Sooooooo now let’s look at the kind of imagery and style that’s out there for Roller Derby, first with a cursory sweep of the mighty Google.
These ladies, though they appear to have had a terrible terrible collision with Photoshop (seriously, could they be any more airbrushed?) seem to be a nice example of the rockabilly/punk aesthetic that pervades Roller Derby. I think Roller Derby lends itself to the style because quad skates are so retro in themselves; there’d be a whole different look to the players if they wore roller blades, for instance. However, they’re a bit too overtly sexualised and perfect for my liking; one thing I liked about Roller Derby is the fact it seemed so inclusive and how it didn’t really matter about body shape. Quite amused by the single injury on each of them, too, including the obviously fake one on the lady in the bottom left.
This is an illustration by Christy C Road for BITCH Magazine; it’s good to get a feel for what illustrations are out there already out there, and I think this image is slightly more true to what I’ve seen of Roller Derby (though I’m hardly an expert, I will admit freely).
I’m a complete sucker for retro Americana, though I’d never usually admit it; I was in Florida not so long ago and was quietly ogling all the real estate signs. It’s the colour schemes and the clean lines. So I was immediately drawn to this. I think with the roots that the sport has, with the peak of its popularity being in such a picturesque era, this kind of design works well with it.
This is by Jeral Tidwell and I love it; a proper old school rock n’roll piece of design, like the individually printed concert posters you still get sometimes. Ngh. Great use of a restricted colour scheme, too.
A lot of posters have more of a scrappy punk aesthetic to them, which I enjoy too.
One thing I should note is that bouts generally have a bit of a tongue in cheek name, usually with some kind of pun in them, which echoes the names that the derby skaters give themselves.
…Art Deco? Why not? (Though I can’t really read the font on this )
I think an artist I could really take inspiration from for this project is Ippei Gyoubu. He creates a lot of different human-based characters but they often have a futuristic or stylistic twist to them which makes them not-quite-human.
What I like about this one is the energy and also the restricted colour scheme – roller derby teams often have team colours, so it might be interesting to work with them.
I’m now going to have a look at the history and key elements of roller derby, taking a shameless trip to Wikipediaville:
Two roller derby girls fight at a match, May 8th 1950.
Two women’s league roller derby skaters leap over two who have fallen, 10 March 1950. From Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs division.
To begin with Roller Derby was more about endurance racing, but occasionally, massive collisions and crashes occurred as skaters tried to lap those who were ahead of them. In 1936, 1937, or 1938 (sources vary), after seeing a match in Miami, Florida and realizing this was an exciting element of the sport, sportswriter Damon Runyon encouraged the main organiser of the sport, Leo Seltzer, to tweak the game to maximize physical contact between the skaters, including elbowing, “whipping”, and slamming each other into the track’s outer rail, as well as exaggerating hits and falls. Seltzer bristled, wanting to keep the sport legitimate, but agreed to the experiment, which fans ended up loving.
The spectacle evolved into a sport involving two teams of five skaters, with a team scoring points when its members lapped members of the other team, which is the basic premise of roller derby to this day. In its heyday of this format it was televised on forty US TV stations, but its popularity waned during the 1970s and Jerry Seltzer (Leo’s son) ended up shutting it down entirely.
However, nearly all contemporary roller derby leagues are all-female and self-organized, and were formed in an indie, DIY spirit by relatively new roller derby enthusiasts. These leagues deploy traditional quad roller skates, and a punk aesthetic and/or ethic is often prominent. Many, if not most, are legally incorporated as limited liability companies, and a few are non-profit organizations. Most compete on flat tracks.
Each league typically features two or more local teams which compete in public matches, called bouts, for a diverse fan base. Members of fledgling leagues often practice and strategize together, regardless of team affiliation, between bouts. Moreover, as the business and infrastructure of the sport matures, successful local leagues form travel teams to compete with the roller derby leagues of other cities and regions.
Most players in these leagues skate under aliases, many of which are creative examples of word play with satirical, mock-violent or sexual puns, alliteration, and allusions to pop culture.
One thing I love about roller derby is the costumes. They’ve often got a bit of a punk or rockabilly thing going on – fishnets and stockings, stripey knee-high socks, tutus. Coupled with the quad-wheel roller skates and the nicknames each skater takes, they’re really characters already.
Although I’ve been doing a lot of small projects throught the course of my FMP, I’d like the chance to work on something a bit more substantial for the last few weeks, and have decided to develop one of my live projects further out of my own interest – specifically, one dealing with the sport of roller derby.
Turning to the bastion of information that is Wikipedia for a definition, roller derby is “is an American-invented contact sport—and historically, a form of sports entertainment—based on formation roller skating around an oval track … Contemporary roller derby is international predominantly female, typically operates on an amateur (or unpaid) circuit, and has a strong do it yourself ethic which often features both athleticism and a satirical punk third-wave feminism aesthetic.”
What I like about it is that it’s both playful and violent – teams often wear kitschy costumes, often with a punk or rockabilly essence to them, and come together in what can be a fairly brutal sport – injuries can and will occur, and a lot of the imagery connected with the sport involves blood and bruises. However, it also seems an incredibly inclusive and empowering sort of thing to do – there’s a spirit of community, with a common goal of having fun and kicking arse. You can read a good article about it here: Roller Derby, Uniting Younger Women, One Bout at a Time.
I got in touch with a local derby team and offered to do some design work with them recently, and while that’s ongoing I’m also going to be taking the project in my own direction, looking at the design aesthetic surrounding the sport and adapting my own illustrative style to the spirit of roller derby.