Kevin Kleinrock is the President & COO, and Executive Producer of Masked Republic. Kevin wasn’t born a masked republican, he was nice enough to stop by First Comics News to share his journey and explain what the Masked Republic is all about.
First Comics News: When did you first discover wrestling?
Kevin Kleinrock: I don’t remember my earliest discovery. Growing up my cousin who was four years older than me was into WWF and my best friend’s family would order the Pay Per Views which was back in the day where the only real PPV was WrestleMania. I always liked wrestling when I saw it and if I was flipping channels and would watch – but it wasn’t until I was about 12 years old that I started getting into it super hardcore. And once WrestleMania VII hit and I was watching that Pay Per View, I knew that wrestling was what I wanted to do for my career. Though back then it was a super closed business and especially for people like me, who wanted to be involved but not as an actual wrestler, it was even harder to figure out how to get in. But I just started watching and reading everything I could from that point forward and by age 16, I was working for a small independent promotion in Los Angeles called Slammers Wrestling Federation, and I’ve been involved in some way or form for the 25 years since then.
1st: Who are your favorite wrestlers?
Kevin: That’s such a broad question! And are we talking current? All-time? Growing up it was a lot of the “usual suspects” The Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man, Mr. Perfect, Bret Hart. I developed a huge appreciation for Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat Once the lucha-age hit, talents that I am now lucky to work with like Rey Mysterio, Psychosis, Juventud Guerrera, the original La Parka – they certainly entered that favorites list. During my “Deathmatch wrestling is awesome!” phase you had to have respect for guys like Onita for their innovation. Hayabusa is another all-time favorite. We could be here all day going into current favorites – Rey Fenix, Penta Zero M, Laredo Kid, Black Taurus, Rush, Dragon Lee…so many more. That’s not even touching on the truly up and coming talent on the indie scene or guys who have been killing it outside of lucha libre.
1st: How do you get involved with wrestling professionally?
Kevin: Going back to post-WrestleMania VII and diving headfirst, at age 12, into figuring out how to make this into a career, I read every wrestling magazine I could get my hands on. And back in those days, if we were able to get to certain newsstands, that could be up to like 8 a month. At one point, in one of the magazines, I think it was maybe Pro Wrestling Illustrated, there was an ad for a “book” called “So You Want To Be A Pro Wrestler” and it said it would give you the inside details on how to get into the business. So I, along with a ton of other people, sent away for it. It turned out to be more of a large pamphlet than a traditional book, but…it did the trick. The book was by Dennis Brent, a long-time wrestling writer, and Percy Pringle III, better known as Paul Bearer in the WWF. Inside the book, it had a list of wrestling schools and it just so happened that one of them, Slam U/Slammers Wrestling Federation. I called up and found out that they ran events on the first Sunday of every month, I think it was at the time. I begged and pleaded with my parents to take me and we all went to one. And that was it. Hook, line, and sinker I knew where I was meant to be. I was able to get my dad to take me back a few more times, every now and then. They had this little “Souvenir Program” which had the lineup for the day, a bunch of ads for their videos and results from their last show. I got an idea to try to write a column from a “heel” or bad guy perspective reviewing the previous show. So after one event, I was probably about 15 at the time now, I anonymously mailed – remember, the early ’90s – in my column under a “wrestling gimmick” name – I called myself The Eternal Flame. In what was easily the greatest day of my life up to that point, when I went to the next event, right there on the back of the program, the owner, Verne Langdon, had printed my anonymous column! I continued to send in these columns and eventually revealed myself to Vern…who said he knew all along. This lead to me starting as their timekeeper – the person who rings the bell for the matches – and then one day the ring announcer didn’t show up…and now I was the ring announcer. I was also in high school at that time and Slammers was always promoting that they were available to come to schools to do fundraisers. So, I was able to use my position as Student Body Treasurer to make that happen. There’s a whole lot that has happened since then from running shows in tiny Boys & Girls Clubs to having MTV put $3.5 million behind my idea for a series that became Wrestling Society X and aired back in 2007 to Masked Republic today, but that was the start.
