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AICN COMICS Q&@: The Dean throws down with TNA Wrestler Chris Daniels about AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and the parallels between comic books and wrestling!!!

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Q’s by The Dean!

@’s by TNA Wrestler Chris Daniels!!!

Hey, everyone! The Dean, here, with a great Q&A for fans of all things settled in costumed combat. I recently had the chance to chat with TNA’s Christopher Daniels about his incredible career in pro-wrestling, his love of comics, and the fun symmetry between the two. Now as a big fan of both, the two similarities I find most interesting are the nearly identical fan bases (who are often too smart for their own good!), and the perception they share among the general public as ‘lesser’ forms of storytelling. Comics are slowly making their way up the ranks thanks to the wider, or more academic acceptance of work from creators like Alan Moore, Marjane Satrapi, or Art Spiegelman, but as far as I know, the ramblings of the Ultimate Warrior are yet to be studied in a college classroom. To me, the real storytelling in wrestling, where it truly becomes an art form, is in the matches themselves. Watching two pros work together to create something dramatic and memorable, feeding off the energy and responses of a live crowd, is an incredible thing to see. It can be every bit as captivating as that perfect creative team on your favorite comic series, and the incredible chemistry between Daniels and longtime opponent AJ Styles might make them this generation’s Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the ring.

This Sunday Christopher Daniels will face AJ Styles for one last time at TNA’s “Final Resolution,” and if history is worth anything, you won’t want to miss this. But for now, we’ll just focus on how cool a guy Daniels is outside the ring, so without out further ado: Christopher Daniels…

DEAN: So for those who don’t know you, give the Ain’t It Cool audience a bit of your background – how long have you been wrestling, what got you into the business? All that…

CHRISTOPHER DANIELS (CD): Well, I started wrestling in 1993. I didn’t really come into any sort of prominence until maybe around 1999, and then the first couple of things that sort of got me recognized in terms of the wrestling audience was when I wrestled in a couple of independent tournaments: the ‘Super 8,’ and the ‘King of the Indies.’ The ‘Super 8’ tournament, the big one on the East Coast, I went to the finals in the first one but I won the second one I was in. Then there was a subsequent one out here in California called ‘King of the Indies’ that I won. So that got me sort of noticed by the independent community, the independent wrestling community, especially on the east coast where independent wrestling was really thriving, and me being a west coast guy, it just wasn’t happening like that on the west coast.

Then the other thing that happened was I had the opportunity to wrestle Taka Michinoku on Shotgun Saturday Night, one of the syndicated television shows that the WWF at the time had. So that television exposure got me… first it got me booked overseas in England, and then it also got promoters much more aware on the east coast of who I was, and it was what opened the door for me to Japan because of Taka and his connections, and that led to me going over and starting to do the Curry Man character which I did for many years before I came and did that here in TNA.

So those are the first things that sort of got me noticed by the independent wrestling community, and then right around 2002, after WCW had closed, after ECW had closed, TNA opened up, and Ring of Honor opened up, and I was very much in the mix with both of those companies from the very beginning. So then now those companies being what they are today with me being sort of along for the ride with those companies, that sort of has been my career for the past ten years.

DEAN: Well I want to get into the similarities between comics and pro-wrestling in a bit here, but one of the things that struck me while you were you going over that was the how similar the professional aspect of it all is too. You need to be like, a special kind of crazy to go all in and think you’re going to make a living writing comics, or get anywhere near the level you’re at now in wrestling. It’s just such a risk, so what’s that decision like? When was it that you knew you were going to put everything you had into pro-wrestling?

CD: Well it’s perfect that I sort of had that mentality, but I also didn’t. It was like, when I first got into it…first of all my degree was in theatre, so I was an actor for years after I graduated college. Then when I met the girl who I ended up marrying, we moved to Chicago together to get into the theatre scene. So I was doing community theatre out there, and waiting tables trying to break into acting, but I always kept it up as a joke sort of, like “hey if this whole acting thing doesn’t work out I can always be a pro-wrestler, hahaha.” Well, she sort of took that to heart. She got, as I joke with her about it, she got the bug up her ass. So she found out about a wrestling school in Chicago where we live, and she made an appointment for me to meet the head trainer there at Windy City Pro Wrestling, the guy’s name was Sam DeCero. So she said that I went in there and I met the guy, I met Sam, and after I was done training I came out and she said my eyes were like all glazed over like I was star-struck.

