Q&A: Matt Charlton, author of 'J-Crowned: The J-Crown Edition'

Originally published at Q&A: Matt Charlton, author of 'J-Crowned: The J-Crown Edition'

Matt Charlton has just released the latest volume of his J-Crowned series covering the history of the J-Crown championship.

Matt set out to combine his artistic skills with a vast knowledge of professional wrestling history to present a unique look at this era of Japanese wrestling.

In the book, Matt seeks to document the contributors that led to the formation of the J-Crown in 1996 with the United States, Japan, and Mexico represented in the formation of the tournament to crown one J-Crown holder.

This is Matt’s follow-up to previous volumes of J-Crowned that covered Champions of Japanese Wrestling in Volume 1 and Volume 2.

We spoke with Matt about the latest release, which is available on Amazon.

First, Matt, tell us a bit about your fandom of Japanese wrestling and how you discovered it?

Wrestling is like music in a lot of ways, most people just know what the radio is playing and their knowledge of the culture doesn’t extend much beyond that. I’m of a fortunate age (old) where what was played on mainstream radio was really diverse and it opened my ears to a wider appreciation of a lot of styles; in the same way, what first really sucked me into mainstream wrestling was a diverse generation of men who had made their name in Japan before becoming stars in the States. Standing in the newsagent’s, scouring the wrestling magazines and seeing a bloodstained Foley clutching his Deathmatch trophy or stoic photos of Lance Storm, Jericho, and Benoit side by side larger than life figures like Sasuke, Liger, and Naniwa, made it clear to me from an early age that for a wrestler to be any good, they must first have done something out in Japan. One of the first times I used the internet, it was to place an order for a clutch of VHS tapes, one of which being the 1994 Super J Cup tournament, which arrived and promptly blew my mind, giving birth to a still-standing obsession.

Was drawing a skill you acquired early in life or something that developed over time?

Drawing and wanting to communicate through painting and pictures has always been part of my life. Though trying to learn different mediums and trying to improve is a constant struggle, I very much hope it’s something that I never stop developing.

When you put together the first volume of J Crowned what was the initial decision behind the project and what were your goals?

With J-Crowned I really wanted a book that contained everyone, an illustrated almanac that would ensure that every wrestler had their name and likeness carved on a page somewhere. But of course, everyone is impossible from a practical standpoint, so then the process of reduction started by focusing on champions and telling as much of their stories as possible, including mentions of as many people who contributed to their journeys as I could. J-Crowned Volume 1 was the start of the journey, so we start a journey from Rikidōzan through AJPW, NJPW and NOAH which continued through Volume 2 and will continue through as many volumes and companies as I have the strength and time to compile.

The latest volume of J Crowned: J-Crown Edition feels like a true labor of love – not just the incredible drawings but the biographies are incredible. Is it tricky combining your passion with a project of this level and not allowing it to become burdensome to complete?

Ah, man, that’s incredibly kind…to be honest, the year of this edition’s writing wasn’t an easy one, personally, physically, or mentally. Whilst it’s true that the task of writing the book into the dead of night was taxing and that drawing in cramped and unfamiliar locations wasn’t pleasant, the focus required probably also kept me afloat. A labor of love is the best way to describe it, difficult and all-consuming, but never a burden as such.

What was so intriguing about the J-Crown to you as a fan that made it the impetus for this volume?

I started brainstorming ideas for a new project at the end of 2020, interested in broadening the scope and location of the series to truly begin to catalog the entire industry. I initially set about planning a straight Volume 3 of the series, to shine a light on the independent side of things including the likes of FMW, Michinoku Pro, K-Dojo, and BJW, and the more the idea developed, the more it took me through the same core group of innovators Hamada, Sasuke, Dragon, and Liger. Planning pictures of Sasuke, I came across his classic post-J-Crown victory photo and the eight championships began to make sense as a framework for the new project, it suddenly clicked that 2021 was the 25th anniversary of the championship’s inauguration and from that point on planning for the J-Crown edition started in earnest.

Are there specific performers that jump out more than others that make for great visuals on the page? Whether it be unique facial expressions, scar tissue, etc?

I’ve always said that the whole thinking behind what I do is to celebrate the lives and sacrifices of the wrestler…as such I’ve always wanted to do my best to make everyone stand out in their own little way. Haha, but some souls shine so bright that they just pop from the page, Minoru Suzuki, Maki Itoh, The Great Sasuke…they always stand out, I guess it’s in their eyes, their full commitment to the life they happen to be leading at the moment. Misawa elbows are always fun to draw, there’s an energy stored in the stopped frame of the photo.

What has been the most rewarding process of putting out the J Crowned volumes, and conversely, the most difficult?

If I could start with the most difficult…everything in all three books is done by hand, all the drawings are ink on paper before getting scanned and every word is written in a notebook before getting typed up and edited, all these precious ideas stored on fragile tinder makes me nervous and then the work required to compile things digitally, format things, edit the work…I get so incredibly anxious, afraid that I’ll press delete at the wrong moment and it will all disappear.

But then it doesn’t disappear…I get to do what I set out to do, put a document out there, reminding people of their worth, celebrating this sport, hopefully, help people to come together in celebration of wrestling and life itself. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I want my daughter to see my work in the future and perhaps be proud of me. I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received, the kindness that people have shown toward the books, hopefully helping people see the brighter side and very human side of the world of wrestling. Thank you.

All three volumes of J-Crowned are available on Amazon and you can follow Matt Charlton @ShiningWizardDS