1st: What is Masked Republic?
Kevin: It’s funny because I often joke that it depends what day of the week you ask me, but to summarize it all, Masked Republic is an integrated media, live event and merchandising company dedicated to expanding lucha libre beyond the borders of Mexico. To that end, we represent many of the icons, legends, and superstars of lucha libre for their IP rights and often in their business negotiations, we have our Legends of lucha libre brand which works to create officially licensed products for the luchadores, we produce live events and experiences like our Expo lucha conventions or special events, for example, this past Cinco de Mayo, the Madame Tussauds Museum on Hollywood Blvd had us bring a live lucha libre event to the Hollywood Walk of Fame right in front of their location. We also develop our own content and IP which is how The Luchaverse comic book world came to be as well as a number of animated and live-action properties we have in development. The name “Masked Republic” actually comes from prior to my involvement when my business partner in the company, Ruben Zamora, was making masks and gear for luchadores and other wrestlers. He was also promoting live events in San Diego under a different name. But, when we came together to build the company to what it is today, I thought the name was too cool to change, so we kept our combined company as Masked Republic.
1st: You have offices in San Diego, San Francisco, Mexico City, and London. Are you bringing lucha libre to the UK?
Kevin: We are still a very small company so our offices are currently each only one person, but they do allow us to work much more expeditiously in those areas. Our London office, managed by Al Lowdon, works both to help keep European lucha libre fans informed as to what we have going on with Masked Republic, including merchandise releases available there and also to identify talent who may fit well with projects on which we are working or developing. Over the past two years, it’s been great to see many of those talents become part of the WWE’s NXT UK brand and others have headed to Mexico to perform on live events or to train. We also work with the London School of lucha libre and Lucha Britannia promotion, the absolute best place to train in lucha libre in the U.K., much like we work with other schools in the U.S. and Mexico to keep an eye on talent who we want to endorse to get work with larger promotions. We’ve seen a number of talents from the California based schools with whom we work start to get booked for lucha libre AAA over the last few years.
1st: How did you get involved with booking luchadores on TV and in movies?
Kevin: Part of Masked Republic is really being a go-to company for “Hollywood” when it comes to needing something lucha libre related to TV or film. Fun fact, when Jared Hess was just starting to get Nacho Libre together, my partner Ruben was one of the earliest calls he made. We get calls to cast wrestlers for roles or to create costumes for luchador roles. Need a lucha libre scene coordinated for your TV or film project from stunts to consulting for authenticity, we’re your team. And at times we do get certain calls for booking our specific talent for a role in a show or segment. We also have a business of licensing clips of our content for commercials and TV or film productions.
1st: Are you the only source for booking independent luchadores or do you have competition?
Kevin: The one area we really do not focus on is the actual booking of the talent for wrestling shows. Film and TV is different, and in that area, nobody else has the depth of roster or global connections that Masked Republic has. But, for booking luchadores for actual live events, most talent works directly with promotions or sometimes, given the language barrier, a friendly third party will help out. So, if you need a luchador for film or tv or even a convention appearance, give us a call. If you want to have them actually come and wrestle, in the day and age of social media, it’s often best to just reach out directly.
1st: What is Expo Lucha?
