Michel Mulipola, aka the "Bloody Samoan," is having the time of his life. Not only is he a full-time comic book artist (Headlocked, WWE), but he's also a Samoan pro wrestling champion signed with Impact Pro Wrestling and a member of the New Zealand esports team Flightless Esports.
Because he clearly doesn't have enough to do, he also co-founded a comic book shop in his hometown of South Auckland, New Zealand. When Mulipola was growing up, the only place he could fuel his love of superheroes was through the comics he found on the spinner rack at the local convenience store.
But as much as little Michel loved caped crusaders, pro wrestlers were his real-life heroes.
Like many Samoan kids, Mulipola grew up in a family full of wrestling fans. WWF, as it was then known, was on every week, and he was a huge Macho Man Randy Savage fan. On the playground, he and his friends would pretend to be "Macho Man" and challenge other kids who idolized their favorite stars, like "The Hulkamaniacs" and "The Warriors."
Little did he know that his dreams of comic books and wrestling would actually come true.
A self-taught artist, Mulipola honed his skills for several years. He finally got his big break when indie creator Michael Kingston asked him to draw interiors on a new issue of Headlocked, a series chronicling an aspiring wrestler's coming of age in the pro wrestling world. Kingston had also tapped a WWE Hall of Famer, Jerry "The King" Lawler, as the cover artist for the issue and sales, took off.
Wrestling is all about delivering a good story, and some of the biggest wrestlers are also artists and writers themselves. The Headlocked team knew they had a hit on their hands when they were able to convince big workers like Booker T to contribute artwork. Other stars like A.J. Styles, Rob Van Dam, and Shane Helms have also written storylines for the series. The indie comic was so popular with fans that that Boom! Studios approached both Kingston and Mulipola to work on their licensed WWE comics.
But Mulipola doesn't just draw brawlers — he is a wrestler himself in the New Zealand pro circuit.
Not only has he managed to merge two of his favorite loves, comic books and professional wrestling, but he's also passionate about representing Pacific Islanders in both arenas. Making regular visits to schools around South Auckland and the neighboring Pacific Islands, Michel Mulipola is an inspiration to other Samoan and Pacifica kids.
In between his school visits, SYFY WIRE chatted with Mulipola via Zoom to talk about his inspirations, Pacific Islander representation in comics, and how he accidentally became a pro Tekken player.
Growing up, were you only a fan of WWF wrestlers?
No, King Haku, the legendary Tongan wrestler, was a massive inspiration to me. He was one of the few Polynesian faces on TV who was unashamedly Polynesian. He used to wrestle all around the world, and when he would always speak Tongan in public. Even though I'm Samoan, I used to tell people he was my uncle. That was how strong of a connection I had with him.
I met King Haku a few years ago after I began wrestling, and we became the New Zealand tag team champions together. So I got to share that accolade with one of my heroes.
When did you start your wrestling career?
I got into wrestling 15 years ago after creating a comic which [I designed after myself] as a real-life professional wrestler. So when Impact Pro Wrestling here in Auckland had try-outs, I thought, "Why not give it a shot?" That's how it all started. I somehow ended up being fairly good at it. My character's name is "Liga." Half lion, half tiger, full Samoan.
You had so many real-life idols. Who were your heroes in comics?
But the character with the biggest influence on me as a kid was Green Lantern. When I first saw him in the DC Super Powers Collection, he stood out from the other characters because his colors were different. He was different. I loved that. When I started reading more Green Lantern stories, I realized I was Green Lantern. Using sheer willpower and imagination, I could bring to life whatever I could think of through my artwork. As an artist, my pencil is my Power Ring
Headlocked is truly a wrestling fan's comic. What's the secret to its success?
When I illustrate the wrestling elements of the story, I'm not presenting it as a fan. I'm drawing from lived experience. We worked hard and put in a lot of effort for several years, and we were lucky that a lot of famous wrestlers supported us. It's always interesting when [pro wrestler] tells us that they like to draw. I'm like, "Oh dude, send us some artwork, and we'll tidy it up a bit, color it, and put it in the book." It's really cool to have wrestlers want to flex different creative muscles and have Headlocked be the conduit for that.
Who has been your favorite wrestler to work with?
I think it has to be Ric Flair. When Mike told me that he got Ric Flair to do a story, I was like, "What?" How much bigger can we get than Ric Flair? It would have to be someone like The Undertaker or, like, The Sting, or something like that.
How did you get to draw for Boom on WWE?
Thanks to Samoa Joe and his advocacy for the Headlocked team, the WWE stuff came our way. Mike and I had done a short story with him introducing a Samoan wrestling character. When Joe was approached [by Boom!] about doing a comic story for the WWE comics, he knew he could count on Mike and me to help him do the story.
I got to draw Samoa Joe beating up Roman Reigns. That's a comic book rarity. Samoan on Samoan violence written by a Samoan illustrated by a Samoan. You can't find that anywhere else. I had so much fun illustrating that.
What is the comic book scene like in New Zealand?
We have some amazing artists. There are many comic book creators of Asian descent coming through the New Zealand scene as well, but it's predominantly white and male. We do have some fantastic women creators coming up though.
As the only brown guy coming in, and because my style is more brash and bold because my background is dynamic action and mainstream superhero stories, I wasn't embraced right away. The New Zealand comic scene is historically more of an indie [art scene]. But, I didn't care because I was getting to do what I loved, and I pretty much just let my work speak for itself.
Plus, I don't know of any other Polynesian or Pacifica comic book creator who does this professionally. So I'm a pioneer in a way.
Is that why you travel so often to talk to Pacifica kids about your work?
Absolutely, in the South Pacific, [being a comic book artist] has never been seen as a career path. Sharing my story and showing kids what's possible is important because I want to show other brown kids from poor neighborhoods who look like me, who dream different, who dream weird and big, if I can do it, you can do it too.
In fact, I have my line of comics [for kids] that I dropped last year in both English and Samoan.
Speaking of representation, it's Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month here in the United States right now. What does that look like to you from New Zealand?
The "PI" part of that is a bit of an interesting subject. Because every time we see AAPI stuff, to us, it's always East Asians. We're always like, "Where's the Pacific Islanders?" Don't put us together if you're not going to represent us. Luckily in my part of the world, because of the proximity to all the islands, we don't struggle for representation [in other areas].
Where did you find the time to become a pro-Tekken player?
I've been playing Tekken since I was a kid on Tekken One. I've just been playing and honing my craft within the New Zealand scene. But, things kind of started happening in 2018 after I went to SDCC. That year Evo [The Evolution Championship Series] was just a couple of weeks later in Las Vegas. So I thought, "Why not test myself to see how good I am?".
I was playing on fire throughout the whole week, even at the pre-events. Then at Evo, I played well enough to take on Batz, a top 10 player that year. And because I was playing him, the match was live-streamed. I didn't win, but I became one of the first New Zealand players to be featured and placed in the top 12 percent of Tekken players that year at Evo.
It was a surprise because my goal was to have fun and hopefully play well enough. No pressure. I'm a fairly chill dude, you know?
Is that your mantra? "Just go have fun?"
No. My real mantra is, "Do the work and don't be a d*ck."