“It wasn’t the cross faces, the gourdbuster suplexes or even the brainbuster piledrivers that drew me to pro wrestling,” Steve recalls. ‘It was the creating a character, the promos and the very important lesson that the villain is the hero of his own story.”
It wasn’t Steve’s first time on that stage. As frontman of his Rush cover band, performing had done what he couldn’t comfortably do in the hallways: communicate with girls. To this day, small talk irks Steve like an itchy sweater tag. But bathed in blinding theater lights, he couldn’t see out and the ladies could see his easy, self-aware goofiness. And as a Hell Hound, he was muscling his way through one of the finest moves a human can master: to overcome.
In a world divided into left and right brains, Steve was so far to the right it was hard to keep his head balanced. His imagination led to gifts like a talent for writing and drawing comics, but it came with a recurring nightmare. Like clockwork, every week a vicious black dog would visit Steve. The nightmare started at age 2 and continued until he turned 12. Then one week, without cause, it stopped. Steve John 1: Black Dog 0. Pow! Blam!
But another adversary wouldn’t be defeated quite as cleanly. Math was almost impossible for Steve to grasp. Labeled a learning disability, his formative years were full of the assumption that manual labor was in his future by the entire Canadian education system. No tutor could break through, and after taking both Algebra 1 and Geometry twice, he wasn’t able to pass Algebra 2 until his final year of college. However, Steve’s long experience with tutors have lead him to be a patient and clear Creative Director. In fact, he often thinks about teaching in his later years. So perhaps we’ll call this battle a draw. And may we all pray that Steve’s wife handles their taxes.
Steve worked as head wrangler on a ranch in Buena Vista, Colorado over a college summer. Here, he had a few run-ins with machine and beast that lead to a faceful of nature’s finest. In the morning, he explains, you’d let the horses graze, then go retrieve them. On his third day, the woman who ran the corral asked him to bring the horses back. Good. Great. Easy enough. He grabbed the 3-wheeler to begin the ride to the pasture, but it wasn’t long before he became gobsmacked by the beauty of the mountains (yes, he used the word gobsmacked). Then a few things happened. Steve drove into a hole. The impact threw him to the ground, and the 3-wheeler tumbled on top of him. Two hours later, his absence was noted. It appears he’d been unconscious there, in the misty Colorado morning, with a tire-and-metal blanket atop his body. But like any good fighter, he rose—if only to be defeated again.
This time, Steve had a lady to impress. His now wife, Shannon, had caught his eye as the horseback riding instructor. A horse got out of the pen and started tearing off. As head wrangler, it was his duty to bring that mare back. So he mounted a horse, grabbed a lasso and ran in hot pursuit. Was Shannon watching his heroics? Oh yes, she was. So she saw the rope fly and made Steve fly with it.
“I think my face bounced a few times on that semi-frozen Colorado tundra.”
“When you walk around with a body like this, people always ask if you can help ‘em move, and if you play football.”
So Steve played football for a year in college. He hated the scene, so his exercise was kept to rugby club and his college gym. As he got more into lifting weights, he decided to save up the $350 it took to get the all-access pass to the Arnold Classic in Columbus, OH. The cherry on top of this ticket was a picture with the man himself. Approaching the photo podium, Steve couldn’t help but notice Arnold looked a little, well, short. Shorter than him, even, who stood at 6’1”. Steve was feeling his admiration deflate until Arnold put his arm around him and said, “Look at dis monstah hee-yah.”
Two years later, Steve was on his way back to the Arnold Classic. Back to the man who had seen him for the horse-wrangling, Pain and Pestilence hunk of masculinity he was. He struck a pose with Arnold as he had once before. And as the camera clicked, Arnold said, “Look at dis monstah hee-yah.”
There it was—canned admiration and a repeat from a roster of poorly rehearsed lines. That’s when Steve John learned: you better have a lot of heroes, because you’ll outgrow them and it will break your heart.
Steve doesn’t just dislike cinnamon; the smell of it turns his stomach. This all dates back to a war he waged on a bottle of Goldschlager one summer while working on Mackinac Island with Shannon, who he was still trying to lock down. If you don’t know, Mackinac Island is the birthplace of quaint: a Michigan town where no cars are allowed. Steve worked moving luggage from people’s cars to their hotels on his bike—ratcheting on as many suitcases and hat boxes as possible to maximize tips and bar time with all the other island hustlers. Shannon worked at the cafe.
On his birthday, Steve got a bottle of the spicy-sweet schnapps. What comes next is a story Shannon likes to tell of Steve with his shirt off, singing Elvis into Lake Michigan, then covered in the boozy gold flakes his stomach had later rejected.
Creative Director at Paradowski, Steve stands as the gold star of effective, classic advertising. His father, a boxer, minister and self-published poet from Wales, ingrained in him the value of an idea coming first. And attending Creative Circus in Atlanta with Hey Whipple, Squeeze This as his bible only did more of the same.
“My father was a prolific writer by anyone’s standard. He started writing and being published in the early 1960’s. He continued writing until about 2004. He had enough poetic material for four or five books, but time ran out and he only finished two. He loved ideas. He taught me to love them as well...when he wasn’t punching me in the face with a jab or overhand right.”
Steve’s bullheadedness when it comes to selling the best idea (but calling bullshit on his team if the idea doesn’t sell the product for the sake of “cleverness”) is something that has always served agencies. And it’s only going to become more important as we move into the era of technology as marketing. Here, we’ll all get lost without a steadfast beacon shining a light on what we came here to do in the first place.
This dedication. This fighter’s work ethic of giving every bit of yourself to the challenge—andrealizing you haven’t taken a breath when the solution comes—doesn’t leave much time for the thing that’s been a lifelong respite. He has a tax ID for his independent comic book publishing company, Ichabod Oldbuck. A website, social accounts and all the trimmings. He has seven properties, and a story outline for each one. But passion gets in the way of passion.
The final battle Steve has to fight, it seems, isn’t with a Black Dog nightmare, but with his dreams.