Talking comics with The Gimmick’s Joanne Starer, receiving a Total Suplex of the Heart

I recently reviewed Ahoy Comics’ excellent The Gimmick, written by Joanne Starer and illustrated by Len Gogou, ahead of the publication of its sixth and final issue, and now, with the collected trade paperback of The Gimmick available in comic shops and online retailers on September 27, 2023, I was given the opportunity to interview Starer about The Gimmick and her future projects, including her next professional wrestling comic book, Total Suplex of the Heart.

As for how the creative team for The Gimmick came together, Starer said it was a funny story. Starer originally saw The Gimmick illustrator Len Gogou’s work when she was looking for artists for her upcoming comic book, Total Suplex of the Heart, to be published by Humanoids

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Joanne Starer, photo by Khary Randolph

“We were considering them (Gogou),” Starer said, “but since that book leans a little more toward the YA (young adult) side, we went in a different direction. But I was really struck by how Len drew strong women, by their facial expressions and acting abilities. So as soon as I had the opportunity to do this other wrestling book, The Gimmick, I knew they were the perfect fit.” Starer mentioned that it’s worth noting that in the back of The Gimmick trade paperback, readers can see the original concept art from Derec Donovan, who Starer hired to help her pitch the project.

Starer said, “[Donovan] is a big wrestling fan and had his own take on the characters. I chose him at the time because he once snap-suplexed me into a pool! Which I don’t recommend as a way to get a job, but I knew that he knew his wrestling.”

As Slam readers can probably tell, based upon our reviews of pro wrestling comic books and graphic novels, wrestling comics are pretty hot right now, so I asked Starer about what she thinks The Gimmick offers that isn’t provided in other recent wrestling comics. 

The Gimmick offers a different perspective,” she replied. “It’s about the people in wrestling who don’t always get their stories told.” Starer said that, while Shane Bryant is the “protagonist” of The Gimmick, he is not a hero. 

“The story is about the women and other marginalized people in wrestling who are hurt by his actions,” Starer said. “Also I think it’s pretty unique to have a wrestling comic written both by someone who has worked in the business and who is a woman.” Starer said her take on it is to not write about in-ring action or storylines but about the people in the business, their damage, and how they damage others. 

The Gimmick sample

My review of The Gimmick was published prior to the release of the sixth and final issue, which features an impactful swerve ending, and I was curious how the swerve has been received by readers, so far.  

“Honestly, aside from a couple reviews that seemed very happy with the ending, I haven’t heard much,” she admitted. Starer said she wouldn’t be surprised if people were thrown off by it, but this wasn’t a book that she expected to be very marketable. “It’s a strange one,” she said. “But if you’re a fan of my other work, I think the ending will work for you.”

Being that The Gimmick is a six issue mini-series, as satisfying as those six issues are, it feels as though there’s plenty of meat left on the bone, if Starer were to ever return to The Gimmick, but Starer said if she ever got the opportunity to go back to this universe, she would focus on the relationships of the women in the comic book, and how they learn to live with each other. Starer said, “All three of them have this love/hate relationship with the wrestling business, for different reasons,” and she would choose to explore that.  

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Joanne Starer, writer of The Gimmick and Total Suplex of the Heart. Photo by Khary Randolph

As it was briefly alluded to earlier on, and as she’s mentioned in other interviews, Starer previously had a very personal relationship with wrestling herself.

“I worked as a wrestling valet a long, long time ago on the East Coast indies.” Starer continued, “I always wanted to be a writer, but performing in front of a crowd was a unique way to tell a story and get instant feedback and gratification.” But, she said, at the time, it wasn’t a great place for women. “So I decided to try to start my own women’s wrestling promotion. This was back before the Divas belt, before SHIMMER, even.”

Starer said there was a period of about ten years of her life when she was at wrestling shows every weekend, and much of this served as inspiration for Starer’s highly anticipated next project, Total Suplex of the Heart, coming out in 2024 by Humanoids. 

“Getting to know people in the business, to see the dark underbelly (and the good sides, of course … I still love wrestling), fully inspired The Gimmick,” she said. “The whole idea of The Gimmick and Shane is, if you gave a pro-wrestler super powers, what would he do with them? He wouldn’t save the world. He’d just use them for easy success.” 

The Gimmick punch

Starer is currently writing Fire & Ice: Welcome to Smallville for DC Comics, with art by Natacha Bustos. She’s also working on Sirens of the City (Boom!), which she collaborates on with her partner Khary Randolph, who designed a variant cover for the first issue of The Gimmick

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As for Total Suplex of the Heart, Starer teased, “That borrows very much from my time in wrestling, and what it was like to be a young girl navigating the wrestling business while also dealing with the stresses and insecurities of youth. It’s very much a story about growing up and finding yourself.”

All six issues of The Gimmick are available now in a collected trade paperback and the first issue of Total Suplex of the Heart is slated for release in March 2024.

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