THE BIG INTERVIEW: Nick Roche Talks In Depth About Transformers, Writing…& Mario Kart?

ICN is delighted to present an interview with one of Ireland’s most popular professional artists. Nick Roche has been closely associated with the Transformers franchise in recent years and with several writing credits and being lead artist on The Death of Optimus Prime and launch artist on the hit More Than Meets The Eye earlier this year, it seemed like a good time to catch up with him and get the background on these projects and mroe.
David O’Leary: Hey Nick, thanks for joining us.
Nick Roche: Hello, plucky ICN Interviewer! Thanks for inviting me, and then hanging around while I got back to you. Trust me, the wait will not be in any way worthwhile.
DO’L: Coming off the Chaos Wars we saw two new TF books in a short space of time in the New Year from you. How did you feel getting back to a publishing schedule, any pencil rustiness?
NR: Yeah, it had been a while since February’s Transformers: Infestation shamozzle and my next issue, Death Of Optimus Prime, in December. Bar a couple of pencilling samples and pitches, I had no published sequential action in 10 months. I’d been whittling away that time on concept and product design for toy companies, which is fun but it’s time I always spend dwelling on the fact that ‘I should have a comic on the shelves round about now’. DoOP was a bit of a slog due to the fact that I got married and bogged off on honeymoon slapbang in the middle of it. It was all scheduled, but was a bit of a gear change re-immersing myself into that story. The first issue of More Than Meets The Eye was one of the most fluid, fun gigs I’ve handled, and I think it shows. Really proud of some of the stuff I managed to pull off in that sucker. And with that, back I went to concept and product design chores! What a fickle fool am I.
DO’L: The Death of Optimus Prime was a pretty big deal. How was this book pitched to you and how long did you spend working on it?
NR: Outgoing Transformers Editor Andy Schmidt pitched it to me by saying, ‘This is a Pretty Big Deal’. And it was! It served as the coda to one era of IDW’s Transformers curatorship and the seed-sowing of the next chapter. It was this big, crash-bang-wallop, standalone milestone, and I was selected as the guy to draw it. It meant a lot for so many reasons, especially as I had never gotten too much of a chance to really work on a Prime-centric story. As it stands, this one was All-Prime, All-The-Time, with the Big Guy doing lots of noble things and carrying the weight of the galaxy on his truck-cabbed shoulders, so it was nice to be the one to give him his send-off. (Until he comes back in #6 of Robots In Disguise!)
I spent a little longer than normal on it, mainly because of the nuptials crashing the production schedule and all that entails. But I also slaved over it working as best I can on the storytelling elements and layouts. I was conscious of the issue being as visually rewarding as I could possible make it. So maybe about 8 weeks of work went into it? Hard to tell when a lot of that time was making table plans, un-inviting racist cousins and choosing the right-length frockcoat to wear for my big day.
DO’L: *SPOILER* The ‘Death’ of course was more metaphoric than literal, prior to reading the script, which were you more hoping to see/draw, a literal demise of a huge character or him flying away into the stars?
NR: What I hoped for didn’t necessarily enter into it, as it wasn’t originally titled The Death of Optimus Prime. It went through a few different iterations, including the Furman-homaging End of The Road. And a lot of the time, it was referred to internally as TF #125 due to some wacky logic about it being IDW’s 125th single issue set in their ‘Ultimised’ Transformers Universe. So there was never the noir-ish car park meeting with Andy asking, ‘Psst! Wanna hear about a comic called Death of Optimus Prime?’ (Which is how most comics gigs actually begin.) I always knew the outcome. Now, if you’re asking Artist Nick what would he like to draw; a meaty character piece where the hero peacefully steps down to embrace his fate at the end of the tale, or a piston-thrusting pile-up where a childhood icon is torn to shreds in a last stand that makes The Wreckers TPB look over-hyped? Then Artist Nick votes for the option where he gets to set alight his favourite toys in an act that symbolises the end of his childhood, and the defeat of his own father in stripped-to-the-waist-from-the-feet-up ball-thudding combat. Artist Nick is a gonk of the highest order though.
DO’L: It of course led into More Than Meets The Eye. It’s not every day you launch a new TF ongoing book. How did you approach the run knowing the interest in the book was much higher after The Chaos War?
NR: Well, as we all know now but only I knew then…there was never going to be a ‘run’ for me on MTMTE. I know that was what IDW and James Roberts – the current TF Story Factory on that book – had hoped for, and that’s turgidly flattering, but I had other commitments and priorities lined up that precluded me from doing anything but launch that sucker. And I guess the reason why I was allowed to remain as the title’s inaugural artiste is that it must have made sense to reunite James and I after the success of Last Stand of The Wreckers. I’m delighted it ended up that way. It really was one of the most fun issues I’ve had the privilege of working on, and that series  – along with its companion title, Robots in Disguise – has made me a fan of Transformers comics in a way that I hadn’t been in a few years. I’m more than happy to pick up my monthly fix as a loyal reader…and then slam everyone as an Anonymous Message Board Dick, typing one-handed as I break hearts and destroy confidence from afar.
