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Observer Feature: Image Comics' Joe Keatinge on 'Ringside'

If you're familiar with the world of comics, you've likely heard of Joe Keatinge, a writer and editor for Image Comics, Marvel, and DC with titles like Adventures of Superman, Shutter, Marvel Knights: Hulk, Popgun, and One Model Nation.

In November, he launched Ringside, an ongoing series set in, you guessed it, the world of professional wrestling. I talked with Joe recently about the idea, his fandom, and all sorts of other stuff. 

How did your journey into wrestling fandom begin?

Like a lot of people, I had a gateway person. Mine was my uncle, who saw a love of superheroes and thought he could convert me to the 1980s WWF which was the closest thing to real-life (to abuse a term) superhero comics you could get. He was right. I immediately got into the Superstars era, whether it was Hogan, Undertaker, The Ultimate Warrior, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, etc.

I hate to ask the most obvious interview question involving the “I” word, but due to the subject matter, I’m super interested in your inspirations for Ringside and can’t resist. Are there any real life characters or backstage stories that have inspired your writing?

I think the road to Ringside really started by reading Mick Foley's first book, Have A Nice Day, because it opened up my eyes to not just the reality behind wrestling, but a fuller picture of its whole world. I knew about lucha libre from a distance and had a passing understanding of Japanese wrestling. But in Have A Nice Day, the fuller scope of the indie and international scenes opened up for me. Furthermore, it really sold home that while professional wrestling may be predetermined, there are real world consequences and sacrifices for putting their all into the ring. Mick Foley losing his ear wasn't an angle -- it was him actually losing his f-in' ear!

That led to an overall love of Foley (which continues to this day), which led to me digging more into his past, which led to me seeing the promotions he came up in, digging into their rosters, their histories. This was further exemplified by Beyond The Mat (my opinion on which has changed over the years -- especially where Jake "The Snake" is concerned. I recommend The Resurrection of Jake The Snake as further viewing).

Edge being forced to retire was a big one. I had conceived Ringside a few years before, but seeing a guy who grew up loving pro wrestling, dedicating his all to it, then being told if he ever does it again, he'll die, was a big inspiration into what Ringside evolved into. Seeing the same happen to Daniel Bryan was equally heartbreaking. And they're not alone. "How far are you willing to go for what you believe in," became the central theme of the series.

This was all exemplified by going to local wrestling promotions like Portland Wrestling, DOA Wrestling and Blue Collar Wrestling and seeing these people entertaining Eagle Lodges with as much vigor and determination than -- if not more so, frankly -- people entertaining Madison Square Garden. They're doing it for the love of the game.

Joe Keatinge

Photo: Bleeding Cool

I get a bit of an Earl Tubb from Southern Bastards vibe from Dan Knossos (which worries me for reasons I won’t go into). As with Southern Bastards, I find the whole cast of Ringside incredibly compelling, particularly Amy, and the ”Young Lion” Reynolds. Will these characters, and others, be given more of a spotlight as the story unfolds?

Oh, yeah. Ringside's built to not just give the core cast rotating spotlights, but as it goes on we'll see all this from new perspectives. The idea is once we wrap up our first big story, Nick and I can go to it whenever we want in the future, whether its with all new characters or returning to old ones with new things to say. The possibilities are wide open.

There seems to be quite a large crossover between wrestling and comic fans. What is it that draws audiences into these worlds? And do you see any parallels between the wrestling business and comic book industry?

In terms of art form, I think there are obvious parallels. Serialized adventure fiction with over-the-top characters and constant good vs. evil, face vs. heel, good guys going bad, faces turning heel, etc. In terms of industry, oh, yeah, but it's not limited to comics. Any time industry and art form converge there's going to be conflict. Modern day wrestling is built on the broken backs of many who came before -- some treated as giants and others long forgotten. Comics is no different, but you could say the same for film, painting and so on. I find that confluence fascinating.

To say that wrestling and comics have teamed up more than once is an understatement. From Marvel’s WCW series, the infinite number titles out of Mexico, to more recent outings like Super Pro K.O. and Headlocked. One of the great things about Ringside is that it’s so much more than simply a “wrestling comic". Was it important for you to write a story that would resonate with wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike?

The more important thing for Nick and I was to tell the story we wanted to tell. You couldn't get Super Pro K.O. from us, that's Jarrett William's vision. Same with Headlocked and Michael Kingston and co. When Ringside came out I saw a number of people go "BUT I WANTED TO DO A WRESTLING COMIC" or "BUT I DO A WRESTLING COMIC" and my immediate reaction is -- THEN DO THEM. If all we have going for our comics is that wrestling is involved, you're doing it wrong. Headlocked's uniquely its own. Ringside's uniquely its own. My greatest hope is there'll be a huge number of wrestling comics in mainstream US comics as the future goes on.

You’ve got a great team working on the book. From letterer Ariana Maher, colourist Simon Gough, to artist Nick Barber. I wasn’t familiar with Nick’s work until Ringside came along, but he’s now one of my favourite artists in comics today. Was it a long process finding the right collaborators for the book?

It's a mix of things. Right place, right time, certainly helps, but you can't rely on it -- you've got to keep your eyes open. I'm always on the look out for collaborators to work with, whether it's at cons or online. I saw Nick posting some brilliant art based off movies we both liked and struck up a conversation. Luckily, he was into it, because he was the missing piece the book needed.

A little off topic, but I love the opening page of the first issue with the shot of the dojo above the Family Mart. Among other things, I was fascinated by Japanese convenience stores when I lived over there. Is Family Mart your konbini of choice (I’m more of a Lawson guy myself)? Do you keep up with any Japanese promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling?

I just started digging into New Japan's streaming service and it's incredible. I'm a bit overwhelmed, but looking to dig into more. Family Mart was all Nick, as he worked in Japan for some time.

To finish up, what are some of your favourite things going on in wrestling today? What/Who keeps you watching?

Two words: Kevin Owens. He's by far the guy I'm marking out for hardest these days.

You can pick up Ringside or any of Joe's past work at your local comic store or online.