I attended Chicago’s Wizard World Comic Con on Thursday, August 20, with a ticket to meet Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton and with plans to stop by WWE artist Rob Schamberger’s booth.
I arrived when the doors opened at 3pm, and I checked out the exhibitor hall, looking for Schamberger. It took me a while, between stopping to visit with a friend and getting distracted by some cool costumes and wares, but eventually I found my way to the WWE booth and beside it, Rob Schamberger’s.
Rob and his wife, Katy, were staffing a booth full of his amazing art. I knew both their faces from their Twitter accounts, and I hung back, excited and nervous, while Rob finished with some other customers.
I didn’t want to stand around grinning awkwardly at the lady’s husband and not saying anything, so I said hello to Katy and told her that I’m a huge fangirl. Then, because I couldn’t stand to wait, I handed her the gift I had brought for them – a pen and ink sketch of their two cats.
Katy’s reaction could not have been more gratifying – she cried. I mean, the woman is married to a phenomenally talented and successful artist, and she thought enough of my gift to react from the heart. It was an incredible moment.
Rob then finished with the customer, and Katy showed him the drawing. The look on his face just made the moment that much sweeter. He said, "That’s getting framed and hung up."
Seriously. Rob Freaking Schamberger said that about something I drew. If they had cancelled Comic Con and I had to go home right then, it would all have been a success.
I babbled at Rob about art and my feelings for a minute, and then I requested one of his prints – a gorgeous Dean Ambrose piece – and, stumbling over myself a lot, I asked if he would sign my sketchbook. Because, how inspiring would that be, to have an autograph from an artist I admire in my book?
Rob said yes, and then he took my book, pulled out a marker, pulled something up on his phone, and started sketching.
I now have a Rob Schamberger original of Ultimate Warrior in my sketchbook.
Somehow, this all happened to me!
After that, I needed to move along, as there was a steady stream of people coming to shop Rob’s work. I thanked them both and moved on, and I realized it was already time for the photo ops.
I was directed into the line for Daniel Bryan’s pics first. I saw when Randy and Daniel walked in together, a little ways up from me, because the crowd started cheering and Yes-ing. Daniel was laughing, and Randy was doing the Yes arm pump, which was cool.
I had been trying to find the courage to ask for a silly pose in my photo ops. I am very easily embarrassed and wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, but I knew I’d rather ask than be too shy. When it was my turn, there was this wild moment when a person you’ve been watching on TV for a year and a half is looking you in the eyes and smiling. I asked if we could pose as dancers, putting my arms out in a waltz sort of pose, and I have to admit I was chagrined when he just laughed uncomfortably and said, "I can’t do that… sorry…"
I said, "no problem!" right away, and we took a normal picture of us being normal. He thanked me, or I thanked him, or maybe both, and I was on my way. It soothed my mortification a bit when the photo attendant called me "sweetheart"; maybe he felt bad for me.
Shaking it off as best I could, I picked up my photo and realized it really had come out pretty nice. He has a natural, bright smile. I then made my way over to Randy Orton’s photo op.
This took longer, as people were streaming in, and there were multiple lines of varying priority. I was a little nervous when an attendant walked by and told people not to ask him to do his ring pose – was he grumpy, I wondered, and would I offend him accidentally? – but then I heard the attendant telling someone, "He doesn’t fit in the picture when he does the pose, and he’s really self-conscious about it."
I thought that was pretty charming, actually; I wasn’t sure why Randy Orton, Rich Famous Popular Guy, should be self-conscious about anything.
When my turn finally came, I thought I had resolved in my mind to smile and say nothing beyond thank you. But when I approached, looking him right in the eye and smiling, I found myself asking, "Is it okay if I put my arms around you?" (Okay, so that was kind of stilted, but it was all that came to me in the moment.)
He said, "Sure," in the most relaxed and kind tone. I know there are stories about Randy having been a wild child or being grumpy or something, but he was all kindness and consideration in the moments that I saw him. I hugged him around the middle, and then without meaning to, I found myself resting my head on his shoulder. I have serious sympathy for those who reach to touch the performers at events; there’s just this magnetic sensation of, "It’s you! It’s like I’ve known you so long, so I just need to hug you!" I’m very grateful that he was relaxed about it and that I did at least have the presence of mind to ask. He is very trim; I know he’s a big guy, but hugging him like that, I just thought, wow, this guy is svelte.
I thanked him, he thanked me, and that was that. I walked away feeling less anxious/embarrassed this time.
Next came the autograph lines. I think something was awry in the scheduling, because the wait was quite extreme, a couple of hours, and I had bought a priority ticket. So I ended up sitting on the floor after a while, and I listened to wrestling conversation all around me, feeling like I was on a live-action version of these message boards! A little boy, maybe 4 years old, seemed to think it was wonderful that an adult was sitting on the floor, because any time I glanced in his direction, he would give me the most adorable, shy grin. That helped past the time, trading smiles with a cute, well-behaved little kiddo and listening to funny fan chatter.
