Formerly on fractalmatter.com, 1 March 2008
Interview: Nick RocheEdit
People always have a dream when they are younger about what they want to do when they get older. Comic artist (and now writer) Nick Roche has managed to reach his dream already: He writes and draws giant transforming robots that blow each other up. James Dodsworth caught up with Nick to discuss his budding career and possibly how to break into his house…
FractalMatter: What’s the obsession with Transformers?
Nick Roche: ‘Obsession’ is your word, not mine. But it is a good word and it fits beautifully. Let’s run with it.
The thing is with people’s lifelong obsessions is it’s what grabs you the earliest that usually keeps your attention, and pledges your eternal allegiance without you even knowing it. Well, in my neck of the woods, most people’s initial exposure to the heady world of sequential-storytelling would have been the numerous toy tie-in comics that Marvel UK were peddling in the mid-eighties. (Actually, my first experience with comics was probably with the Cannon & Ball or Duran Duran two-page strips in Look-In, but after that…) At that time, in an Ireland with only newsstand titles available, and specialist shops just one more reason to flee to Thatcher’s Britain, Transformers, Action Force, Thundercats and the Star Wars titles were the only comics available to kids like me who weren’t old enough to read 2000AD. I guess I could have jumped for Secret Wars, but the characters in that didn’t turn into Porsches or have a brilliant cartoon with a theme tune made from heroin. I got into the Transfomers comics just as the seminal Target:2006 storyline was beginning, and I was hooked, but I could have just as easily become a Marvel junkie, depending on what I had been exposed to. But the TF universe is just as dense and richly populated and as good (or bad) as any other fictional universe out there. Other five or six-year-old kids were getting sucked into mainstream comics, but I had all my needs satisfied in one mythos. I had a Superman (Optimus Prime), a Wolverine (Grimlock) and a Loki (Starscream) that were all under one roof, were giant robots and could change shape. So basically, why not Transformers?
My girlfriend says that the answer to this question is that I’m trapped in a sustained period of preoperational child development. I don’t trust people with degrees.
FM: When did you first know you wanted to be a comic book artist?
NR: I can’t really remember not wanting to be one, really. I used to write and draw my own stories, and when I started collecting comics, aged six I guess, I started combining the two so the artwork would tell the story. I loved cartoons too, like any kid, and would draw characters from TV. But the more and more I learned about animation, even though the process fascinated me, the louder the voice in my head got, saying, ‘Why go to all that trouble, when all you need to tell your story is a pen and some paper and spare afternoon’. Plus, I had such an encouraging family, and you start to dream these crazy dreams when your aunties keep saying to you ‘Ooh, remember us when you’re a rich and famous comic artist!’ These wonderful and warm words would be thrown back at them when I grew surly in my late teens and would challenge them with, ‘Name one famous comic artist! JUST ONE!!!’ To which Auntie Imelda replied, ‘Love that Steranko, but Will Eisner’s over-rated isn’t he?’
FM: Tell us about how you managed to land a job with IDW?
NR: Same as most folk in the industry, I’d imagine, right place at the right time. I was ready to break ground on small-press thing called The Nixer about shenanigans in the Irish criminal and paramilitary underworld with a writer pal of mine, Dave Hendrick. He’s a bit of a Transformers connoisseur (Yes, they exist.) himself, and we were discussing that IDW had just nabbed the license for Transformers. He knew that I’d submitted stuff with no avail to Dreamwave, but had seen my Transformers sequentials and quite liked ‘em. He then realised that he was acquainted with Beau Smith, who had written for IDW. Dave passed my samples on to Beau, who slung ‘em along to Chris Ryall, and within 24 hours, I got a lovely email from Mr Ryall, saying there’d be some work arising somewhere down the line, and would I like to immortalise him as a Transformer for the new comic’s letters’ page? So following the introduction of the now infamous Chris-Charger character, I got asked to supply covers and now I’m doing interiors, having the time of my life.
FM: How did you enjoy being a guest for the first time at the Dublin Comic Convention this November?
NR: Erm…bewildered! I loved it, but my second issue of Spotlight had just been released days earlier, and I was immensely proud and chuffed, feeling that I was living the dream…and then I look around me on the panel and I’m literally in the middle of Doctor Who, Robin Hood and Wisdom writer, Paul Cornell, creator of Death’s Head II and current DC darling Liam Sharp, (whose church I worshipped at when TFs folded back in ‘92 and the likes of Overkill sprung up) Adi Granov, artist extraordinaire and designer on the upcoming Iron Man movie and Mark freakin’ Millar, who has a machine in his garage where he prints money for Joe Quesada! The guy who drew two issues of Transformers-in the middle of that!
But every single one of them was just lovely and down-to-earth, and really put me at ease. I had a great time, and if I never get to repeat it, I’ll always have that day.
FM: Tell us about the upcoming Spotlight book you’re drawing - and I believe writing as well?
NR: Indeed. It’s a Transformers: Spotlight comic, and this issue focuses on Kup, the grizzled old Autobot war-horse, who has a wise word and a tall story for every occasion. Only this story finds him in a sticky predicament. He’s lost and alone on a desert planet, the only survivor of a mission that crashed there who-knows-how-long ago. His old robot-brain ain’t what it used to be, and not because of old age either. It’s slowly being eroded by the dangerous levels of radiation contained in the planet’s delicate crystalline structure. Combine that with the Transformers equivalents of sleep deprivation, (prolonged periods without shutdown) hunger (Energon depletion) and a dodgy ticker (unstable sparkcore) and it’s clear Kup’s not having a great time. But when the planet’s suns sink below the horizon, and Kup starts to drift nearer and nearer to shutdown, that’s when the Zombots arrive to make the old geezer’s life that bit more hellish. It’s a weird, creepy little happening in a corner of IDW’s Transformers universe.
