not in this for the long haul, I may as well just stop right now. And that easily translates over to Joe, even in the second volume, like oh my gosh here this new guy coming into the company. I'm no longer the new guy and I'm still fighting to get this kind of attention and getting booked period. So you know you can say that about any career path actually, you're going to have to really work and I feel like that why I'm so comfortable writing Joe right now because I can kind of put myself in his shoes and say, "how would I feel in this situation" and "when have I felt this way," and "how did I react and what was I thinking at the time." And it's fun too, since he's around these colorful characters who go up along the way as well.
S: Very cool. So, do you have any other projects outside of Super Pro KO that you're working on?
JW: Yeah, actually, I'm working on a couple of pitches right now, but nothing really set in stone right now, just these little shorts I've kind of been playing around with. I'm working on another Lunar Boy story right now, but I'm trying to make it a little bit more of a stand alone sort of thing, not just as long form as Super Pro just because I feel like I can do something thats a bit more self contained. And I'll have the Super Pro website up by the time the second book comes out, which is awesome and I'm really happy with it. But besides that I'm just working on Volume Three right now, and it's crazy just seeing the jump of working on volume three and seeing some of the visuals of things happening. It's really weird talking about volume two right now, but I guess that's just something you have to get used to. So, I'm really happy. I feel like the person who gets on board with Super Pro KO will just be on a crazy ass ride, and I'm super satisfied with it. The feedback's been great, and people have been coming up to me at cons to do a quick sketch for them and I get emails from readers to ask me questions and I'm always just down to talk to people because I know they are what helps Super Pro grow and gain a following and they're telling their friends to pick up a copy, so I'm just incredibly thankful to them.
If you would like to learn more about Super Pro KO you can check out the official SPKO Website where Jarrett regularly posts updates of the books progress. Updates on his other projects like Lunar Boy can be found here and via his twitter account. He's also been doing some work on event art for Chikara Pro Wrestling so check that out if your so inclined!