Many will remember the 2009 critical hit Whip It! starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. Roller derby was already becoming a popular alternative women’s sport in cities like Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon, capturing the attention of athletes looking for a new challenge as well as individuals that had never considered themselves particularly sporty. With a little boost from pop culture visibility in movies like Whip It! and in episodes of Psych and Bones, roller derby has become a touchstone for nonconformist narratives.
SLAM! (why do so many of these titles have exclamation points?) carries on this tradition, starting in the locker room as two best friends prepare for their first rookie bout. Jen, a grad student pursuing her master’s in geology has found social fulfillment and a little bit of chaos in joining the derby, while Maisie has used the derby to help heal from a recent breakup and recover her self-confidence. In this first issue, we get to know both of these characters quite well, without overly heavy backstory or anything that doesn’t mesh well with the flow of the story.
That’s actually one of writer Pamela Ribon’s strongest points with SLAM!– the story flows perfectly from start to finish, incorporating flashbacks and cutaways with unusual but pleasing symmetry- like angles of incidence on a pool table. Ribon, who has worked on several titles for Oni Press as well as various animated features including the upcoming Moana, is very pro-girl-power without requiring girl-power to look like a specific set of behaviors for any particular person. Both Jen and Maisie have something to overcome, and despite finding the same community and activity to help them, are quite different people. Ribon has left a lot of room to grow the two characters in future issues.
Artist Veronica Fish does an amazing job of getting us right into the action- right up in the hip-checks and booty blocks! The wonderful part of SLAM! is getting up close and personal with each and every character on the page, but having that be something that brings the reader further into the story rather than being a way to objectify the women in the story. Fish creates distinctive character designs that feel truly 100% animated, never stiff or awkward as they fly around the rink or flop into bed sore and exhausted from practice.v
SLAM! is a really fun and engaging read; if you’re a fan of Lumberjanes, Rat Queens, Giant Days, or any story about women being friends and kicking ass, this is definitely worth checking out.