If you attended one of the many WWE autograph signings over WrestleMania weekend, there's a good chance you felt the presence of Brian Shields.
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With more than 1,000 entries covering just about every Superstar and Diva to ever step in a ring, the 400-page book has quickly become the definitive reference source for all things WWE.
"From the way it's been described to me from even some of the legendary Hall of Fame talent and independent promoters, it's kind of rejuvenated the signing business," said Shields, 35, who witnessed first-hand the long lines of fans holding his book during a WrestleMania Reading Challenge event last week. "It's really become a wonderful tool to educate people about not only the history of this great organization, but it's become this kind of must-have collector's piece."
And Shields will have the opportunity to sign his own book for fans on Sunday when he hosts "WWE Day" at the Oceanside Library at 30 Davis Ave. Shields will narrate a thorough "History of WWE" presentation covering five decades, then take questions from fans before selling and signing copies of the newly updated and expanded WWE Encyclopedia.
"It's a bit of a cliché but it is always nice to come home," said Shields, who has been touring his History of WWE presentation at libraries throughout the Tri-State Area since 2009. "It draws a very diverse crowd -- that person that watched it in the '60s and '70s as a kid who wants to talk about it all the way up through children that watch today."
Having the opportunity to create the ultimate guide to WWE was a dream job for Shields, a lifelong fan who first worked with WWE while interning for its former video game manufacturer, Akklaim. He later worked closely with many more famous wrestling names, including Bruno Sammartino and the Ultimate Warrior, for Akklaim's "Legends of Wrestling" series.
Around 2004, Jim Ross reached out to Shields, who has a sports marketing background, to help put together WWE's "Legends" programs, which involved signing stars from WWE's past to licensing agreements. Because of his knowledge and passion for old-school WWE, in 2006 the company offered him his first book deal to write "Main Event: WWE in the Raging '80s."
Shields said the book sold well, and WWE continued using his services, including to pen profiles on Superstars when they would appear as talk show guests.
Then in 2008, Shields received a phone call from DK Publishing telling him that WWE planned to put out an encyclopedia, and wanted him to help write it.
The task was daunting, but thrilling: Comb through WWE's expansive library of video tapes, magazines and photographs and organize them it all into a cohesive, and easy-to-read book.
"The term 'kid in a candy store' is a huge understatement," said Shields, who worked on the book over a year-and-a-half with co-author Kevin Sullivan.
Shields said he knew it was worth the hard work when he got to meet Vince and Linda McMahon over WrestleMania 25 weekend in 2009.
"They were so gracious and kind in their words to me about how they felt about the book," Shields said. "The first thing I said to them was, 'Thank you for the opportunity to write about your family and your life's work.' "
The book was an instant hit, debuting at No. 10 on the New York Times bestseller list. It stayed there for five weeks, reaching as high as No. 8.
As proud as Shields was of the book, he wished he could have written more. And so when the opportunity came to put out a second edition, he was anxious to get to work.
"There were some names that we knew, if there's a second edition, they have to be in there. We kept a running list, actually," said Shields, who noted that, after three years, some of the entries in the original edition also needed some overhauling. "The thing that surprised me, I guess, was the amount that certain Superstars have grown. When you're working on it, it's like, 'Wow, three years have gone by already and now CM Punk is this huge star in WWE and he's getting almost a full page."
Shields, who now lives in Bayside, said there is no word on whether there will be future editions of The WWE Encyclopedia.
"I hope that's the case," he said. "And I hope to be able to be part of it."