In May of this year, author and illustrator Matt Charlton, aka Shining Wizard Designs, took the time to speak to SteelChair Magazine about his book J-Crowned: All Illustrated Guide To The Champions Of Japanese Wrestling, and his inspiration for the project and his artwork. Now, the talented Charlton returns to the SteelChair page to discuss J-Crowned Volume 2, delving into subjects like All Japan Juniors, Chris Benoit, and also what future projects fans can look forward too. Enjoy!
We spoke earlier this year when your first J-Crowned book was released. What was your biggest take away from that experience?
“I guess the biggest take away from the process of the first book getting put out there and being received in the way that it was, was that no matter what is going on in the world, it’s still possible to do things, build things, and make connections with people. I’m so grateful for the entire experience!”
For J-Crowned 2, you’re releasing the book independently. What has that experience been like, and have there been any positives to releasing the book in this way compared to the first one?
“Releasing the book independently has certainly upped the level of anxiety (laughs)… No, in truth, it’s been a very useful experience, again showing me that it’s possible to get work out there and communicate in a very big way without there necessarily being that intermediary. We all need editing, though, and for all the times I’ve gone over the text, I still worry that there might be something wrong. Ultimately, I feel a lot more involved this time, personally asking people to pay hard-earned money for this work, so I’ve been desperate for it to be as good as it can be.”
The beautiful thing about your intention and inspiration for doing these illustrations is your desire to preserve the legacy of wrestlers, particularly names that aren’t as high profile or mainstream. You make it clear in the introduction to volume 2 that you’ll explore these names that are not as big a little more. What wrestlers were you really looking forward to bringing back to the public eye?
“That’s a really good question. The answer is certainly more than just one or two. I was really excited about shining a light on the All Japan Juniors particularly, from Hiro Saito all the way through to the present day. It’s rarely been a division that the company has put front and centre despite hosting some astonishing talent over the years. The pre-Stardom era High Speed Champions have a special place in my heart also, real Trail Blazers, Natsuki Taiyo, Kaori Yoneyama, and Leon. But honestly, it’s difficult to choose. All the people written about in this book have something special, which would reward anyone looking at their achievements.”
On this day 21 years ago, Juventud Guerrera @JUVENTUDGUERRE2 captured the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Read about him and literally all the other Junior Heavyweight champs in J-Crowned Volume 2, finished, formatted and coming VERY SOON #NJPW #AJPW #NOAH_ghc #stardom #ajw pic.twitter.com/teGkFSeJCj
— ShiningWizardDesigns (@ShiningWizardDs) November 29, 2020
In the IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP section, you look at Chris Benoit, who hasn’t necessarily been forgotten, but his name has really been brought back to the spotlight thanks to Dark Side of the Ring. Understandably, there is this sense of discomfort when talking about Benoit due to the tragedy; did you ever feel that?
“That’s a difficult question… In the introduction to the paperback edition, I try to touch on that a little bit. There are people in the book, who have done various degrees of terrible things, people in the first book too, and I was certainly very aware of those things when drawing the individual and writing the biography. On Benoit specifically, The Pegasus Kid was a young man of twenty-three when he won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, someone with hopes and dreams yet to incur the brain damage which led to his monstrous actions. His is no sob-story, and for what he did, he deserves to be vilified, but I felt particular sadness trying to write about the potential of someone so young, unaware of the path he was setting out on.”
How important was it for you to explore the women’s history in more detail? From the outside looking in, please correct me if I’m wrong, we don’t always hear as much about the women in Japan.
“From the start of the J-Crowned project, there was always supposed to be a strong female presence. Initially, the World of Stardom Championship and the AJW legends discussed in this book were part of volume 1 before being removed by the editor. From the days of AJW, Japanese women have always innovated on every level, from the presentation of character to layout of matches to specific moves, as inspirations to so many wrestlers across the genders, I feel it’s essential to include their story.
“With regard to whether you hear about the women in Japan, I think it depends on whether you’re listening or not (laughs). With Tokyo Joshi Pro and Stardom taking massive steps toward presenting a truly international product, and the wealth of talent found across Sendai Girls, Ice Ribbon, and Marvelous to name but a few, the future looks remarkably bright for female wrestling right now.”
You also have a classic match section in both J-Crowned books. Do you ever envision doing an illustrative guide to some of the best matches in Japanese wrestling history?
