The Real Lives Behind the 'Fake' Sport of Wrestling with IMAGE COMICS' RINGSIDE

"Ringside" preview
Credit: Nick Barber/Simon Gough (Image Comics)
Credit: Nick Barber/Simon Gough (Image Comics)

Image Comics' gritty take on the theatrical sport of pro wrestling returns this week with Ringside #11. The third arc of Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber's story follows the retired wrestler Daniel Knossos (a.k.a. the Minotaur), a blue chipper named Reynolds, and how real life can get inside the "fake" sport.

“Well it’s an ensemble drama set outside of the world of professional wrestling. That’s why it’s called Ringside; because there’s not a whole lot going on inside the ring itself," Keatinge told Newsarama. "So, if you love professional wrestling, this is a side of it that you never really see. There’s a lot of great wrestling comics out there, but I think we took an angle that people that don’t normally see. And if you don’t love wrestling, well it’s still an ensemble drama that unites people who have this ultimate goal and you’ll see if they’re willing to sacrifice everything to get that goal.”

Keatinge, Image Comics' former PR coordinator, said that Ringside got typecast early on but now with 10 issues on the shevles he and Barber are delivering something much more.

“When we got announced it was like ‘here’s this wrestling book’, but I feel like there’s so much stuff beyond it. It’s a very different type of book, so if you’re looking for that, there it is.”

Credit: Nick Barber/Simon Gough (Image Comics)

Keatinge goes on to say that the real life sacrifices that athletes make - both mentally and physically - is the driving force behind Ringside.

“You know it’s funny, I’m a huge boxing fan and I box and I was thinking about this the other night watching the Mayweather vs McGregor fight and looking at their stats and you have these two guys, and whether you like them as human beings is something else entirely, but one guy whose entire family lineage is dedicated to the sport, who has shown up 50-0. The other guy, like him or not, he really mastered MMA. What led these two guys to get here?" said Keatinge. "So I was thinking about the publicity for that match and how much bullshit it is. For McGregor, it was how hard he trained and there’s nothing else in his life but this. That’s not true because they also showed his family and going into this he has this one goal to take down this one guy. Then they showed Mayweather goofing around and he didn’t look that serious, but you knew he was because this is his legacy. Everything else orbits that. For somebody like Mayweather, you don’t get 50-0 because you’re pretty good at boxing. There are a lot of guys who had real hard defeats like Manny Pacquiao, so I don’t know what it is, but I know when I see it.”

Credit: Nick Barber/Simon Gough (Image Comics)

He continued about with his own personal goals.

“So like, for me, it’s writing. Every day is one step closer to this ultimate goal. People have this thing in them that want to be the best in whatever they want to be. I find it fascinating in professional wrestling that when somebody tries to tell you it’s fake, it’s not. Yeah, Mayweather and McGregor are really hitting each other in the ring, but you know that Mick Foley lost his ear in the ring, right? I think of guys like Edge who wasn’t even 40 yet when he was told he couldn’t do this anymore because he’d end up on a wheelchair. He was just a kid in the stands at WrestleMania and this is the only thing he’s ever wanted to do and then one day it’s just over. So with Ringside, yeah there’s wrestling, but the main story is all about that one thing in their life and we try to tell that story of how far you’re willing to go for that one thing.”

Back in 2013, Mason Currey released a book on the daily rituals of people in different professions titled - aptly enough - Daily Rituals. For Keatinge, he outlined his own in relation to Ringside and his other work.

Credit: Nick Barber/Simon Gough (Image Comics)

“I wake up around 8 and then I always make the bed first thing. I know that sounds lame or something, but I think it’s important to always make the bed. There was this great Ted Talk with this army sergeant who talked about the importance of that with, first of all, the feeling you’ve accomplished something right off the bat. Also, you have a made bed and it looks great," said Keatinge. "Then twice a day I have some sort of meditation to restart your brain. There’s so much coming at you whether it’s the news or social media or whatever... I had no idea how essential this really was til recently. Then I always maintain some sort of reps of physical activity whether it’s push-ups or something. It just gets your neurons firing. After that it’s all the basic stuff: shower, walk the dog, eat breakfast, and I recently started keeping a journal and that includes my work stuff. Then I give about an hour or two for the Internet...then I shut that shit down. I just live my life. I have an assistant that helps me not just getting bombarded with stuff. That’s all Monday through Friday with the weekends aimed to do stuff like this. That’s my formula for all of this. I think that stuff is very important.”

Credit: Nick Barber/Simon Gough (Image Comics)

When asked about to see if his process or formula for composition has changedsince the first arc of Ringside, Keatinge replied that meditation has helped him “big time” with changing how he approaches his work.

“For me, finding something that quiets my brain twice a day has made me more aware of the reality in front of me. It’s like getting glasses for conceptual ideas. I can think clearer and more methodical. This is kind of hard to describe in concrete terms, but  when I was working on Shutter, I had a map of what I wanted to do. What I think mediation has helped greatly on is, not the big picture stuff, but in the smaller details; it’s the per issue plan. I’ve been really enjoying the new Twin Peaks and just letting people shut the fuck up a little bit and letting you just sit in the moment of what the person is actually going through and what the emotion is. I’ve learned to do a lot of that. I feel like with comics don’t, you know. need to fill the pages up with needless words because it’s a visual medium, because I think comic book readers are smart people. Two of my favorite comics right now are Mirror by Emma Rios and Hwei Lim and Spy Seal by Rich Tommaso. What those comics do in terms of what I’m getting to is that they trust the reader to get it. You don’t have to explain everything to them.”

Credit: Nick Barber/Simon Gough (Image Comics)

He goes on to list Inglorious Basterds and Blade Runner as perfect examples of this sort of narrative, with how you don’t know why Aldo Raine has a neck burn or the fact that you’re unsure if Deckard is a replicant.

Going back to the subject of pro wrestler Edge’s retirement and his history, Keatinge talks about how wrestling can convey so much emotion and tell a story without any dialog.

Credit: Nick Barber/Simon Gough (Image Comics)

“What is any element of wrestling? From their entrance and theme to their outfit to when they walk down the ring and get into the gorilla position? Every single element it’s all storytelling. As a wrestler, you play all these aspects. You’re a writer, you’re an actor and it all plays into storytelling. I mean, you are the story you are telling and I don’t know how much more personal it could get. I’m trying to think of another example of this synthesis where the author is the story, and I guess one man plays, but I don’t know, I don’t think it really exists in any other medium. So yeah, going back to Edge, he has this narrative and then one day his story has to end. Can you imagine going through that? You don’t have a story anymore. Good lord, I can’t even comprehend that. So things like that are more of an inspiration for Ringside than anything else. To say this is fake is a great disservice to people like Edge. I just think those people are ignorant.”

This week's Ringside #11 begins the book's third arc, and Keatinge said his collaboration with artist Nick Barnber has evolved.

“This was the first thing Nick and I had ever done together and as far as I’m aware this was his first printed comic book. So there’s the aspect of him learning that and then us learning to work together, and now we’re a year and some change working in on it together. We’ve met now, we’ve hung out, he’s had dinner with my family, and in my opinion get better and better. So in our relationship in terms of how we work, it gets more refined. I feel that we have more shorthand than we did before."

"When we started, I wrote to what I thought was his strength and interests, because I wouldn’t want to be given a script I had no interest in drawing," Keatinge. "So yeah, I think it gets more personal and over time our way of communicating has gotten tighter in terms of what we’re doing and what we want to do.

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