Roller derby has seen a welcome resurgence in interest in the past decades, with more and more leagues cropping up across the United States and around the globe. And it’s easy to understand why: the sport is action-packed, dynamic, and brimming with fun. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that derby has made its presence known in pop culture in everything from movies to books to webcomics.
One of those webseries is from illustrator and creator of Bonnie N. Collide, now available to read for free here at Graphite. In Bonnie N. Collide, Gallagher—a former roller derby player herself—follows the titular Bonnie as she hilariously attempts to navigate the world as her personal, professional, and derby lives, well, collide. Along the way, readers learn about the sport, see Bonnie interact with her, and meet Bonnie’s gay werewolf friend and sometimes mentor Herb.
In addition to Bonnie N. Collide, Gallagher just launched the fourth season of her popular webcomics series Assassin Roommate, which highlights the life of a socially awkward assassin who falls for her roommate, and also touches on everything from stereotypes to body image issues.
Ms. Gallagher spoke with Graphite recently about Bonnie N. Collide, how her life influences the webcomic, and what she hopes readers will get from the series, as well as a tease of what to expect in Assassin Roommate season 4.
Graphite: Let’s dig into Bonnie N. Collide first. What can you tell readers about the idea behind the story?
Monica Gallagher: Bonnie came about after I’d watched this reality show called RollerGirls (it was only one season, and it was before the broader public had really become aware of roller derby in the wider pop culture sense) and I became OBSESSED with it: whether this was a thing that actually existed, if it existed near me, and what I had to do to get involved.
So I started writing and drawing about the idea of a roller-girl’s daily life, almost as a gag strip, before I started had any clue what it was actually like. And then the more I got involved with derby, the more it became reflected in the comic.
Graphite: I am actually training to be a referee for my town’s local roller derby team, so you can imagine how much I love Bonnie N. Collide. I know that you once played derby under the name Whipstick. What made you want to tackle the subject of roller derby and derby life?
Monica Gallagher: Congrats!! Derby is THE BEST, but the refs are the worst (I kid, I kid!). When I got into derby, it took me a year to learn how to skate and get drafted into the league (Charm City Roller Girls of Baltimore, represent!) and then I skated as Whipstick for the Junkyard Dolls for just over a year.
I was super drawn to derby because it was like a Venn diagram of a lot of my interests: exercise, make-up, bad puns, female friendship, trashy fashion, (safe?) violence, community, and tons of fun. Once I got further involved, the more fascinating I found the culture and all the different types of people it attracted. I still feel like it’s a secret underground network of cool women from all different ages, backgrounds, and life experiences — and I wouldn’t have met them and bonded with them by any other way.
Graphite: Many of my derby friends have remarked about how derby creeps into everyday life, which you take to the next level in Bonnie N. Collide. How much did you draw on your derby life for the series?
Monica Gallagher: At first none at all – it was all imagining a character based on the stereotype of a roller-girl idea I had. But the more real roller-girls I met and people in derby I interacted with, I quickly fleshed out Bonnie and much more of her world – because there really is SO much diversity, and so much to talk about beyond the derby stereotypes (look at those violent women skating with tattoos! They’re crazy! Yadda yadda). From my real life, I’d say Bonnie takes one part derby experience, one part working in a cubicle for years experience, and one part my desire to make stories that are fun and absurd and obnoxious.
Graphite: As for the characters in Bonnie N. Collide, what can you tell us about the folks that occupy the world of the series?
Monica Gallagher: I wanted to make sure Bonnie had coworker friends and derby friends and they would embody a whole spectrum of the kinds of people I’d encountered – nerdy, awkward, fun, loud, sexy, loyal, kind, difficult. Her best friend Mimi is stable, sensible, and sarcastic. Her boyfriend Stuart is shy, nerdy, and curious. Her derby little sis Fran is awkward at derby, but fully confident in herself as a person. Most of her coworkers are at odds with one another but unite in their fear of Herb. Oh, right – Herb! Why, he’s just a gay middle-aged werewolf who at times acts as a mentor to Bonnie, haha. Is that weird?
Graphite: Of all the characters, who do you feel like you relate to most in the series?
Monica Gallagher: Welllll the lame answer is I relate to all of them – they all carry little horcrux pieces of my personality! Bonnie is the best parts of me, Stuart and Fran carry a lot of my insecurities, Mimi is when I’m at my most logical, but I’d have to say Herb is the easiest to write. That’s right, I relate most to the werewolf.
Graphite: There’s so much of derby culture highlighted in the series. What is the one thing about roller derby you hope readers get out of Bonnie N. Collide?
Monica Gallagher: Selfishly, I want them to see it as I do – not as a kitschy spectacle but as a real activity/hobby/sport/lifestyle a lot of very different people have used to come together in a fun and productive way. A way that involves the local community, shows them some fun, and is a way to tackle and share aggression and stress with friends.
Graphite: Now that Bonnie N. Collide is on a platform like Graphite, that’s one more outlet to reach potential readers. (I just sent the Graphite link of the Bonnie N. Collide archive to one of my derby friends and she’s already in love.) What excites you about getting to showcase the series on new platforms?
Monica Gallagher: EVERRYYYTHINGGGG! More readers means more people I have a chance to connect with, which is the best! A lot of comics creation feels very isolated, so anytime we can reach more people and interact with them, we feel less like we’re just shooting pages out into a void.
Graphite: Shifting gears a bit, let’s talking about your other webcomic, Assassin Roommate. Without a reader knowing anything about the series beforehand, the title Assassin Roommate just grabs you. What can you tell us about the conceit of the webcomic?
Monica Gallagher: It started as a romance, but quickly morphed into a broader discussion not just about the tropes of romance stories, but also about stereotypes, body image, things not being what they seem. Is that vague enough for you?? But um … assassins make out in this comic.
Graphite: The characters of Assassin Roommate are so fleshed out and formed. What can you tell us about them and how they’ve evolved from their initial conception and through the seasons?
Monica Gallagher: I think I initially pitched it as “an awkward assassin who falls in love with her jock roommate”, haha. But as I wrote Mags and Kurt (the two main character lovelies) and added more people into their universe, they quickly started to change.
I knew I wanted Mags to be someone people would constantly underestimate – and she would always feel a bit introverted and awkward in the world outside of her job. Kurt was the opposite in that he was outwardly very confident and people judged him accordingly – but on the inside he didn’t know what he wanted, and was afraid to find out. Over the seasons they’ve both influenced each other in ways that force them to grow, and sometimes it surprises me which directions they head, haha!
Graphite: You just hit your season 4 premiere. What can readers expect from this new season?
Monica Gallagher: MAYHEM!! Do you ever feel like you’ve created a monster that has now run away and joined a monster commune and now you’re tasked with journaling everything that happens to all of the monsters? I mean, I have EVERYTHING UNDER CONTROL. I promise. Season 4, woo!