Perhaps one sign that you've arrived as a sport is having works of fiction made about you. If that's the case, then Roller Derby has certainly made it, through the forthcoming Roller Grrrls comic series, which has had much support and publicity over the past year.
After the official launch of the Roller Grrrls Sketchbook at Glasgow Roller Derby's Chaos on the Clyde tournament, Gary Erskine, Anna Malady and the rest of the team have had a very busy few months with promotion and touring the various comics events around the world. We caught up with them via email to talk about the project, derby, and comics in general...
Gary, you've been doing line-art for comics for about 24 years now; since your start in Marvel + 2000AD, there's quite a lot of the "traditional" SF + superhero work in your back catalogue, but also less conventional work. Do you have a preference for a particular genre, and how do you (and the others) feel about the popular pigeon-holing of comics as “SF+capes”?
[Gary Erskine]I love comics as a medium. The genres I work with are just that, and I like working with them all. Each one gives me a new challenge. Future sci-fi nonsense allows a completely free canvas to design a new world environment and the characters within that (the Irons:Hybrids work for Madefire has a Blade Runner vibe about it) Working on Roller Grrrls offers new challenges, as a contemporary story requires a similar attention to detail since EVERYONE will recognise the settings and people within the story. Another new project I am working on with my former studio colleague Dominic Regan is a horror/western. That also requires an approach and attention to detail to ensure that the setting helps the story.
How did the three of you get into Roller Derby? Obviously, you know Glasgow Roller Derby well, but what was your first encounter?
[Anna Malady] I remember seeing reports of Roller Derby in Glasgow from 4 years ago. Unfortunately it took another 2 years for either Gary or I to get to a live Bout. This was courtesy of some friends (Turbulinz and Bruisedog) who posted a Bout poster up on Facebook. I remember being confused for the majority of the time, but still coming away hoarse from shouting. It was exhilarating and just fantastic! Gary joined me at the afterparty that night and we were hooked by not just the sport but the community spirit, the personalities, individuality, and colour. The whole atmosphere and pure community spirit of the sport gets into your blood and lifts you to believe in yourself. That may come across a bit new age, but for us, and many people we talk to its fact, so I don’t apologise for sounding like a hippy!
Gary and I then asked Yel to colour our project as Gary had worked with her in the past and we’re both massively impressed with her work. She is a talented colourist who has worked on quite a few projects with Gary including The Irons:Hybrids motion comic published by Madefire. Her colourist credits of note include The Only Good Dalek (BBC books, 2010), Need for Speed; The Run (EA Games/Firebrand, 2011) and she is currently working on the ongoing graphic novel series Hero; 9-5 for Markosia. You can see more of her work at http://yelzamor.carbonmade.com/projects/
[Gary] We were both fans of the sport following it online but were never able to attend a bout due to travelling and convention commitments. Our first bout proved an exhilarating experience and encouraged/convinced both Anna and I that a comic book series about the sport and characters within that would be a similarly exciting project to work on.
Anna, how did you get into the comic book scene?
[Anna] My first introduction to the whole world of comics was exiting a lift into the lobby of a convention hotel and seeing 4 stormtroopers explaining to 2 firemen how the imperial guard were stuck in the next lift and they needed out to do their guest appearance. The next morning Star Fox (in full costume) was complaining to the bewildered front desk staff that there was no hot water in her room and that afternoon there was a showdown between a squad of Stormtoopers and a bronze Dalek. I mean, how could you not love this scene?!
There are some obvious life models for some of the Roller Grrrls character studies (especially for anyone who knows Glasgow Roller Derby's skaters and announcers), but the majority have no single origin. Roughly, how much of real personalities went into the comic as a whole (as opposed to the other influences, such as Helles Belles)?
[Anna] Many of the characters are collages of real people. A body build from here, a tattoo from there, a hair style or colour from someone else. A couple of characters are drawn from real people, close friends who got us into Roller Derby in the first place. They know who they are. Being close friends they also know that it’s their image we are borrowing, not their characters or lives.
