The worlds of comics and wrestling came together at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo on Friday, where a panel titled "The Legacy of Crusher Hogan: The Love Affair between Comics and Wrestling" highlighted the two different entertainment venues and how they've intersected over the years.
Moderator Marty Bolger, a columnist for Ain't it Cool News, guided the discussion between "Sandman" and "Beasts of Burden" artist Jill Thompson; wrestler Mick Foley, a.k.a. Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love; and Jim Salicrup, editor-in-chief of Papercutz.
Foley came to the panel late, to huge applause from the audience. Before he sat down, Thompson pointed out his Santa Claus get up. Foley then said that he was in the midst of a "Santa Claus Challenge," where he has to wear a Christmas-related article of clothing every day for an entire year. Foley said he has worn 121 different pieces thus far.
Bolger threw the opening question to Salicrup, which was on the similarities between wrestling and comics. Salicrup said that the two share basic roots in that both involve stories that are perpetuated over and over again, but a fresh voice can make them feel different.
"At Papercutz, we wanted to really merge the two worlds by taking classic covers, like 'Giant-Size X-Men' #1, but replace all of the mutants with wrestlers," Salicrup said. "I asked John Byrne if he'd do the cover, and he just said that wasn't in his wheelhouse... I thought it was weird, because here I was asking you to draw giant muscular characters, with funny clothes on, as if the Marvel universe was anymore real than wrestling was."
Thompson said she was excited at the prospect of doing more riffs on classic covers, as she volunteered to draw a rendition of the first appearance of Phoenix from "Uncanny X-Men."
Foley then went on to explain what the most recent Papercutz books were trying to do for both markets.
''We didn't want to duplicate what people could see every Monday and Friday nights," Foley said, referring to the WWE's "Monday Night Raw" and "Smackdown!" programming. "We wanted to do stuff that was different, something where we could explore these characters in an alternate universe."
Foley then spoke of how he first came in contact with Thompson.
"She gave me her card and told me that she was an artist and initially, I didn't think anything of it," Foley said, noting that he didn't know who she was at first. "Some years later, I wanted to do a Christmas book, and so I called her asking if she could draw Santa Claus. What she sent back was amazing, to where it made me want to collaborate with her more. Now, whenever me and my kids watch wrestling, we find something that Jill's designed and we get pumped up and excited."
Foley then proved his love for comics by singing the original theme song to the 1966 animated "Captain America" song, word for word, as Thompson and fans in the crowd joined in. After the applause, he began to sing the ''Incredible Hulk'' song as well, eliciting more applause and cheers from fans.
''I was such a huge Hulk fan growing up, and I've had two great experiences with that character," Foley said. The first was owning a large collection of "The Incredible Hulk" comics.
"I found out how much issue #181, the first appearance of Wolverine, was worth, so I dug it out of my collection, only to find out that I cut out the Marvel trading stamp in it," he said.
His second experience was getting to meet Lou Ferrigno, "or as I was told by Hulk Hogan, the Hulk," Foley said. "I was told by Hogan that I was to be going to San Diego Comic-Con with the Hulk, so I got super excited. I end up going to a really nice house, with a great-looking gym in the living room, and out walk Lou. I ask him where's the Hulk, and to which he replies, 'That's me, I'm the Hulk.' So I get mad and I start screaming at him, stating that I was supposed to meet the Hulk. So, he turns to me and just goes, 'Mickey, don't get angry. I wouldn't like you when you're angry.'"
Foley then spoke of how intertwined comics and wrestling were, from a writing standpoint and the character development.
''Sometimes you just hit on something in both forms that just resonates with the fans and becomes something magical," Foley said. "Who would've known that the Wolverine from 'Hulk' #181 would go on to have this wonderful portrayal in comics, or that Hugh Jackman would go on to be the greatest guest star on 'Monday Night Raw'?"
Salicrup then said that one of the goals for making the Papercutz comics different than other wrestling comics was to have past wrestlers fight against current superstars, or even have Cactus Jack fight against Mankind. He also mentioned that due to the history and stigma of licensed wrestling comics, he wanted someone who understood both mediums to get involved in order to make better comics.
Bolger then asked the panelists to talk about the things that have shown how well the mediums have worked together.
"In 'Amazing Fantasy' #15, Peter Parker, after he has gained his new powers, decides to wrestle," Salicrup said. "Everyone now knows that story, and it's become a major part of both comics and wrestling history. Another great one is the work done by Jaime Hernandez."
Thompson jumped in and mentioned the work of the Hernandez Bros., along with her husband Brian Azzarello's contribution and some others.
''Yeah, Whoa Nelly, the Love and Rockets collection is incredible," Thompson said. "Another great one is issue #14 of ''Spider-Man's Tangled Web,' which was written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli. The book tells the story of 'Amazing Fantasy' #15, but from the point of view from Crusher Hogan and why he was in that ring that night. It was also co-written by Raven, which gives it more ties to wrestling. 'The Legend of Ricky Thunder' is an amazing wrestling comic that was funded through Kickstarter. The last one I'm gonna mention is a book called 'Headlocked,' by Mike Kingston, which is an anthology book that features stories about different wrestlers."
Foley then spoke of his personal connection to comics, where he's had the privilege to see a master in action. ''When I was a kid, my older brother was in the same class as John Buscema Jr., and one day he let me come over to their house. He knew how much of a comic fan I was, and he brought me over to their house. While my brother and John Jr. were playing, I was able to stay in John's office and watch him draw Thor. It was the equivalent of being a kid and going to Wrestlemania. John drew a sketch of the Hulk for me to take home, and I still have that drawing to this day. That's one of the things that inspired me to become a wrestler, with the love of heroes and the desire to create them, came to me in that form, so if I would have never been into comics, I wouldn't be who I am today."
With time running out, they only had time for a single question from the audience about when Foley revealed he was a "huge nerd" to his fellow wrestlers.
''Well, anyone that spent a few days on the road with me knew that there was an inner nerd waiting to come out," Foley said. "I felt that during the Attitude era of wrestling, I came to the realization of how much of the audience was just like me. So when I became aware of that and embraced it, great things started to happen."
Foley related the story of one of the "sillier things" he's done during his career, where he fought The Rock in an empty arena match. The Rock arrived in stretch limo, while Foley arrived in a Ford Pinto, with a driver and everything. "All those silly things that seem so absurd is where the two worlds have played into each other and still do to this very day," Foley said.