Now that Marvel has successfully implemented their cinematic universe, Americans cannot get enough of superheroes. Whether it is on the big screen, silver screen on in comic books, people are finding a new love for these iconic heroes. Comic sales have increased every year so far this decade and according to Comichron the North American annual market size for comic books is near $1 billion. And with the UFC and mixed martial arts quickly becoming the fastest growing sport in the world, it was only a matter of time before someone had a successful crossover.
Ian Parker has created a new comic book to that combines his love of mixed martial arts with the freedom of super powers. Cage Hero is a new series that follows several people with an affinity for different martial arts techniques. While the main character is primarily a wrestler, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and other disciplines are also represented.
“Each kid represents a different part of mixed martial arts,” Parker said. “And it’s not like in the movies where people use fake moves. Everything is based on MMA moves based in the discipline that they represent. The only thing is when they get their powers everything become a bit more embellished.”
The beginning of Cage Hero was not on the page. Parker created the brand in 2010 with business partner Mark Mastrandrea. The two go way back as they have been best friends since they were two-years-old, so it only made since to start a brand together. It primarily functioned as a clothing maker that would promote fighters in different MMA promotions and have them wear the company’s gear. However, Parker became inspired in 2013 and started brainstorming the story concept. He eventually was able to write 150 pages of content and the beginning of Cage Hero was born.
“Some of the fighters who would wear our gear, I would have an artist, based on my ideas, turn them into a superhero,” Parker said. “One night I was looking at one of the characters on a shirt and came up with a storyline. It just hit me. I ran with it with stream of consciousness and it turned out to be a good story.
The concept did not come out of thin air as Parker himself has a background in MMA. He fought professionally once in 2004 and later became a fighter manager after a series of injuries kept him from competing. One fighter that Parker ended up managing was former Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman.
“I have been a huge fan of MMA since the beginning. I managed a bunch of guys — Chris Weidman was the first guy I got into the UFC as a manager. So based on my love of the sport, my experience with it myself and basic knowledge of conditioning and training I ran with it,” Parker said.
With the background in the sport, Parker now needed help with turning his story idea into a reality. It was then that he had a fortunate encounter with Elan and Mark Freedman sold him on the idea that the story is best suited to be in comic book form. They then introduced Parker to Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series who was also intrigued by the concept and decided to join the team. After saying that a comic book would be the best way to tell the story of Cage Hero, the two began to work together on the project.
“I grew up on the Ninja Turtles and I absolutely loved it,” Parker said. “The one thing that people loved about the Ninja Turtles besides their ability to kick butt was that they each had their own personality and humor that came along with it. … Kevin was a big help in adding humor to the story.”
The pair approached different publishers, and struck gold with Dynamite Entertainment. The publishing company is primarily known for its adaptations of established series such as The Green Hornet, The Twilight Zone and RoboCop, but also has some original content such as Project Superpowers. Dynamite Entertainment was intrigued by the pitch and Parker and Eastman got the green light to begin work on the comic book.
The story focuses on Ryder Stone, a middle-school aged boy who is an all-star wrestler. Stone lives with his strict, military grandfather after the loss of his mom and his father’s work in the military forces him to be gone. However, a chance encounter leads him to become the leader of Cage Heroes, a group of fighters from different disciplines set on protecting the world. There main foe is the Shadow Empire, a secretive international network of villains. Parker said that he drew inspiration from Eastman and the TMNT series as well as some of his favorite childhood heroes.
“I had two favorite superheroes growing up. The first was Spiderman because my last name is Parker and that was my nickname because I use to tumble and flip and climb over things. The other was the Flash because I was always fast and I love to be a speedster,” Parker said. “I appreciate the art of superhero movies nowadays. … We just bring a different element to that space.”
Part of the purpose for creating the series was to show MMA, a sport that Parker loves and has spent so much of his life dedicated to, in a good light.
“People think that MMA is modern-day gladiators or modern-day cock fighting. Everyone forgets about the discipline of martial arts which is what it really is. We tried to put MMA in a positive light,” Parker said. “MMA is not about the violence it is about the fighters and the hard work they put into the sport. Ignore the tattoos, ignore the promotional stuff, ignore the trash talking because every sport has that. We are trying to show the world that they are the hardest working athletes. Let them be defined by their success and not by the sport they compete in.
Parker also wants to inspire kids to believe in themselves and find strength in their own abilities. This stems from the mantra that was created for Cage Hero, the hero comes from within.
“We want kids to follow their passions, chase their dreams and don’t let anyone tell you no. If you really want something, you can’t say ‘I’ll give it one or two days’ and then stop. Put everything you have into it. That’s another thing about Chris. … He decided to give this a shot. He put everything on the line. He had a daughter and was living with his wife in his parents’ basement and he put everything on hold to chase this dream. You have to put everything aside and give everything.”
In order to further promote the values and have a role model for the readers, Parker brought on an old friend. Weidman has bought into Cage Hero and is part owner of the entity. His presence will allow even more insight of the sport to be added into the storylines and gives the publication and excellent fighter to be the face of it.
“When it comes to Chris, he is a family guy and a real classy guy. He represents the sport so well and he is such a positive role model for kids. … We want the world to see that these guys are not just gladiators but real professional athletes. Chris takes that role and represents it well. I could not think of a better person that believes in hard work, ethics, discipline. He also fights for the right reasons. He fights for the sport, for the competition and for his family. He has the heart of the champion and there is no other person I would rather have,” Parker said.
But Chris is not there just for show. He has already been adding to the already existing plans that Parker has for the story.
“The minute that he signed on board, he was already throwing ideas out left and right,” Parker said. “He is an owner. The ideal situation is for him to promote it and help build the brand.”
Though Cage Hero centers around teenagers and is meant to have a positive message, it is not going to be strictly a children’s comic book. Parker describes the story as an “all-ages action-adventure series” and plans on keeping the violence that occurs in the comic to be realistic.
“Kevin was a huge help in finding the balance in how to keep this age appropriate while also giving an ok amount of violence,” Parker said. “I don’t want to say acceptable, because violence is never acceptable, … but we wanted to find the happy medium. If you read our story it is no more violent than the Ninja Turtles.”
The comic has already released its first issue and is starting to create a buzz in both the MMA and comic book community. However, Parker is not satisfied with the success he has already achieved. While the other three parts of the four-part series need to be released, Cage Hero is moving forward with a graphic novel that is set to be released later this week.
Ian Parker knows to evolve as a person. He went from fighter to salesman to manager to comic book creator in the matter of a decade and has already begun the process of transforming his comic book into a graphic novel. There are no set plans on where Cage Hero is going to go, and that is really the exciting thing about it. The possibilities are endless for Parker and his team and he has big aspirations for where Cage Hero can go.
“If you like MMA, if you like the Ninja Turtles, if you like superheroes then we are the comic and graphic novel for you. Hopefully an animated series or a movie in the near future.”