Well at that time acting wasn’t really going well for me, so I decided that this would be something that I try, and if I don’t make it or I’m not successful at it, at least I can say to my kids, “hey, your dad tried to be a pro-wrestler once!”

So having grown up watching professional wrestling, when I was going through the training I had a frame of reference for everything, I sort of knew what they were looking for, you know? So I learned the moves pretty quickly, and at that point in the training learning how to do everything is the most important thing at that point, like when you’re first starting out. It’s the repetition, learning how to do something with your body without having to think and be, you know, manually powered into shift – you sort of have to get on auto-pilot, because there are a lot of things you’re just not used to at that point. Then once you can get to that stage, then your mind concentrates on the way you’re doing it while you’re doing it. But like the how to do all that stuff really came pretty simple for me. So like I started training in January 1993 and I had my first match mid-April, and then I won my first title of May of that year. Well at that point it was like, “oh, I made it, I’m a pro-wrestler, yay.” But it didn’t occur to me because…I guess it’s sort of like when you’re maybe an independent comic book guy and you get your first book published, you’re like “great, that’s all I need to do” when it’s really not, you learn as you go.

So like from ’93 to like ’97, ’98, I was just doing independent stuff, maybe one or two matches a month, and then by then I was like, okay I’ve got to keep getting better, keep improving, or else this isn’t going to be a career. Then things happen like the ‘Super 8’ match happened, Taka happened, and I sort of luck out and get the opportunity to go to a WWF developmental road show with Dory Funk, and through things like that I got the chance to meet and work with guys like Kurt Angle, Steve Williams... But then to get back on the subject you started on, all of a sudden, once I started getting booked overseas in Japan, once I started getting booked pretty much every weekend on the independent scene on the east coast, it changed from being just a hobby to me to being a job. Like I was working in southern California around ’96 or so, I had this job with a division of Disney where they were dealing with the theme parks, and all I was doing was like, stock work – I was receiving packages, making sure they got to the people, etc. But they were really cool with me when I was working there about my schedule, because I would have to be out of town this Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or I would have to leave like on a Monday, I’ll come back Wednesday.

So like for a year, I was traveling a lot, doing a lot of independent stuff and still working with Disney, and then I got to go on this 40 day tour of Japan. So I went to my boss and told him I’ve got to go to Japan for 40 days. Well he was like, you know, you’re welcome to go to Japan for 40 days, but someone will be doing your job when you get back, and you should know that. And so that was when this job became my career, I then realized I was working enough where this is my main focus.

But my point being, to get back to your original question, all I really knew was that if I sort of kept at it, I was going to succeed. I always in my head thought that if I was going to make it all I have to do is sort of stay on target, you know? Then all of a sudden is sort of snuck up on me, like, “hey, man…now you’re wrestling ten times a month, twenty times a month, you’re making good money, you can’t keep a day job…” so that’s when I was like “holy crap, this is my career now!”

DEAN: That’s awesome! I love hearing those startup stories about you guys, or different writers or artist in these more rarefied professions. So then moving to your comic book history, I didn’t really know you were a comic fan until a few months ago in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #691 - I got to the letters page, and then like did a double take when I saw a letter from Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian in there. How did that come about? Did you guys just send a letter in on a whim, or…

CD: No, no, my friendship with some of the guys at Marvel goes back to like 2005. When I was X Division Champion I came to the Los Angeles Comic Con – which they don’t have anymore in LA. Well, they do, but it’s not that big of a deal, not like it used to be – but in 2005 I was at the LA convention doing appearances there. Well two gentlemen by the name of Ben Morse and Ryan Penagos, who at that point worked for Wizard magazine, they saw me and they recognized me. So I was just walking around, I had just finished my autograph session for Spike TV, and I was walking around like any comic fan would just taking in the con, and then these guys recognize me and say they work for Wizard. So we got to talking and started a friendship that way, then these guys move on from Wizard to become Marvel guys. Ben is now one of the main guys that works on the website, doing a lot of the online content, and Ryan is an associate editor, doing a lot of stuff on the website, and these guys both work very deep on the online side of Marvel and their social media department.

So the friendship from that builds for like seven or eight years, and when I was working for Ring of Honor in the past year and at the time I’d fly out and go to the offices and meet guys Bill Rosemann, who’s an editor and a great wrestling fan, and they basically opened their doors to me. As a kid, you know, you never think you’re going to get a chance to go to Marvel Comics’ offices, you know, that’s like Christmas for us, those guys were awesome. I got to walk around and see all the art, see all the books, meet some of the editors. But it wasn’t the perfect situation where the artists and writers are there, like I’m sure it was back in the day, but still it was great going there and meeting these guys, finding out what Marvel guys have wrestling ties or are wrestling fans, and then being able to tell them how I appreciate them, but yeah, it was just awesome.

