Connect with us
Joanne Starer pins down 'The Gimmick'

Comic Books

Joanne Starer pins down ‘The Gimmick’

The new wrestling story (with a twist!) debuts this week from Ahoy Comics.

Thanks to titles like Do A Powerbomb! and Crimson Cage, wrestling comics are having a bona fide heyday as of late. Now, another combatant has entered the menacing steel cage to battle for your attention, and it’s called The Gimmick.

The brain-child of writer Joanne Starer and artist Elena Gogou (who are joined by colorist Andy Troy and letterer Rob Steen), the book stems from the former’s own experiences running a womens-centric promotion in Pennsylvania some years ago. In the story, we follow Shane Bryant, a former world-class grappler, as he must go on the run after a shocking and fantastical secret is revealed. (No spoilers, but said secret does involve a touch of superhero lore/fantasy.)

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

Like, many other great Ahoy Comics series, it’s silly and deliberately weird. But unlike others, it’s also a poignant and thoughtful dissection of wrestling’s larger role in our culture, especially as it pertains to diversity and representation and progressive politics.

Ahead of issue #1 of The Gimmick debuting this week (March 8), Starer was kind enough to answer some hard-hitting questions via email. That includes her relationship with wrestling, the story’s larger goals, her influences and inspirations, and even a little on the world’s deadliest suplex.

Joanne Starer pins down 'The Gimmick'

Variant cover by Khary Randolph. Courtesy of Ahoy Comics.

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for The Gimmick?

Joanne Starer: A pro-wrestler accidentally kills his opponent in the ring, on live TV. He then goes on the run, hiding in plain sight under a lucha mask while everyone in his life is left to pick up the pieces.

AIPT: Why does wrestling prove to be such an interesting lens to tell stories?

JS: Traditionally, wrestling is about good vs evil. We just call the good guy a face and the bad guy a heel. If you look at a wrestling match and break it down into its “acts,” it’s just the hero’s journey. The good guy has to face adversity before he can come out victorious. It’s textbook storytelling—and then you add in colorful tights, just like with superheroes.

But outside the ring, everything gets a lot messier, and that’s where it gets really interesting. You have people who put themselves out there in front of crowds as “the good guys,” but maybe that’s not who they are in real life. Maybe they’re drug addicts or sexual predators or just kind of messy. Whatever it is, it’s that contradiction that makes things so compelling.

AIPT: You once owned a women’s wrestling promotion (Kiryoku Pro). How does that, alongside any other wrestling-related experience, inform your approach to this story? Does it maybe also “impede” things by being “too close” to the true sweet science?

JS: Oh, for sure I’m probably too close to it. I think there are books written by fans of wrestling who have never been part of the business, and those take a very joyful, reverent approach. This is much more Dark Side of the Ring. But at the same time, because I’ve been a woman in the business, it allows me to see a side of it most fans may not even consider. One of the main characters in the book is a female wrestler who has had her career cut short by an unexpected pregnancy. We see a lot of her struggles in the story.

The Gimmick

Courtesy of Ahoy Comics.

I love wrestling, I love my friends in wrestling, and I loved my time in wrestling. I think you can love something and still see the flaws in it…in fact, I think that’s part of love. I want the industry to be better because I know it can be. That’s why I started a women’s promotion all those years ago. At the time, there weren’t many spaces in the U.S. for women to do serious wrestling. I wanted to try and create a place for women’s athletic competition, because I loved the wrestling business.

AIPT: Is this book in part a way to challenge the industry’s problem with proper diversity and representation?

JS: I think “challenge” may be a strong way of putting it. I’m not trying to shove a message in anyone’s face or hit anyone over the head with anything. But yes, absolutely there are problems in wrestling and they are reflected in this story. Ultimately this is a book about how this one man does something very, very bad, and everyone else around him suffers. If you want to look at the races and genders of the people hurt by his actions, perhaps there is a message there.

AIPT: Wrestling is often pretty binary with heels and faces — but this book is way more complex with characters and their “alignments.” Does more wrestling need that, and is this a way to redefine what the wrestling “genre” is capable of?

JS: Whoo — that’s a complicated one. It’s easy to tell a story with complex characters in a comic or TV show. But in wrestling, it’s harder. Not only are you limited by sharing TV time with so many other people, but you’ve also got to deal with the issue of ring psychology. So you can be a “character” who is very complex, but ultimately once you get in the ring for your match, it can be hard to convey that because match structure is set up for a good vs bad situation, just like a superhero fight. And obviously there are ways around this and it’s constantly evolving, but you have to be a very outside-the-box thinker. I think someone like Orange Cassidy does a good job of eschewing the standard roles by just not caring.

AIPT: Do you see Shane as the “main” character, or do you find yourself more compelled by some other players here? (I’m really interested in/by General Tso so far.)

JS: General Tso is definitely one of my favorite characters, and yes, to your earlier point, that is one that is meant to be a commentary on diversity. There, you have a character who is a Japanese man who was given a racist Chinese gimmick by the promoter. Which is the kind of disgusting thing that was done a lot in wrestling in the 1980s.

Joanne Starer pins down 'The Gimmick'

Courtesy of Ahoy Comics.