FM: What other comics or book interest you at the moment?
NR: I’m lucky enough to be too busy to read much these days and unlucky enough to not live in a town with a comic shop. The latter will be changing shortly with a move to Dublin, but I’m reading a lot of the obvious stuff-Ultimates, Civil War, Ultimate Spider-Man, Invincible, Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Eternals, Astonishing X-Men... all that good stuff. Hopefully, with my closer proximity to a comic shop, I’ll get to try some new flavours of comic soon. And maybe even read a book without pictures.
FM: Who else would you like to see writing Transformers apart from yourself and the mighty Simon Furman?
NR: Hmm. Chris Ryall has blown me away with his knowledge of the TF universe, to be honest, he’s really done his homework. So I’m looking forward to reading his prequel stuff, and someday, see what he can do without Simon as collaborator. I honestly think that Millar could do a really good job on a TF tale, though I know there’s no bargepole big enough for him to touch them with! A lot of the writers I really love like Neil Gaiman, BKV, and Bendis, just don’t really scream Transformers at me. Not to say I wouldn’t buy (or draw) something with their name attached to it, I just can’t think of anyone who’d particularly suit it off the top of my head.
Hopefully, someday Chris and Dan at IDW might get a look at some of James Roberts’ stuff. He’s a fan-writer who self-published a TF novel back in 2001, but if the fandom is fertile place to pick artists from (which it seems to be, as myself, Don, Guido and others all started off there) it might just be a place to go to check out some writers too. But honestly, Simon has built this particular iteration of the TF universe from scratch and (unless people really like the Kup one-shot!) I’m happy enough not to see anyone’s name in the writer’s credits apart from his. He’s doing an unreal job right now, and is getting better and better.
FM: What would you like to move onto later now that you are in the process of creating your dream work with the Kup Spotlight?
NR: I’m happy enough to…no. Scratch that. I WANT to stay on Transformers for as long as I can. This is the title I would liked to have ended up on, so to get a chance on it at the beginning of my career is a Godsend. (Like I said, it all comes down to the bug what bites ya first!) I’ve got ideas for some creator-owned stuff, and I guess everyone would like to say they did a Batman or a X-Men. But I’m hoping my future contains some more Transformers. Ask me again in a few years though…!
FM: Given free reign to play with the rest of the IDW Transverse what would you write and who would you have draw it?
NR: I’ve got an idea for a Blurr one-shot that I hope to get around to pitching at some stage. Springer’s a favourite too, I just love the characters from the original movie. With that in mind, I’d really like to set up Kup and Hot-Rod’s relationship in the IDW-verse. And I’d love to put my stamp on a Starscream one-shot. As for who draws them…you mean if I have pencilling dis-rememberance syndrome? Geof Darrow, Mike Mignola, Humberto Ramos and Joe Madureira will do nicely, sir. I’d like to see a Liam Sharp Bludgeon one-shot. And If I’m really playing wish list, Geoff Senior circa 1986, and Bryan Hitch. (Get him drunk to sign the contract, sober him up to do the work. Simple as that.)
FM: How did you feel about people’s reactions to the Shockwave and Hot Rod books?
NR: Couldn’t be happier. Honestly. Shockwave was frighteningly well received, the script to that was magnificent. There were a couple more critics for Hot Rod, but it still seemed to go down very well, and I think the overwhelmingly positive feedback for Shockers made up for those who felt Hot Rod wasn’t to their taste. But both seem to be rated relatively highly all round. So much so, that I think I’ve been spoilt a bit, and I have to realise that not everything one does is going to be a bobby-dazzler. If I can get a quarter of the good reaction for Kup that Hot Rod and Shockwave garnered, I’ll think myself very, very jammy.
FM: What is your favourite cover that you have done so far, and why?
NR: Yikes, that’s tough. The Graham Crackers incentive cover to Infiltration #1 holds a special place ‘cos it’s my first published cover, and it’s all me; pencilling, inking and colouring. I quite like Generations #12, the ‘Car-Wash of Doom’ cover. But I think the cover to Target: 2006 #3, which isn’t out just yet, might be my favourite, if only for the reason that it features a character I don’t think anyone ever expected to see on a US Transformers cover.
FM: How does the new Transformers movie make you feel, honestly?
NR: The more I see, the more I like! I’ve had my snobbish, sceptical moments, just like everyone, but that trailer released just before Christmas eased a lot of minds, I think. If they get the spectacle side of things right, which I reckon they will, then I’ll be very, very happy. If it turns out to be an engaging film with compelling characters and an involving story, then that’s a lovely bonus and I think a surprise for humanity as a whole. But I know it won’t be perfect; Only the inclusion of “Dare” and “The Touch” could make that so.
FM: Your own personal stalker, Mr Mark Hall asks the last question: “What’s your Alarm Code?”
NR: S’funny, I can’t think of it right now. Only the number ‘999′ keeps appearing in my head…
With thanks to Lorcan and Mark for their assistance