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Joanne Starer talks THE GIMMICK

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Wrestling and comics have always been closely associated. Colorful characters and high-flying action are just some of the elements that unite the two artforms. Comics about wrestling, then, are a no-brainer, with titles like Ringside and Do A Powerbomb! proving wildly popular in recent years. Now AHOY Comics is getting in on the action with The Gimmick, a forthcoming miniseries from writer Joanne Starer, artist Elena Gogou, colorist Andy Troy, and letterer Rob Steen. The series follows Shane Bryant, a wrestler who also happens to have super-strength, in the aftermath of a horrific in-the-ring accident. 

The Gimmick #1 Main cover by Erica Henderson

The series is the first AHOY title from Starer, who once owned and operated a women’s wrestling promotion in Pennsylvania. The writer took some time to answer a few questions from The Beat about The Gimmick, including her own weird history with wrestling, what it takes to make it as a professional wrestler, and how the series is about more than just the action in the ring. Check that out, along with a preview of the first issue and an exclusive look at the cover for the series’s third issue, below.


Joe Grunenwald: When the series was announced, you mentioned that it’s inspired by your own experiences in pro wrestling. Can you talk a little bit about how you got into wrestling?

Joanne Starer: It’s actually a pretty weird story. I had been a wrestling fan since I was super young. And when I got into college, I was dabbling with the idea of becoming a writer–not a fiction writer, but a journalist actually. So I had started doing a little writing for wrestling website… Just opinion pieces and such. And back then the major source for wrestling news and gossip was AOL message boards. Which is where I saw a local wrestler post that he was looking for a new valet/manager. In my mind, that was a perfect story. I would go experience the life and write about it. It was only meant to be for a couple shows. But I did my first show, and the wrestler I was with got into a real, unplanned fist fight and was fired. People were throwing chairs at each other in the locker room. It was crazier than what had happened in the ring. But after all that, the promoter asked me to stay. It was all so much more exciting than sitting behind a screen, writing about the business. So I stayed, and I never wrote about any of it until very recently.

Grunenwald: Are there any specific elements of your experience that informed your work on this series?

Starer: Don’t get me wrong, I love wrestling. I love the people I met the wrestling. But you have to understand that it’s a business full of people willing to destroy their bodies to get the approval of strangers. They go on the road 250 days a year… Or more… Leaving their friends and families behind, to be loved by crowds of people they don’t know. And very, very few people who get into the business make it to TV or make any kind of real money. But most of them will still spend years and years breaking their bodies for $50 paydays in high school gyms. It’s a calling. It’s an art. Whatever it is, it attracts certain personality types. And that’s really where this comes from–examining the interpersonal relationships of that, and imagining, “If you gave someone like this super powers, would they do something good for the world, or would they just try to advance their career?”

Grunenwald: How did you connect with Elena Gogou for this book? What about their work on this series has surprised or excited you?

Starer: All the credit here goes to editor Rob Levin. He introduced me to Elena’s work when we were trying to find an artist for a different project. We ended up going in another direction. And I actually tried to get Elena on another project after that, but it never came to fruition. I just saw the way they drew strong women, different body types than you generally see in comics, and I was like, “Yes. That’s it!” Elena’s work brings this quiet confidence to the story. It’s not flashy or showy. Elena knows how to bring a MOMENT in the way a trained actor would…with precision and clarity.

Grunenwald: What’s your experience with AHOY Comics been like? Why were they the ideal home for this series?

Starer: I have so much respect for Ahoy as a company and for everyone who works there. I like to think of my personal style as comedy with a conscience, and that’s exactly what they do there. They have a sense of humor, but they also have a sense of goodness and heart, and a healthy sprinkling of satire and sarcasm. The Gimmick, specifically, is a bit of a strange book. It straddles a bunch of genres, and some companies were overly concerned with, “How do we sell this?” But at Ahoy, their only concern was, “Is this good?”

Grunenwald: Elena described the series lead, Shane, as “the human equivalent of a dumpster fire.” What’s fun for you about developing and writing a character like that?

Starer: Well, I’m a bit of a dumpster fire, if we’re being honest. Of course, in a very different way from Shane. But I know that I’m broken. My friends are broken. We’re all a little broken. But for some of us, those scars heal and we become stronger. And for others, they’re cracks that just become deeper and deeper, which is what happens with Shane. So it’s fascinating to me to explore how people are different in those ways.

One thing about that I really wanted to delve into with this character was that he doesn’t take accountability for his actions. And we all know someone like that–some guy who makes a mess and let’s everyone else around him clean it up. Shane thinks because his life was hard, he has an excuse. But all our lives are hard.

Grunenwald: Who’s your favorite wrestler? What about them do you enjoy watching?

Starer: Of all time? This is such a hard question, I can’t give one answer. Bret Hart is up there. My dad still makes fun of me for bringing a sign to MSG for Bret Hart’s birthday when I was like 10.

The original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama, is just such an incredible innovator and athlete. His early NJPW work has been influencing wrestling around the world for decades.

Then there’s Mascarita Sagrada. No one can fly around a ring like that guy. He’s super human.

As far as current American wrestlers, well, who doesn’t love/hate MJF? I’m a sucker for a nice Jewish boy.

Grunenwald: What are you excited for readers to see in this book, whether they’re wrestling fans or not going in?

Starer: You may not realize it from the heavy marketing emphasis on WRESTLING, but it’s a very female-heavy cast. A lot of the story is about the women around Shane and their lives and relationships with each other. We have an estranged mother and an angry daughter, a female CEO trying to maintain her grip on her empire, and a single mother trying to balance motherhood and career. Ultimately, it’s a story about a broken man and the people he hurts because he can’t see his own flaws. Unfortunately, most of those people are women.

Issue #3 cover by Erica Henderson

Published by AHOY Comics, The Gimmick #1 (of 5) is due out in stores and digitally on Wednesday, March 8th. The final order cutoff date for the series debut is this Sunday, January 22nd.

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