It’s fair to say that I’m a bit biased when it comes to the first volume of SLAM!, since I’ve been a little in love with the series since its first issue. Pam Ribon and Veronica Fish have together created a story of warmth, heart, and realness, with regard to true friendship and figuring out what’s important in your life.
SLAM! follows two roller derby newbies, or “freshies” as they’re called in derby (as in “fresh meat”) through their first real bout, to being drafted to teams, and into their first season. Jennifer Chu, aka Knockout, is a grad student getting her masters in geology and the loneliest girl at the gym until she tries roller derby. Her new bestie Maisie Huff, aka Ithinka Can (or Cancan), is getting back on her feet after a bad break-up and derby gives her something to focus on.
Knockout, although immediately identified as a talent, finds that balancing school and derby can get in the way of things like hanging out with her friend, especially after they get drafted to different teams. Cancan has to work harder to do well, but finds more support with her new teammates and new boyfriend, but falls out with Knockout over a dumb fight.
Pam Ribon’s no-holds-barred, self-effacing humor is what makes Jen and Maisie so real. After my review of the first issue of SLAM!, I read Ribon’s memoir Notes to Boys: And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public. Ribon bared all of her angsty teen soul unabashedly, and it was both hilarious and heartbreaking- the essence of young adults’ romantic experience. That’s here too- Cancan’s completely implausible fear that her ex will somehow be in the audience of her first bout, even though he has no idea that she even joined a derby league; the complete openness of every derby girl regarding her bruises, aches, and bodily functions. Even the insecurities that surface between Knockout and Cancan, no matter how trivial or far-fetched we the readers (and the characters in hindsight) know they are, there’s undeniable identifiability as we remember with a sting similar thoughts have nagged our own minds.
I also had a chance to review more of Veronica Fish’s work with The Wendy Project. What Fish brings to the table is an amazing understanding of visual storytelling. From facial expressions and body language to framing and composition, everything Fish does is deliberate and dynamic and serves to develop the characters and story just as much as the narration and dialogue. One of the best panels is early on, a flashback to when Cancan finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her. The close up on Cancan’s face as her dreams of a house, marriage, kids, and rabbit farm go up in literal flames over her head gives the audience a definite starting place for her as a character- ground zero. Over the course of the story, she’s building from the ground up. There are little things too, like Cancan’s mostly empty closet that slowly gets filled up, Knockout’s super clean apartment that gets progressively messier, or even the ways that, at certain times, thought Knockout and Cancan are apart, their side-by-side panels mirror each other.
SLAM! Is awesome; it’s an amazing look at the world of roller derby, it’s the story of real women with real bodies and real feelings, and it has a real happy ending. Volume 1 collects issues 1 – 4, with issue 5 is out at the end of September. Catch up now, thank me later, and happy reading.