Kevin McCloskey recently asked me whether the handful of illustrators he had met who also play roller derby might be indicative of a larger trend – a connection between this growing sport and the world of illustration and comics – or if he was imagining that trend. I don’t think it’s imaginary at all: illustrators and comics artists have always ‘drawn from’ (haha) their own lives, so as roller derby becomes a huge part of so many lives worldwide, it’s going to burst out into our art and our stories. Perhaps the most exciting ‘roller derby illustrator’ at the moment is Victoria Jamieson.
After keeping a comics blog of her derby experiences, Jamieson – who skates under the derby name Winnie the Pow – recently created a graphic novel about a junior derby skater: ROLLER GIRL! There is an excellent free downloadable ebook about the making of Roller Girl on her site. Her work is lovely – it’s very human and warm, and escapes the simplistic ‘sexy amazon’ vibe that sometimes dominates art about derby girls by outsiders and fans. Not that there is anything wrong with being a sexy amazon (or feeling like one) but I think that real stories and personalities are far more interesting!
Jamieson is by no means the only derby player bringing the sport into her creative work, though. Stephanie Yue has released a hilarious autobiographical mini-comic featuring roller derby stories: The Chronicles of Arnica.
And Monica Gallagher’s ‘Bonnie n Collide: Nine to Five’, is ongoing strip webcomic, also collected in print form, about a derby girl working a desk job. It’s a funny, goofy and larger-than-life play on the idea of a double life (also featuring werewolves and in-office booty blocking) – but there are some lovely and very true to life interactions with Bonnie’s team and league, threaded through amongst the wacky hijinks.
Some other semi-autobiographical derby artists I’ve been following are E*Phi, and Marissa Luna and Melissa Mariko Kieselburg, who collaborate on a roller derby yuri (“girls love”) manga comic, Collision Course.
Here is a great illustrated article about roller derby culture. And acclaimed autobiographical cartoonist Lucy Knisley, while not a derby skater herself, perfectly captures the feeling of giddy fandom that characterizes many women’s first taste of the sport with her comic, Starstruck.
With all this inspiration, my buddy in roller derby AND comics, George Rex, and I have been plotting and planning to one day put together a roller derby comics anthology ‘by and for the skaters’. There have already been compilations on the theme, but they weren’t drawn by derby players themselves – and to our minds, weren’t as interesting or as true to life as the stories and art being created by real skaters (and officials, and supporters) inside the roller derby community. I’ve made a lot of roller derby drawings and little comics ‘moments’ that I’m working up into proper narratives – like this set of sketches (some of which appeared in the previous illustrationclass blog post) – drawn back when I was first getting into the sport.
We have tentatively named our derby comics project and tumblr: Wrist Stink Ink! If you’re asking why, you probably don’t play roller derby – or date anybody who does.
Derby skaters wear a lot of protective gear, and we sweat a lot, and that leads to a certain stinkiness! You can lessen it by airing out and washing your gear, and as the game grows, so too does the cottage industry of products professing to remove smells, but it’s always going to be a feature of the sport, to some extent. For some reason, wrist guards are the worst culprits! It’s something we all share, and having a bunch of women with whom you’re comfortable being sweaty and stinky is actually pretty relaxing and funny – so there’s a certain feminist affection in the name, and a commitment to making art and comics about the true experience of roller derby rather than the hyped fantasy. Talking about wrist stink may not be for everybody, but then neither is roller derby, and that’s okay!
So, yes – I am very passionate about this ‘trend’ – thanks for giving me the opportunity to share it with you! There’s a whole lot of awesomeness going on at the intersection of art and roller derby, so get out there and support your local cartoonists …. AND derby girls! – Robin Tatlow-Lord Bobby Dazzler of the Bay Area Derby Girls, 2015. (ROBINTATLOWLORD.COM)
Editor’s Note: Thanks a million to Robin for a splendid intro to the intersection of roller derby and comics. Get in touch with her if you are a roller derby artist and want to contribute to the anthology. Thanks also to Bryan Farley Photography for the portrait of Robin above.