Rob Schamberger is best known for his Wrestling Champions series, in which he has painted every one of professional wrestling’s world champions. He is also a current WWE Portrait Painter and his prints are available from WWE Shop. His work has been covered by Sports Illustrated, USA Today, E! News and AskMen.com. He was featured in the BBC documentary Superstar Wrestlers. He has shown his work in numerous galleries and museums and his work is on permanent display in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, who named him as their official artist.He has painted live for WWE at WrestleMania and SummerSlam, and produces weekly videos for WWE’s Canvas 2 Canvas web series. Rob was nice enough to stop by First Comics News and talk to us about his career in comic, wrestling and how that has come together in the new WWE Then.Now.Forever comic from Boom Comics.
First Comics News: How did you discover comics?
Rob Schamberger: My older step-brother bought me a copy of The Incredible Hulk #348 when I was 8 and I instantly knew that I wanted to be one of the people making these. It blew my young mind and has provided me with decades of inspiration.
1st: What was your favorite comic when you were growing up?
Rob: Definitely the X-Men. Between Uncanny X-Men and the Classic X-Men reprint series I was getting some of Claremont’s most exciting work. I started reading Uncanny during the Inferno storyline and man, that stuff was bonkers. Then into the team being broken up followed by Jim Lee’s explosive entrance, I was fully hooked. By the time I was a teenager I became more a fan of creators, following the usual list of writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, James Robinson, Garth Ennis and their ilk, along with artists like Jack Kirby, Dave McKean, Phil Hester, Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Mike Mignola, Kelley Jones, Katsuhiro Otomo and so on!
Rob: Self-taught! I was fortunate enough to have an excellent arts program at Lee’s Summit High School but otherwise it was all about perseverance and hard work.
1st: As a teenager you started self publishing comics, what was that comic?
Rob: It was called ‘Just Nobody’ and it was full of angst and esoteric naval-gazing all wrapped around a crime/romance plot. The exact kind of art comic a 17 year-old would make in a post-Tarantino 90’s era! Pretty much rotten, but it showed everyone I was serious about being an artist.
1st: How did you distribute it?
Rob: By hand and a few local comic shops carried it.
1st: How did you break in at Image comics?
Rob: That’s a long-winded story. I wrote and Thom Thurman drew a book called The Believer, a mix of The Shadow, Clint Eastwood movies and power-chord-storytelling. We pitched it around to various publishers and we were in the right place and time when Image was looking to do their ill-fated Image Introduces line. Don’t remember that line? It’s okay, no one else does, either! We were pretty much that episode of The Brady Bunch where Greg becomes a pop star because he was the only one who fit into the suit the record label made. Image needed someone for the second release slot and we were the only ones with a finished book. Our sales were lousy because it was solicited the month after 9/11 when retailers weren’t ordering ANYTHING, let alone something from two unknown talents.
Still, it’s a good book I think and I’m proud to have worked on it and to have gotten it published when I was only 21 years old. At the very least, it made a friendship between Thom and I that carries on today.
1st: What gave you the idea to paint every wrestling champion?
Rob: A project I’m only half-way through, and that I think I’ll be working on for the rest of my life. I’d come to a place where my gallery work was outperforming my comics work, but it still wasn’t enough to leave my day job over. I was competing with every other established artist doing the subject matter I was interested in, so I wanted to find something where I could stand out. The cartoon lightbulb appeared over my head and I realized no one was doing serious fine art about pro wrestling. I did a Kickstarter with the goal of painting all of the world champions from every major American promotion, and it was a huge success. I raised over $20,000 in less than a month and was able to focus full time on making art that celebrates the art form of pro wrestling!
1st: How did that lead to a job at WWE?
Rob: I’m not actually an employee of WWE, more of a resident artist. Through the Champions Collection project and touring the paintings I became acquainted with key people in Gerald Brisco, Jim Ross and WWE’s archivist Ben Brown. SmackDown was coming to Kansas City, where I’m based out of, and I put together a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish on the same day. I reached out to Jim to pass my info along to the company about helping to promote the event. He did and they did, but unbeknownst to me he started reaching out to executives there about really working with me. It came across Ben’s desk, who vouched for me and that got everything going!
1st: At WWE you have painted Sasha Banks a few times, what has her reaction been to the art?
1st: When did Boom Comics contact you to contribute the WWE THEN.NOW.FOREVER. #1?
Rob: I actually reached out to them on Twitter when the project was announced at SDCC. I’m a fan of their quality books (The Woods is SO GOOD) and thought it’d be a natural fit.
1st: Boom is a WWE licensee and you are a WWE resident artist and a comic creator, it seems tailor made for you, was the WWE supportive?
Rob: Yes, everyone has been really excited about the project.
Rob: I pitched the story.
1st: Your story in the comic is very inspirational, dealing with both Sasha’s inspiration and how she inspires fans. Do you see Sasha as inspirational character in real life?
You only have to look at how dedicated her fans are to get your answer to that. She works hard, it continues to pay off, and people notice.
1st: Unlike other creators you may actually have to deal with Sasha in person after you write your story. Has Sasha seen it?
1st: Does writing about people you know affect your story telling?
Rob: I think it only enhances it. Jack Kirby for instance was a huge proponent of writing what you know, and I feel the better I know about any subject the better I can accurately write about it.
1st: Was this story a one off, or are you going to contribute to the Boom WWE comics regularly?
1st: What other stories are you planning?
Rob: I don’t have any stories planned, but I definitely have ideas. Right now my main commitments to WWE keep me pretty slammed with my weekly paintings and videos and preparing for my annual appearance at WrestleMania Axxess!