Ringside is not the type of wrestling comic you’d expect. In fact, despite its setting in the professional wrestling industry, it seems ill-fitting to describe Joe Keatinge’s brooding crime-drama plotline as a “wrestling story.” Instead, Keatinge shifts the focus from the action and artifice of the ring to life behind the scenes, to the denizens of pro wrestling’s inner sanctum, their stories, their secrets. While the ongoing series is, by the writer’s own admission, pure fiction and not a documentary account of what wrestling is “really like,” the conflicts and emotions portrayed are very real: disillusionment, sacrifice, ambition, passion; the blurred line between reality and fantasy. Professional wrestling may be professional acting but, to paraphrase Ringside’s tagline, the real violence and drama take place outside the ring.
In his central character for the initial five-issue story arc–now compiled in trade paperback as part of Image’s awesomely affordable Volume Ones series–Keatinge has created the perfect ambassador to usher in his non-wrestling story. Daniel Knossos, once known to wrestling fans as “The Minotaur,” is retired from the biz, training young upstarts in Japan and otherwise happily removed from the ring…until a late-night phone call from someone in his past prompts him to catch the next plane back to the States. Once he lands in San Francisco he is thrust headlong into the remains of his former life, and cast into a violent underworld as he desperately searches for a shady ex-boyfriend deep in debt to some people on the wrong side of the law. The end result is more of a quietly intense, dramatic pulp novel than a wrestling comic by a landslide, propelled full speed ahead by thoughtful yet brisk pacing and Keatinge’s subtly nuanced characterizations. While the writer was successful enough in his efforts that a reader need not know anything about wrestling to appreciate Ringside, the series still touches upon the wrestling world enough to keep its fans equally engaged.
I doubt there has ever been more appropriate, letter-perfect artwork to accompany a story than what artist and co-creator Nick Barber has accomplished here. Barber brings Ringside’s cast of characters to life with a simplistic yet subtle style, his thoughtfully minimal, expressive lines accomplishing what some artists require great detail to convey. Like the story–and well-supported by Simon Gough’s beautifully muted color palette–Barber’s art boasts none of the flashy showbiz aspects of wrestling, opting appropriately for a grittier, more bare-bones method of storytelling instead that as mentioned is perfectly suited to Keatinge’s understated crime drama.
With all that the wrestling industry involves from an operational standpoint, Ringside shows great potential for a bit of longevity as an ongoing series if it creators are willing to involve other perspectives in the industry: the fans, creative development (which is touched upon a little in Vol. 1), crew, etc. It seems as though that’s the direction in which Keatinge and Barber are headed with it, in which case fans of both wrestling and a good crime novel have much more to look forward to in Ringside’s future.