Today, Shelby and Ryan are discussing Slam 1, originally released November 16th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Shelby: I’ve always been fascinated by roller derby. I’ve loved quad skating ever since I was a kid; I’ve thought about trying out for roller derby, but the Chicago groups meet pretty far south of me, and without a car it isn’t really feasible. Plus, I’ll be perfectly frank, it would take a LOT of work to get my cheeseburger-loving self into shape; derby girls do NOT mess around — they are serious athletes. It’s why I have such a crush on the sport as a whole. These women are strong and tough, relying on their own personal strength and the strength of the bond they have with their teammates. Writer Pamela Ribon and artist Veronica Fish channel that strength perfectly in issue one of Slam!
Our story begins with Jen and Maisie’s first ever bout. Each girl came to the sport for a very different reason; Jen was driven, smart, and very very lonely, while Maisie just experienced the end of a long-term relationship and was having a difficult time coping. They both found what they needed in derby, and became fast friends. After the bout, the girls discover there was a team draft, and they were both picked! The only problem is, they were picked for different teams. How will this change things in their new friendship?
This book is utterly charming. I am already in love with our main characters Jen and Maisie. Ribon very efficiently gives us the exact amount of information we need to instantly understand who these women are and what they’ve gone through. Jen is ambitious and in control; unfortunately, it seems she’s sacrificed personal relationships to get to where she is today. Maisie, on the other hand, was dumped after a three year relationship. Her life was basically torn to pieces, and she’s trying to glue them together while dealing with crushing self-doubt the break-up left behind. We get this info in little snippets of the girls’ lives, but also in the adorable character info pages.
Aw honey. I just want to give her a hug. Anyway, Ribon is telling us the story of these two girls, but the third main character is the sport of roller derby itself. The book alternates between traditional panels showing Jen and Maisie learning their new favorite sport and a scrapbook-esque story of what it truly means to do roller derby.
I adore this list of facts; it’s brutally honest about the negative aspects of derby, and completely confident that none of those things will make you love it any less. Even though this is only the first issue, Ribon has very clearly established that roller derby is much more than just a sport. There’s a power to it, both seductive and intimidating; these women are strong badasses, unafraid of the world. You’re a little afraid of them, but also very badly want to be them. Depicting derby as a character makes it that much easier to see how Jen and Maisie are so instantly enamored. It’s easy to see how derby has the flexibility to be different things to each of the girls; it gives Jen the camaraderie she so badly wants, and Maisie the opportunity to remember that she’s not completely terrible at everything.
Ribon’s story is greatly enhanced by Fish’s artwork; she has a wonderful way of providing little visual cues in the background which foreshadow upcoming events. When we see Jen and Maisie’s lives P.D (pre-derby), Fish hints at their future relationship by simply showing the same Lost in Translation poster hanging in each of their apartments. It’s a fun detail that demonstrates these girls have shared interests beyond roller derby. My favorite little clue, though, is in the panel where the girls get the news they were drafted to different teams.
I didn’t notice it until my second read through; the cats are getting pissy at each other. A couple panels earlier, Jen was just commenting on how happy she was that their cats were friends. At this point, we don’t know what news the gals are getting; we don’t know they’re going to be playing on different teams. But already we’re seeing their cats’ relationship change, representing this new conflict arising between the girls. Jen is optimistic, saying “…it doesn’t have to change anything. We’ll still see each other all the time,” but I don’t think Maisie is so sure. The last panel shows Jen sleeping happily while Maisie lies awake looking worried. Worse, the cats are all-out fighting in the corner.
This book has really spoken to me on a few levels. It’s about a sport and athletes I have a lot of respect for, and focuses on two women I already wish were real because I want to hang out with them. More to the point, I really identify with Maisie with her anxieties and self-image issues; as someone who struggles with those things herself, I’m looking forward to seeing her find her strength. I won’t lie, there’s a corner of my heart reserved completely for depictions of strong, powerful women, which this book has in spades. Ryan, what did you think, were you as charmed as I by this new title?
Ryan: Yes! I loved this book. Shelby, your insight that three main characters are Jen, Maisie and roller derby is great and further supported by the way the sport is introduced. Unlike the transformation infographics that that the girls get, roller derby is introduced without a ton of narration. Instead the world is populated with great detail. There is a sense of humor to these pages as well as an attitude that permeates the rest of the book. The itinerary on the wall has a call time and then half an hour later a “Where the F R U?” time. We then get a nearly worldless 6-panel page that Fish uses as a montage to further evoke the spirit and energy of these women.
In six panels, these women and their sport is shown for how multifaceted it is. We are presented with images that represent elements of the sport. The classically feminine use of make up, braided pigtails of a girl, the scarred back of a warrior are all given a worldless moment. the panel that most stood out to me upon first read was the lower left. It’s not that I enjoy seeing a woman pick a wedgie per se, but I realized that I had maybe never seen it depicted. Pulling your shorts down from the crotch is not something you do when you are self-conscious or performative. This panel, along with the “poop talk” of the last panel cast the entire sequence in a specific light. These women are being real with one another. The locker room is a safe space and provides a sort of intimacy that is hard to come by.
The locker room comraderie stands in contrast to the brief scene we get of Maisie with her non-derby friends. They face her down like a firing squad, telling her in a public space that man she loved has moved on while assuring her that the new woman isn’t “prettier.” It’s a brutal moment and shows that those women are not in a place to give Maisie what she needs. It makes it all the more rewarding as Ribon and Fish develop the friendship between Jen and Maisie.
These two panels so well illustrate how excited both of these women are and how happy to share it with one another. By giving us the rest in the first panel, Ribon prespares us for the explosion in the second.
While the final page portends upcoming conflict between them, Ribon and Fish have me invested Jen and Maisie’s friendship and how they will be able to balance being adversaries with being each other’s biggest support.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?