Writer Joanne Starer has kept herself busy with numerous diverse career choices. Taking advantage of those opportunities has laid the groundwork for a talented writer to emerge. Where else can you find someone who not only interned with the Harris Comics, eventually becoming an Editorial Assistant with them and for Marvel, while also doing some time in the promotional side of professional wrestling? I did say diverse!
Now, Joanne and her partner Khary Randolph are running their Glass Eye Studios brand through Substack creating their own comic books. Along the way, Joanne is making her Ahoy Comic debut, along with artist Elena Gogou in their new title, The Gimmick. A mix of wrestling and the complications that having superpowers can bring. (Talk about putting your life experience to work for you.)
Recently, we “pinned” Joanne down to discuss her career, the many experiences that led to it, and of course her new book with Ahoy, The Gimmick. So, let’s welcome the very talented Joanne Starer to GVN’s Talking Comics.
Joanne: The Origin Story
GVN: Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your time with us Joanne. Since nothing says I’m interested more than asking about one’s past, let’s start there. How did you get interested in writing and when did comic book writing become a possibility you decided to consider?
JS: I’ve actually been reading comics my entire life. I learned to read on Archie Comics and other kids comics like Disney stuff and Rocky and Bullwinkle. I’d read them out loud with my dad, and he’d do the character voices. So, I don’t think there was ever a point in my life where comics weren’t somewhere in the back of my mind.
In high school, I started interning at Harris Comics (on Vampirella) and worked my way up to editorial assistant before moving over to Marvel Knights. So, I was learning about the creative process involved, but I was also seeing how incredibly difficult it was. It’s a lot of work for very little monetary compensation. And, if we’re being honest, back in the late 90s when I was seeing the inner workings of the business, it still wasn’t an ideal time for women.
So, I thought about writing in another field, doing journalism or marketing—something where I could get a steadier job. And even with that, college advisors were like, “You don’t want to be a writer. You’re going to struggle. Think broader.” This sounds like a real downer, huh?
But I had editorial skills I’d learned at Harris and Marvel, and I actually really enjoyed helping other people with their writing. So, I did that for years and years. Until…and this is the absolute truth…until Trump got elected. The world felt hopeless. I felt hopeless. I started to think about a change. I actually wrote the first four issues of “The Gimmick” without a publisher, before I had gotten any writing work at all. I just wanted to know if I could do it—if I could write, if I could do it on a schedule, and if I had anything worth saying.
GVN: You mentioned your love for comics at an early age. Did you have any comic book creators that you were a fan of or inspired you in your choice to pursue that goal?
JS: Any?? So many. Anyone who knows me will tell you my all-time favorite series is the BWAHA 80s Justice League from Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire. But a close second is John Byrne’s “She-Hulk.” When I was in 6th grade, I cut out a picture of Grant Morrison from Wizard’s top ten and put it in my Animaniacs wallet so I’d always have it with me, so I guess we can throw them in there as an inspiration too.
But seriously, I’ve been really fortunate to know creators like Chip Zdarsky, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction, and Kelly Sue DeConnick and watch them as their careers really took off, and I think those are all people who not only do incredible work but who have been very smart about their choices, taking only jobs that they’re passionate about and really suit their strengths. And two people who have always been there for me, cheering me on, since I first got into this business, have been Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. I’m eternally thankful to them for guiding me and pushing me.
Glass Eye Studios
GVN: That is a lot of great creators. I’ve been a fan of so many of them and have had the good fortune of interviewing some of them. In truth, I think I’m supporting Jimmy and Amanda’s lifestyle with all of their books I acquire through crowdfunding. So, speaking about publishing endeavors, tell our readers a little about Glass Eye Studios and the story behind it?
JS: Glass Eye Studios was both inevitable and almost completely an accident haha. It’s the team of me and Khary Randolph, who is both my artistic partner and life partner. I don’t know if we would have made it an official thing, but we were approached by Substack to do comics on their platform. We thought creating a studio name for that project and any other projects we did together just made sense.
Currently, we have two books up on the Glass Eye Substack. The first is one Khary and I do, called “Sirens of the City.” It’s a gritty urban fantasy set in 1980s New York about a teenage runaway pregnant with a supernatural baby. She’s desperate to end the pregnancy, but all the creatures of the city want to get their hands on it…and her. The other book is me and an incredible artist, GABO, and that one is “A Way from Here.” It’s the story of four teenagers from different backgrounds living in Vienna in the days leading up to the Holocaust.
