Shaking the hand of Rhino.
Now when I opened this Blogger/Blogspot account in July of 2010, my first article was about why I became a cartoonist: http://codenamesailorearth.blogspot.com/2010/07/why-did-i-aim-to-be-cartoonist.html I'd like to elaborate a little on what caused me to draw wrestlers, specifically.
From the time I was 9 until I was16, I would draw constantly. After giving up on my first dream of going into politics, I found huge enjoyment from drawing cartoons. Originally, I would just draw my family or things I saw on TV, but wrestling of course being in my heart already, had a different hold on me with drawing.
See, I would study wrestling to better understand the human form. Unlike ballet, which shows how far the body can go, wrestling gives me an understanding of physics. For example, you wouldn't expect to see Spike Dudley lift the Big Show with one hand, would you? I'd spend hours either watching wrestling, or holding my figures to a flashlight, so I could understand drawing with a light source. How would the light bounce from The Honky Tonk Man's shoulders if the light was coming from above? How about from the ramp? I'd ask myself this all the time.
Being a lifelong fan of wrestling (having started at just 4 days old) I would draw wrestlers on occasion, usually to make my mom laugh by sketching something The Rock would say, but I don't think I was nearly as serious about drawing wrestlers as I am right now.
That all changed February 27, 2003.
Rhino (then spelled Rhyno) had been off of television since October of 2001. There had been an accident, and he needed to undergo neck fusion surgery. But unlike the other wrestlers that came back from the same thing in those early years of the 2000's, Rhyno stayed out a bit longer. The only thing we had seen of him, was a lone episode of WWE Confidential, where he confessed that he worried the fans would forget him while he was gone.
I could never imagine that! How could anybody forget this man? I had watched him become a star in ECW just before we lost them forever, and he was after all, their final champion. You can't forget the man-beast, it's not possible. What this man has done in the ring is nothing short of ground breaking.
But echoing his fears were several, snarky "dirt sheets" and early radio shows (we call them podcasts now) that scoffed at the idea that a wrestling fan could remember anything past last week.
But these fears were unfounded. And a hungry world of wrestling fans were waiting to quell those fears for good.
February 27th, 2003 he appeared on the ramp. In my area (Chicago) there had been little rumbling of his return, not even a graphic telling us when he'd be back. Nobody knew he was even in attendance, but there he was on the SmackDown ramp.
And the fans erupted.
The arena was booming with chants of E-C-DUB E-C-DUB E-C-DUB as signs went up everywhere "We miss you Rhyno" "Come back Rhino" "GORE GORE GORE!!!"
I don't think he realizes it, but he had such a serene, beautiful look on his face. His eyes were wide, and he had such a grin. A light mist went over his eyes and all at once, he seemed at peace.
Right then, I cracked open my box of colored pencils, and drew this:
Yes, I did draw this in Chibi style, but it was the best way I could come up with to capture the sweetness of this moment. A wrestler united with his fans, this is something that needed to be drawn.
From that moment on, that's what I wanted to do. I had heard my calling. I wanted to get better at drawing, and capture the beauty of wrestling in cartoon format.
Most cartoonists add extra lines to a wrestler's face, to emphasize emotion. The more lines you see, the more expression in the character, but sometimes (as the late Joe Kubert pointed out) it ages the character a little more than needed. I on the other hand take a cue from Chuck Jones, in that I try to tell the story in the eyes. I sort of hybrid anime style with what I learned from his cartoons, to capture that emotion. It's not a conventional means of drawing, but it's a style I feel best shows the life of the scene.
I didn't start posting my cartoons online until 2009. I really wanted to be at a higher level before letting the world see what I could do. I started by posting them on MySpace, and then sharing them on Facebook and bringing copies to different shows, so I could in person thank the wrestlers in said cartoons for their work. I can't always offer much, but I want these guys to know how special they are, and how every match they've had, from the pre-show dark matches to the main event, helps to make my world brighter.
But I hadn't yet told Rhino. I had only seen him once in person, at a Resistance show in January, right as he was on his way through my area to the ring, to speak with Harry Smith. I had no clue he was behind me, until a polite push on my shoulder led my face up to his soft, green eyes. My own eyes grew HUGE in an "I didn't realize Rhino was behind me" moment, as he made his way past my mom. A brief moment with a childhood favorite, one I wouldn't forget. One that inspired me to draw again.
And that takes me to last night.
At the ROH afterparty (which was entirely too short) I got the chance to talk to Truth Martini, who is not only a great manager, he's also one of the best known teachers in wrestling today. He's always been supportive of me and of my cartoons, himself being in several of them:
He asked how the cartooning was going, and I told him which projects I'm working on, and then I produced a cartoon for Rhino. I asked Truth if he thought Rhino might like it.
"Is that for ME????" I hear from behind.
I whip up to see Rhino, his eyes wide as he takes the cartoon from Truth's hand. This is now my second "I didn't realize Rhino was behind me" moment.
I got the chance to shake his hand and thank him, not only for the show, but for what he does as a wrestler. To thank him for inspiring me to take this journey as a cartoonist. I got that chance I had been waiting for since I was 16, to thank him for being him.
I was treated to a beaming smile, and a chance to take a photo with a humble wrestler, just before he had to leave again. But here is the cartoon he took with him:
Thank you Rhino! ^_^