Last month, Oni Press released "Jam!," an anthology about Roller Derby with the hook that every tale in the book has at least one collaborator involved in the sport. The stories in the anthology range from the fantastic to the mundane, fiction to memoir, by Roller Derby newcomers and seasoned players. The book's roots date back years ago, when Oni Press and the Rose City Rollers published "True Tales of the Roller Derby" in 2007, illustrated by artist Dennis Culver. The success of that collaboration led to the concept of "Jam!," and editor Jill Beaton put the word out for submissions from Roller Derby players who didn't necessarily have any comics experience.
The result is a mixture of cartoonists who skate and first time comics creators paired with artists. CBR spoke with a few of the creators involved in the book, Eric Powell, Alison Blackwell, Monica Gallagher and the aforementioned Culver, along with Powell's complete story from the book.
Alison, I know that you're an illustrator, but you're also the Roller Derby player known as Rhoda Perdition. How did you get started in Derby and how did you end up in "Jam!?"
Alison Blackwell: I've done lots of comics that have never been published - mostly personal projects or school assignments. This is my first comic in print, ever, and I'm super excited about it. Although I work as a freelance illustrator (most of my work is in RPGs!), my big - time dream is to do comics all the time. I've been a huge comic book fan since I learned to read, and Oni Press published my favorite comics from when I was in high schoo. Being a part of this anthology means that 15 - year - old Alison would totally high five present - day Alison.
Roller Derby came to my little city in the form of Sarah Doom, a Brown University graduate who'd just returned from an internship in Tucson. During her time there, she'd gotten involved in Roller Derby and decided to start a league in Providence. I learned about it from a mutual friend and showed up to the very first recruitment meeting in 2004. The idea of roller skating and wearing cute outfits appealed to me because I'd never been talented enough to be onstage in any type of performance, and Roller Derby might just be that outlet. Of course, I knew nothing about the sport at the time. Over the years, I shed the elaborate makeup because I just sweat it off, and traded fishnets for spandex because it protects my butt better. My focus now is becoming a better player, not being a showboat.
"Rhoda Perdition" came about because Providence Roller Derby's first team was mafia-themed and everyone was choosing mafia-themed names. I chose to riff "The Road to Perdition," a graphic novel about a hitman waging a vendetta against his Irish-American mob employers.
Dennis, you were the artist on "True Tales of the Roller Derby" before this book. Were you a Roller Derby fan beforehand?
Dennis Culver: I was a Roller Derby n00b when I signed on for TTRD, but the Rose City girls were very helpful in teaching me about Derby. I attended practice and several matches and quickly fell in love with the sport. I'm really drawn to the DIY aesthetic of the whole thing. No one is in the Derby to become rich. They do it for the love of the sport and the community that evolves from the league. It's really amazing.
Monica, some of us know your webcomics, but what is your background in comics and in Roller Derby?
Monica Gallagher: I've been writing and drawing comics for a number of years now - starting with a Greek Mythology based webcomic and expanding into mini comics and short stories in a couple different genres. In 2007, my boyfriend had a friend who was the photographer for our local Roller Derby league, and [he] invited us to a bout. We were mesmerized by how awesome it was. After that, my local city paper was having a comic strip contest (winner got a year of paid strips in the paper), so I entered one about my take on rollergirls; "Bonnie N. Collide, Nine to Five." It didn't win the contest, but it did inspire me to keep writing about Derby.
Eric, you have an ongoing association with the Nashville Music City Rollergirls. I'm just curious how that happened, what your is role there and what you love about Derby?
Eric Powell: I started sponsoring them kind of as a joke. I didn't know anything about the new incarnation of Roller Derby. I just thought it would be a funny thing to throw into my letters column, that "The Goon" was sponsoring a Roller Derby team. Then, I started going to the games and became immediately hooked. I love the speed and the strategy of the game. It's all about angles and setting up blocks just like a running play in football, the only other sport I follow. I could appreciate it on that level. I have so much respect for them. They work their asses off for their sport. It's really easy to do posters for them because their passion is contagious. It's really inspiring.
>If there is anyone out there who has not been to a flat track Derby match, go! Look up the rules and the objective. It's a little hard to follow at first, but once you get the basics down, you will be hooked. I promise. I know lots of comic people are anti-jock douche bag. Well, this is the anti-jock douche bag sport. It's inclusive, fast, violent, sexy and real! These gals play their asses off for nothing more than the love of their sport. I love every single thing about the sport of Roller Derby.
How did you get involved in "Jam!" and what was it about the concept of the anthology that appealed to you?
