The Birth of ROK
Go back 25 years or so. Writers Alan Grant and John Wagner are working together, sitting on the floor of Wagner's office, throwing ideas around, creating a new comic. It's a British-style anthology. They have half a dozen ideas sketched out already, now they're looking for a football story. But what? In the long history of British comics so many football stories had been told, so many angles covered, that it would be close to impossible to find something that had not been done before.
The world's first Alien Footballer?
Would it work?
The more they discussed the concept the more their enthusiasm grew. They talked around the idea for a few sessions, building a bank of ideas, working out direction and key developments, getting to know the character.
The first script was only a few pages long and heavily condensed, but both men believed they'd found a gem. And then...they buried it in a file for a quarter of a century.
Producing comics is an expensive business and an easy way to lose money. The pair had come to the conclusion that if they went ahead the comic would probably bankrupt them. Better stick to things that actually made money.
John Wagner never travels anywhere without a heavy guard.
Alan Grant meets the only one of his characters actually tougher than him.
One or other of them eventually used some of the stories, or parts of them, but Rok languished unused in John's filing cabinet. Who was buying football stories these days, even weird ones?
Back from the dead
In 2015, looking for a new project, John turned to his files and pulled out, among other things...Rom of the Rovers. It was the original tongue-in-cheek title of the story, a cheerful nod to the recently-revived comic icon Roy of the Rovers.
Totally irrelevant photo but excellent Judge Death cosplay.
Rovers was scrapped first - that was never intended to survive - followed by Rom. Rok was a much stronger name. Rok of the Reds. It had a ring to it.
John expanded the first episode and worked out a rough outline for a 6 issue mini series, drawing heavily on the work he and Alan had done all those years before. Now all that remained was to find the artist. It had to be someone who could afford to work for the poverty rates he could pay. He turned straight to two 2000AD-related fanzines, Zarjaz and Dogbreath. Editor Dave Evans had been nurturing new talent in them for years and had many able contributors who would be snowed under with work if the UK comic industry had not shrunk to near vanishing point.
One artist who particulary stood out was Dan Cornwell. His linework, his attention to detail and the level of character he put into his people was exceptional. John dashed off an email...did Dan have an interest in football? Someone, Dan thought, was having a laugh - John Wagner, creator of Judge Dredd, emailing him about football?
Rok, you are my son!
When he'd picked himself up off the floor Dan was only too pleased to say yes. A bus driver in Brighton with a longtime desire to draw comics, he jumped at the chance of working with two comic legends.
His first task was to create the twin heroes, Rok and Kyle Dixon. Kyle's foul-tempered youth was no problem to such a fine character artist - Rok would be a harder proposition. A comic can stand or fail by the presence and impact of its hero. Rok had to be fearsome, imposing, yet somehow loveable. But yet again, to John's surprise, the first images Dan sent were almost right on the button. The world's first alien footballer was off and running -- a mere quarter century late.
Indeed, so well received was the comic's art that little more than a year after issue 1 hit the shelves and with work coming in from 2000AD and other quarters, Dan was at last able to say goodbye to the buses and take up a full-time freelance career.
Jim Campbell's touching tribute on Dan's leaving day.
Colour me Alien
In her day job you'll find Abby Bulmer at the Manchester comic shop, Travelling Man. Pop in, say hello, and she'll be happy to sell you a copy of the Rok of the Reds graphic novel - or indeed many other things, including her own charming little comic, Gumbo. What she probably won't tell you, because she's so modest, is that it's her colours that help make Rok of the Reds such a joy to read. Stunning, spectacular - or more subtle when required - Abby provides the perfect palette for our alien footballer.
Stop playing with toys and get colouring, Bulmer.
That only leaves the lettering. Good lettering and special effects is a vitally important but often overlooked element of the comic arts, so the team was very pleased to welcome Jim Campbell aboard. Self-proclaimed Goth, cantankerous, argumentative, just the qualities the team was looking for. Jim handles a lot of the mechanics of putting the comic together, his lettering is first rate and speedy and his sound effects are superb.
We're grateful Jim could fit us in between seasons of Deadwood.
Rok's first season was ably published by Glasgow small press publisher BHP, from whom issues 1 - 6 and the collected edition are still available. For Rok's second season the team is going it alone. Its early doors yet, but things is looking good for the big red alien.