I have always thought it would be fun to try roller derby. The women who do roller derby always look so strong and tough. While I would love to try roller derby, I am very aware how terrible I am at roller skating. I once knocked over a child while trying to roller skate. The comic Slam! let me experience playing roller derby without having to put myself or others in danger. Slam! was created by Pamela Ribon and Veronica Fish. Ribon wrote the comic and Fish drew it. The comic was released by Boom! Studios, and it tells the story of the friendship between two new roller derby players, Jen and Maisie. Jen and Maisie’s friendship is tested when they are asked to join opposing roller derby teams. Jen is asked to join the Pushy Riots and Maisie is asked to join the Meteorfights. Slam! shows the ups and downs of friendship, the bond roller derby players form, and the lessons you can learn while playing it.
While I have been fascinated by roller derby for years, I have never fully understood how the rules worked. I really appreciated that Slam! took the time to explain the rules of roller derby, and the comic broke it down in a way that makes sense. It explains what the different helmets the players wear mean, what the different moves are, and how the scoring works. As a visual learner, Fish’s drawings of the rules of roller derby were incredibly helpful. The rules explanation section of the comic also makes it clear that while playing roller derby, “you can’t just beat someone up.” The whole comic shows that roller derby is not beating people up; it shows how much skill is involved with roller derby. Players have to learn how to skate fast and not fall down, and they have to learn how to do hits correctly. Roller derby players want to win, but they don’t want to seriously injure anyone.
The main storyline of Slam! is the friendship between Jen and Maisie. This is introduced at the beginning of the comic with Jen trying to encourage Maisie to come out of the bathroom to compete in the rookie rumble. It’s a great introduction to their friendship because it shows a truly supportive friend who would follow you into a bathroom and give you a pep talk. They can talk to each other about their struggles and their fears. They have a friendship where they can have sleepovers with their cats, which is just adorable. Ribon and Fish do a wonderful job making you love Jen and Maisie’s friendship, which is why it is so heartbreaking when it starts to fall apart.
While their fracturing is tough to watch, Ribon and Fish show it in a realistic way. They start to show the cracks in the friendship. Jen doesn’t show up to help Maisie with her roller skating, and Maisie spends all her time texting her roller derby teammates while she’s supposed to be spending time with Jen. By slowing the buildup, it makes it more realistic when they have a big fight and decide to not be friends. Slam! accurately shows how rough friendship break ups can be, and how both are to blame for the friendship ending. It was frustrating to see both Jen and Maisie not be able to understand the other one’s side. They each wanted the other to make the first move and apologize first. I did love that after the friendship ended, Jen could still be excited that Maisie’s roller derby skills had improved. It is a lovely moment that shows Jen still cares about Maisie. The comic does not fully fix the Jen and Maisie friendship by the end, but it does end with Jen proving that she can still be a great friend to Maisie.
I enjoyed reading about the friendship between Jen and Maisie, but also loved seeing the relationships between the women on the roller derby teams. All the women are supportive of each other and want to see each other succeed. I appreciated that when Maisie was struggling to not fall down on her skates and get her hits right, her team didn’t make fun of her or kick her off the team. Instead, they supported her, and they took the time to teach her and encourage her to keep trying. It is nice to read a story where women are supportive of each other. There is also a nice storyline where it is shown that Maisie is not only learning to be stronger in roller derby, but also in her professional life. Maisie learns to stand up to her boss who passes her over for a raise. Maisie’s roller derby team supports her standing up for herself. As the comic goes along, it was fun to see Jen become a mentor to a new roller derby player, Kristen. Jen sees the potential in Kristen, and she stops Kristen from calling herself an idiot. As someone who has been known to call myself an idiot, I know how important it is to have someone in your life who will tell you to stop calling yourself that. People become better when they have a support system, and it makes them want to try new things and be more comfortable stepping outside of their comfort zones.
Slam! is a fun comic to read, and at times it is an emotional read. It reminded me how important it is to put the work into friendships because it is incredibly painful when one falls apart. Slam! will appeal to roller derby fans, but it will also appeal to those who don’t know anything about the sport. It might even create some new roller derby fans. The comic makes you want to go out and try something new because you might end up finding an incredible support system. If you enjoy reading Slam! you can read more about Jen and Maisie in Slam!: The Next Jam; it is also written by Pamela Ribon with art by Maria Julia.
For more by Kinsey, check out her review of Sheets.