Lee Durfey-Lavoie and Veronica Agarwal’s YA graphic novel, Just Roll With It, is an ode to fandom and friendship, whose setting is a time that everyone dreads remembering: middle school.
In spite of the “scary setting”, young people and those who remember those difficult times will connect with Just Roll With It, and remember what got them through those difficult early teen years: good friends and hobbies.
We spoke to Durfey-Lavoie and Agarwal about the origins and inspirations behind Just Roll With It in this exclusive interview.
How did you end up collaborating on a graphic novel, and this one in particular?
Durfey-Lavoie: Veronica is actually my significant other, so she’s my better half on and off the page. We’d been collaborating, just for fun on little things, for a long time before we thought ‘why not put something together that has both our names on it’? And thus the original 12 page mini of Just Roll With It was born in time for us to sell at Flame con (which I believe is maybe the largest queer comics convention in the world?). From there, the kind folks at Random House Graphics saw it, liked it, and picked it up. The rest is history I guess, haha.
What are the origins of Just Roll With It?
Agarwal: At the time my friends and I (and a lot of people in our circles) had been listening to The Adventure Zone podcast, and subsequently had started trying our hands at DND ourselves. I actually didn’t enjoy the game that much because I would get nervous trying to ‘act’ as my character, but I was really inspired by the character creation and storytelling. So around the time I came up with the idea for Just Roll With It, I had been spending a lot of my time thinking about roleplaying games, and the tools that they give us to explore problems—real and imaginary.
What makes the relationship between Maggie and Clara special, and different from the other ones in the story?
Durfey-Lavoie: Middle school is hard but having someone you can rely on, who will be your best friend, can make it easier. For me that was my twin. For Veronica she had a group! So we wanted to reflect that connection. For Maggie Clara is someone who is the same age, has the same interests, and geeks out the same way (as Maggie is for Clara as well). Finding that person can be really important and throughout Just Roll With It, you get to see how they balance each other.
The 20 sided die plays a large part in the story, as well as other elements of role playing games, comics, and fandom. How are they detrimental and helpful to your protagonists?
Agarwal: I think imagination and fantasy play such an interesting role in this book because as you mentioned, they both help and hinder Maggie—sometimes at the same time. So much of my own anxiety is focused on making the correct choice the first time, to avoid uncomfortable situations. A lot of the time I spend ruminating (rumination is a big part of OCD) is me trying to pick the correct choice in situations that don’t actually have a right or wrong answer.
The D20 is Maggie’s solution to that, but you see in the book the natural progression of a lot of compulsions—they help you until they start to control you. Sometimes she bends the D20’s answer to lean toward the solution she wanted in the first place. This reflects how anxiety will do gymnastics to make logic go along with it. This kind of scenario is what can put a huge emotional and mental load on a person. OCD is all about compulsions that ‘help’ you … until they don’t anymore. So I wanted the dice to be a physical item that’s important to her, that brings her comfort, but she ultimately has to learn to be without, because in the end it’s hurting more than helping.
When younger readers finish Just Roll With It, what do you hope the big takeaway is for them?
Durfey-Lavoie: I hope they find comfort, and understanding. I hope they find a voice that says ‘You’re not alone. You’re not broken. There’s words for what you’re feeling—and it’s going to be okay’.
Agarwal: Besides what Lee said, I hope it gives them some vocabulary to use going forward. Sometimes these things are hard to put into words… so having a starting point where you can say “well it’s kind of like this” is something I want to provide.
Agarwal: Right now, I’m working on the inks for the second book in the Just Roll With it series! I’m having a lot of fun exploring a new mechanic to represent anxiety (water), so I’m looking forward to being able to share this second story with everyone.
Just Roll With It (from Random House Graphic) is now available in finer book stores everywhere.