Slam!, the latest in the Boom! Box line of comics, follows the adventures of Jennifer and Maisie, best friends and derby novices who get drafted onto separate teams.
For writer Pamela Ribon (Moana, upcoming Wreck It Ralph sequel) the series is a chance to authentically depict roller derby, a sport that has seen its share of inaccurate portrayals in the past—mostly because people approach writing about it from an assumption of what it must be like.
“That’s where you get a lot of these power girls that all look the same and execute these moves that are impossible due to physics and are angels by day, devils by night. That’s not how it is,” explains Ribon, a derby girl herself, who has been skating on and off for eight years. “The commitment level is insane. To me that’s where the true emotion and heart of roller derby comes from: the practices and the league requirements and the people that you meet.”
And Slam! certainly has its fair share of team practices—along with the scrapes, bumps and bruises that come from practicing any sport—as Jennifer and Maisie go deeper into the world of derby, and become closer to their separate teams.
With the series launching on Nov. 16, EW spoke to Ribon and artist Veronica Fish (Archie, Spider-Woman) about what to expect.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: With both girls on different teams how will you be splitting the focus on the next three issues? Does it alternate?
VERONICA FISH: It’s cool because each girl is going to start with their own life issues and as two friends their natural inclination is to want to vent to each other and talk to each other. [But] they get pulled apart again and they desperately try and reconnect. Even though they’re on two separate teams their lives are interwoven enough that they keep coming together on and off the track. We get shots of their apartment and how their apartments are reflective of their personality, which I like. I like when the environment shows more of the character background. It’s fun to switch back and forth for their habitat and they’ve each got a cat and the cats hang out together and sometimes they fight, which is a nice little foreshadowing.
PAMELA RIBON: Another thing that we’re doing is each issue [is] spotlighting another person on the team so that you get some back story or private lives of these people that you assumed was the tough girl or the quiet one.
One of the things that stood out to me were all the great derby names.
VF: Pam came up with a lot of sick names—all the main characters.
PR: [Author] Roxane Gay came to a roller derby bout and we were sitting there watching and I was like, “Roxane, you want to know what your roller derby name is?” She was like, “I do.” I said, “It’s Roxane Slay.” She said, “You’re goddamn right it is.” Since I had the feeling she wasn’t going to use her roller derby name that I gave her, I thought I would use it for [a character]. A lot of times our derby names are inspired by heroes or what makes us feel like we can slip into this different person that allows you to be aggressive and forget that you’re knocking to the ground a mother of three who has a deadline. There’s no saying, “I’m sorry.” It’s a lot of having to unlearn the fake niceness and play the sport. We’re nice off the track, obviously. It’s a good place for post-trauma because it is contained violence that has a lot of rules. You can throw yourself around and put yourself in a chaotic space again and know that you’re going to get hurt but you’re going to get back up and you’re going to be fine and the game will always stop if you need it to, for me has been a tremendous way to recover from trauma.
What do “Knockout” and “I Think I Can,” Jennifer and Maisy’s derby names mean to them?
PR: I felt like “Knockout” was a big girl who was also a total knockout, that’s why her number is XXL. I wanted to make sure it was a name you could shout at her. Then for Maisy she’s trying, she’s struggling, she’s the little engine that could, that’s why “I think I Can” would be good. For Jen things come pretty easy for her, she knocks it out. Derby overwhelming her is a new experience for her, to try to balance something that becomes an all-consuming passion. How do you keep your life going when you fall in love with something else? Maisie’s working through heartbreak. It was very new for her to be so alone and isolating herself. [But because] you have to give derby your all, you can’t wallow anymore. You also cannot think of anything else. It can be very helpful.