Joanne Starer, creator of the comic book The Gimmick, “a Coen Brothers–style dark comedy” set in the world of professional wrestling, has returned to wrestling once again with her highly-anticipated graphic novel Total Suplex of the Heart.

While The Gimmick featured superpowers, murder, and hidden identities, Total Suplex of the Heart is “inspired in part by the real pro wrestling experiences” of Starer, who ran a women’s wrestling promotion in 2002 called Kiryoku Pro.

Total Suplex of the Heart cover

“It was very short-lived. We only ran three events, despite booking some incredible talent: Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Mercedes Martinez,” Starer recalled in an email interview with “But it was 2002 and the market wasn’t really ready for serious women’s wrestling yet. Plus there were… other difficulties, which you can kind of glean from the story in Total Suplex. It was basically a sister promotion to CHIKARA, which I helped start and run in its early years (but I never got any credit for that).”

That detail alone might convince some readers to pick up a copy of Total Suplex of the Heart, because it covers ground that so few, if any, other pro wrestling comic books do. Namely, the protagonist of this story is a young woman, named Georgie, and the book is at least somewhat autobiographical, or what some might refer to as autofiction.

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“It’s definitely autofiction. Parts of the story are absolutely things that happened to me, and parts are complete fiction used to move the story along,” admitted Starer. “There are characters inspired by people I knew, there are others that are a blend of people, and some that are completely fabricated. Not all of the story is true, but the emotion of it is true, if that makes sense. I’m trying to show you what it felt like for me to live this life, but in a story that is easy and fun to read.”

Starer writes at the end of her new book that readers “can decide for yourselves how much” of the story is “true or not,” but regardless of the specific plot details, Total Suplex of the Heart is very real in that it deals with the protagonist’s struggles with relationships, an eating disorder, a possibly mentally-ill mother, and other aspects of life, in a very candid and sometimes difficult way.

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“It took a long, long time for me to even think about telling my story. I had to get to a place where I felt like anyone would even want to hear what I had to say,” confessed Starer. “I had to feel like I deserved to tell it. Because obviously there are other people in this story, right? And it took a long time for me to realize that my story, my life, my pain mattered as much as theirs. I couldn’t sit around forever wondering, ‘What if someone gets mad at me?’ So it was a process. And it started in 2018 when a friend of mine asked me to write an essay for her newsletter. I talked a little about what happened, without much feeling, but I got it out. And then that essay turned into a short comic, this time with some humor — I could laugh about it. Each time, it got a little easier, until Total Suplex vomited itself out of me.”


Joanne Starer and her cat.

Georgie, the main character in Total Suplex of the Heart, and Starer’s presumed stand-in, isn’t always the most likable character, and she makes many mistakes along the way during her journey from aspiring journalist-turned-valet to women’s wrestling promoter, but most of the characters in this book make mistakes, because they’re young, and they’re human.

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A blurb on the back cover of Total Suplex of the Heart refers to the book as an “R-rated wrestling drama,” and that might be important for some readers to know going in. I’ll admit, I was a little surprised by the first “F bomb,” which drops on the first page, but profanity aside, Starer writes about the complexities of being a young woman in independent wrestling with an honesty that might make some uncomfortable, but if that’s so, and you find yourself starting to “clutch your pearls,” I would urge you to investigate why that is.

“I don’t think I could have authentically expressed what it was like to be a woman in the wrestling business without the book being a little R-rated,” she said. “Because things happen — a lot of them unpleasant, as you see. And I need the reader to understand that. I need the reader to feel the discomfort. And then obviously there’s the good and fun sexy times, because, hey, we need some of that to balance things out.”

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One of the reasons I was initially surprised by some of the more adult content of the book was the bright, vibrant art of Ornella Greco, which isn’t the style one might expect from an “R-rated wrestling drama,” but it works really well.

“Finding the right artist was a journey! We looked at so many people,” explained Starer. “And I have to really thank editor Rob Levin here (he began with me on Total Suplex before Jake Thomas took over). Rob worked tirelessly, going through dozens of portfolios, because we had a very difficult task. Humanoids is a publisher based in France, so they have a certain aesthetic; they like a ‘European’ style of art, and that instantly eliminated a lot of people. I wanted a female artist due to the sensitive issues in the book, and that cut down the pool again. Then we needed someone who could handle the action of wrestling but all the emotional stuff as well. When we found Ornella, it was like the heavens opened. She’s a blessing.”

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Because this is a graphic novel about professional wrestling, some readers may pick this up who wouldn’t otherwise read a book about a young woman’s lived experience, and similarly, some readers who may be drawn to Starer’s perspective and experience as a woman might not typically read a book, graphic novel or not, about professional wrestling, so I hope that Total Suplex of the Heart serves as somewhat of a bridge between disparate audiences.

“I always think it’s healthy for people to step out of their comfort zone and try and see other people’s perspectives,” Starer said. “So if someone picks it up because they’re a wrestling fan and they’ve never really considered some of the women’s issues in the book, then that’s fantastic. And if someone reads it for the romance and they decide to tune into wrestling because of it, equally wonderful!”

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Now that she’s written The Gimmick and Total Suplex of the Heart, I was curious if Starer had ideas for any other wrestling stories. Yep! “There are probably a dozen more wrestling stories I could tell, but I should probably take a break before I get pigeonholed!” she said.

As for Starer’s other projects, Fire & Ice: Welcome to Smallville (from DC Comics, art by Natacha Bustos) is coming out in trade paperback on August 6, 2024, and the collected Sirens of the City (from Boom! Studios, art by Khary Randolph) is in stores now, and Humanoids, the publisher of Total Suplex of the Heart, is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign timed to its 50th anniversary celebration to publish the first-ever English publication of Arkadi and the Lost Titan by the legendary comic book artist and illustrator Caza.

Total Suplex of the Heart, written by Joanne Starer and illustrated by Ornella Greco, is available from Humanoids.