Then at the time, Stephen Wacker, who was the editor of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, was doing this “hey, I read Spider-Man at work” column. So since this was 2010, I sent them a picture of me reading in a Ring of Honor ring, but never wrote a letter, ‘cause I didn’t realize at the time that they needed the letter. Well it sort of fell through the cracks, and I finally talked to Ben and asked whatever happened to it, and then we just redid it, but this time Frankie Kazarian and I were the World Tag Team Champions of the World – and as I say, that’s not redundant because we’re two planets worth of great – so we decided let’s try it again. We had the belts, we had the books, I got in touch with Ellie Pyle who was the Associate Editor, and I wrote the letter you asked about, got the picture, and then we even got a chance to bring the comic book on camera on TNA IMPACT. So it went around full circle, it was really cool, I got to bring the comic on camera and name drop Dan Slott on IMPACT. But yeah, that was really awesome for me, and I hope Dan liked it, at least he said he did, anyway.

DEAN: That was really cool, and it’s so surreal to think about Christopher Daniels walking around the Marvel offices! Those are like my two favorite things colliding, so I’m glad to hear it was such a great experience for you. But what about your comic book history? When did you start getting into that?

CD: Well, I was always into it, but I don’t think I became like a collector – you know, a guy who throws ‘em in bags and boards, and tries to take good care of them, and tries to get the full run - until I want to say around 7th, 8th, maybe 9th grade. I remember getting into the Claremont/Byrne X-MEN, and the Marv Wolfman and George Perez TEEN TITANS, and those are the two things I remember specifically being all about. So just getting those runs and collecting like that, and I had a friend since like grade school who I would trade with and we’d read each other’s stuff, but those were the first runs I remember keeping and trying to get full runs on. But then like the Cockrum stuff, everything from like 144 through maybe like 200 or so was when I really got into it, and the stuff I really hold on to.

Over the years I’ve sort of gotten away from being an X-Men guy to more of an Avengers guy, but I still have a real spot in my heart for Wolverine and the X-Men and stuff like that because of that. Especially now with the Marvel NOW! stuff and the whole AVENGERS VS. X-MEN that just came to a close, I’ve really sort of picked up more with buying X-MEN comics.

DEAN: Are you still a collector? Do you still buy single issues every week?

CD: I do, I do, especially now with the advent of digital comics. I just recently got an iPad, and you know, everybody says that the iPad is the way to read comics, and no matter what I was always the bag and board guy, but now to be honest with you, with Marvel giving away the digital codes, I buy the ones I want to collect, and then just read them on my iPad. Plus with me going through my iPad, I’m more likely now to give a chance to books that I wouldn’t usually buy the physical issues for, and especially now with Marvel NOW! there’s so much new stuff coming out, and I’m giving everything a chance. FANTASIC FOUR for example, now Matt Fraction’s writing both FANTASTIC FOUR and FF, and I picked both of those up and am very interested to see where he goes with that. I’ve been a fan of Matt’s ever since he was on IRON FIST, and I think he’s still doing IRON MAN…or no, that’s Kieron Gillen! But the stuff that he did before, Fraction, that’s stuff I really loved as well. So yeah, with the iPad, I’m picking up a lot of new stuff, a lot of Marvel NOW! stuff just giving everything a shot to see what sticks. It’s a really great time to be a fan, I think.

DEAN: I agree, and I’m totally with you on giving different stuff a shot digitally, you’re right. I’m taking more risks with stuff now than I probably ever have before. Some of the $0.99 comics and the different indy stuff there, those are awesome, I love perusing that little category every week.

CD: Yeah, man! I’ll give you a perfect example of something, something I gave a shout out to recently – I’m not sure of the publisher, but the book is called SWERVE, by a guy named John Judy. It’s a story where, it’s not about professional wrestling, but it has professional wrestling as its backdrop; it’s 1976, Texas territory professional wrestling. So this guy, John Judy, who is the writer, contacted me through Twitter and asked if I would mind giving it a look. So then he sent me a code for the first issue, and I then I really got into it, but that’s something a lot of fans might not hear about since, you know, it’s not from one of the big two…I want to say it’s Arcana, I think. Not Arcadia but Arcana.