Important to emphasise is that none of the character traits, personalities or story arcs are from real life. HOWEVER, we’ve been amazed how often we find that fiction has unwittingly reflected someone’s reality. We were seriously worried about it for a while. It seemed that, as we got to know the girls from the awesome Glasgow Roller Derby, and got round to discussing our project with them (often, although not always, after a few drinks at the afterparties) that someone in the team had been through the experiences we were writing about. Then as we got to know the UK Derby community we found out that quite a few girls had experienced a rough journey to get where they are and realised that these are people who 1) aren’t afraid to live a full life, and 2) are in general happy to talk about it and share their experience, especially if by doing so they can help others living through the same challenges. We realised that of course we were going to come across people with experience of what we’d written. So we stopped worrying.
But finally I would like to re-emphasise that the Roller Grrrls are totally fictitious and the situations they find themselves in, and their reactions, are totally made up!
[Gary] See above!
As roller derby can be a very fast paced game, I guess you do most of your reference work against photography, but some of the panels are from perspectives you can’t have had a reference for (the big “downed skater” view, for example). Can you guys talk a little about the process of constructing a page, and if there are particular challenges for sporting/action vs more sedentary scenes.
[Gary] There are certain considerations regarding the representation of any fast sport in an illustrated format. With some experience of storyboarding and animatics for game trailers there are visual tricks available to help keep the frantic and exciting energy of roller derby in a static/frozen image. Drawing the characters in layers with a separate background allows me to put on a motion blur for each parallax layer to help show the speed of the foreground figures and the blurring of other team members (and the crowd) in the background. It is a similar effect to the slow shutter speed on a camera. Forced perspectives and POV shots also help give an immediacy to the action and provide new shots for the bout action. I also particularly want to show shots from 'in pack’ which would be near impossible to do in a real life bout. The comic format allows new opportunities to show some exciting possibilities of how the sport can be seen (in an illustrated format).
Another trick we are toying with is to use motion effects and transitions (testing with Powerpoint initially) to create actual movement and subtle animation for a possible Roller Grrrls trailer. If successful then we may well have a digital release with bout action that moves on the page/screen. Watch this space! ;)
I assume this is the first "wholly self-supported" comic project the three of you have worked on? How's the experience of the indie comic project compare to previous work?
[Gary]My own previous experience in the industry has always been on the creative side, so this new publishing (and distribution) venture has been both exciting and scary for both of us and fairly new territory. Having said that we have had a lot of very good (and much appreciated) advice from Jessica Ali of Inside Line and Vic Croughan of Lead Jammer magazines. They have been especially helpful and generous with us and we really couldn't have got to this stage as quickly or comfortably without their help. Jessica was kind enough to recommend the printer to us (possibly the single most important decision for us!) and we can't thank her enough and Vic was offering indispensable advice for InDesign. Without those two key points we would not have our Roller Grrrls Sketchbook printed.
It's easy to compare Roller Grrrls with other "slice of life" comics, like the Hernandez' Love and Rockets (or even Strangers in Paradise, before it got all Gritty). Do you think this is a valid comparison? - I notice that both came from an initially SF setting (albeit pre-design in RG's case) which went away as the concept solidified.
[Gary]Roller Grrrls is very definitely inspired by Love and Rockets first and Strangers in Paradise also serves as an influence. There is little else out there that we would consider similar to what we are wanting to do (although some super hero team books do also have 'slice of life' storylines in between the predictable battles and villians) The Helles Belles project was something we wanted to work on a few years ago when we were living in Germany and was an all-female sci-fi adventure that unfortunately turned into Firefly (which we had never seen) The similarities were obvious and added to the work involved to design a new world environment kind of killed the project for us. We both still felt that female teams and characters were desperately under-valued and presented in mainstream books or worse still, shown in over-sexualised forms. I then considered a Rollerball reboot for Rebellion with the girls replacing Jonathan and the Houston team but the initial response from a couple of writers I approached was lukewarm and it stalled again. A casual chat with Mhairi one night about what needed to change with the ensemble story coincided with that fateful invitation to the GRD bout.
Why not write the story in a contemporary setting instead and the ideas and references (Love and Rockets/Strangers in Paradise) literally flowed out over dinner. I quickly decided on the name Roller Grrrls as I liked the association with the Riot Grrrls movement and the rest as they say is history.
