Interview with Michel Mulipola Pt. 1

This is an ongoing series where I interview API comic writers and artists with questions that dig a little deeper into who they are, how they got into comics, and what their thoughts are on API identity in the comic book industry.


Quick Bio: Michel Mulipola is a self taught comic book artist from Auckland, New Zealand. He’s been immersed in the world of comic books since the tender age of five and has wanted to draw comic books from that moment on. He’s done work for various anthologies and is currently working on the U.S comic book, Headlocked: The Last Territory. When he’s not doing comics, he spends his time dropping people on their heads as a professional wrestler for Impact Pro Wrestling. As one of the few Samoan comic artists, Michel has also dedicated some of his art/time to honor Samoan heroes.

You share in your bio page that “I’ve been immersed in the world of comic books from the tender age of five and I’ve wanted to draw comic books from that moment on.” What comic(s) inspired you to be a comic artist?

As a kid, I stumbled across my uncle’s stack of comic books — 2000ADs and Rom the Spaceknight. The bold colours and the bright characters drew my eye as a young ‘un. One of the characters that I really fell in love with as a kid was Green Lantern.

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I didn’t fall in love with Green Lantern through comics, I fell in love with him due to the Kenner Super Powers action figure. His costume was green, black and white and for some reason really stuck out to me as a kid because he wasn’t primary coloured like the rest of the DC figures. As I got older, I started reading more Green Lantern stories and realising that I had a deeper connection to the character. His powers allow him to create whatever he can imagine through willpower and his ring very much like what I do as an artist.

As for specific comics that inspired me? It was whatever I could get my hands on. I was big on the X-Men around Inferno with Marc Silvestri and then Jim Lee’s run afterwards really stuck out to me. Everyone wanted to draw like Jim Lee!

Your career is unique! Comic artist during the week, caped (wrestling) crusader on the weekends. How’d you get into wrestling and how’d you come up with the idea of combining the two for a career? What’s the response been from family and friends?

I fell in love with pro wrestling as kid shortly after I fell in love with comic books. Watching WWE (WWF at the time) was like watching real life superheroes battle it out on TV. The bright costumes and even more colourful characters caught in a battle between good and evil every week on TV? How could I NOT love it?!

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As I grew older, I never grew out of both comics and pro wrestling so one day I created a pro wrestling comic called Smacktown! It was a comic about what I’d be like as a pro wrestler.

One day, the local Auckland pro wrestling promotion, Impact Pro Wrestling, were holding a tryout for wannabe pro wrestlers. I thought, “Why not give a shot? If they say no, at least I tried.” That was 10 years ago now. I’ve been banging my body up pretty good for the last decade. Luckily, I haven’t suffered any serious injuries (touch wood) and nothing which really prevented me from drawing. I’ve even drawn Headlocked pages backstage at a wrestling event in full costume.

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I’m pretty lucky with my friends and family. My friends and brother love to give me shit when I’m wrestling (I’m a heel) but my mum can’t stand to watch me get ‘hurt’ while wrestling so she doesn’t come along to events. I’ve scared her off when I went flying over the guard rail and into the crowd. I had broken a chair with my head right in front of her and she thought that I was seriously injured but I was just selling. So yeah — she doesn’t come to wrestling events.

Most Polynesian parents want their kids to grow up to be doctors, lawyers or sports stars. My mum just wanted me to be happy

As for the comics, my friends and family have always been really supportive of it. My mother always told me that she didn’t care what I did as long as I’m happy, which is a great thing for a Polynesian kid to hear. Most Polynesian parents want their kids to grow up to be doctors, lawyers or sports stars. My mum just wanted me to be happy :D

While some spend years in art school, you share you are a self taught artist. What are some key ways you learned to draw, color etc? How’d you develop your art style?

I grew up in a relatively poor neighbourhood in South Auckland, New Zealand. My family weren’t loaded with money so with all the art schools I had visited to get a feel for, I knew I couldn’t afford plus I didn’t want a huge student debt hanging over me for the rest of my life.

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One thing those art school visits showed me too was that no-one was teaching what I wanted to learn — how to make comics. So I decided to do it myself. I immersed myself in comics, cartoons, TV, film, video games and all manner of different visual media. I was building my visual language through osmosis. I hadn’t drawn for a couple of years after high school but once I started up again, the creative floodgates opened. Everything I had exposed myself to visually was now at my fingertips.

I am a huge proponent of learning by doing and so I learnt so much from trying and failing and then trying again. The more comics and art I produced, the more I learned from the mistakes I made.

This generation has so much information at their disposal. I remember the good old days of borrowing a book at the library or looking through encyclopedias to look for reference photos.

One of the things that I can’t live without in terms of resources is the internet. I can google for photo references, look up how to colour comic books a certain way, tips and tricks for Manga Studio and everything in between. This generation has so much information at their disposal. I remember the good old days of borrowing a book at the library or looking through encyclopedias to look for reference photos. Nowadays, I can’t live or work without technology which is funny because I didn’t get my first computer until I was 25.

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The artwork I produce for comic books and other illustrations is now entirely digital. I’ve adopted new technologies to make my workflow quicker and more convenient. These new technologies have also shaped my art style as well. When I used traditional media like pen and pencil, I used to draw a lot of cross hatching and superfluous detail in my work. Now, with my Cintiq Companion and Manga Studio, I’ve found my work is a lot looser, more sparse in detail and quicker.

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Obviously, a lot of my influences still show through in my work like Jim Lee, Ryan Ottley, Dave Johnson but I feel my work isn’t derivative. I look at my work now and laugh about how I wanted to draw all 90’s style with big muscles and cross hatching galore. My concern now with my art is about the storytelling rather than the style. My style does tend to change depending on the type of story being told.

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