But yeah, SWERVE is something I picked up, it’s a miniseries, and another book I’m picking up now, that I wasn’t probably going to get until I got it digitally is THIEF OF THIEVES from Image, something Robert Kirkman is doing. So I think actually wound up getting the first issue of that and ready it, the hardcopy, but had kind of gotten away from it, but then got back into it digitally again, and now I’m hooked on it. Yeah, so those are some things I get in addition to like the Marvel and the DC stuff, and a lot more independent stuff as well because of the iPad.

DEAN: That’s sounds cool, I’ll have to look up SWERVE as soon as we’re done, but it’s also a little depressing, because a pro-wrestling story was an idea I had for a comic and now I’ve got to think of something else (both laugh)

CD: No, no, no! It’s not necessarily about professional wrestling, it’s a cool little mystery like, uhh…God, it’s hard to describe, but it’s the cast of characters, it’s a little bit about organized crime with pro-wrestling in this Texas down which this kid gets caught up in. So it’s not a wrestling story in the sense that it’s like HEADLOCKED by Michael Kingston, that’s a wrestling story about a kid who has this love of pro-wrestling and how he’s trying to make it as a wrestler. SWERVE is a lot less about wrestling and more about this kid falling into a life of crime, with pro-wrestling as a setting for that. So if that was your idea, then yes, you have to rewrite your story. But if not, well, get back to work (laughs)

DEAN: Okay, so the dream is still alive…

CD: The dream is still alive!

DEAN: (laughs) So I want to get more into the similarities between comics and wrestling. How do you find that your character, your in-ring persona has changed over the years with that instant reaction you get from a live crowd? How did the Christopher Daniels we know in the ring develop?

CD: Well the current character I’m doing now, I really just decided that I wanted to get under people’s skin, I wanted to get them riled up at me. So many of the little things that would get people so upset with me were just some of the little affectations of guys that like think they’re cool, you know? So the more of those that I added on…like I started drinking an appletini during promos, and all of a sudden everyone asks if I want an appletini. I started wearing scarves, even when I would wear t-shirts I’d be wearing a scarf with them. Then I did a thing wear I’d wear tape on my fingers, all my fingers but the middle one were wrapped with black tape, so when I held up my hands or did anything like that it’d look like I was flipping people off. So those little things caught people’s eyes, and now my mentality is…I want to do something every week where people take a second glance at me and go, “oh wow, okay that guy got me.”

So these little affectations that catch people’s eyes, and like what you said with the immediate reaction – anything that gets a laugh, or a shaked fist at you, anything like, “look at this guy!” that sort of thing. Overall, even more than that, it’s just a mentality of how do I get these people to not like me more? What can I do to get under their skin? What can I do to make them want to see me get beat up? I mean that’s my job at this point in my career, I’m the bad guy, the villain, and to be a proper villain you can’t try and be the cool villain, you’ve got to be the guy people really want to see get hurt. That’s tough this day and age, especially in pro-wrestling, where people really want to be in on the gag, and it’s hard for people to let that go and be like, “you know I really don’t like that guy. I would LOVE to see him get beat up,” and that’s what I’m here for and that’s what I want to be: that level of bad guy in the company, the guy at the top where everyone wants to kick that guy’s ass.

DEAN: (laughs) It’s funny, speaking of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN earlier you’d think Dan Slott is trying to be the top villain of comics right now with the kind of response he’s been getting to his work lately on Twitter.

CD: How about that? I don’t want to give anything away, but what a great issue. It’s funny because for a brief time I had fallen off of Spider-Man for a little bit but I’m glad I picked it back up, I was gearing up for SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN coming up, and I’d heard all the hype and about this setting up for issue #700, and man when I picked up #698, read it, got to the end, I was just…I went on a Twitter rampage on Dan Slott’s behalf just like “look at this guy! This guy’s got it!” I wonder how many people, what percentage of Spider-Man readers are frantically looking back at the last year and trying to figure out where it all happened, you know? ‘Cause I did! I still haven’t figured it out, but Dan Slott is a genius, it was just great.

DEAN: Agreed, and I think it’s one of those things with wrestling and comics nowadays where fans try and want to know so much, more about what’s going on behind the scenes than the actual story, or try so hard to find stuff to complain about rather than stuff to praise. So people get mad at Dan Slott for hyping it up or whatever, but if you just read it, just look at it as a story? It’s a fun issue!