GVN: I advise our readers to check out Glass Eye Studios. So, let’s get into the reason for our chat. Your latest book from AHOY Comics, The Gimmick with artist Elena Gogou is about a topic that would have drawn me in regardless, Pro Wrestling. The fact that you have a background in the wrestling business made it even more intriguing. But then you stepped it up even more by adding superpowers to the mix. Now I’m hooked and I have only read the preview issue. So, how did The Gimmick come about and was mixing super-powers into the narrative ALWAYS part of the premise?
JS: Superpowers were NOT always part of the mix, honestly. “The Gimmick” started as a conversation with my boyfriend, who thought I should write a wrestling comic. And I said, “No, that would be so boring. No one wants to read wrestling comics when they could watch wrestling. If I did one, I’d have to make him like a REAL wrestler, super messed up.” Apologies to my wrestling friends out there haha. But I sat there thinking about this story I wanted to tell–about the damage the business does to people, and the damage people do to each other—and I realized if I wanted to make it work for comics, it needed something else. Because what I had was fine for say, a television drama. But in comics, you’re asking people to spend $4 for 20 pages. You gotta give them some OOMPH. A little extra hook. You read “The Gimmick,” you get the drama, and you get a baby with superpowers.
Behind the Wrestling Scene
GVN: Did having experience in the promotional end of the business make it easier for you or harder when it came to writing this and did you adapt any of the things you went through or endured during that time into your script?
JS: I think at times it was certainly easier, having the knowledge of the wrestling world, the venues, the action, etc. There were things I could write straight from my own experience. But also, my experiences were from many years ago, and I had to take that into consideration. The world has changed, the climate in wrestling has changed—for the better. So certainly, there are things I went through in the locker room that I did not include because I don’t want to paint this picture of the industry as stuck in time. I try to show in the book that there is an older generation that is maybe a little more chauvinistic and a younger generation that wants better. But a lot of the personalities and settings come from people I know and places I’ve been. For example, Schmidt, the Nazi wrestler who is actually a Mexican guy just doing a gimmick, he’s based on a real person, because that’s the kind of weird thing that happens in wrestling—well the real guy I knew was Puerto Rican, but yeah, he just played a Nazi in the ring to get the heat, but he was super loveable the rest of the time.
Artist Elena Gogou
GVN: As a fan of wrestling from the 80’s and 90’s, I do remember some of the various gimmicks used by different wrestlers. Especially in the beginning of their careers as they were trying to find an image that “popped” with an audience. I remember some pretty embarrassing stuff. But I digress. As I mentioned previously, you are collaborating with talented artist Elena Gogou for The Gimmick. How did this partnership come about and was Elena familiar with professional wrestling and the look you were going after?
JS: I was working with editor Rob Levin on another book, and he had seen Elena’s work and shown it to me. We went in a different direction for that project, but the unique look of Elena’s characters stuck with me. So as soon as the opportunity arose with “The Gimmick,” I suggested them. As far as I know, Elena wasn’t a wrestling fan, but part of what was great about their work was the strong female characters, so it didn’t require any huge adjustments. It’s like Elena was already the perfect match for this book.
Working with Ahoy
GVN: If any publisher appreciates creators who think outside the box its Tom Peyer and AHOY. Did you
pitch The Gimmick to AHOY or did they approach you? As a follow-up, what was it about AHOY you felt melded well with the story you were wanting to tell?
JS: The lovely Sarah Litt from AHOY actually approached me and asked if I had anything that might be a fit for AHOY, and I submitted a couple things. The staff of AHOY seemed to unanimously choose “The Gimmick,” which was actually a surprise to me, because I had a few other publishers tell me they liked it but weren’t sure how to sell it. But at AHOY, they’re only concerned with good stories. No one tried to push me to make it more “marketable.” They trusted the story would sell itself. It’s amazing when a company has that kind of confidence in you.
Upcoming Projects and Events
GVN: With Ahoy, that doesn’t surprise me in the least. Thanks again for talking to us Joanne. Before I let you go, I want to give you an opportunity to talk about any other projects you might have on Glass Eye Studios and elsewhere and where can fans follow you on social media?
JS: Oh, well, I’m going to be in The Smithsonian! That never stops being fun to say. Khary Randolph and I are part of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, called Cellphones: Unseen Connections. It’s opens June 23, and you can read more about it here: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/exhibits/cellphone-unseen-connections
Obviously, “The Gimmick” will be in stores March 8th! And I release weekly free comics on GlassEyeComics.com. This is also the best place to get up-to-date news about what I’m doing (and there will be a LOT of it soon). Or you can follow me on Twitter at @JoanneStarer if you want to see lots of pictures of my cat!
The Smithsonian? As I said in my opening, a diverse background and it is only becoming more impressive. Congratulations on that achievement. Ahoy Comics “The Gimmick” by Joanne Starer and Elena Gogou is available March 8th, where all great comics are sold.
Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 18 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.