Roller Derby Artists by Bobby Dazzler (Robin Tatlow-Lord)

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.

Page from Roller Girl ©2015 Victoria Jamieson
Page from Roller Girl ©2015 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!

From the free ebook © Victoria Jamieson 2015
From the free ebook © Victoria Jamieson 2015

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.

Selection of Stephanie Yue's zines.
Selection of Stephanie Yue’s zines.

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.

 Bonnie N Collide ©2015 Monica Gallagher online or at Comixology.
Bonnie N Collide ©2015 Monica Gallagher online or at Comixology.

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.

From Ephi
From Tumblr comic by E*phi, link in text above.

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.

Starstruck (detail) ©2105 Lucy Knisley
Starstruck (detail) ©2105 Lucy Kinsley

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.

From Wrist Ink Stink tumblr
From Wrist Ink Stink tumblr

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!

Phto by
Robin Tatlow-Lord / Bobby Dazzler.  Image courtesy by Bryan Farley Photography, link below.

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.

Robin Tatlow-Lord: Roller Derby Artist on a Roll

“Go, Mum, Go!” © 2012 Robin Tatlow-Lord

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.”

Skirmish, from the Fresh Meat series, © 2015Robin Tatlow-Lord
Skirmish, from the Fresh Meat series, © 2012 Robin Tatlow-Lord

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.”

T-Stop and Plow Stop, from Fresh Meat ©2012 Robin Tatlow-Lord
T-Stop and Plow Stop, from Fresh Meat ©2012 Robin Tatlow-Lord

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.

Bobby Dazzler © 2015 Robin Tatlow-Lord. Her Roller Derby persona.
Bobby Dazzler © 2015 Robin Tatlow-Lord. Her Roller Derby persona.

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 “Bone Shaker” Dowling Australian Roller Derby star. ©2012 Robin Tatlow Lord

‘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.

“Fresh Meat” sketch © 2012 Robin Tatlow-Lord

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.”

Bruise from Fresm Mest Series, © 2012 Robin Tatlow-Lord
Bruise from Fresh Meat Series, © 2012 Robin Tatlow-Lord

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

Kate Santee, Illustrator and Roller Girl!

Kate Santee in Kutztown T center, racing against Jerzey Brigade photo © by Tom Gaylord.
Kate Santee in the Kutztown tee, racing against Jerzey Brigade photo © by Tom Gaylord.

Speaking of curious networking, another KU grad, Kate Santee, tells me she got to illustrate a book through folks she met in her role as roller derby racer! Kate recently illustrated a chapter book for young readers. First in a series, Silly Nomads From Palmerston Close is written by Jan L. Lewis and Marcus Mohalland. 

Cover art by Kate Santee © 2013 Mohalland Lewis, LLC
Cover art by Kate Santee © 2013 Mohalland Lewis, LLC

Kate’s freelance design work has been picking up. I asked about roller derby and she was good enough to explain the sport.  “I logo1still skate with the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls.  We play home bouts at Independence Family Fun Center in Schnecksville. I usually play as a blocker, whose job is to prevent the other team’s jammer from getting through the pack. The jammer’s job is to lap the other skaters in a pack, and they score points for each skater from the opposing team that they pass.” 

On the Lehigh Valley RollerGirl site I learned Kate Santee, a former KU honor student was chosen as November’s  “Rough and tumble player of the month” and she is part of the “Special Vixens Unit.”

Silly Nomads?

Silly Nomad illustration by Kate Santee ©
Silly Nomad illustration by Kate Santee © Mohalland Lewis

Kate wrote, “One of the authors is an acquaintance of a woman I skate with; she gave him my business card, and he sent me an inquiry through my website. The project was originally going to be one book, but the authors decided it would be more appropriate for their target audience to make it a series of three shorter books. I’m currently working on the second book and intend to illustrate the whole series.” 

The Silly Nomads are two Jamaican brothers who get into a series of misadventures when they decide to live like desert nomads. My favorite episode occurs when the boys decide they need a cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper. Mother must have already disposed of the tube, so the boys proceed to flush an entire roll of toilet paper down the toilet.

The clogged toilet episode drawn by Kate Santee © Mohalland Lewis 2013
The clogged toilet episode drawn by Kate Santee © Mohalland Lewis 2013

Book signing in Bethlehem, PA on Dec 20

Silly Nomads is available on Amazon. Or better yet, if you’d like a signed copy, Kate Santee and both authors, M. E. Mohalland and J. L. Lewis will be at Bethlehem’s famed Moravian Bookshop, Fri. Dec. 20 from 4-6pm.  If you can’t make the signing, the Moravian Bookshop will likely have copies on hand for Christmas gifts.