CD: If you can’t appreciate that issue…yeah, everybody’s mad, but you’ve gotta take a step back and just say, “Dan Slott got me.” Everybody on this planet, Dan Slott got you. Everybody who read that book, you know there’s not one person who saw that coming, not in that way. Dan Slott is a genius. You’ve just gotta throw your hands up and say, “you got me,” you can’t help but do it. And you know, sort of going back to that idea of like the similarity between wrestling and comic books, that’s where I want to be, I want to be that guy who catches you off guard because you’ve got a preconceived notion of what I do for a living. So if I can just sort of get you smiling, or get you mad, or like out of nowhere have you go “holy crap, look at that guy!” you know what I mean? That’s a good feeling for me because it can be easy to fall into a rut and fall into that same ol’, same ol’, and part of my job is to stay entertaining and try to think outside that box to get people interested, watching, and just get ‘em hooked.

DEAN: Yeah, that’s so hard to do these days it’s gotta be a constant challenge for you guys. But what else are you picking up? We know AMAZING SPIDER-MAN but what other stuff are you reading or just getting into these days?

CD: I’m really picking up everything, like I really got into Bendis’ AVENGERS, and then into NEW AVENGERS, SECRET AVENGERS and AVENGERS ACADEMY. So all of that, I was huge fan of Bendis and his AVENGERS so I got into the rest of the Avengers stuff and then followed all four of those series to their conclusion. But yeah, like anything Bendis writes I’ll usually pick up, like I just got the ALL NEW X-MEN stuff which I think it outstanding. I love how earth-shattering it can be, like to me, in my head, Bendis has to have such and endgame in his mind, because just the questions of how this doesn’t screw just the entire fabric of time and space, how doesn’t he have everything just completely falling apart at some point, you know what I mean? Like at some point you have to think, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying what the premise is, but by having the five original X-Men come into the present day, you have to think that there’s a point where everything changes without them going back like right away. So many things can happen and you’ve gotta think that Bendis is walking a tight-wire where like, what is he allowed to happen? What does he avoid letting happen before the entire Marvel Universe comes crumbling down, you know what I mean? So that, to me, it’s just a game changer. An absolute game changer.

Then some of the other stuff, like Jason Aaron’s THOR, Waid’s INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK, that stuff I’m just getting into. With THOR, I was never really a big fan of the character, but this first issue has me really interested in where it’s going to go. But just most of Marvel NOW! really, I decided to give most of the new stuff a shot, and we’ll see what happens in six months, you know, if I’m still reading them all, or dropped a few. But that’s the thing it’s like everybody jump on and see what you like. If you like it, great, if not, hey, thanks for coming, you know what I mean? Even with DC and the New52, I did the same thing, I gave everything a shot. There are certain things that I’m reading and that I’m still really liking, but back then it got me to pick up an issue and at least try something like HAWK AND DOVE, and I never would have done that otherwise. So Marvel taking these chances now and trying new stuff, anything to get readers to try new characters or creators that they might not have otherwise given a chance. But like I said, it’s just a good time to be a fan of comics, it’s a good time to be a fan of Marvel, bro, I’m loving everything.

DEAN: Defintiely, I hope people recognize this as a chance to jump in like you said and at least try this stuff out. But before I let you go, I’ve gotta mention “Final Resolution” coming up on Sunday, it’s you and AJ Styles. AJs gotta be like, I mean you two must know each other so well now in that ring, so is he just like your arch nemesis at this point in your career?

CD: Absolutely, man. The fact that AJ and I have been wresting each other on and off now for the better part of a decade, I mean… it’s almost that familiarity like fans can get familiar with comic book characters, you’ve gotta find something new to bring to the table to get people involved, and that’s been the pleasure of working with AJ this past year, trying to find new things to do and new ways to get the fans involved and entrenched in our story. But yeah, man, I think when my career is over that this will be it, this will be the guy that people associate with me, and the feud people associate with my career, and then Sunday is the end, so, it’s going be interesting to see how it all turns out.

DEAN: Well, I’m definitely buying it, man. You two always put up great matches and with this being the end, I can’t even imagine what you’ve got in store for us, so I can’t wait. But listen, this has been awesome, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today, and I wish you all the best this weekend.

CD: My pleasure, thank you.

DEAN: You can see Christopher Daniels in action every Thursday night on Spike TV for TNA IMPACT, and then follow him on Twitter @facdaniels, for more comic book musings, but trust me; you don’t want to miss the conclusion to this epic feud between him and AJ Styles, so check out “Final Resolution” this Sunday, live on PPV!

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