While the stereotypical mixed martial arts (MMA) fan might not be considered to also love their comic books, Joe Antonacci is betting that there's much more crossover appeal than would be assumed.
That's why he's bringing back long-time comic stip boxing icon Joe Palooka as a mixed martial artist.
The original Joe Palooka was created in 1921 and debuted as a comic strip in newspapers, lasting all the way to 1984 and being featured in movies, television and even an old school radio series.
After 28 years, Palooka is back and he's trading in his boxing gloves for fingerless four ouncers. The renovated Palooka comic will be redebuting tomorrow (Dec. 19, 2012) in comic books stores around the country.
The man behind the resurrection of Joe Palooka, boxing ring announcer Joe Antonacci, spoke with MMAmania.com about why he's bringing Palooka back, the reason behind the transition to mixed martial arts and bringing cagefighting to comic book form in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've been told that there's going to be some recognizable MMA fighters on the cover of your first issue, who do you plan on placing in the inaugural issue?
Joe Antonacci: Yeah, we're very happy to have Rashad Evans and Alistair Overeem flanking a hooded Joe Palooka on his way to the ring and it really came out fantastic. It's both an alternate cover and an ad for us.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Did you feel like mixed martial arts wasn't getting the proper comic book treatment? When you think about it, these guys kind of are like real life comic book heroes. Also, did you have reservations bringing back a hero who has been known for so long as a boxer as an MMA fighter?
Joe Antonacci: I'll tell ya, there's no doubt that that's the case. When you think about it, when you look at comic book heroes, they fight in what feels like life and death matches in a cage against these supremely conditioned, superbly muscled, tremendous athletes. It's absolutely superhero-like. I think the time was right.
I have a boxing background myself. I'm a professional boxing ring announcer. And some people think, "Geez, is it sacrilegious for a boxing ring announcer to bring back a classic boxing icon from the Joe Palooka comic books who was world heavyweight champion from 1940-1984? My point is, fighting is fighting. If you love fighting, I don't understand why anybody says, "I don't like boxing, I like MMA, or I like boxing, I don't like MMA." Why can't you like both? They're two combat sports and I like any sport where two people go head to head to see who's better. I don't care if it's tennis or ping pong, if you're going one on one in anything, even team sports like a pitcher against a hitter with two outs in the ninth. That battle of wills makes our hearts beat faster.
To answer the second part of your question, no I don't. It's a new character, it's an entirely new story and an entirely new time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): To help get the word out about this series, you've been sponsoring a host of MMA fighters along the way. How has that relationship been for you? Has it helped build significant buzz for the comic?
Joe Antonacci: It's really built a tremendous buzz. One of the reasons we delayed the opening, we wanted to do it sooner but we needed to partner with one of the biggest partners for comic book production in America. We felt there was enough of a buzz about our first issue that we wanted you to be able to pick it up in every single comic book store in America. We didn't want it put out in a limited release. We wanted every fan to to go to be able to pick it up for themselves, for friends or their kids. What a great gift for the holidays for MMA fans.
As far as sponsorship is concerned, the UFC approved us as an official sponsor for their fighters. You have to go through a process and they waived their standard fee which they usually put on for Bud Light or something else where the UFC gets a piece. They waived that and they've been so accommodating. The first time we appeared on fighter trunks was the UFC event in Philadelphia when Tito Ortiz fought Rashad Evans. What a tremendous introduction that was for Team Palooka in the UFC.
We sponsored a lesser known, way down on the undercard fighter from Oklahoma and we liked him because he had a very distinctive look with the bushy beard and it was Johny Hendricks. Boy has he been on a roll since we first sponsored him. We're really, really fortunate. Johny Hendricks, Jimy Hettes, Dan Miller, Brendan Schaub and of course Rashad Evans and Alistair Overeem who are on our cover. We love the UFC and the UFC has been great to us. We just can't wait to build the brand even further.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What do you think of the of the crossover between MMA fans and comic book fans? Do you think you can cross the divide? When you think of stereotypical MMA fans, you don't picture both liking the same thing.
Joe Antonacci: Yeah, the stereotype of a comic book fan, a nerd or geek and the MMA fan, a heavy metal thrash guy, those don't hold up. I also decided that I'm gonna test the theory with my own money. It was a four year process gettign the rights to Joe Palooka, clothing, signing with a publisher, writing the comic book, it's been a dream.
I decided a year ago in October, I went to the New York Comic-Con and rented a booth. I had a couple friends who were martial arts enthusiasts come in as a favor and the lines were three to four hours long for autographs. We had Chuck Zito, who does a show on Howard Stern and he was on this past season of Sons of Anarchy and he was on Oz before that. He signed for over an hour and a half.
The thing UFC and comics have in common are video games. Comic book fans love the UFC game and UFC fans love the comic book character driven games. When you pull the two together, hopefully they can enjoy Joe Palooka together.
Ben Thapa: How do you get from telling a story to then showcasing a mixed martial arts fight and put that into words and showcase that in comic book form on a page?
Joe Antonacci: That's a great question. How do you take something that's in your mind and have it come out as an idea in a six part comic. The first part is I came up with the story. I created a story of a California kid, a three time state wrestling champion who grew up tough and wins his first MMA bout and wins. As he goes to cash the check at the bank, there's a robbery and someone dies, and he gets accused of being involved so he's on the run.
In order to put that on paper, it takes my handwritten legal pad short story to comic book format, like a screenplay. You have to tell the artist how to draw, the colorist how to color it and even the letterer how to draw the letters. Each little piece of a comic book is done by a different person.
My MMA consultant was an eighth degree black belt, Phil Ross, he works with the artists and sends them photograph after photograph of each move, putting his students in the exact move and we can literally send the artist a photograph of the exact position we wanted him to replicate in the drawings. Unlike some wrestling or MMA attempts, we feel like we're really, really captured MMA properly. I feel like we got this right. We only want to put out a product that the fans love.