Comic relief: Artist Kurt Lehner grew up with wrestling
By Mike Pankow
September 20, 2018
Artist Kurt Lehner has a resume that reads like a who’s who in creative media – Walt Disney Studios, Marvel, DreamWorks and Warner Bros. are among the companies to which he made contributions.
His work has been featured in television shows and movies like “Space Jam,” “Marvel Action Hour,” “All Dogs Go To Heaven 2,” and “Beauty and the Beast – the Enchanted Christmas.”
“All top-line stuff,” Lehner said.
One of his most famous pieces of art is a special tribute to Stan Lee for his 90th birthday, a collage of over 70 Marvel characters he helped create, of which he sells prints at comic conventions.
Being a lifelong artist, Lehner knows how to draw and create colorful characters. Perhaps that was what helped lure him toward professional wrestling.
Lehner, who is approaching 30 years as a professional artist and illustrator, spoke at Wizard World Chicago last month about growing up as wrestling fan in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, while he was an aspiring artist.
“I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was 12 or 13 years old,” Lehner said. “I used to catch Wrestling Cavalcade on Channel 11 in Hamilton (Ontario).”
He goes back to when WWE was known as the WWWF (World-Wide Wrestling Federation) before Vincent K. McMahon took over the company.
Lehner shared some of his favorite memories as youngster in Toronto watching wrestling.
“One of my favorite guys, and no one knows this, every time he came to Toronto, he was Sweet Ebony Diamond,” Lehner said. “He had a mask with red tights, white boots and he looked like Marvel’s The Falcon. And it was Rocky Johnson, Dwayne Johnson’s dad.”
Lehner remembers watching Rocky Johnson and Tony Atlas winning the tag team championships.
He reminisced about some of the other pro wrestlers with Canadian connections, including The Missing Link, who was from Hamilton, Sweet Daddy Siki, who lived in Toronto, and Johnny Weaver, who wrestled frequently in Canada in addition to his time with the NWA in the Mid-Atlantic area and the Carolinas.
“Then, of course, we got into Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, the Macho Man, the Ultimate Warrior and all these awesome characters,” Lehner said.
In his later teenage years, he remembers running into the Iron Sheik, Bret Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart at a drug store after a show at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.
“The Iron Sheik wasn’t feeling well, so he was looking for some antihistamine cold medicine,” Lehner recalled. “I walk in there and they’re standing there, so I ran back to my car. I grabbed a piece of a paper and a pen and I wanted Iron Sheik’s autograph.”
Unfortunately, the group was in a hurry and declined the autograph requests, but Lehner got to meet them again in the future.
“They all were really good guys,” he said.
Lehner also recalled a time where he and his son Kristian took Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka out for dinner.
“I was personal friends with him,” Lehner said. “He was a wonderful human being, a kind and friendly man and filled with tons of stories.”
Even with his busy schedule and traveling to various conventions, Lehner does his best to keep up the current product.
“I still like to watch Raw and SmackDown,” he said. “I have the WWE Network at home, so I can get the pay-per-view shows. I never miss WrestleMania, I never miss SummerSlam.”
Lehner’s favorite wrestler to today is a familiar face to not only WWE fans but also the masses outside wrestling.
“I really like John Cena,” he said. “I met him here in Chicago when he was here (at Wizard World) a few years ago. He’s a very nice man. Whether you love or you hate him, I know there’s this rift in the fan base, but the point is that the character he portrays on TV is exactly the guy that I met in person. There’s really no difference. He’s just this big superhero, boy-scout-type guy.”
In fact, one of Lehner’s newest projects involves his love for professional wrestling.
“I’m working on a parody series with wrestling themes which will only be offered at comic cons,” Lehner said. “Fans can come and collect the artwork and get an autograph. Some of the legends love the idea and want to be on board.”