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Joanne Starer signals for 'Total Suplex of the Heart'

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Joanne Starer signals for ‘Total Suplex of the Heart’

The wrestling-themed slice-of-life story debuts next week.

Nobody ever truly leaves pro wrestling (see The Rock), and Joanne Starer is also no exception. Having previously worked on the indie scene in several roles, Starer co-created the excellent The Gimmick back in spring 2023. Now, alongside artist Ornella Greco, Starer is returning to the (comics) squared circle with a brand-new original graphic novel, Total Suplex of the Heart.

Published by Life Drawn/Humanoids, Total Suplex of the Heart is an “unflinchingly honest coming-of-age tale set in the fast-paced world of wrestling.” In it, we follow freelance journalist Georgia who, seeking to silence her doubters (including her worried parents), “goes undercover in the local hardcore wrestling scene to investigate a piece.” Georgie finds herself “riding the wave of attention that temporarily silences her own insecurities” until drama before and after the bell forces her to ask “who really holds the power in her life, and whether she’s happy with where it’s headed.” Total Suplex of the Heart is very much like a great wrestling match: intense action, heaps of drama, and a deep understanding of the human condition (plus spandex galore).

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Total Suplex of the Heart is due out next week (June 18). In a post-match promo, we got to ask Starer some of our most burning questions, including the ongoing appeal of wrestling, how her experience helps with worldbuilding and storytelling, the modern “renaissance” of pro wrestling, and working with both Greco and letterer Nathan Kempf.

Joanne Starer signals for 'Total Suplex of the Heart'

Courtesy of Life Drawn/Humanoids.

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for Total Suplex of the Heart?

Joanne Starer: Total Suplex of the Heart is a coming-of-age story about a young girl who gets involved in the pr wrestling business, dodging flying chairs and sexual predators along the way. But it’s also about the sacrifices we make for love and how easy it is to lose yourself when you let your passions consume you. I got involved in wrestling when I was 19, and the book is heavily based on my experiences.

AIPT: You’ve written other wrestling books before (the totally great The Gimmick). Why does the venerable sport of rasslin’ still call to you?

JS: At its heart, a wrestling match is a battle of good vs evil. It’s like a superhero fight: men in tights, struggling for victory. But it’s also like a soap opera, with big dramatic storylines. Like imagine getting to see Batman and Superman fight it out in front of you, live. That’s wrestling. It’s pure, raw entertainment. And if you think that’s great, the stuff that happens behind the scenes is even wilder.

AIPT: You’ve also got proper wrestling experience (promoting and/or in the squared circle). How much of that helps you in building the characters, plotting matches, etc.?

JS:  I couldn’t have written this book without the experiences I had in the wrestling business. People think they know what happens behind the scenes, but truth is always stranger than fiction. Like the idea that there were wrestlers who pretended to be gay in the ring when they were actually straight and married? That was completely real and pretty prevalent. A lot of what happens in the book is stuff that really happened to me, conversations that I actually had. I couldn’t make up some of that toxicity. And, yes, someone actually asked me to “spit on” it.

Joanne Starer signals for 'Total Suplex of the Heart'

Courtesy of Life Drawn/Humanoids.

AIPT: You’ve said this book is deeply personal as it deals with “eating disorders and toxic relationships.” Not to beat a dead horse, but what about wrestling makes it such an interesting and/or novel prism or filter for this kind of honesty and personal exploration?

JS: When you work in wrestling, your body is on display. That’s just part of the gig. You are expected to look superhuman. You are being judged constantly. And not just women. The men are judged for their height and their musculature, and are driven to steroids and HGH and other substances that cause untimely death. And obviously for the women, the scrutiny is horrific. And it’s not only because of the audience and the internet, but the fact that wrestlers are not “employees” and are not unionized, right? There’s no job security. You can be replaced in a second if you let yourself go. So, yeah, as soon as I got involved in that world, I started living on fat-free yogurt and protein bars.

AIPT: I think wrestling is having a heyday of sorts (AEW’s immersion, changes at WWE, etc.) Do you think that renewed interest helps this book? Does that matter at all in maybe proving wrestling’s true potential to a wider audience?

JS: I would hope that my book would bring people to wrestling, but I don’t know necessarily that wrestling will bring people to my book. I’m not depending on that. Because I’m not thinking about it as a wrestling book. It’s a story about growing up and dealing with the complexities of life and figuring out who you are. And that’s universal whether you’ve ever seen a wrestling match or not.

Total Suplex of the Heart

Courtesy of Life Drawn/Humanoids.

AIPT: What was it like working with artist Ornella Greco and letterer Nathan Kempf? Did they know much about wrestling, and did that help or hurt at all?

JS: Ornella is incredible. We actually didn’t end up speaking that much simply because of how good she was…she would get my script pages and interpret them exactly as I saw them in my head. I had no notes! I don’t think she was a wrestling fan at all, but she really understood the characters and the emotional aspects of the story, and that’s what matters. The acting. And Nathan’s lettering just pulls it all together.

AIPT:Did you use any real life wrestling or moments (your own experiences or just things from TV and whatnot) in crafting characters or developing some of the events in the story?

JS: Oh, a lot of it is real. And I don’t want to say too much about which parts are real and which aren’t. There are definitely parts that are fictionalized for the sake of story. But I’ll tell you this…there’s a scene where another girl pours lotion all over Georgie’s bag and ruins her clothes and makeup. That happened to me. I was working a match, and when I got back, my whole bag was covered in lotion and shampoo and who knows what, and everything was destroyed. You hear these stories of locker room hazing, and they’re very true.

AIPT: Do you have a favorite moment/page that speaks to the larger story and its themes?

JS: One of my favorite moments is later in the book. Georgie has basically been living for her controlling boyfriend, doing everything to make him happy and make his dreams come true, even if it means losing herself in the process. But then she goes out and dyes her hair pink. Because it’s what she wants. And she knows he’s going to hate it. And she smiles. It’s a small act of rebellion but it’s a light…it’s hope.

Total Suplex of the Heart

Courtesy of Life Drawn/Humanoids.

AIPT: I feel like some folks (but younger dudes especially) don’t see the emotional potential and storytelling ability of really great wrestling. Is this book in any way a response to that, or to people who just don’t “get” wrestling?

JS: I’m going to be completely honest with you, I did not write this book with any dudes in mind. I am not trying to teach any men anything or prove anything to anyone. I wrote this book to show that life can be weird and difficult and complicated, but you can get through it and figure out who you are and what you are meant to be. If you’re struggling with an awful relationship, there’s hope. If you’re not sure what you want to do with your life, you have time. If you feel uncomfortable in your skin, it’s OK, you’ll figure it out.

AIPT: If Total Suplex of the Heart had a theme song and a finishing move, what would they be and why?

JS: Oh definitely — “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. There’s probably a Taylor Swift song that has the same message, but I’m old. And the finishing move would have to be the belly-to-belly suplex, right. Because it starts nice, like a hug, but then it absolutely devastates you.

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