Page 45 Review by Stephen
What a fresh and far from obvious start!
One of my favourite moments is when you finally discover what the direct, no-nonsense, not-easily-impressed cannon ball of a competitor, Velvet Coffin, does for a living. I drop that in early in order that you forget it, for SLAM! made me smile from beginning to end at its genuine joy and heart-felt belief in the empowering, bond-building nature of Roller Derby.
This contact sport, as I understand it, involves two opposing teams racing round a roller rink on roller skates but in the same direction, hell-bent on up-ending each other by any means necessary. Oh, I am told there are rules - there are certainly key and keen strategies which you will learn in chapter four - but it's essentially hockey without the disingenuous excuse of why you really joined up: to knock seven shades of shit out of each other and score top marks in doing so.
"Are you a sportsman, Stephen?"
Clearly not, but I am a convert!
Moreover, its initial, innovative presentation - not so much as an A-to-B narrative, but as an experience and induction to Roller Derby - proved as engrossing and as exhilarating as the real deal itself. Were I of the correct chromosomatic configuration I would run right down to my local arena and sign up on the spot.
"10 Facts about your new Derby life:
"1. You will have fun.
"2. You will get hurt.
"3. You will want to quit this forever. Every time.
"4. You won't. Because you love it more than you've ever loved anything in your life."
"5. You will find your voice" and "6. You'll learn all kinds of new phrases." Namely:
"Pop a squat! Get in her crotch!"
"Fill those holes!"
"Take up space! Wall it up!"
"Get on her!"
"Hit her, hit her, hit her!"
I rest my hockey-claim case, my lord.
But what I love most of all about my new-found Roller Derby is that this is a sport for women. Wait, wait (and correct me if I'm wrong) but instead of all these boys-only sports like soccer and rugby and especially cricket with its gender-exclusive pavilions, this was originally and initially - and may still be to this day - a sport for women only which, if the lads want a look-in, they will have to apply for thence be looked down upon for decades to come as second-best. Haha! The shoe's on the other dismissive and disdaining foot, fellas!
If all that wasn't enough, Ribon delivers a comic which is entirely congruent with this post-patriarchal experience. Men are barely even mentioned within. This is entirely about ladies getting together to rediscover themselves, their confidence and their individuality without comparison points. There's one. There's only one, and he is an absolute sweetie called Theo.
One of our two main protagonists, Maisie Huff (Derby-dubbed: ITHINKA CAN), has only just started dating again and has gone for a young artist that "gets it". He instantly gets Roller Derby and although far from pushy and certainly not seeking to intrude, he won't be put off by a no-show but turns up to the real show and cheers from the stalls. Only afterwards do they meet up.
"It looks like you've got a great team. But maybe don't let that stop you from dating me? I'm pretty awesome and I like you a whole so much a lot."
"Can you do me a favour? Share an Uber to my apartment and get in my pants?"
"Yes, if that would be helpful to you."
As to Fish, her art is ebullient yet controlled, imaginative and natural, depicting real women as they really are, relaxed in their own space with tall socks, baggy shorts and muscular, much sought-after thighs that are admired for their fearsome Derby downing-power, not frowned upon for their weight.
When the teams tear round the tracks it's at such a keen speed, and Fish's ability to choreograph the balletic jumps of the jammers working their way through the packs (or falling flat on their faces) is such that you're impressed both by her dexterity and by the players' on account of the evident edge and pin-point precision required for such tricky manoeuvres. Without that, all dramatic tension is lost.
Love the subtle bruises by colour-artist Brittany Peer who brings such warm tones to the Fish's tender expressions and such rich, vibrant hues to their sports kits.
There is nothing about this that is angry. Everything about this is celebratory.
It's not 'Kicking Against The Pricks', it's "Hello, here's all the fun!"
Although there is one prick managing the coffee house where Maisie works, who overlooks her promotion in favour of male employee who was there for no more than three months, but asked first. She thinks about this, then won't take no for an answer.
"And I was like, "If you won't recognize my worth, then I will work somewhere that does". And then that man gave me a raise!"
"Yes! I am so proud of you."
"P.S. though - totally gonna take that money and find somewhere else to work."
"Okay, good. Thanks for making me not have to tell you that."
We were all a little worried that this would be a banal, band-wagon embarkation because, mark my words, you can see so many comics currently being green-lit simply for their demographic-ticking boxes. No, this is fabulous, and if the delicious cover screams Becky Cloonan meets Jamie Hewlett (a very fine pedigree), then let me assure you that it's all THE WENDY PROJECT's Veronica Fish who knows exactly what she is doing.
"7. If your life is too busy, Derby will destroy it.
"8. But if your life was destroyed, Derby will fix it."
Excellent! This is going to be the exhilarating experience of a lifetime. You will meet new friends for life and you will celebrate during the after-party even if you cowered in the toilet at the prospect of your first-day's performance. You will find those who will hold your hand and never let you down and never let you go. You may try war paint, you may breathe deeply, and you may scream at the full-on, physical excitement!
"Fun fact about Derby life #42:
"It gets complicated."
It does. No life is all plain sailing and friendships as well as those thighs are going to take a battering. No one likes to feel left behind when they were there for you from the beginning, so please mind your manners when texting, especially if you haven't seen each other for yonks.
"I thought we'd finally watch - "
"She's so funny."
Jennifer regards Maisie messaging her new mentor, sadly.
"She must be."
I leave you with a top tip for blockers hell-bent on bashing opponents to the ground which doubles - as so much of this does - as a life lesson:
"Quit aiming for my butt. You gotta hit here, above my knee. That's where you want to be. Don't look where you want to hit - hit where you want to be. Aim for your future."