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Ringside: Life Around The Business [Interview]

Today, Joe Keatinge and Nick Barber introduce you to RINGSIDE, a brand-new comic about life in and around the world of professional wrestling. Rather than dramatizing the in-ring battles, Barber and Keatinge, ably assisted by Simon Gough and Ariana Maher, are digging deep into the drama that happens outside the ring, from exploring failing relationships to depicting former wrestlers trying to get a taste of their old life back. Available now and shipping monthly, RINGSIDE is something different, a deep dive into a world a lot of people aren't familiar with, even if they grew up on wrestling. Below, check out an interview with Keatinge and Barber about their new series, how it came to be, and where it's going.


IMAGE COMICS: RINGSIDE is a comic that features wrestling and wrestlers. Is it a wrestling comic, or something else? How do you two see it in terms of genre?

NICK BARBER: It's definitely more than just a wrestling comic. Genre-wise it's pretty complicated...noir, maybe? In my head I've always thought of Ringside like a "sports" manga—similar to Matsumoto's Ping Pong or something, where the sport plays an important role but it's almost secondary to the characters' stories.

JOE KEATINGE: I keep using the phrase "ensemble drama set in the world of professional wrestling," because as perspectives shift, so will our general approach. The first arc is more crime-slanted, sort of "noir," like Nick said. Wrestling's the setting of the series, not the statement, so to speak, so it's not something you need to be into to enjoy the series. 

The thing I kept in mind every step of the way is answering the questions of not just what each character in the series wants, but what's the greatest length they're willing to go to get it, weighing goal versus morality. That'll take a lot of different forms as we go on.

IC: What is it about backstage machinations that appeals to you two? Do you see it as a separate thing from the in-ring action, or complementary, despite being worlds apart in terms of styles of drama?

NB: It's all connected. I think that's an important aspect to RINGSIDE, the parallels between what happens inside the ring, back stage in the offices, or even out on the street. 

JK: RINGSIDE lives up to its name as the series rarely shows any in-ring action. It's all about the effects this industry has on individual, whether they're active participants, wrestlers, creatives, engineers, marketeers, fans, etc. I find the idea that an industry has taken over an art form and how that effects so many lives to be fascinating and thought wrestling would be an interesting gateway to explore that from all these different angles.

In fact, the main character of the first arc has nothing to do with the industry anymore, recently quitting his last job related to the industry. He's descending back into the life he escaped by entering the wrestling industry, he's taken himself off the board. We see the outer edges before we ever fully descend back stage.

IC: The first issue opens in Japan before moving to the Bay Area. Are you hewing close to the WWE style of wrestling, or will other federations, approaches, and locations be represented?

JK: While I don't think I'll be exploring the idea all that much in the series, I've viewed RINGSIDE as an alternate reality where the WWE never existed, as if instead of one gigantic corporation dominating the market share, the various territories evolved into smaller corporations, so there's a larger variety to be explored. We start off by seeing someone who worked for one of the bigger corporate promotions, but as we go on, we'll see the bigger scope of the wrestling world.

IC: Joe has spoken at length about finding you online, Nick. What led you to collaborating with Joe? What did you get out of his work?

NB: That's right, yeah. Joe came across my work on Tumblr and really liked it so he reached out to me. I was animating Street Fighter 5 at the time in Japan. We talked over Skype about collaborating, and I mentioned wanting to do a comic with sort of a Michael Mann feel to it. Joe was pretty open to doing anything, but when he gave me a quick pitch of what RINGSIDE was it seemed like a perfect setting for the style of comic I wanted to draw. It was a little different to what we have created now, but had the same tone which I loved. 

IC: Wrestling is very physical, of course, and comics are particularly suited to action scenes. What kind of approach are you taking to action storytelling? What makes a good action scene to you?

NB: Going back to the first question—RINGSIDE isn't really what you may expect from a wrestling comic, in a good way. So in that regard I don't have too much action storytelling. It's more dramatic storytelling which I really enjoy. But when I do the action scenes that are in the book I probably look the most at Japanese comics for inspiration. Things like panel size contrast for big moments, taking a panel right to to the bleed edge of the page so it's like a mini splash page. For me as long as you can FEEL it, then that's a good scene—not just for action, but for dramatic scenes—anything.

IC: What are you reading or watching to prepare for RINGSIDE? Give us a peek behind the curtain.

JK: We're living in a great time for great writing and conversation on professional wrestling. I highly recommend everything David Shoemaker writes over at Grantland, especially in the compilation of his work, Squared Circle. Colt Cobana and Steve Austin are engaging in some enthralling discussion with wrestlers from throughout history and territory. I recently saw the absolutely fantastic documentary The Resurrection of Jake The Snake. Like I said earlier, one of the bigger themes of RINGSIDE is how far you're willing to go for the things you believe in and seeing Jake "The Snake" Roberts rise to become one of wrestling's greatest, to seeing him fall and rise again, bigger and better, is absolutely inspiring, not just to the series, but life in general.

RINGSIDE #1 is on sale now.


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