He’s showcased his work both outside of and as part of World Wrestling Entertainment Fan Axxess at the past four WrestleManias. He’s painted larger-than-life works of larger-than-life wrestling legends literally on the spot, as part of WrestleMania weekend. He’s seen his work donned by the likes of the late Ultimate Warrior. His work has been featured on WWE programming, as part of 2K17, on the Topps Slam 17 mobile game and on World Wrestling Entertainment’s online marketplace, shop.wwe.com. His work has even been defiled on live television by WWE Superstar Kevin Owens.
Much of that, however, pales in comparison to the latest coup for artist Rob Schamberger, who will see his original artwork featured prominently as part of the 2018 Mattel Elite series of wrestling action figures.
“Painting,” Schamberger predictably answered when asked what he was up to, during a telephone interview during which he unveiled his latest news.
The even-tempered Kansas City resident, who along with his wife Katy, forged their now longstanding relationship with the world’s biggest sports entertainment company some five years ago.
Through all of the aforementioned accomplishments, and growth, the humble artist himself has managed to “no sell” his success, to cop a wrestling phrase, as his career has exploded right before his eyes. Despite his success, Schamberger remains as humble as ever.
The toy deal, however, which will see Schambergers work appear in all 54 action figures, and is a whole other level of big, he admitted. And something that’s been in the works for some time.
“(At) last year’s Axxess (WrestleMania 32 in Dallas), someone from Mattel came over and introduced themselves,” Schamberger said, adding that the initial discussion was around the idea of working together in the future.
“Flash forward several months, (to) around December, we started talking again and they said they wanted to work with me and they asked if I had any ideas.”
By that point, Schamberger had had plenty of time to fantasize about what he could offer in a partnership with the toy titan.
“Some action figures will have the thing where they each come with a piece of another figure and you put them all together and it’s a big robot or whatever,” he explained. “I suggested that we do something where you put several pieces of art together and it’ll make a whole painting.”
Naturally, Mattel found Schamberger’s vision to be as wonderful as his artwork.
“They loved that. I guess for a previous line, they had (included) a thing where you could like build a backdrop — it would be the Performance Center or WrestleMania or whatever — and they thought that that would be really good for my idea for the artwork.”
The seeds were planted that day for the looming toy line, which will be released, six figures at a time, over the course of a year, beginning with the first set on Nov. 1.
“There will be six figures in each of those and each one will come with a piece of artwork that stands on its own, but then when you put all six of them together, it’ll make a big picture,” Schamberger explained.
If having his work featured with a line of 54 toys across major retailers all over the world weren’t enough, Schamberger also noted that the packaging will also bear his name and inside each package will be his bio.
“Every package will have a little short bio about me on there. Any major retailer you go to, like Walmart or Target, it’s a major action figure line and it’ll all be branded as artwork by me. I think it might make me the most visible artist on the planet. I’m blown away.”
Even the even-keeled artist himself blushes when he considers how far his wrestling passion has taken him from his initial project, five years ago, when he ran a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to help cover the costs associated with painting his Champions Collection. Schamberger aspired to paint every world champion with that project. Today, his art is featured on one of the biggest lines of toys on Earth.
“It’s a big step,” he understated. “It’s pretty wild,” he conceded, when pressed. “(I) still had a cubicle desk job back then and having to have full time work to pay for my art career. Hopefully, I’m at a point where I don’t have to ever go back to work. I work really hard so that I don’t have to work again.”
News of the alliance with Mattel became official, fittingly, while the Schambergers were nestled inside Fan Axxess at WrestleMania a few months back in Florida. It was their first Fan Axxess event where they were inside the venue, officially part of the fan convention. The three previous WrestleManias, they were set up just outside of Axxess.
“They emailed me while I was at Axxess this year,” Schamberger said, admitting it caught him off guard as months had passed without any communication from the toy giant. “It was nuts. I had just thought that it wasn’t going to happen, for whatever reason. And I get the email, I show it to Katy, she starts crying there at the booth at Axxess. We’re trying to not let the customers see this huge moment because we knew what the scale of this would be. And how crazy is that that we’re at Axxess. It’s our first time inside there, getting a huge reaction and having something that is possibly even the next step up happening there? Starting out five years back, thinking that I would just be at Axxess was pretty unfathomable, but then having something like this, where it’s a mass market item, but also marketed as being by me, it’s really humbling.”
A self-proclaimed lifelong comic book and superhero nerd, Schamberger well knows the excitement and anticipation that comes with awaiting the release of a collectible or special toy.
“When I was little, I was of course one of those kids who had to have a Cabbage Patch Dolls. They were just sold out everywhere, and my mom actually — through a co-worker — knew someone who worked at (a department store) and she actually bought it in the alleyway behind the building from someone who had one that fell off a truck,” he said with a laugh, happiness still evident at the recollection. “Then for the original Nintendo, she had a good friend’s son who worked at Walmart and he hid one back in the stock room so that she could buy it.”
While he’s not entirely sure how he will feel when he first lays eyes on a WWE action figure bearing his name on the packaging, Schamberger knows the kind of reaction he hopes that experience elicits from young fans who buy one.
“I hope that at least one kid has the experience with those that I did with comics books and with those Marvel Masterworks cards (I collected as a kid) where they say ‘I want to do this, too.’ ”
Schamberger, who could be forgiven for basking in the glow his many successes, refuses to live the moment, even when asked what could possibly be next in his storybook career.
“I think right now,” he answered. When you’re building the house, I’ve put up the studs for the first floor of the walls so far. I’ve felt like getting to that point as Axxess this year, where we were inside, fully part of it, that was the final part of laying the foundation. This is where I’m starting to build on that foundation. I want to do more things like this. I had the thing with 2K last year, there are other possibilities there that I’d love to work with them on, other sorts of things that I can do directly with WWE, with their licencing partners. There are alot of possibilities there and I just want to build on those right now and also keep in mind what will be on the second storey.”
Besides, there’s too much to be done in the present to think too far into the future, he said.
“Every now and then I just have to take a moment and just say ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ and then you go back to work working on the next thing.”