There are professional wrestling fans and then there are super fans. The casual fan’s interest is perhaps peripheral or simply a phase, whereas a super fan’s interest is an all-consuming obsession.
Super fans have existed as long as there has been pro wrestling or some similar iteration. Considering wrestling is the first sport to ever exist, that’s a long time.
The normalcy of wrestling action figure/toy super fandom however is currently in its infancy, with the medium only really taking off in the 1980s, as opposed to the regularity of other licensed toy lines which date back much further. A new book helps to cement wrestling’s place among its sci-fi and superhero brethren.
Wrestling Superstars: Complete Guide to LJN WWF Wrestling Figures, by Brutus Valentine and out now from Niche Press, is an unprecedented product of the World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF, now World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE) Rock ’n’ Wrestling era, specifically the first ever multi-series line of wrestling figures it spawned.
The meat of the book is the series by series figure/wrestler profiles that each consist of two-page spreads featuring:
- A breakdown of each superstars’ TV history
- 1984-1990 win/loss record
- Superstar wrestler and action figure tale of the tape including notable variants with photos
- A collectors’ perspective piece on the history of the figure in the context of the line
- A current collector’s memory of the figure as a child in the era of its release
This exploration of the main series also includes a look at unreleased figures, the card backs, two-packs, and a deeper dive into the variants along with checklists.
The book also delves into the secondary LJN releases: Bendies, thumb wrestlers and the like, and even non-figure Wrestling Stars/Superstars licensed merchandise including watches, puzzles, and lunch boxes.
In addition to these cut and dry facts are well researched historical socioeconomic focused essays. These pieces offer a synopsis in regards to the confluence between the seemingly perfect storm of circumstances that led to the landmark WWF LJN legacy.
The book includes all this and more. All in all it is definitely THE textbook for all things WWF LJNs.
The book puts the figures first. Even the author uses an LJN inspired pseudonym.
Author Valentine is a former teacher and current school textbook mogul residing in Australia with a near complete LJN MOC (Mint on Card) collection. Until the release of this book next to nobody would have probably known how close to finishing the set Valentine is. Most of the photos are from his own personal collection.
Not surprisingly and like many of us, he became a wrestling fan in the Rock ’n’ Wrestling era.
In an interview with SlamWrestling.net, Valentine shared what he feels it means to be an intrinsic collector: “I could care less if people have seen [my collection]. It’s just something I do and my wife tolerates (it).”
Conversely, he describes the extrinsic super collectors as “people who celebrate a new purchase on social media but might not hold onto it forever. It invites an audience in.”
Valentine feels both are valid ways of collecting but in some ways being an extrinsic collector is a more difficult game. “I didn’t address this in the book, but if [someone says online], ʻI paid $15,000 for a black card Randy Savage,’ they’re just gonna get abused. Even perhaps by their family. I feel there’s more super-collectors than we know about.”
Despite such secrecy Valentine has found the online WWF LJN community to be a tight-knit, friendly and welcoming one. There is a super collector cluster in Ontario, and others in Australia, New Zealand, and the northern United States. “In the southern states and Carolinas distribution was not great. It makes sense with NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) and that sort of stuff around there. [These were] the only international direct markets for the final series of LJNs,” explained Valentine. One might not guess a super collector at first glance as they may leverage collectibles through trades and sales to support their big ticket collection additions through years of figure hunting as opposed to being able to drop that much money on a little plastic man without a second thought.
As far as the book goes, the thought first germinated for Valentine in 1995 but it was not until 2016 that he got serious about the project. Up until that point there was a lot of information on the internet, but he says it was not something he could work with. “It was just copies of copies, it wasn’t even secondary research. I needed to research much more deeply.” Valentine knew completing the book would take a while.
As a writer of textbooks for upper secondary school students going into trades as opposed to university, the “punchy and accessible” style Valentine was already using was a good fit. He elaborated on his intentions for the book. “I didn’t want to do an encyclopedia. I felt like that would be too dull… I didn’t want it to be heavy handed and to have a light touch but be sophisticated… it’s such a dense book that I needed to change the rhythm and guide the reader at different times, so I changed [it] based on different wrestlers and evolved in ’88-89 as the kids are getting older and smarter. Writing like a wrestling card, profile to profile.” Furthermore while writing/editing this “dense” material, Valentine had to keep the page count to less than 280 for the sake of affordable international shipping.
The book was released in October 2020. He feels the timing is fine, as “nostalgia seems to be with people at the moment as they escape their nasty realities.” In keeping with the intrinsic collector nature of the book, he did not look to crowdfunding or the typically recommended social media marketing routes. “Every online rule I’ve read to promote, I’ve done the opposite. I’ve let the readers build up the book. If you build it they will come, but that only works once.”
To these eyes, the book cements the WWF LJN legacy, but Valentine won’t go that far. “I don’t want to own the academic scholarship and be the be all end all. The evolution and body of this will grow. Brutus doesn’t need to know everything.”
And there could be more, Valentine hinted. With both the intrinsic and extrinsic super collectors gravitating towards Valentine and the book, new information is being revealed and shared in the community so a follow up book by him or someone else seems possible.
As far as another wrestling book, Valentine mused, “I love the jobbers. In Australia, we like the underdogs here… I’d love to do a book on the jobbers.”
Valentine is currently helping out on another upcoming release for now. It is a slightly similar book on the subsequent WWF licensee after LJN, Hasbro and its line of ’90s WWF figures.