But Shane is the main character in the sense that he is the domino that makes all the other pieces fall. He sets off the action. Is he my favorite character? Not by a long shot. Most of the characters in the book are women, and I’ve really enjoyed digging into them. Shane’s ex Alicia is probably one of my favorites. I don’t have a kid but I relate to her as a woman, as someone who’s dated wrestlers. But I also really enjoy Agent Johnson because he’s just a fan. He’s trying to do his job investigating this case but he’s so overwhelmed by everything he’s seeing. It’s all his childhood dreams come true.

AIPT: There’s some real Coen Brothers vibes in this book. Are there any specific films that you drew on? Or maybe other, non-Coen media to boot?

JS: I don’t think there was anything specific, but I knew going into it that if I was going to do a wrestling book like this it was going to have to be BIG characters. Strange personalities. Some people try to approach wrestling stories by making them more relatable, doing “family business” stories. But in my experience, it’s exactly like a Coen Brothers movie—just a bunch of bigger-than-life characters. And I’ve always been a fan of those kinds of films with ensemble casts, not just the Coen Brothers, but Robert Altman or Christopher Guest where you have a big group of wacky characters.

AIPT: Wrestling is obviously a visual medium. What does the art (from the super talented Elena Gogou) bring in regards to developing and expanding the narrative?

JS: When I saw Elena’s art, the first thing that struck me was the strong women — characters who didn’t look like Barbie dolls. And then I was like, “Oh, they can do great acting too?? Sold!” Because yes, there’s a lot of action in wrestling and in comics. But the most important thing in getting the story across is the small moments between the action, when the characters are really feeling something. And that’s where Elena truly excels: the expressions, the feelings, the quiet moments. That’s not something everyone can do. But Elena also does some great action and comedy. Did you see that preview page with the funeral scene? It gets me every time.

AIPT: How do you think this story compares to storylines or other happenings currently in pro wrestling? In terms of who it appeals to, the larger story goals, etc.

JS: Oh, well clearly The Gimmick is inspired by the budding romance between Excalibur and William Regal.

No, I’m kidding, obviously. I don’t think you can compare it to actual wrestling in that way. I do think it is perhaps a bit on the progressive side and, in that sense, may certainly appeal to an AEW audience. Which is not to say WWE fans are not progressive. I see you out there with your #WWEWomenDeserveBetter tags!

The Gimmick

Courtesy of Ahoy Comics.

AIPT: I still feel like wrestling is a niche thing — for better and worse. Is there a hope with this series that it’ll open it up to even more new folks?

I think any time wrestling spills out to other media, it gains a few new fans. I certainly know people who started watching because of GLOW. People have this idea that it’s just big sweaty men beating each other up, and don’t understand that there’s storylines and artistry involved. It’s a soap opera and it’s a lot of fun!

AIPT: Without spoiling (too much), what other tidbits can we expect from the rest of the story?

JS: Well, there’s a super-powered baby. Who doesn’t love that?

But basically, in the very beginning of the story, Shane kills another wrestler. And as the story goes on, we’re going to meet the daughter of the man he killed and learn a lot more about her. We’re going to learn what it’s like to grow up with a father in the business. And at the same time, we’re going to spend time with Shane’s mother, and get that perspective as well—what it’s like to be a parent of someone in wrestling. And then there’s Shane’s ex, Alicia, who has a baby while being a wrestler.

So we have all these people with all these very different perspectives and motivations. And then we have Shane. And they’re all looking for him. That’s where the story is going.

AIPT: Finally: what’s the best finishing maneuver of all time (and why)?

JS: Oh, without question the dragon suplex. A lot of finishing moves these days are super contrived and require so much setup. But the dragon suplex is quick and elegant, and when you think about everything that happens so quickly, it’s just perfection. You’re pulling your opponent’s arms back so they can’t defend themselves, and then tossing them onto their neck and shoulders, using your entire body weight to hold them down into a pin. It’s like ballet.

Join the AIPT Patreon

Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:

  • ❌ Remove all ads on the website
  • 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
  • 📗 Access to our monthly book club
  • 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
  • 💥 And more!
Sign up today

In Case You Missed It

Full June 2023 DC Comics solicitations: New Penguin, Joker, and Milestone series Full June 2023 DC Comics solicitations: New Penguin, Joker, and Milestone series

Full June 2023 DC Comics solicitations: New Penguin, Joker, and Milestone series

Comic Books

Kelly Thompson's 'Captain Marvel' run ends with extra-sized issue #50 Kelly Thompson's 'Captain Marvel' run ends with extra-sized issue #50

Kelly Thompson’s ‘Captain Marvel’ run ends with extra-sized issue #50

Comic Books

X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion' X-Men Monday #196 - Charlie Jane Anders Talks 'New Mutants: Lethal Legion'

X-Men Monday #196 – Charlie Jane Anders Talks ‘New Mutants: Lethal Legion’

Comic Books

Marvel details 'Marvel's Voices: Pride' #1 promising new LGBTQIA+ characters Marvel details 'Marvel's Voices: Pride' #1 promising new LGBTQIA+ characters

Marvel details ‘Marvel’s Voices: Pride’ #1 promising new LGBTQIA+ characters

Comic Books

Newsletter Signup