Reading the little “pocket bio” strips you did to introduce the characters, each of them has a fairly distinctive “trait” - from the cultural barriers of the Hindu student roller girls, and the clear drama of the pregnant “ex” derby girl with the difficult home life through to contrasts between “tame” librarianship and active derby playing. With a large ensemble cast, each with a potentially complex personal plotline, how are you planning on balancing the comic? Are we going to see character-specific issues, or something more interwoven?
[Anna]Just as real life is a tangle of relationships and stories this is what we want to do with RG. Obviously it will have to be oversimplified and the time frames will be shortened. There is also an obvious balance to be struck between putting too much into a single issue and not enough. We obviously think we’ve struck that balance, I guess we’ll really find out when we start to get feedback from the fans.
[Gary] Redacted! ;)
The Roller Grrrls Sketchbook is available to buy now, with the Roller Grrrls comic proper due sometime next year. All images in this post are, of course, copyright Roller Grrls
Photography by Dave McAleavy
After the excitment of Track Queens,we present an interview with London Roller Girls coach,Ballistic Whistle and ask what he thought of Europe's first WFTDA sanctioned tournament and the future of European Roller Derby.
The Track Queens tournament seemed,from the streamed footage,to run very well,what were your impressions on how it all went?
Bear City did a great job of putting together a slick tournament that really did justice to the high level of play that was on display. It was clear that they had considered so many aspects that often fly under the radar at these types of events.
What were your Track Queens highlights?
That's so tough to decide! There were so many hard fought classic games with great gameplay and super intelligent and well drilled play. There were so many bouts that had nail biting finales. I think the final jams of Berlin playing both Gent and Stockholm were fantastic.
Track Queens showed that other than LRG,the other competing teams are grouped very close together in terms of abilities and skills,how long do you think it might be before teams emerge in Europe that can seriously challenge the London Roller Girls and what advice would you offer them?
This is something that we're constantly keeping an eye on as the progression of derby in Europe is something that will require a number of teams to work towards, not just a handful. This tournament illustrated which teams really have that hunger, drive, and determination not just to challenge LRG for Europe's top spot, but to be able to mix it on an international scale. Personally, I think having that aspiration is what will make the difference. There's a lot of potential in those teams and if their goals are aspirational enough there's no reason why they can't go on to bigger and better things.
Like a lot of fans,I sometimes find blow out bouts to be somewhat dull,yet LRG still somehow make them entertaining.I noticed a few new jammers being tried out and the whole weekend seemed like an opportunity for you to tweak tactics and plays.Clearly these kinds of bouts are just as important to LRG as the ones against say,high calibre US teams.How do you view the bouts you know LRG can win?
While we definitely have varying gameplans based on jammers and pack rotations, we did not ease up on any of our opponents during the tournament. Every team we played provided us with a challenge and part of what drives the Brawling players on is being able to analyse, identify patterns, and adapt. We go out in every jam wanting to get the best possible result we can. I just can't think of another way to play.
One of the announcers ,rather poetically,called Go Go Gent Rollergirls the 'real' winners of the tournament.Alongside Helsinki,Gent proved themselves rising stars in an otherwise fairly static field,were you as surprised as everyone else that even at that kind of level of competition that teams can still pop out of the woodwork?
I loved watching Gent play, they had a real togetherness and cohesion that you don't often see in teams. It's clear to spot the desire is there to really explore the sport and find their own identity based on what they have observed and learned. I hadn't thought about that before, but while they are definitely utilising common strategies within the game, they seem to have developed their own style of play that is working wonders for them.
Having previously expressed a hope that the WFTDA would formalise a European Region,are you disappointed with the decision to change the playoffs from regions to divisions?
It seems like the logical progression from where we are now. The change to the regionals structure actually seems to have opened more doors for us specifically. It seems that we had reached a point where were running low on new in-region teams to play in order to reach our ranking requirement for Regionals. The new system means that we're now able to play a much broader range of teams over a larger geographical space. Travelling from Europe to the States is always going to be expensive, and so East, West, North, or South doesn't really make that much of a financial difference. I would imagine that this will also help the rest of the European teams when it comes to selecting potential North American opponents.
Lastly,I can't pass up the chance to ask what you think of the new rule set.Many were afraid that the rules would be 'dumbed down' and that no minors could lead to scrappy pack play,do you think that WFTDA have achieved their aim of streamlining the game for fans and skaters alike?
