Monday, March 30, 2009

IWC Night of Legends 2009

As you may remember from my first entry, wrestling fanfests and conventions up and down the east coast are something that myself and many other collectors look forward to each year. It's become quite the experience, both good and bad, but my crew (dubbed "The Pittsburgh Posse" by the fine guys that run Signamania) has attended quite a few of the major shows over the past five years or so.

In the coming weeks, with the Spring shows fast approaching, I'll most likely post an entry acting almost as a guide to the ever-growing world of these shows. However, this entry is actually about a show that took place just last night. While it is actually a wrestling show with actual matches, due to the names featured it has become somewhat of a kick-off point each year for my wrestling autograph opportunities.

The IWC has long been one of the most well-kept secrets of the independent wrestling scene. Promoter Norm Connors has been running the Pittsburgh-based company since 2001, and it was in August of that year that one of his posters caught my eye. Jerry "The King" Lawler was advertised for a show no more than ten minutes away from my home, and I've been following the company ever since. With names like Dusty Rhodes, Eddy Guerrero, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Matt Hardy, Chris Candido, The Midnight Express, Demolition, Christopher Daniels, and CM Punk (as a regular from '01 till his signing with WWE) appearing for Norm, how could I stay away?

As a result, IWC provided many early autograph opportunities I otherwise would not have had. That, coupled with a great array of local talent made for great show after great show. In 2004, the IWC started running an annual show to benefit the Little League in the town of Franklin, Pennsylvania. This show, dubbed "Night of Legends," has indeed featured many of the all-time greats still active on the independent scene. Last night was the fifth Night of Legends show (2006 was run by a different promoter who produced less than half of the talent advertised and subsequently skipped town) and the fanfest "feel" of the show was in full force. The show is proceded by a question and answer session with several of the stars, followed by an autograph session. This years legends included George "The Animal" Steele, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter, Kamala (replacing Greg Valentine), The One Man Gang, Cowboy Bob Orton, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Mr. Hughes, and the ubiquitous Virgil. Yearly mainstays The Patriot (Tom Brandi...not Del Wilkes) and Pittsburgh legend Lord Zoltan (early '80s WWF jobber Ken Jugan) were also on-hand.

Yearly, these shows draw on average of 1,000-1,500 fans, which is nothing to sneeze at. Also, when I use the word "fans," I mean FANS! I'm not talking of sit-on-your-hands-pretending-I'm-in-Japan fans who only clap at flippity-flop moves, I'm speaking of true blue "It's still real to me, damnit!" fans who see live wrestling once a year--at this show! Add in the mix of a ton of children and older fans, and you have the type of crowd that many of the younger guys will never have the opportunity to work infront of again.

While it is amazing to see a lot of these legends still wrestling, a huge draw for my crew is the autograph signing. As with most signings, autographs and photo ops are not free, however they are cheaper than at your regular wrestling convention or fanfest. On average most of the stars will charge between $5-$10 for an autograph or photo op. Kamala was charging a flat rate of $5 to sign everything you had, while George Steele was charging $10 per item or photo.
One trick of the hobby is to politely ask the star for a bulk rate on multiple items. For example, I had five items for Jim Duggan to autograph, and he more than fairly charged only $15 to autograph the whole lot. Sgt. Slaughter, on the other hand, did me a small favor. I've met Slaughter multiple times in the past twenty-one years and he has been a complete joy everytime. A man standing at his table taking the money informed me it was $10 per item. I had four magazines in my hand and opted to only get two signed as Slaughter is a more common fixture on the scene. After signing the two I chose, Slaughter asked me to hand him my other two magazines, and proceded to sign those as well--for free. And remember, while Virgil has a "used car salesman" attitude, you can almost always haggle him down to what you feel is a fair price.
Ultimately, it was another worthwhile trip. This will be the first time I can remember talent on the show not appearing to do gimmicks (autographs & photo ops) which became the case with Bob Orton and The One Man Gang (which in the case of the latter was due to a late arrival). My crew has met with both gentlemen before, so our biggest wish in their case was getting to see them wrestle--a wish that was indeed granted.

A sample of items I had autographed at the show (clockwise from the top left): WWF's early Victory Magazine (Slaughter was surprised seeing this), WrestleMania VII program, WWF Program 192, Hasbro Hacksaw Jim Duggan #1, WWF Magazine Holiday '84, Pro Wrestling USA Program from '85, WWF Magazine 9/89, original 1984 George Steele promo photo (he loved this).

Friday, March 27, 2009

WrestleMania's Not-Quite-25th Anniversary of Programs

Quite a few different ideas flew across my mind to be the topic of the first true entry in this blog. While I'm not going to reveal them here, (to keep the suspense for further entries, of course!) I will say that I chose against one of the routes to make it clear that this isn't just a "wrestling figure" blog, but instead a resource which shall analyze all avenues of this great hobby.

With the supposed "25th Anniversary" of WrestleMania coming up, I decided to give a look at a collectible which commemorates nearly all of the "sports entertainment spectaculars" from 1985 to 2008. These items would be...the event programs.

Most likely tracing their roots as far back as the first time sporting events were covered in newspapers, event programs are one of the few standards that still hold up today. From Major League Baseball to the cult wrestling promotion Ring of Honor, programs have survived where many other traditions have not.

The WrestleMania programs began with the inaugural event itself at Madison Square Garden in 1985. Just like the other World Wrestling Federation publications at that point, the WrestleMania program is a full-color 16-page professional publication which, mirroring production values of WWF programming, blew the competition out of the water. It isn't to say that the NWA programs of the era weren't items to cherish (especially today), but Vince McMahon and crew clearly took it a step above from the cover art to the comprehensive lineup to the professional photography.