Kevin: Expo Lucha is our “comic con of lucha libre” to put it in the most simple terms. Unlike the plethora of comic conventions across the globe, fans of lucha libre have never really had the ability to have dozens and dozens of lucha stars come to their city not only for live wrestling but for meet and greets, photos ops, to be able to purchase authentic masks and memorabilia. In the past, there was a convention held in Mexico City called lucha libre La Experiencia. It was a great convention where literally all of the big and many of the small lucha promotions came together under one roof for a weekend and everyone did shows and had booths. This was the type of thing that could never have happened in other wrestling scenes. Today, we have great conventions like WrestleCon, but this was like if WWE, WCW, and ECW had all participated in WrestleCon along with the top indies. For a few years in a row, Masked Republic worked with the late Hijo del Perro Aguayo’s Perros del Mal promotion to bring in American talent for their shows and booth and we even recorded some of the events for our Viva La Lucha pay-per-view series we were producing at the time. Ever since then, Ruben had always envisioned Masked Republic starting a similar convention in the U.S. as a way to bring a unique opportunity to fans here. After many years of talking about it, we launched with our first Expo Lucha in 2018 in Las Vegas. We followed it up earlier this year in San Diego and we’ve announced that for 2020 we will bring the convention to the former ECW Arena in Philadelphia which happens to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Rey Mysterio, Juventud Guerrera and Psychosis arriving in ECW and changing the pro wrestling landscape forever. The convention itself features multiple live events over two days and, these past few years, about 100 luchadores from legends and icons to today’s hottest stars and the next big names who we are confident will breakthrough. It’s a truly special experience. At this past one, in San Diego, I had a guy, an adult male, come up to me and fight back tears as he explained that he grew up watching and idolizing Octagón on tv and never thought that he would be able to meet him in person in his lifetime. Our Expo Lucha conventions are family-friendly events and we love being able to see multiple generations of fans come together and experience lucha together. Our plan is to build the convention to be able to tour and hold three to four Expo Lucha events each year in different markets. ExpoLucha.com has all of the details, thus far, on next August’s event in Philly.
1st: What is the Luchaverse?
Kevin: The Luchaverse is our epic new story world and easily one of, if not the project for which I am most excited. The stories are original and touch a number of genres all within the universe and the first five series, each launched as one-shots in our prelude arc, feature well known and iconic luchadores. These are not wrestling comics, these are high-quality action-adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, horror comics that happen to star luchadores. The writing is great and the art is on par, if not better, than many major publisher comics.
1st: What made you decide to branch out into comics?
Kevin: There were a few key reasons. First, I grew up a huge fan of comics in the late 80s and into the 90s. So, doing something in the comic book world was always of interest to me. But, to be honest, what really pushed me into the space was knowing the huge opportunity that was being missed in the entertainment space with strong Latinx heroes. Ruben will often talk about how growing up, he didn’t read comic books. His heroes were not Batman and Superman. His heroes did have masks and capes, but they were luchadores. And they were REAL. He could go to the Auditorio de Tijuana or the Grand Olympic Auditorium and he could see them in person. He could reach out and touch them. And we’ve been trying to explain this to “Hollywood” for years – he huge opportunity being missed not with the “Nacho Libre” type of approaches to lucha libre, but with a real superhero and deeper story world approach. And so, we decided to go it on our own, and The Luchaverse was created.
1st: What is the connection with Chido Comics?
Kevin: I think one of the things which has enabled me to do so well in business has been understanding my role as Executive Producer. That is, I know I am not the most talented at particular things – I, myself, am not a writer, I am certainly not an artist, but I am very good at having large ideas and then assembling the right teams to execute on them. I had been very impressed with what Ivan Plaza and his Chido Comics had done in the past and so we started to talk. I shared my vision of The Luchaverse with him and we seemed to have a lot of similarities in how we felt about the opportunities and lack of representation in the Latinx comics space and the desire to build a world around primarily Latinx talent. I knew we would need partners from within the comic book industry to move The Luchaverse forward properly and Chido appeared to me to be a great fit. So, I laid out the general idea and the lucha talent with whom we had to work along with the general genres of each series. Ivan brought writer Marco Lopez on board and they worked to take the ideas and expand them into the general comic book universe we started to build. I wanted to make sure we had different art teams on each book, and so Ivan worked to find the right teams and we collaborated on bringing it all together.
1st: Do the comics play off the wrestler’s television storylines or are these completely different stories?
Kevin: Completely different. That’s not to say there won’t be a nod to something that fans may be familiar with, sort of an easter egg of sorts, but you don’t need to have ever seen an episode of any wrestling program or even be familiar with the luchadores themselves to be able to follow and enjoy the comic book story world. And these are not stories based in the wrestling ring. In fact, it’s rare to even see a ring in any of the books. But, we do work hard to maintain the voices and personas of the luchadores within the pages of the books. That was definitely one of those collaborative types of places where Chido (Ivan and Marco) and Masked Republic worked extremely close. They would give me the first draft of a script and I would go through a pass specifically for the tone of the character and makes sure it felt true to life so that if an actual fan of Konnan or Rey Mysterio was reading the book, the comic version of the real-life person would feel authentic. Plus – our world includes outer space, underground monster-world barriers, mystical powers – and other things you won’t find in most wrestling TV stories.