“(Laughs) Interesting you should ask that. Of the two books which I’m throwing myself into next, one of them will focus on a particular series of matches, and it’ll be interesting to see how the narrative works around them. In truth, yours is an idea I’d love to explore, but it’ll have to wait until I get paid to stay home and do this for a living rather than squeezing drawing and writing into the fleeting hours between parenthood and the day job…”
2020 has been such a challenging year for everyone, and it’s hurt the wrestling industry. However, due to the lack of content, things like documentary series’ (E.g. Dark Side) and books like J-Crowned and Ken Shamrock’s autobiography have seemed to benefit in a way. Can you speak to the accuracy of that statement and whether you have felt that is the case?
“It’s been a strange year in just about every regard… Um, I’m not all together sure that 2020 is the root of the introspection, though. Damian Abraham’s excellent The Wrestlers got a lot of attention last year, and it had been something he’d been working on since 2016. I started J-Crowned in 2018, and I know Snowden was at work on the Shamrock book in 2017. All preceding work from my brother’s books, to The Wrestling by Simon Garfield to You grunt, I’ll Groan by Jackie Pallo have found a receptive audience whatever the year they appeared. It speaks to the enduring interest in celebrating and elevating the art form, and I feel so lucky to have my books out there.”
Whatever fitness regime Jay @JayWhiteNZ is presently following,it’s clearly working wonders for him; body of an adonis,winning the briefcase from Ibushi,best beard in wrestling…King Switch for the crown at Wrestle Kingdom #njpw #njpst #WrestleKingdom #BulletClub pic.twitter.com/QnWfuDBLAG
— ShiningWizardDesigns (@ShiningWizardDs) November 8, 2020
Also, when you get people telling you how much they’ve enjoyed the book, is it more rewarding considering the year we’ve been living in and how much people have struggled during this pandemic?
“I have to keep coming back to just how grateful I am. We’re living through a truly delirious period in our world history, literally a fever dream. For anyone to have found pleasure in any work I’ve done, to have bought a commission from me, to have spent money they’ve worked for on my books or my drawings, it’s mind-blowing. There’s no words to describe how thankful I am or just how desperate I am to repay that faith in me.”
In our last interview, you shared how you first got interested in Puroresu. But how did your love of wrestling history start?
“I think if you’re interested in the present of something, the need to know its history is second nature to us. Like tracing back literature or music, to see the artists who pushed the art form forward, who perhaps distilled it to its purest form, finding out in that way that a lot of what we see now might be diluted, while there are others innovating and continuing to evolve. (Laughs) I have an obsession with the passage of time and the nature of memory, so I’ll always be attracted to something’s past.”
How hard is it researching all these names and reigns? Some can be very obscure, and I imagine it gets tiring at times.
“I’m a sucker for statistics, so never tiring, though, I’ll confess, trawling through Japanese blog posts to piece together more than a few biographies in this book was a bit of a challenge. That said, knowing that this work is the first time there’s any substantial biographical information out there in English about more than a few of these amazing people has been its own reward.”
Have you received any new feedback from wrestlers that you brought to life through your illustrations in J-Crowned 2?
“I’ve been very bad at screaming this book’s existence from the roof tops, so I’m sure there’s a lot of people who are blissfully unaware of its existence… The wonderful Jazzy Gabert reached out and was so incredibly supportive, as was La Rosa Negra, two remarkable souls right there. Mr. Rocky Romero also sent me a lovely message, and there aren’t enough positive adjectives in the world to describe that man.”
Going back to wrestling during the current pandemic era. New Japan, rightfully so, received a lot of praise for their approach to restarting. What has it been like as a fan watching these shows with no crowd?
“As a live event company unable to produce live events, it was heart-wrenching to see my brother sat at home whilst other companies continued to perform. Depending on how your product is presented, I’m not sure a crowd is necessary. DDT’s Wrestle Peter Pan showed how to do it with the insane cinematics of Takeshita against Yoshihiko balanced with the hard-hitting technical dream of Endo defeating Tanaka. That said, nothing beats the atmosphere of a wrestling crowd out there sharing in the same dream, and it’s certainly been great to see people back at shows.”
Finally, what’s next for Matt Charlton? Is it a volume 3 of J-Crowned, or can we expect something different?
“(Laughs) Well, volume 3 is certainly coming, but it’ll be a bit of a wait, I’m afraid. First, there’s a couple of things I’ll be getting underway in January to see the light of day in 2022, which will be with us in no time at all. One of those projects will be with a collaborator to whom I’ll be leaving a lot of the writing, allowing me to draw a little more. I’ll be releasing bits and bobs from the other book project as I work through it. To be honest, it feels like it might be the best idea I’ve ever had (laughs), at least it’s certainly one of the most recent. As always, whatever I end up posting on Twitter is a fair indication of where my head is at.”
Read our review of J-Crowned Volume 2 here.
You can order the kindle and paperback version of J-Crowned Volume 2 here.