Graphic novels utilize illustrations in order to enhance the reading experience. While a good writer is able to conjure the intended thoughts and feelings in the hearts and minds of the audience, illustrations help to shape how the audience visualizes the story. With that in mind, I’ve created a graphic novel about six women whose lackluster professional careers have left them searching for greater fulfillment in their lives. Their individual journeys suddenly converge and take a turn towards a rather unforeseen destination when one of them has an epiphany of sorts and suggests that they form a roller derby team.
This story involves a lot of action and, because it unfolded rather quickly as I wrote it, I chose to create my illustrations in Adobe Illustrator. I prefer to work digitally for three reasons: First and foremost, because it’s quicker (i.e. – it lends a more stream-of-consciousness expediency to the whole “brain-to-paper” process) and provides me a greater ability to “flesh out” my characters on the fly; furthermore, it allows for smoother consistency in characters who appear repetitively (as is the case in a graphic novel); finally, many of my favorite artists work digitally. For example, my influences include Mico Suayan and Cliff Chiang, both of whom are comic book and graphic novel artists. Mico Suayan's work features unique layouts and compositions that keep the audience engaged. I wanted that same sense of engagement with my piece, so each page is structured differently; some illustrations take up an entire page while panels of different sizes and shapes break others up. I am also inspired by Cliff Chiang's work in the graphic novel series, Paper Girls (written by Brian K. Vaughan). In that particular series, Chiang’s emphasis was on line work and flat coloration with minimal shading. I wanted to create a similar aesthetic with my illustrations using a variation in line weight and cell shading.
The inspiration for this work also comes from my love for the sport and my respect and admiration for the players. Over the years, I have met many women who compete at roller derby, and I've noticed that it is similar to living a double life. On the track, they are fearless, strong, talented, and resilient athletes. Off the track, they are those same things but in a different capacity. They each have a day job, families, and responsibilities to take care of. Some of them are single moms; some are nurses, teachers, social workers, bankers, and even tattoo artists. I had all of those women in mind when I created my six roller derby characters. Each of them has a life outside of roller derby that is neither great nor glamorous, and it can be disheartening at times. However, their love for the game offers them all a way to channel their frustrations and turn their energies into something positive. As a result, their confidence levels get a much needed boost and, in regaining their strength, they are able to find fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment in their lives again.
This piece gave me the chance to not only showcase my digital illustration style, but it also allowed for further exploration of something that I had never done before. I wrote the story, made the layout, created each character and illustration, and designed the cover. All of these efforts provided me with a great learning experience. Like most of my work, this graphic novel piece is about telling human stories of hardship, imperfection, dreams, self-discovery, and connecting with others. It is intended to include the reader in the group’s journey in such a way that it will (hopefully, more effectively) make the story come to life.