I have to admit that I'm not entirely convinced that the new rules will "speed up" pack play or encourage teams to skate more, but then again I'm not entirely sure that was the aim of this new rule set. That seems to be the hope of a lot of people I've been talking to. Whatever changes happen to the rules, you can be sure that we'll be analysing them pretty closely and working out how we can adjust our gameplay to fit within the new parameters. Only time will tell how these new rules changes will affect gameplay.
Image courtesy of Tiger Bay Brawlers
Glasgow Roller Derby's Irn Bruisers,make the long trip down to Wales to take on the mighty Tiger Bay Brawlers for a long awaited rematch.The two first met almost eighteen months ago in a bout that GRD won by quite a margin.In the intervening time,both sides have grown a massive amount and some readers will remember a hugely impressive Tiger Bay side beating ARRG's Twisted Thistles earlier this year in Edinburgh.All of which should make for an interesting rematch. As if that wasn't enough,this event will be a double-header that will make a little bit of UK Derby history,with the first bout of the day being an exhibition match featuring Tiger Bay's Junior league,the first such bout in the country The action takes place at Talybont Sports Hall, Cardiff on Saturday the 8th of December.Tickets are £9 on the door,or £7 in advance.Doors open at 5pm and the first bout is at 5:30pm. There are additional details on the Facebook event page and you can find out more about the Brawlers Junior League in an interview by Camelon Diaz ,here.
Searching for that unique, hand-crafter gift this Christmas? Or just wanting a nosey and a hot drink on a cold winters day in Aberdeen?
The Christmas Craft Fair will be open for business on one day only, providing shoppers with a chance to snap up quality gifts made by Granite City Roller Girls skaters and their friends.
Affordable crafts and baked goodsThere are still tables left to use - £20 a table
Entrance fee is £1 including tea/coffee/juice
Check out the Facebook Event
Fierce Valley Roller Girls are hosting a Christmas Craft Fayre in Falkirk town centre, on Saturday 8th December.
Their last event attracted a lot of interested in the local craft community, and the stalls have been quickly booked up again! The hall will be overflowing with glassware, jewellery, handmade cards (and more!) - perfect for finding a unique Christmas gift.
More details can be found on the Facebook Event.
Photos by Ivelina Yakimova
Saturday was one of the best days of derby in 2012. Over in Germany, the Auld Reekie Roller Girls and Glasgow Roller Derby were bouting against the best teams Europe had to offer. Closer to home, Dundee Roller Girls and Granite City Roller Girls held a double header in the City of Discovery.First up was Granite City's Northern Fights, who took on the Newcastle Roller Girls travel team, the Canny Belters. With GCRG dealing with a lot of issues this year in finding a suitable home venue, DISC became their base for the day, and their cheering support made it sound like they were back up north.
In a fitting tribute, GCRG carried their team flag, complete with the number 69, in honour of Frost Damage, who is currently in a critical condition in hospital in Aberdeen and continuing to fight her way back to health. Many members of the team also wore snowflakes in tribute to Frost.
The Canny Belters started off strong, winning lead for the first few bouts, but Aberdeen weren't going to let them run away with the bout. Some hard hits on the visitors and main jammers Rockn Riot, Clinically Wasted and Crimson Chaos getting lead brought the scores close.
For the entire bout the scores stayed within 20 points, with the winners changing seemingly after each jam. At halftime the score was 69-59 in GCRG's favour, but everyone in attendance knew that with the way the bout was going, the win was still very much up for grabs.
The last two minutes were possibly the most nail-biting moments of a bout I've ever been at. With just 1.30 on the clock, the score was tied at 120. The penultimate jam saw Ruby Riot get lead and score a single point, meaning that it was down to the last jam.
Clinically Wasted was the jammer for GCRG and when Newcastle's jammer dropped her star panty, the home crowd went nuts. But the Geordies recovered and managed to score four points, giving them the win and sending the supporters nuts!!
Next up was Dundee's Silvery Tazers, who were looking to complete their 100% undefeated home run for 2012. Facing them was Severn Roller Torrent, all the way from Gloucestershire.