1st: How much involvement do the wrestlers have in their comics storyline?
Kevin: Essentially, the luchadores are consulted with along the way for all major decisions. The initial synopsis of their series is presented and approved and then the script is shared. Because of the extra pass, we take to really nail authenticity plus the overall tremendous creativity going into the line, we’ve not had any push back by the stars once they read the scripts. The seven luchadores currently featured in the series are Rey Mysterio, “The Lucha Brothers” Rey Fenix and Penta Zero M, Tinieblas Jr., “Los Cadetes del Espacio” Solar & Super Astro and Konnan. So, you’ve got talent from across the entire lucha landscape icons, legends, and today’s hottest stars.
1st: Do the wrestlers approve the artists and their likenesses?
Kevin: Ivan will bring me the artists and we will discuss fit and select the team. Once we have a cover to share with the talent, we do and seek their approval. Again, so far, nothing but absolute love for the art. The luchadores have genuinely been blown away. And, because we made a conscious decision that the regular covers would be done by the same art team to do the interiors, the quality and style have been kept throughout the pages of the books. We do have some amazing variant covers as well. But the likeness has all been very easy approvals because of our great teams.
1st: You just release The Luchaverse Complete One-Shot Collection. This is every comic Masked Republic produced in one book. Where can fans find it?
Kevin: Yes, so far, we have released five different one-shots – each to become its’ own ongoing series down the road – and collectively they make up what we have dubbed the “prelude arc” of The Luchaverse. While there is no direct crossover yet between the stars – though Konnan does appear briefly in hologram form in the Tinieblas Jr. book – anyone who reads all five will begin to see some of the pieces of how The Luchaverse stories are coming together and the pieces that interconnect the entire universe. The collection, along with the remaining first-print editions of the individual one-shots, are available at TheLuchaverse.com and in select comic book shops. TheLuchaverse.com ships worldwide. For readers who prefer digital comics, all five of the one-shots are available on ComiXology.
1st: How much does it cost?
Kevin: The paperback version of the collection is $14.99 and there is a deluxe hardcover edition that is limited to 500 copies that retails for $29.99 and comes with a gorgeous slipcover with art by Leo Colapietro. Individual one-shots are cover priced at $3.99. Limited edition variants run $15 and $20.
1st: Where can fans get a copy of the comics?
Kevin: They are on TheLuchaverse.com and fans can also get copies direct from the luchadores at their live appearances as well. Also, as of Monday, the single issues are available in Mexico from Comikaze Magazine.
1st: How are sales?
Kevin: Sales are actually off to a tremendous start. The first week we sold more than 4,300 copies all independently just from our efforts and those of Chido Comics and the rabid fanbase. Looking at last week’s Book Scan chart of graphic novels, which of course does not take into account all sales, but is the industry standard in ranking sales, the number one book sold 2,440 copies. So, I am very happy with how the book is performing thus far. Looking over the entire last few months, very few titles have sold more in a given week and they had massive promotion behind them and came out on major imprints.
1st: What is coming up next in the Luchaverse?
Kevin: Thus far, we’ve barely scratched the surface! The prelude arc really only shows where things stand now and give a glimpse into what’s ahead, but there is a lot more ahead than that and, as anyone who reads the arc will find out, a whole lot of history to uncover as well. Historically, when people have told stories involving lucha libre and luchadores, they take it back to the times of Aztecs and Mayans. Our world goes farther back, much much farther back, and in a completely original direction. And, as the five currently established series continues on, new series based on original characters unique to The Luchaverse will be introduced as well. It has been an amazing 15 months for The Luchaverse since our debut with Rey Mysterio at SDCC 2018, and there is so much more to come starting in 2020