Total Suplex Of The Heart by Joanne Starer & Ornella Greco

About halfway through this slice-of-life graphic novel, I realized that what I was reading felt too deeply personal to be anything less than semi-autobiographical. So when I got to Joanne Starer’s afterword, discussing how this story was based on her own life, I was both unsurprised and deeply moved by the grace and honesty she displays in looking back on that time and her legacy, and how she survived.

Total Suplex Of The Heart is based on the author’s experiences in the world of professional wrestling. Our heroine Georgie is a freelance writer pursuing a story when she gets invited to work on the local wrestling circuit. She’s hired to be “just” a valet who escorts the actual wrestlers out to the ring but the rush of applause becomes an endorphin hit that’s amplified when she becomes a bigger part of the performance. Soon, instead of working on her story, she’s hanging out at the ring and making friends and lovers, even as she’s trying to rebuild her self-esteem from the beating it keeps taking from her abusive mom.

Once Georgie settles into a relationship with a nice, dorky wrestler, they move out to Pennsylvania and start working on a wrestling school of their own. But the longer they stay together, the more obvious it becomes that her boyfriend isn’t the decent guy he seems, even as Georgie’s struggles to found an all-women’s company come up against unexpected obstacles. What will Georgie do when everything seems lost? Will she be able to find her way through while figuring out who her real friends are?

Woooof, this book reminded me so much of my own twenties (only amped up to eleven) that it was genuinely hard at times to look away. My mom wasn’t as batshit as Georgie’s, my boyfriends not as terrible, and my grimiest time in the spotlight was both shorter and in the rock band circuit. That said the emotional touchstones felt very raw and relatable, as Georgie is genuinely doing her best with the inadequate set of tools she has for coping with relationships. As the reader, you know she’s making poor choices, but it’s hard not to feel compassion towards someone who is not only genuinely trying to do no harm to others but is also striving to make others’ lives better. It helps too that she never wallows in self-pity, even as she very much acknowledges her own flaws and insecurities.

Ms Starer also perfectly depicts the struggle to belong, to make friends, to know that excellent advice can come from the worst people, and that sometimes it’s the ones you love the most who will betray you the most deeply. It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story that absolutely works as the beacon of hope and courage she wants it to, a sort of message in a bottle for other young women who might be stuck in similar emotional circumstances. You don’t have to stay stuck. It’s hard, but keep doing your best. Courage will find you.

Ornella Greco’s art is perfect for this tale of real and mostly young people basically turning themselves into cartoonish entertainers. The cuteness of the art goes quite a way to lightening the heaviness of the themes. My only criticism of the art is that I occasionally had to backtrack to get the correct flow of the word bubbles, which is a very, very minor criticism of any graphic novel but especially one where the expressiveness of the characters’ faces does so much already.

I hadn’t been familiar with either creator before this book but I’ve definitely taken note of their talents now. This is a fantastic book for anyone who’s ever had a turbulent twenties or ever loved someone going through the same.

Total Suplex Of The Heart by Joanne Starer & Ornella Greco was published June 18 2024 by Life Drawn and is available from all good booksellers, including

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