Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Wild" Bill Jackson

"Wild" Bill Jackson
"Wild" Bill Jackson artwork by Sara Duffield (Sara Denny) from 2008.

"Wild" Bill Jackson here is the oldest original character that appears in the Return of Jetman series. He's also the first original character of mine to make the leap to a completed story appearance online. I suppose one of his co-stars in that debut appearance technically should share that honor, but Wild Bill was much more fully-developed than that character by the time I made the decision to unleash them on the waiting world.

Here's how I explained Wild Bill in the Notes to ROJ Episode 10:

"Wild" Bill Jackson is a fictional pro wrestler that I created during my high school days for (*groans*) fantasy wrestling angles that I wrote. Please, keep your laughter to a minimum. I dusted him off for this special cameo appearance as a lark, and he ended up becoming one of the funniest things in the whole series.

The concept of using a pro wrestler came about because of the long history of that peculiar brand of sport and/or entertainment in Japan. Foreign wrestlers have long been a big attraction, and the "cowboy" is a favorite. Terry Funk is the biggest influence on Wild Bill's presentation in this story, but I also kept in mind such grappling superstars as Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen, and Dory Funk Jr. (Terry's brother).

The conceit of having all of Wild Bill's dialogue being in Japanese largely derives from the desire for self-parody. I am very aware of the inherent ridiculousness of a story set in Japan, featuring primarily Japanese characters, being written in a very informal sort of English. The unspoken "rule" that I follow is that ALL of the dialogue is really in Japanese, unless I specify otherwise. Hence the fact that [Daisaku] Kusama's brief smattering of English is rendered entirely in italics (as all English will be in this series, whenever it happens to turn up).

It's not out of the question for someone who spends a lot of time in Japan to have picked up the language, but it seems very incongruous coming out of the mouth of a very tall cowboy. And that's before you consider that he's a pro wrestler, too! I can't vouch for the grammatical accuracy of Bill's Japanese - I'm certainly not fluent myself - but I like to think that it would only add to its charm if it's somewhat "off".

There is a further translation of Bill's Japanese dialogue, but we'll omit that from this entry. Instead, let's consider his origins, and some of the revelations that occur during said dialogue.

As mentioned above, Wild Bill was born in fantasy wrestling angles. The star of these angles was "Hotshot" Johnny Flash, an arrogant and flashy heel that had turned face to fight off the even more rotten scoundrels in the wrestling company. Even though he had become a hero, Johnny still retained the cockiness that had characterized his success as a villain.

I don't think I'm shocking anyone who knows me by revealing that Johnny Flash was heavily inspired by real life pro wrestler "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert. I loved Eddie so much in those days that it genuinely didn't matter to me whether he was a good guy or a bad guy; I just loved to watch him on my TV. I was just a fan of his work, and I think he was the first wrestler where that transcended his allegiances in the story.

Sadly, Eddie died way too young, and the world has been a poorer place ever since. A small piece of him lives on with me every time I think about "Hotshot" Johnny Flash. I'll bet Eddie would have loved to know that teenage Chris wanted to build an entire promotion around a character based on him.

Of course, you cannot have a wrestling story with only one wrestler, so I created others to complement Johnny's adventures in the squared circle. One of those was "Wild" Bill Jackson. Originally one half of a tag team called the Rough Riders with his brother, "Dirty" Irwin Jackson, Wild Bill grew into a sort of foil for Johnny Flash. Sometimes they were bitter enemies locked in a violent feud; other times, they were staunch allies fighting off all comers. Yet no matter what, in my wrestling league, you could count on Wild Bill and Hotshot Johnny to pop the gate.

It was with this in mind that I felt absolutely compelled to have Wild Bill name drop "Hotshot" Johnny Flash as his tag team partner during the ROJ story. Without Johnny, there would be no Bill. There wasn't room to establish a feud, so they became the holders of the All-Asia tag team titles. Incidentally, this was a real championship at one time. It might still be, as I can't say I keep up enough to know.

As an aside, I have cannibalized the names of other wrestlers from this fictitious company for my Captain Satellite world. So, in a subtext that is only important to me, the Trumans (Tex, Joe, Dean) who have been Ultimate American and Danny (Drone Man) Graham all owe their names to wrestlers I made up in high school. I haven't found uses for any others yet, but don't count on it never happening.

An added bonus in using Wild Bill in ROJ was that it allowed me to homage something else that has zero to do with pro wrestling. Bill's incongruous penchant for speaking Japanese led me to "deduce" that he probably learned it from his Uncle Mark. "Uncle Mark", of course, was a reference to Mark Jackson, Diamond G-Man, from DOGORA THE SPACE MONSTER. Embodied so memorably by Robert Dunham, Mark Jackson is my favorite character in one of my favorite Japanese monster movies. And so, a connection was born that had never existed in my head prior to 2002.

Years later, when I decided that there needed to be a picture of this guy on the site, I commissioned Sara Duffield to bring him to life. Sara did not think she was an obvious choice, since drawing dudes like Wild Bill was not where she considered her strengths to lie. Still, she tackled the job like a trouper, and I think it was her very lack of affinity for the source material that caused it to turn out so well.

The first order was references for Terry Funk and other pro wrestlers that inspired Wild Bill. Next was pictures of wrestling belts, since we decided he should be wearing one. And then, it happened that I stumbled across an awesome picture in Larry Matysik's book on Bruiser Brody of both Brody and Stan Hansen in traditional Japanese regalia.
I couldn't find this photo online for Sara at the time, but I offered the idea to her as a way to make the piece something more visually interesting.

Well, you can see the amazing results. In fact, this is only a crop of a much larger image - but you'll need to go to the site to see THAT one. One detail that is easily overlooked is that Sara hit upon a motif for a tag team championship belt that I don't think has ever been used in real life. It seems obvious, but I can't recall ever seeing evidence of it. So bravo, Sara! Not only did you bring Wild Bill to life, but you managed to inject some originality into the world of wrestling, too!

I really have no desire to book my own fantasy angles ever again, so it made sense to lift Wild Bill out of that context and find a new use for him. In the process, I made Bill so quirky and memorable that he captured my imagination. I have idly tossed around the idea of writing a story someday where HE is the star, and it falls on his shoulders to save the day. Who knows? I might even carry out this plan that is not a plan. After all, crazier things have happened.

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