Since its launch in 2016, Vault Comics has proved to be a vital home for comics across all manner of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror subgenres, and next year the acclaimed publisher is looking to expand. Next year will mark the launch of Wonderbound, Vault's new imprint for books aimed at young readers, and with it comes a fantasy adventure that started, of all places, in the bathroom of Eisner-winning comics creators Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover.
"Every once in a while, Paul will be taking a shower when a story idea occurs to him, and before the thought can slip away he will call out to me: 'Honey! Write this down! Peanut player!', or something," Coover explained in an interview with SYFY WIRE. "I don’t think that’s what happened here; I think this was one of those times when he came out of the shower and declared that he had come up with a new story. And I probably said, 'Oh no!' because this happens a lot and no one person can write that many things. But this time, he grinned and said, 'WRASSLE CASTLE.' And I said, 'PERFECT.' Truly, our shower is magic."
Tobin, for his part, remembers the shower saga a little differently, but the husband-and-wife team behind acclaimed books like Bandette still arrived at the same conclusion.
"Okay, so I sing in the shower. Like, a lot. And the songs are absolute nonsense. I’m just babbling in there. It’s embarrassing. And one day I was just throwing words together and 'Wrassle' and 'Castle' kinda ended up hanging out together, and I liked the way they sounded. So I made a Wrassle Castle song to sing in the shower (I do not remember the song I sang in the slightest, which is too bad because — believe me — I have no shame and would gladly make a Tik Tok of me belting it out) and then later I was like, seriously, those words do sound fun together. Maybe there’s a project there? And so I started jotting down possible notes and it all came together from there."
So shower songs became notes and the notes became Wrassle Castle, a story about a fantasy kingdom where "wrassling" is the most prestigious and popular sport in the land, featuring a young woman who wants nothing more than to rise through the ranks to become the greatest fighter of them all. Now, ahead of its release next year, SYFY WIRE is pleased to reveal a 10-page first look at this new adventure, with commentary from the creative team on how it all came together.
Wrassle Castle follows Lydia Riverthane, a gifted young wrassler who lives in the shadow of her older brother, one of the most popular fighters in Grimslade. Despite the apparent limitations of her place in the kingdom, Lydia will stop at nothing to become a wrassling star, but her ambitions might just lead her into territory a little more dangerous than the wrassling ring.
As their story took shape, and Coover began sketching out character designs, she and Tobin began the search for an artist who could bring their creation and its wide array of influences — which range from their own Bandette comics, to The Princess Bride, to French comics like Asterix, and manga like Fairy Tale — to life. They eventually connected with Galaad, the acclaimed French artist behind Scales & Scoundrels, who soon found that his own art style merged nicely with Coover's.
"Colleen is an incredible artist and she had done designs and concepts for the main cast already, so I just had to run with those designs and make them my own," Galaad said. "Our styles are quite similar. We've been influenced by ligne claire and bande-dessinée. It's a pleasure to work with someone like her. For the look of the world, we tried to keep it simple and familiar, but with lots of personality."
That sense of personality carries through the book in Galaad's expressive character work, but it also extends to the very concept of wrassling itself in the world of Wrassle Castle. Anyone who watches WWE or AEW programming will find certain pop cultural touchstones to latch onto, but the fantasy setting also allows the creative team to go into uncharted territory to craft wrassling moves, like Lydia's own finisher "Put a Lyd on It" and a move called the "Slapalanche," which is pretty much exactly what is sounds like.
"A lot of the moves have very cool names, so they were scripted for the most part, but drawing an 'avalanche of slaps' is fun however you describe it," Galaad said. "Most of the combats are fun and high-spirited. Lydia's combat are especially chaotic since she did not have the formal training the other wrasslers had. So she creates her own style as she goes. She can go from silly to badass in a blink of an eye."
Because of certain influences that have flown into the story, as well as the rather kid-friendly fun of the title, it was perhaps inevitable that Wrassle Castle would launch as a young readers book. While there's plenty for kids to love in this all-out fantasy romp, though, Coover and Tobin emphasized that they view the work less as something aimed at a particular age group and more as all-ages fun.
"Books for this age are such a sweet spot, especially for the fantasy genre: they give something for little kids to grow into while they have fun with the over-the-top action, while they have enough meat for adults to sink their teeth into," Coover said.
"Colleen and I write it more as a 'young readers accessible' story rather than a straight young readers title. I’ve never in my life written a story that was geared for a specific age group. I always want everyone," Tobin added.
To further emphasize the "for everyone" nature of Wrassle Castle, Tobin was also quick to point out that the adventures of Lydia and her friends aren't just all wrestling-themed all the time. Over the course of the first volume — out of a planned three so far, with more possible — we see much more than Lydia's efforts to become a wrassler alongside her brother's success. At its heart, though it's full of adventure and fun fight scenes, Wrassle Castle is a story about the power of friendship.
"I hope that when readers delve into the world, they first of all are taken by the friendship between Lydia and her friends Chelsea, Nyle, and Dee. Together, they form the Underground Alibi Society, sworn to provide each other’s parents with suitable alibis to cover up misdeeds," Tobin explained. "There’s a 'higher' story that WILL change the state of wrassling in the world, but I’m a guy who read all the classic issues of X-Men and my favorite story — amidst all the drama — was when they played baseball together, so I think it’s the small moments of characterization that build a story. Care about the people, and you’ll care about the story."
Wrassle Castle arrives September 2021 from Vault's Wonderbound imprint.