Eventually – with the hard work and energetic friendliness of the staff, and with a lot of patience (and maybe a little grumbling) from the crowd, we made it into the line for Randy. I had brought a pencil sketch of him that I did a few months ago, and it was gratifying to get some compliments from those around me.
When I got up to him, he looked at it, said my name (the staff was putting Post-Its with names for personalization), and I think he said, "Great," or "Nice," or something, and then I stood tongue-tied while he signed. I just couldn’t find anything to say, which felt a little awkward at the time, but looking back, it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. He handed it to me with a smile, and I thanked him, and he said, "Thank you, sweetheart," and then I was on my way.
I’ve read a lot of opinions on Randy Orton, but having finally had just a few moments to interact with him, I was utterly charmed. He seemed reserved and calm but genuinely warm toward everyone. I don’t know why I had assumed that he was this temperamental, scary guy. He came across more as a guy who knows he’s intimidating and is purposely being gentle and thoughtful to put people at ease.
Next I went to the Daniel Bryan line, and by now things were clicking along pretty smoothly, so the extreme waiting was over. When I got up to the front, I realized that the WWE person "attending" Bryan was John Cone, of John Cone Office Referee!
When I got up to Daniel, he looked at my drawing of him and then looked up at me and asked, "What color would you like me to use?" (They had multiple colors of Sharpie.) I probably hesitated, or something, because he said, "This is an awesome drawing, and I want to pick a good color." I asked for black, and he agreed, "That would look good," and he switched out pens just for me.
As he wrote, I looked up at John Cone, told him, "It’s nice to get to meet you! I wish I had drawn you, too!" and he laughed in a sort of flustered and (I think) flattered way; I’m not sure if people had been talking to him as much. I was struck by how handsome he is; his smile could have lit the whole convention center.
Daniel wrote on my piece, "Great Drawing! Yes!" and signed it. He looked me right in the eyes with the warm, relaxed smile that you know from TV, totally sincere and enthusiastic, and he thanked me, and I thanked him.
I walked away feeling so much better after my earlier faux pas. He took extra time to and made my piece look great and was just so kind; the best word I can find for my impression of him is, "genuine."
I was almost out of steam, but I really wanted to go to Rob Schamberger’s panel. It had already been in session for half an hour – the autograph lines were unfortunately far behind schedule – but I decided to find it and sit in for the end.
Right when I arrived, the interviewer asked him about Kevin Owens destroying his painting on Raw. I had cringed and felt it viscerally when that happened; since I like to draw and paint, it was wrenching to see an artist’s piece smashed up. But I had reassured myself at the time that it was all scripted, so Rob certainly had known it was coming and had prepared the piece with that in mind.
Well, it turns out that was wrong! Rob had been working on the piece and was to paint it live at the next PPV. He was backstage when Steph and Hunter had their "walk through the back" scene planned, and he thought he would have to relocate, but Steph saw him and suggested – moments before going to air – that they chat with Rob. She ensured that the camera crew kept Rob’s painting in the shot, when they had been trying to crop it.
Rob said when KO approached, he just knew what was going to happen. He had had one of his paintings used as a weapon at an indy match some time ago, so he knew that anything can happen in the moment during a live performance.
So, what you saw was that natural, organic, and real – Steph pulled him into a Raw appearance, and KO wandered up and created an indelible moment. It’s just amazing to me that it all flows together on the fly like that! I think Rob said he had another painting that he pulled out and worked on at the PPV, and he seems like the calmest person and just took the whole thing in stride.
He talked about how Hunter is his advocate/supporter who got him a deal to work officially with WWE, and he told a story about how Vince has Rob’s McMahon family portrait in his office. Rob said he hasn’t really met/talked to Vince, but he had done the portrait, and then Stephanie saw it and bought it from him and gave it to her father for Christmas.
He mentioned that Hunter has one of Rob’s pieces – of Killer Kowalski – in his office. And he talked about how much it helped and promoted him when Natty’s home was shown on Total Divas and his work was on the walls. He also said that Kevin Owens has his stuff up in his home.
That’s about all I can remember in terms of interesting details and background stories. I caught about 20 minutes, and then things wrapped up.
Daniel Bryan was scheduled to do a panel, but I was very severely fatigued at that point, so I headed out.
The major impression I took away from all this – what really struck me – is that that these guys are just guys. I have a bad habit of idolizing celebrities, and the way they’re presented on WWE programming, they look like these huge mythical human pillars. In real life, I’d say they all seemed more handsome, but the two wrestlers in particular struck me as, certainly not "small," but as human, if that makes sense. When I was getting tired during all the waiting, I found myself thinking, how are they doing this? How are they meeting hundreds of people in just a few hours and sending us away feeling so special? How do they manage to live in this whirlwind?
I came away with a new realization and respect for how much time and energy these people put into their work and just how massive the fanbase is. They’re just people, and they do so much to make so many of us so happy.
My day was magical. If you ever have a chance to go to a show like this, you should! Wear sturdy shoes, but go. And tell Rob Schamberger that I said hi.