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Interview: Monica Gallagher on BONNIE N. COLLIDE

Fans of Bonnie N. Collide have already been pouring in their support for the webcomic’s Kickstarter since it launched, and Dork Shelf got to chat with creator Monica Gallagher (Part-Time Princesses, Gods and Undergrads) on her ongoing series about Bonnie, the ginger-haired roller girl, and her day-to-day antics with her fellow derby girls, smitten boyfriend Stuart, and werewolf coworker Herb. For those who haven’t gotten the chance to get into this infectiously charming webcomic yet, you can always find the weekly strips on her website. Funding this Kickstarter means you’ll also get first dibs on a printed collected edition of Bonnie N. Collide, Nine to Five – A Roller Girl & A Day Job. Based largely on her own experiences with derby and working a standard nine-to-five office job, this comic is a real gem. It’s also a queer, female-friendly comic that is unapologetic in how it challenges gender stereotypes, with enough body diversity to make a reader swoon.

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Dork Shelf: When I was reading Bonnie N. Collide I noticed in your creator’s notes at the bottom of your strips that you were a derby girl? And you also had a 9-5 office job?

Monica Gallagher: I was, yeah. I’m not anymore. And I still have a part-time day job. A lot of that was just based on my own experiences except for, you know, werewolves.

DS: So you didn’t actually pull a Bonnie and wear your skates to work?

MG: No, I mean, there were just too many stairs. That was the real problem.

DS: I don’t know that much about derby, so reading Bonnie N. Collide felt like a very unique, educational glimpse into that world. Derby feels like a culture almost, from the way you illustrate it in the comic, and Bonnie’s rabid devotion to it really lends itself to that feeling.

MG: It’s definitely all-consuming. Once you’re in derby you’re kind of in it, and for most people it’s impossible to do anything else. Your friends are your derby friends, your activities are derby-related outside of just having to go to practice and getting ready for bouts. It’s a lot of work and you have to kind of be obsessed with it and obsessed with the people involved in order just to do it. I’m hoping the comic is accessible in that way because I actually started it before I even got into derby. I had just seen one bout and thought it was cool, so I started writing about it. As I kept writing, I decided I wanted to learn how to skate and try out.

DS: I think anyone who has been obsessed with something can relate. Obviously with derby there’s an extra level of dedication to the obsession, and Bonnie lives and breathes it. Without knowing derby at all, I appreciated that aspect.

MG: I’m sure there are other things that people get just as involved in, but derby was definitely kind of unique in that you physically can’t do it unless you’re there all the time practicing, otherwise you’ll get injured in a second.

DS: What’s the worst derby injury you’ve ever gotten or ever seen?

MG: Well I was very lucky. I was only on the league for about a year and a half. But when I was fresh meat, I saw serious injuries every week. Every week at scrimmage, the fresh meat would be on the sidelines and they would quarantine us to watch a real scrimmage. It was always ACLs being torn, several broken ankles… I think the broken collarbone was one of the worst because that was really scary. My hand got bent back really far once, I thought I was going to break, it so that was part of why I quit.

DS: So people also have derby names. Is there any way people go about choosing them? Is it more of a personal choice or something the team gives them?

MG: Yeah it’s kind of your secret identity. It’s mostly you choosing it, but there might be some leagues where it’s a cool initiation thing. What most people may not realize is that once it’s your name, it’s yours forever; no one else can have it. There’s a giant database that you have to check and make sure your name isn’t already someone else’s name.

DS: I was also curious about the derby hierarchy. In the comic, you mention fresh meat and the travel team a lot, in a way that feels like a really familiar structure even to outsiders.

MG: Yeah it’s kind of like high school, the freshmen are the fresh meat, the travel team are definitely the seniors – they’re the coolest and most well-known. I don’t think I’ve mentioned B-team; there’s another travel team that’s right below the travel team, so it’s like the difference between varsity and JV almost. And they go around and travel together. Everybody else is a home league, or you could be fresh meat forever and never get drafted onto a team.

DS: Like Fran, poor Fran.

MG: Like poor Fran! Fran is so hugely based on me.

DS: On that subject, all these characters are so interesting to me, but in strips you only get brief glimpses of them and their history. Do you have any canon stories for these characters that aren’t illustrated in the comic? Especially Fran. I’m really interested in Fran’s story after that mention about her family not being in contact with her after she came out.

MG: It’s interesting; this is my first time doing what’s almost like a newspaper strip, so I didn’t really know what I was going to do, and as I went on and introduced characters I didn’t know if they’d be a side character or if they’d stay in it for awhile. It sounds dumb, but the characters really do tell you more about themselves as you go along. I didn’t have a plan for anybody. So with Fran, eventually it came out that she was gay. I wanted her to be a really terrified character on the rink who seemed wildly insecure, but in her own life she seems pretty in control. So I kind of hint at backstories, and every once in awhile bring one out from the extras in the background to talk about them a little.

DS: So Bonnie. We know that she loves derby, and pumpkin-flavored things, and fall. Are we going to get to see any of this “real Bonnie stuff” that she doesn’t talk about to anybody?

MG: If you’ve read the latest stuff, her secrets have started to come out. She just recently told her boyfriend that she’s bi. That was a huge deal.

DS: I knew it!

MG: He’s having trouble handling it, and that was one of the things that she’s kept secret. I’ve also hinted at her parents and her not having a great relationship with them, but we don’t really know why. It’s started to trickle out now.

