Women’s roller derby was a national sensation in the 1950’s. Today roller derby is again a sporting and pop culture phenomenon. I met the Australian illustrator and roller derby athlete Robin Tatlow-Lord in San Francisco last week. Robin learned to skate in South Australia, with Adelaide Roller Derby and currently skates with the Bay Area Derby Girls. She taught me a bit about modern roller derby. Must admit, I had some misconceptions. For example, I called the athletes racers. Robin notes, “The sport is also not really a race, and is more akin to football, even though it’s on a looped track. Roller derby skaters call themselves and each other players, not racers.”
Robin writes, “The kind of roller derby that has become really popular now is NOT a paid professional sport. It is a community-driven, unpaid ‘amateur’ sport (though played to an extremely high level of athleticism and competitiveness) and this has been a huge part of its popularity, because women can start up their own leagues and have full control over everything they do – from what they wear to which nights they train, etc. It’s also a real sport now – unlike 1950s and 60s roller derby, it’s not ‘staged’ or manipulated as an entertainment event. There are both flat-track and banked track incarnations of modern women’s roller derby – I play flat-track.”
I wondered is there some strange new intersection between roller derby and illustration? I wrote about Kutztown grad and illustrator Kate Santee who plays for the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls. Jessica Abel’s epic Trish Trash Roller Girl from Mars has just been released in France. Her fans, myself included, are clamoring for the English edition.
I asked Robin, A.K.A. ‘Bobby Dazzler’ a few questions. First, is roller derby big in Australia?
Robin: “Yes, there is definitely roller derby in Australia. That’s where I started, and played for 2 years. In fact, an Australian team,Victorian Roller Derby League, recently beat many of the top USA teams, and are now ranked fourth in the world.”
‘Bonnie Adventuress’ (above) is a portrait of her pal, skater Bonnie ‘Bone Shaker’ Dowling, painted on recycled paper. Robin’s colorful Fresh Meat series is drawn entirely with brush pens. According to Robin’s website, the line art illustration below is from a few years back when lacy bras and fishnet stockings were more common.
Question: There seems to be a new wave of comics and illustration celebrating roller derby. I am imagining this trend?
Robin: “I don’t think it’s an imagined trend – in fact, a friend and I have been throwing around the idea of putting together a roller derby comics anthology for some time now. There have already been comics compilations on the theme, but to our minds these weren’t as interesting as the comics and illustrations actually being created by real skaters and other people involved in the roller derby community.”
Robin wrote a guest post about the current crop of roller derby players who are also comic artists. Seems like the stars are aligned for that skater/creator comics anthology she mentioned. If your artwork fits that double bill, get in touch via her website. Meanwhile, do check out Robin’s website to see the full range of her talent.