The cover featured a beautiful painting of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T behind "electric" ring ropes, while the inside featured photos of nearly every star involved on the card. It should be noted that most of the photos shown at the beginning of the pay-per-view event itself (to the commanding tones of McMahon's voice backed by Phil Collins' "Easy Lover") are taken straight from this program. This includes the extremely creepy photo of The Fabulous Moolah and Leilani Kai shown.

The WrestleMania 2 (What The World Has Come To) program continued to display the great pride the company had in their published product. The program featured many airbrushed and painted portraits of the events stars including King Kong Bundy attacking the Empire State Building, and an extremely disturbing artists rendering of ill-fated Burger King pitchman Herb and Silver Spoons star Ricky Schroeder. The piece located just inside the front cover. Due to it being even more frightening than Moolah and Kai above, I will allow you to seek out your own copy of the program to view the "art."

Starting with WrestleMania III, the programs slowly became more of the standard fare you expected out of other WWF publications of the era. While the same quality remained, artists renderings and disturbing pictorials for all intents and purposes became a thing of the past.

One point of interest to note, especially for younger readers, is that these programs would hit newsstands AT LEAST up to one month in advance of the event, yet you still generally had the whole card listed, and pictured, inside. This fact alone speaks volumes of how the booking process of these events has changed in the past two decades.

Even still, not every match depicted in the programs and magazines promoting the event always actually occured. Due to time restraints and other factors, occasionally a match would be shown ahead of time and subsequently scrapped, as seen to the right.

As the '90s wore on and WrestleMania entered its second decade, programs simply weren't a publication focus as they had once been. At this point, the programs get rarer as the printing runs got shorter and shorter to the point that they were no longer offered at newsstands and were exclusive to sale at the event on the day of the event.

To the best knowledge of this collector, some WrestleMania's do not have a program available at all. Some, such as the WrestleMania 2000 program, were sold at live events following WrestleMania, most likely to sell off stock not sold at the event itself.

For WrestleMania's 17 and 18 (or X-Seven and X-Eight as WWE would prefer you refer to them) a return of sorts was made to the days of the newsstand-available WrestleMania program. A few months before each event, magazines with a history of the previous WrestleMania's as well as photos of nearly ever superstar, announcer, agent, and referee on the roster were sold. These can be considered the official programs for those respective WrestleMania's.

Starting with WrestleMania XIX, the programs lept to the size of the standard WWE program, which is the size that remains today. The programs, which you can almost refer to as books, are printed on a very thick stalk paper with an extremely high gloss on the cover. These programs are available at the event and have always shown up later at the WWE's online store both seperate and as part of WrestleMania souvenir packages.

In addition to including the card, these larger program books have traditionally included full-page histories of the previous WrestleMania's as well as pages commemorating that years WWE Hall of Fame inductees. This format is the current format for WrestleMania programs and will most likely be used for the upcoming WrestleMania 25 program as well.

While some are rarer than others, the WrestleMania programs are an extremely fun commemoration of the event. Some of the most common of the lot are surprisingly among those from the earlier events, while the mid to late '90s editions will be the hardest for most collectors to acquire.

It should be noted for any so-called "completist" (a disease I'll note my displeasure for in later entries) that many of the earlier event programs that were sold on newsstands actually have two versions. As depicted with the Survivor Series '89 program, there is the newsstand version with a red bar or other sort of notation in the upper right corner as opposed to the actual version sold at the event without such graphic. These arena exclusives also feature a higher price in the upper left corner. It has yet to be determined by market value as to if either holds any significant value over the other.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? All welcome. Spread the word, and enjoy!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

After 11 Years, JWLJNs Wrestling Memorabilia Newsletter Returns--In Blog Form!

Chances are if you're reading this, you already know me. If by some chance you don't, you can call me J\/\/.

11 odd years ago, during the height of the Monday Night Wars, I ran a little online newsletter dedicated to wrestling collectibles (fittingly) titled "JWLJNs Wrestling Figure Newsletter."

The newsletter largely grew out of interactions on the AOL Grandstand forums as well as the WWF AOL site. Remember, while the internet had been in existence for quite awhile at that point (decades if you want to get technical), pro wrestling's biggest online gatherings at the time were on AOL, Prodigy, and newsgroups such as RSPW.

Over ten years later, many remnants of that era remain. For the wrestling figure collectors out there, the infamous rumored "Hasbro Orange card" series is a "concept" straight from the AOL days.

As I ventured out into the worlds of internet forums, social networking sites, and even the more recent phenomena of fanfests and conventions, I began to realize that my very own newsletter is one of the more remembered organs of that time.

It shouldn't have surprised me. I had a huge readership, actually broke news and photos which to this day are still circulated among collectors, and at one point even received kudos from the then-WWF marketing team.

Upon fellow collectors telling me how much they enjoyed the newsletter, I'm always asked to bring it back. My answer has always been the same, I simply didn't have the time, which is also the reason why it ended. Another truth is that breaking news in the hobby is covered in so many other areas, a newsletter simply wouldn't have relevance.

Finally, it donned on me. After publishing several general interest blogs over the years on networking sites, the newsletter in blog form might just do the trick.

Another idea is actually something that had been brought up to me by editors of WWE Magazine when they did a small visit with me in the magazine two years ago. They had mentioned the possibility of a collectible section helmed by me as a regular feature in the magazine. It never came to fruitition, but their loss is your gain.

Now you're getting me--absolutely free. This blog will cover every aspect of professional wrestling collecting...the new stuff...the old stuff...things you never knew existed...things you wish you had...and things you do have! The aforementioned wrestling convention scene, a current trend especially on the east coast, will be analyzed as well...complete with first-hand accounts from me and my convention-going crew, The Pittsburgh Posse.

Spread the word, J\/\/ is back!