Before Jim Cornette was a wrestling star or even a wrestling fan, he was a comic book fan. Born just two months before Marvel Comics released Fantastic Four #1, Cornette became a fan of Doctor Doom at age six - and years later, like his idol, became a villain that fans respected, not in comics - but in wrestling.
Now, Cornette's two loves are forming a tag team with the comic book anthology Behind the Curtain: Real Pro Wrestling Stories. Working with the Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven creative team of Brandon Easton and Denis Medi and IDW Publishing, Cornette is telling the real-life stories behind the staged sport of wrestling in a true life Twlight Zone format.
Initially launched on Kickstarter with a $25,000 goal, Behind the Curtain currently sits with $60,914 raised and a little under a day to go. With that Kickstarter window open for pre-orders and exlusive extras and the book due out in October, Newsaram spoke with Cornette from his wrestling and comics memorabilia-filled home in Louisville, Kentucky - dubbed "Castle Cornette" - to find out the story of the book and the man behind it.
Newsarama: Since we first spoke, your Kickstarter already surpassed its $25,000 goal and then some. How has this welcome to the comic book industry been for you?
Jim Cornette: This book is a combination of a shoot interview, a podcast, and a collector’s item. It’s a cool companion piece to the wrestling we watch today.
You mentioned sales, but I’ll actually give you the statistics. The first level was funded in 2 hours, and then we hit the first stretch goal – eight extra pages – in three and a half days. It caught us so much by surprise, but here I am adding more pages, and IDW is adding more bells and whistles. I’m really excited about it, and appreciate the overwhelming interest.
I loved comics before I got into wrestling; I started reading classic, silver age Marvel Comics after I got from my older cousins. Doctor Doom, the Fantastic Four…. I still have a lot of the books they gave me when I was six, even though now they’re worth as much – if not more – than the house I was living in at the time was worth.
Nrama: You’re used to dealing with wrestlers and wrestling promoters – what’s it like working with a publisher such as IDW?
Cornette: That’s another reason I’m having so much fun. The guys at IDW like Eric Moss are great, as are Brandon Easton and Denis Medri – they did the Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven book. Brandon showed me some samples and the stuff is really perfect – he even suggested some stories I should tell. They’re comics guys – professionals, but they know enough about wrestling to translate it to comics.
Nrama: You didn’t know how popular this would be at the time – so what got you involved with IDW to do Behind the Curtain: Real Pro Wrestling Stories?
Cornette: If I’d thought of the idea, I’d take credit for it. It wasn’t until I’d seen the Andre the Giant OGN, and they first reached out.
Nrama: Of course, comics has a long history of wrestling tie-ins…. There’s the Ultimate Warrior comic book which came out during your stint at WWE.
Cornette: I was there when Vince McMahon got the phone call! [Laughs] Warrior was offended with something had done, and he wanted WWE to buy two million of his comics at $1 apiece.
Nrama: Listeners of your podcast, The Jim Cornette Experience, know you keep immaculate records of your time in wrestling, and your mind is a lexicon. How’d you decide what to include in this first book – and what not to?
Cornette: I like twist endings a la Rod Serling – everybody things they heard the story. Also, stories that are funny, or would be poignant to people who don’t know about wrestling. Real stuff, you know? Such as boxer-turned-wrestler Primo Carnera, who was the inspiration for Requiem for a Heavyweight. He was a classic, big palooka foreign boxer, but by the time he finished in boxing he had nowhere to go – but he found wrestling. He became the classic foreign wrestler, and made and kept more money than he ever did in boxing. Requiem for a Heavyweight goes off the air with Anthony Quinn’s Luis “Mountain” Rivera having to put on an Indian headdress and go into the ring against Haystacks Calhoun.
Then there’s the story of Sputnik Monroe, who helped desegregate Memphis sports arenas in the 1960s.
I’d like to plug the Kickstarter here – the expensive levels sold out so quickly because we are limited in these unique opportunities. I came with the idea that people could for a certain amount, be drawn in as an ancillary character. For $1,000, someone is being drawn as the pilot that crashed an airplane with Ric Flair in it. Another fan is being drawn in as Sputnik Monroe’s attorney in Memphis – the first African-American attorney to represent a white man in Memphis.
This whole thing is very fan interactive.
Heck, we’ve got one level where you can be drawn in as a wrestler with me as your manager.
But back to stories, we’ve got evergreen stories like the Montreal Screwjob from my own personal involvement – I was also the ringside photographer during Andy Kaufman’s bout with Jerry “The King” Lawler.
I mentioned the Ric Flair plane crash… that one has a twist ending I’ll spoil here, but you have to read the comic. Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods was on the plane with Ric Flair, and one of the only babyfaces.
Nrama: “Babyface” is the wrestling term for a hero or good guy.
Cornette: Yes. Tim was hurt bad in the plane crash, but to stay in-character and prove he – a babyface – wasn’t sharing a plane ride with a heel like Ric Flair, he checked himself out of the hospital two weeks later and goes and wrestles on TV.
Nrama: You and I came up in a time where the reality of pro wrestling was kept hidden to preserve the mystique. How did you come to terms with talking about – and now writing about – the real life of the men and women working in the wrestling business?
Cornette: We do more than that… we pull back the curtain here on what you might have thought was a “work” was actually real. Since everybody knows it now, it’s not a revelation – wrestling has been manipulated for some time. What I am to do is to show these guys ore respect – these wrestlers were able to make the preposterous posterous. It’s a secret society, but some of it is more amazing than the story being told.
Nrama: What do you think of the similarities of pro wrestling outfits and good/evil dynamics and that of superhero comics?
Cornette: They’re twin sons of different mothers.
I’ve been in wrestling for so long, but its only in the last few years that I began doing comic conventions. Now I’ll go to comic conventions, and its half comics stuff and half wrestling stuff. There’s an amazing crossover between the two, and there’s not been enough publications for the serious wrestling fans in the comics medium. For the smart fans, the hardcore fans.
Nrama: Coming from wrestling but looking at comic books, who do you think are the biggest faces, the biggest heels, and the ones capable of getting the best heat?
Cornette: I have to be honest… When I was a kid, the Fantastic Four were like the Beatles and Spider-Man in second place. The Hulk and Iron Man hadn’t come up yet – Fantastic Four was the most valuable book out there, the most sought-after. And in that book, the best heel ever – Doctor Doom. As a seven-year-old, seeing this guy – a rich baron from Latveria. He’s the reason Marvel was my favorite over DC.
Nrama: Now I understand why you call your home “Castle Cornette.” You’re Doctor Doom.
For babyfaces? The Hulk. He’s like Brock Lesnar – huge, impressive.
The Thing would be a breakout singles star in wrestling – what a promo!
Nrama: Ultimately, what are your goals with Behind the Curtain: Real Pro Wrestling Stories?
Cornette: Hopefully that this is just the first of many. I like to put these stories out there, and to keep the memories of these men and women alive.
Wrestling is a very unique, American artform – it’s performance art and a carnie business. I think these stories are fascinating, even if you don’t watch modern wrestling.