The world of professional wrestling has a cast of characters not so different than comics. You have your heroes and villains, both fighting for domination, or a championship. Legendary comic artist Jill Thompson has been busy designing ring attire for WWE superstar, Daniel Bryan (aka former residential indie legend, Bryan Danielson). Blog@ talked to Thompson about the inspirations that went into the designs, as well discussed her love of the sport, and whether she’d ever step into the ring.
Blog@: Who approached who on designing Bryan’s ring gear?
Jill Thompson: Bryan approached me. I would have never thought to do it if he hadn’t contacted me. I ‘armchair design’ some gear during shows, you know…you see someone who could use some pizazz or some color….everyone ‘s got black trunks because they are a tough guy…which gets a bit boring for me as a viewer… However I’ve never sought out anyone to ask them if I could redesign their gear.
Blog@: Bryan has a history of pretty simplistic attire, Jill what was your artistic approach to his designs?
JT: He asked me to design something cool, but to continue to use his colors of maroon and white. He said “Make me look like a superhero.” and, as far as superhero gear goes, I’m a fan of stuff that looks wearable. I like to make things that look fashionable and functional, based on real world clothing. So, I took my cue from Bryan’s name, “The American Dragon”. I thought to myself, what’s an American Dragon? A mythic powerful beast? Yeah, but taken to another more symbolic level? It’s a Hot Rod. A Muscle Car. Something that has great power and is uniquely American that the rest of the world still looks at and goes, “Aww Yeah! That is awesome!”
And Bryan has a classic American guy look. Like a Paul Newman. He’d look just fine sitting behind the wheel of a ’67 mustang or something. White t-shirt and jeans kinda timeless American style. I wanted to mix all of those elements up with a little bit of Evel Knieval thrown in for good measure. The first gear I designed for him was the boxer style hoodie jacket with the white stripes and flames. Just like the hood of a Mustang. The Dragon logo is an homage to the Mustang grill ornament and the lettering style is based on the Ford Mustang logo. I added hot rod style flames into it because I love how those things look and I thought it added another subtle Dragon-y element to it. I also design with the idea that these jackets (not the trunks or kick pads) could be worn outside the ring. I want Bryan to look at it as something he could wear as civilian clothing.
Yeah, I know it’s got his name on it…but it has to. I’ve also sent him a few tshirt designs based on his gear. I want fans to see his gear and think, “Damn, I want a jacket like that!” That first jacket, in my notes, I was suggesting a soft fabric, like a really light hoodie material, lined with a jersey knit t shirt type fabric with no cuffs on the sleeve. But the gear maker chose another material. Leather or something. Which looked cool as well…it’s odd. You picture something in your head, but you don’t really know if the type of fabric you see in your head exists. Or if the gear maker has access to a a huge variety of fabric. Not everyone lives in the Garment District of NYC. How do designers get textiles made? Thats what I need! Access to a textile factory! And all of the subsequent gear I’ve designed since then, I’ve based on that first concept as well, just tweaked it in different ways. I’m trying to keep his closet full of a wide variety of outfits!
Blog@: For those that might not know, you’re actually a really big wrestling fan. How long have you watched wrestling programs?
JT: I remember watching boxing and wrestling once with my Grandpa. It was on a Sunday and it was on a black and white TV. I didn’t know the difference between boxing and wrestling because of the ring, y’know. But I remember sitting on his lap and him being so animated the chair tipped over with both of us in it. Then he took out his false teeth and laughed and scared me silly! And the funny thing is- that could have been three separate instances, but I remember them all as one now. The next time I watched in earnest was when Hulk Hogan was blown up all over the world in the ’80′s. And then I didn’t really watch again until one Saturday morning when Brian [Azzarello] found it on my TV and we watched together. So that was mid 1990′s. I remember the debut of Mankind very well. All of those promos leading up to his debut, with him in the cellar, and there were rats and stuff and he was rocking back and forth…and then pretty much every Monday night more or less since the mid 90′s.
And, before you ask– No. I was NOT into the NWO. Sorry, everyone. I hated them. They stood around and did nothing as far as I was concerned. I liked the Guerreros and Rey Mysterio and other guys in WCW. In fact, my heat with them was so real I made Brian turn the channel when they came on. And I think that’s right about when Steve Austin ‘broke’ into Brian Pillman’s house and Pillman had a gun out to defend himself. The soap opera lover in me was kinda hooked on that but at the same time I would get pissed at all of those type of gimmicks on one level saying…”Oh, that guy’s got a gun and we hear a shot and then we just cut back to the ring announcer? Oh, Please, that’s so fake! How can they even show that!?” But I got lost in the story quickly and forgot my cynical ways.
Blog@: Using the current WWE Superstar roster, whose gear would you love to design? What about anybody else from the indie scene? Colt Cobana, maybe?
JT: I’m happy designing Bryan’s gear for as long as he wants me to. It’s a good mix. I don’t have ideas for random guys on the roster. It just happened that comics and wrestling mixed together in the right way for us. I work well off of a mutual admiration type of relationship. He knew my work and was a fan of it and was a fan right back. He had an established gimmick that he was going to keep. He knew what he liked and gave me some direction. It’s important that the character be there for me to create something. And I’m really lucky that he’s liked most everything I’ve designed for him. Its really thrilling to see my drawings come to life. This latest set of gear has really gotten some nice compliments.
There are some guys who have asked me to design something, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to come up with anything! I’m also not a great logo designer, so when someone wants their name all fancied up, I might do better to send them to a logo designer or graphic designer. Just so they will get the best job. I mean I can do a little of that, but, it’s not something I think about all the time and I have no idea how to do stuff on the computer in photoshop and the like and that seems very computer necessary. I did design a couple of ring robes for Christopher Daniels. He was looking for something when he was in ROH. Something that would compliment his existing gear. I like what I designed for him, but I think his character in TNA has gone in a different direction. I’ll get to something for Colt one day. We’ve talked about it. A singlet of some sort. He’s got definite ideas of what he likes. I haven’t clicked with the right thing yet for him. But you never know.
Blog@: Wrestlers usually portray characters that are larger than life, do you think there is a correlation between the entertainment aspect of wrestling and super hero comics?
JT: I think that’s an easy answer: of course there is. Visually, the way the characters and the wrestlers look. The physicality of it, the costuming, the promos… all portrayed in the wrestling ring, which is kind of like a comic panel, if you think about it. And the characters break outside its panel borders on a regular basis. The commentators are the captions. The promos are the dialogue or in some cases monologue. All that talking works better in wrestling than in comics, because the voice overs don’t interfere with you being able to see the actual wrestling, the way it would if it was word balloons.
Blog@: Jill do you think that there’s a hidden wrestling superstar within you?
JT: Hidden? You do not know me well, sir! I’ve got an affinity for the theatrical! I love to entertain an audience though a story and I’ve always been fairly strong… But the cardio! Lord, that’s some intense cardio!
Blog@: Do you have any more designs for Bryan in mind? Maybe something specific for a future world champion?
JT: There are three that have been on TV and two more in the works. When they come to me, I illustrate them, write notes on them and then send them to Bryan. He let’s me know if he likes them and then he gets them made. There are a couple cool ones that could be made in time for Wrestlemania!