Most of the first half was a closely fought contest, with the score at one point tied at 62 apiece. Severn fielded a lot of heavy hitters, who were determined to hold back the Dundee jammers.
Dundee used Dr Carnage, Harleen Quinzell and Sabre Tooth, with Milky stepping in on occasion. With Dundee's jammers gaining more experience all the time, they looked comfortable following default strategy, knocking their way through the Severn walls, which weren't easy to break.
A power jam took the bout into half time, when the score was 93 Dundee, 62 SRT.
The second half saw Dundee extend their lead, holding Severn back and stopping them from scoring.
A couple of panty passes - including a dropped panty - for Severn failed to have the desired effect, and Dundee continued to pull ahead, spurred on by the noisy home crowd.
Psychomilky managed to narrowly avoid ejection from the game, racking up six trips to the bin. But strong jams by her near the end of the bout redeemed her.
Final score of the day was 170 to 106 for Dundee.
It was a great day of derby, showcasing some of the country's best skaters and acted as a great inspiration for wannabe derby girls in attendance.
Image courtesy of GRD
Glasgow Roller Derby proudly present their Home Season Final on Saturday the 24th of November at The Arc,Cowcaddens Road,Glasgow. The season kicked off with a Bad Omens victory against the Death Stars,who lost again in the second bout against Hell's Belles,the third bout saw the Belles matched against the Bad Omens,a bout which the Omens won by quite a margin.Will the Bad Omens win all their matches including the final?,or will the Hell's Belles prevent a solid run of victories? The only way to find out is to go on the day,tickets are £6 on the door or £5 in advance.More details on the Facebook event page
As if that wasn't enough,GRD will host the Home Season afterparty at Garnethill Multicultural Community Centre,where they will hand out their annual awards and celebrate another year together,for the first time in the league's history,one of the awards,GRD'S Favourite Skater,will be voted for by the public.You can vote for your favourite Glasgow skater here.Voting closes at midnight on Friday the 23rd of November.
Image courtesy of GCRG
Granite City Roller Girls present a night of Rock music at The Tunnels,Aberdeen on Saturday the 24th of November. Featuring live music from,The Ruckus , Guttergodz,Taxi For Bongo and an acoustic set from Laid Back ,plus DJ Jimsin supplying a quality dj set. Doors open at 7:30pm with the first band onstage at 8pm,entry is £6 both on the door and in advance,get along and get your Rock on.
What first attracted you to Roller Derby?
I was at a Roller Disco in Falkirk with my best friend (Hey Ho, Let's Jo!) when Grizabelta and Chaos Faerie got chatting to us about Roller Derby (I should add that they were drawn to us by Jo's purple sparkly hotpants as they were FVRG colours, not by our skating skills!). All that I knew about Derby at this point was what I had learned from watching Whip It! the week before and so we went along to practice, borrowed some kit and the rest, as they say, is history.
Who are your derby heroes?
There are so many! My heroes are skaters who are both extremely talented and hard working, and also those who go that extra mile to help and motivate others. Suzy Hotrod (Gotham Girls Roller Derby) is a huge inspiration due to her sheer skating ability but also because of her personality-she tells it like it is and doesn't take any bulls**t from anyone! Alma Geddon (Auld Reekie Roller Girls) is also a personal hero of mine for her outstanding blocking, her ability to command a pack and keep everyone together, and also for the amount of time she is willing to give up to help develop other skaters and teams-she has provided me with so many words of wisdom and played a big part in improving my skating but would never take any credit for it.
Derby names are an important aspect of the sport, especially when you're starting out. How did you choose your name, and how does it reflect your personality on track?
It took me a while to settle on a name, as it was really hard to come up with one that wasn't already taken (damn you Two Evils!), but I eventually settled on Calamity Jen after a friend suggested it. It was fitting as I have ridden horses since I was a toddler and as, initially, I was a calamity on skates-constantly falling on my ass! I now hope that I have the ability to inflict calamity on others on track! Funnily enough, I'd never watched the musical until after settling on the name but now that I have I think it's even more fitting-she's a foul-mouthed, tough girl, who isn't afraid to take on the boys!(as my Merby friends will attest to)
What was your biggest initial difficulty?