DS: This could have happened to me on any given day because I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, but this morning the first thing I did was get into a conversation with a friend about why Remus Lupin is the best Harry Potter character and, incidentally, Herb is my favorite character in Bonnie N. Collide. I just love that he’s a werewolf and he’s gay; I’m a huge sucker for the queer werewolf theme. And I think it was a guest artist who did that strip about the first meeting of Herb and the boyfriend? Now I’m wondering when we’re going to get a Werewolf and His Human Boyfriend spin off series.

MG: I know, I feel bad because a lot of people want Herb to have his own thing. I should just have a summer where it’s all about him. I don’t know if you saw recently, but I finally had him turn into a human to see what he looked like.

DS: That was going to be my next question! I’d been wondering if he even had a human form or if it was just all fur all the time. His boyfriend obviously wouldn’t mind; he said he likes the hairy ones.

MG: Yeah, he’s kind of like an exaggerated take on The Bear.

DS: In general there’s just so much body positivity in the comic. Bonnie’s curves are one of my favorite things. How did that translate to your experiences in derby?

MG: One of my favorite things about derby was it was a sport where no body type was the ideal derby body type. The best players on our team – there was one woman who was very muscular, but very small, and this woman who was taller than me and built like a football player; she was so fast. They range from really skinny to really curvy to really muscular, and they were all really good.

DS: I know it’s still ongoing, but do you plan on ever finishing it, or is this just something you’re going to do until you decide it’s done?

MG: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m still mostly excited about this, and I like having an ongoing thing so people don’t forget about me. It keeps me working on stuff, and I just have so many things I could do with it still that I’m not sick of it yet.

DS: Excellent! So then there’s a good chance for a werewolf spinoff?

MG: Oh, yeah, I would love to. I just love werewolves so much.

DS: Do you have a favorite werewolf story in any medium?

MG: It’s actually kind of weird… I haven’t seen many of the classic werewolf movies! But I did love Oz on Buffy, Remus’s depiction onscreen and in the book, the song “Werewolves of London” – that line about his hair being perfect definitely influenced Herb! As silly as they were, the werewolves on True Blood.

DS: Other than derby being superior to all things, is there any overall message you ever have in mind for the comic, or is that also something that just evolves as you go?

MG: I think it’s always just more character-driven. Watching the characters develop and change, interact with each other and where they go. Kind of like peering into someone’s life for a little bit. I always prefer characters to plot-driven stuff.

DS: Towards the end of the series, at least as far as it’s going to be collected in the book, there’s more of an ongoing theme of people either moving on from derby or Bonnie being resistant to even the notion of change. Is it always like an inevitable revolving door with a small number of people who stay on in derby as constants?

MG: There’s definitely people who, whether they get injured or not, they’ll still come back. It’s so much a part of their identity, and for other people it just breaks them. Literally, sometimes. The friend of mine who broke her collarbone, she never came back. It’s heartbreaking to get really far and then get injured. It takes so much energy to be a part of it that, unless it is your whole life and your whole identity and you’re cool with that, it’s really hard.

DS: All the work that I’ve read of yours, on top of being so queer-friendly and female-centric, they’re all from completely different genres. What’s your favorite kind of story to write, or is there a genre still untapped that you want to explore at some point?

MG: I’d love to do something really scary, or something that was straight up super dramatic. But I don’t know if I could ever write something that wasn’t funny in some way. I always end up seeing things as awkward or funny. I have a comic that I meant to continue at some point called Lipstick & Malice about a female assassin, and that was like my most serious one. There wasn’t really any humor in it besides beating people up. I would love to do something really dark, but it’s hard to come up with something that would be really terrifying.

DS: Werewolves?

MG: But werewolves are so loveable!

DS: They are. Part of the reason I love characters like Remus so much, and a quality I also see in Herb is that, any other character in that situation having to deal with this thing would probably be a really miserable and bitter and mean person, but he’s so nice! Like Herb, he just sees the good in people; he just tries to be good.

MG: It brings out the best human in him.

DS: For this printed collection, you mention on the Kickstarter page that there’s going to be fourteen new chapter illustrations?

MG: Yeah, because I’m trying to make it more of an actual book since it’s a webcomic, I had story arcs, but I created different chapter divisions, mainly as an excuse to get me to draw chapter stuff because I love re-drawing my characters. So it’s divided up into fourteen chapters, and at the end I think I have like fifteen pages of space for sketches, like the first drawing I ever did of Bonnie, which I drew at my nine-to-five. Just some behind the scenes process stuff. I might include one extra arc, so it might end up being more like 350 strips. It’s hard because I just want all of it to be in the book, but I can’t. I have to draw the line somewhere.

DS: And you have incentives for the people who fund the Kickstarter?

MG: One thing people have been asking me to do for a long time is a colouring book. They wanted a separate thing where it’s just characters in different situations, but then you can colour them in your own personal derby colours if you have those, and it’s fun to get kids involved. I have a page where you can draw the tattoos on the characters if you want to. So I have the colouring book, and then for the rewards I’m giving out stickers, and then for drawing people they get to decide if they’d rather be drawn as a roller girl or as a werewolf.

DS: That’s such a hard choice! What about a derby werewolf?

MG: I don’t know, that might be cheating. You have to choose a side. You’re either Team Roller Girl or Team Werewolf!

Go here to fund the Bonnie N. Collide Kickstarter campaign. It just hit its first stretch goal, and there’s still time!


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