Dennis Culver: I had previously worked with Oni and Portland's Derby league, the Rose City Rollers, to produce "True Tales of the Roller Derby: Doppelganger at the Hanger." While I was wrapping up the art on that, ideas for this anthology were being discussed, so I was pretty much in on the project from it's inception. The thing that excites me the most about the project is the diversity of the stories that have sprung from this one topic, and [the fact that] so many more could be told.
Alison Blackwell: I found out about "Jam!" from the WFTDA forums, where a call for entries was posted. It combined my two great loves in life; comic books and Roller Derby. I couldn't pass up the opportunity.
Monica Gallagher: One of the editors at Oni, Jill Beaton, contacted me after reading my "Bonnie" comic, thinking I'd be interested in doing one of the stories. At the time, I had just started training to be in Derby (not just draw about it), so I was super thrilled to be asked. Roller Derby blends so well with the format of comics, so it was exciting that all the stories would be written by rollergirls, not just by people who guessed what Roller Derby was about. It was a bit intimidating to be writing a story about my measly experiences so far when compared to all the ladies submitting stories about actually playing.
Eric Powell: I had heard about it at the Nationals a couple of years ago. I really wanted to be involved because I love the sport so much, and the Nashville girls wanted to get involved with it, too. Just made sense, since one of their sponsors was a comic artist.
Can you each tell us what your story is about?
Dennis Culver: My story is essentially the fake history of Roller Derby told through time travel and a match against alien hordes for the fate of planet earth. The origin of the story is rooted in my love for "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," hobos, the old west, and robots. I could tell a hundred more stories about the characters I introduce in the anthology.
Alison Blackwell: My story, "This One's for You, Grandma," seems at first to be a heartwarming tale about a Derby girl trying to win a bout for her grandmother in the audience. Later, we find that Grandma is a heinous old broad with a poison tongue, and our heroine won the bout by channeling her hatred of the ancient hag.
This story came to me from memories of a former teammate and her stories about how her family talks to each other. My roommate from college had similar stories, as well. It always shocked me, because though fighting happens in every family, I never experienced that type of mean-spiritedness.
Monica Gallagher: My story is 100% autobiographical. It chronicles what happened when I decided I wanted to stop just watching and be a rollergirl. Well, I took a more casual, no-fault approach, I guess. I wanted to be a rollergirl, but since I didn't even know how to skate, I first decided to learn that part. If that worked, I'd go from there. No pressure, no big, right? Of course, you can't just casually be involved in Derby. I was immediately swept up in all the things I had to learn, all the amazing people I got to meet, the commitment it took to get involved, the fashion, the action, etc. There was nothing casual about it! So, my story is about what happens when you're already an adult and discover a world you never noticed before that you have to become a part of, and along with that, decide you want to learn something so far outside of your comfort zone.
Eric Powell: Some of the Nashville team and I sat down and discussed the idea. I didn't want to do something that focused on a real player, but rather the team as a whole. So I invented a couple of players. It's a really insane and fun story with bits of factual Nashville Rollergirls lore sprinkled in. To protect the innocent, I'll let the readers decide which parts are real.
Were there any restrictions, limitations or guidelines on what you could do, or did Oni give you a lot of freedom?
Alison Blackwell: There were only a few rules. 7-10 pages, has to be about Roller Derby and keep it clean for the kids. Beyond that, we could do whatever we wanted. It was a great experience.
Dennis Culver: Jill Beaton edited the project at Oni (she was also my editor on the previous book), and her only mandate was to have fun and tell a great story. She did a really good job putting this book together. It couldn't have happened without her.
Monica Gallagher: They let me do my own thing. I had a page count to work with, but that was pretty much it. It was a remarkably pleasant experience!
Eric Powell: Oni didn't give me any restrictions. I kept the language friendly. I usually do that anyway. I corrupt through violence and innuendo.
Do you think there's a good crossover between Roller Derby athletes and fans and comics fans?
Monica Gallagher: I like to think so, but I feel like most people still aren't that aware of Derby. "Whip It" has helped bring more people into it, much in the same way comics fans hate to admit that comic-inspired movies can sometimes bring fans into reading the books. I've met a bunch of Derby girls who read comics, but not that many people who read comics and are aware of modern Derby. I'd love to see more of a crossover. I think it makes perfect sense. Everyone needs an escape from the everyday, whether it's through reading, creating stories or skating around and hitting people!
Eric Powell: Yeah, I get approached randomly a lot at Derby matches by Goon fans. It's pretty much the only time, publicly, that happens. No one comes up to me at the grocery store and says, "Are you Eric Powell?" The cultures of Derby and comics are really similar. Tattoos, metal, nerdery - except in Derby there are more hot lesbians, and in comics, more 400 pound guys with skin problems that live in mom's basement. But there are exceptions to that rule as well. Plenty of lesbians love comics and we all know fat nerds love women in fishnets beating the crap out of each other.