Getting my head around the rules, transitions and my fitness levels-before derby I hated going to the gym and hadn't been involved in a team sport since my High School basketball days. I'm a really competitive person and so Derby has really motivated me to keep improving and pushing myself to the limit at every practice/scrim/game in a way that no other sport ever has.
Lots of roller girls find it hard not to spread the word about their new sport. How have you been spreading the word?
By talking about it constantly! It's become a running joke with my non-derby friends that it's all I talk about nowadays but I think that's just the nature of the game-it becomes a way of life. I've helped FVRG to spread the world through various events (the most recent being a vintage craft fayre in Falkirk) and have also told my workmates about it, which has led to the Head Teacher of my school (I'm a primary teacher) inviting some of us along to give a demonstration-my class of primary 6's can't wait to see Miss McIndoe on skates!
What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt/ done this month?
The last month or so has been a very steep learning curve for me as I have (along with my vice captain Fun Ghoul) prepared my team and support crew for our upcoming bout. The most important thing has probably been working together as a team-both on track and off-to discuss and develop tactics, implement them on track, create strong walls and switch from defense to offense as a pack.
What were the most difficult and the best things?
The best things were definitely the additional team training sessions with Crazylegs and Alma Geddon as I learned SO much during each session and they really pushed me to up my game in general. The most difficult has probably been trying to master my derby stops-I still havn't nailed them but will keep on trying!
What's new for the Fierce Valley this month?
FVRG are extremely busy this month as we prepare for our first open home bout, For Whom the Skate Rolls, against the Wirral Whipiteres, on Saturday 17th at the Peak in Stirling-please come along and cheer us on! Everyone has been working tirelessly to bring everything together so that the day runs smoothly-we really do have the best volunteers, NSOs, Refs and volunteers imaginable and we would be nothing without them. We will also be holding our AGM this month and have just celebrated our 2nd birthday-it really is all go at Fierce Valley!
Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to speak to Ellie from Glasgow Roller Derby, aka Cheap Skate, about her plans to set up a National Roller Derby Museum in the city. Located in the Women's Library, it would show the history of Scottish and UK derby, featuring items donated by leagues.
However, putting together an exhibition taking in that much information was too much for one woman to take on, so Ellie put a call out to other skaters in the hopes that someone could offer some help. One of the people who answered was Auld Reekie Roller Girls' Bint Imperial, known in everyday life as Kirstie Meehan.
She explained: "I first heard about the NMRD through an email that Ellie sent to Auld Reekie Roller Girls, in which she discussed its aims and what she wanted it to be, and also asking for donations.
"I'm an archivist by profession, so I loved the idea of saving material relating to the early years of roller derby in the UK, so that it wasn't lost. I volunteered to be ARRG's liaison, and I turned up to the launch of the NMRD at Glasgow Women's Library. I met Ellie there, and got asked to co-curate (with Cara Viola and Maulin Rouge of Glasgow Roller Derby) the first exhibition about roller derby in the UK, staged at the GWL."
The exhibition at the library has recently finished, but Bint added that she hoped to stay involved with the National Museum of Roller derby, "advising on its future and working with the material".
"The NMRD is still in the early stages, but we've already had significant donations of derby-related material from leagues all over the UK, and even from abroad. So the collection - ranging from bout programmes to photographs to costumes and kit - is growing all the time.
"We're hoping to continue attracting donations, so that we can build up a historical record of roller derby as it develops in the UK."
Among the items on display were early bout programmes, derby kit (which Bint assured me had been washed before put in the exhibition!!), photorgraphs and even a film of a jam. The materials have become the property of the Glasgow Women's Library, but, Bint added, it may travel to other locations in future.
And Bint added that she felt the exhibition had helped to raise the profile of the sport. "The reception has been amazing, both from the roller derby community and from the general public. The exhibition we staged at the Glasgow Women's Library was a great success, and raised awareness of roller derby. I'm sure a few people have been inspired to take it up since!"
But, just because the exhibition is over doesn't mean that there is no more interest in keeping an archive of derby materials that will help flesh out the sport's history for the future.
"The GWL would love to receive more derby-related material from skaters, fans and leagues - if you've got anything you think says something about roller derby in the UK and you don't mind parting with it, contact the lovely archive staff at the GWL. They'd love to hear from you!"