WWE legend Hacksaw Jim Duggan stands tall as a larger than life figure at New York Comic Con and sees pro wrestling and comics as a good fit, albeit with some important differences: the most successful wrestlers don’t hide who they are; they really are who we see in the ring.
Seeing wrestlers, past and present, at comic book conventions is now as commonplace as seeing sci-fi actors and other pop-culture icons. However, the relationship is not a tenuous one. During the current “reality era” especially, wrestlers from the current product make appearances, while those of yesteryear set up tables and go into business for themselves, relying on nostalgia to drive sales for their autographs and quick snapshots with their fans. Wrestling may be a performance art whereas comic books are a form of literature, but the themes of dual identities and being larger than life permeate both artforms.
From time to time, the WWE wrestlers themselves have been characters in their own series of adventures wherein their characters battle inside and outside the ring. The Undertaker has taken on demons, while the Ultimate Warrior was able to be true to his name and defeat evil on the battlefield. In one instance, the Warrior reveals his training regime, complete with boulder tossing. The late 80’s, early 90’s landscape of the WWF contained a bevy of superstars who were already caricatures. Making the Million Dollar Man a power hungry millionaire who is brought down by the law and order of the Big Boss Man made perfect sense, as these characters epitomized good and evil.
Despite animated cartoon versions of WWF stars appearing in the 1980’s during the era of “Rock ‘N Wrestling”, wrestlers didn’t start to truly appear in comics until 1992, when the company partnered with Valiant comics. One-shot stories starring the Undertaker, the Bushwackers, the Million Dollar Man, the Legion of Doom and even the Natural Disasters encountering each other outside of the ring graced the pages of a medium previously untouched by wrestling. When that partnership ended, Valiant partnered with WCW to produce an inferior product, which suffered from the fleeting nature of wrestler allegiances and their roles in the company. The most recent foray of wrestling into comics, WWE Superstars, suffered from the same (pardon the pun) issue. Creating an on-going comic starring the company’s top stars only works when those stars can continue to appear in the storylines that are augmented from month to month.
At this year’s New York Comic Con, the second largest of it’s kind in the United States only behind San Diego’s Con, wrestlers from days past can be seen signing autographs and hobnobbing with fans amidst tables hawking items ranging comic books to the more obscure things such as tiny collectable Mad Hatter hat replicas. Some wrestlers at the show this year are Jerry Lawler, Hurricane Helms, the Honky Tonk Man, Greg “the Hammer” Valentine and the personification of America himself, Hacksaw Jim Duggan. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with the latter about this very topic.
Duggan commented that, “it’s a strange crossover between comics and pro wrestling, these are more than comic conventions, these are more like pop culture conventions and pro wrestling is pop culture.” He said that he appears at about 15-20 conventions a year, most recently in Sheffield, England as well as Edinburgh in Scotland. Hacksaw appreciates the opportunity that the environment offers, remarking that ,“this is a nice opportunity, especially for a guy like me, to be able to tell the fans thanks for years of support.” Whereas fans have reported negative interactions with other wrestlers at conventions like this one, I witnessed first-hand that Hacksaw is a genuine and gracious legend, conversing with fans who had no intention of paying for his autograph. Every few minutes, choruses of “HOOOO” reverberate around his table, rising above the cacophony created by the hundreds of thousands in attendance.
He does see similarities between comic book characters and pro wrestlers, “I think some of the characters are a little over the top, the Undertaker could be a comic book character, [as well as] Bray Wyatt. There’s definitely a crossover between comics and wrestlers.” As a child, he was a fan of Batman and Superman, which perhaps eventually shaped his affinity from wrestling as a face, after starting his career as a heel. “I enjoyed being a babyface, I think the best gimmicks are an extension of your personality. Macho Man was Macho Man, Hacksaw is a big part of my personality. I enjoy people, so I graduated or evolved into a good guy.”
And that he is, in spades. His affable nature creates a warm inviting atmosphere. During the interview, he shook hands with fans that walked by and recognized the squared circle veteran. He ended our time together asking me to join him in belting out his most well-known catchphrase and we both exclaimed “HOOOO!” with dozens of others around us, confirming my previous thoughts of the subject: wrestlers really are heroes.