All that said, I’m back for a fill-in on #6 that again pays off on something James and I worked on in the past. I’d be happy enough to pop back and do these oneshots every now and a then if I’m not working on other things.
DO’L: Now that MTMTE is a sales success (#1 was IDW’s third highest selling book in January), how have you found the response considering that the TF fan base is one of the oldest and most critical of any fan base out there?
NR: The response made me wish I had stayed aboard the book after all! I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be to #1. After all this time, I have no objectivity about the stories I work on or the affect they’ll have on readers. Creatively, I was happy to be working on what I was working on, but it was really gratifying to see everything James, Josh and I worked on be appreciated in the warm way it was. And now with Alex Milne onboard as regular artist, it just seems to be going from strength to strength. Until #6 in July when I come back to stink the place up.
DO’L: You came close to winning a writing award at last years ICNA’s. Have you any plans to expand your work on the writing front?
NR: Yeah. Those ICNAs were a lovely pre-Christmas rub on the belly. Thanks to my mam who voted as often as she did…Writing is where I feel creatively happiest and strongest these days. Generating the stories that I’m going to draw is really all I fancy doing right now, rather than pencilling someone else’s script. And that’s not a knock on any of the writers I’m lucky enough to work with. I’ve only had one dud script in 6 years of being a pro; I’m a jammy guy. But more writing from me, for sure. I’m definitely doing some writing for IDW that will see the light of day before the end of 2012, and the hope is always to squirrel away enough time and resources to brew up something in the key of ‘Creator-Owned’. I’m just really inspired by the other Eclectic Micks who are pursuing their own ideas and seeing them through at the moment, so if I can make something like that happen, I’ll follow their brave lead.
DO’L: Speaking of writing, how did you land the gig of Spotlight Kup?
NR: That came about by accident. IDW EiC Chris Ryall mentioned that they were looking to open up writer spots on their Transformers Spotlight series. I set about recommending a few guys – one of whom was James Roberts – and then I realised that I knew a few things about Transformers, maybe I could take a stab at it? There was never a plan to write for Transformers at all; I was chuffed to bits that they were keen to use my drawings in their comics, and I was loving the direction Simon Furman had taken the series since IDW had obtained the license. What did I have to contribute to the rushing river of robotic ribaldry that was in full flow? But – as if Stan Bush himself had power-chorded glory into my heart – I seized upon an idea-nugget, fleshed it out, and curled it off – still steaming – into Chris Ryall’s inbox. High on Prittstick and power, Chris greenlit it, and my occasional comic writing career putt-putted into existence.
DO’L: Did the fact that it seemed to be very well received surprise you any bit?
NR: Absolutely. As a fan, I’d have been scandalised by anyone but Furman taking a turn at writing these characters, so I’m still buzzing on the generosity and acceptance most of the fan community showed me on the back of that tale. I fully believed it was a fluke even as other scripts I had written were published, but they too (Everything In Its Right   Place, LSOTW) went down better than I had ever hoped. I don’t take any of it for granted though. The day anything I’ve ever worked on gets a release, I get something akin to pre-show nerves waiting for feedback and online reactions. (And flaming faeces penetrating my letterbox.) I’m wracked with the worry that I’m about to be found out and that my infiltration into the world of comic-book writing will be discovered as the ruse it is.
DO’L: You are quite closely associated with the Transformers franchise. Have you a wish to move past that to other genres of comic story telling or does working on this behemoth just too much fun?
NR: This giant robot gig is one of the funnest around, no doubt, but it sort of dulls some other artistic disciplines the longer you remain on it. I obviously carry the same lofty ambitions we all have to create a worthy piece of art that uses sequential storytelling to reflect and alter human behaviour, tainting any and all culture that came before it and informing all pop culture that spawned in its wake. That said, I am jonesing to draw superheroes. For all the options out there in comics – and them options be infinite – I can’t shake the urge to regress and draw some spandexed power-fantasy. And I have a few ideas in fairytale vibe I’d like to play with too. I kinda like the splashy populist stuff though, y’know? Comics that are all chorus speak to me, I’m afraid!
DO’L: You’ve toyed in the Dr. Who and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles houses before. Are there any other childhood properties you’d like a run at?
NR: I realised recently that my ‘Favesies’ are old TV and cartoon franchises from the eighties, as opposed to comic-book properties and such. I love drawing a Ghostbuster every now and then, but I’m not sure how satisfying pencilling a whole comic of that would be at this stage. It could be amazing! But I dunno if I’d have the interest for it. Thundercats would be fun – very comic booky – but only if I was allowed to use some of my own ‘style’ on it. I love the new series, but I’d find the model sheets a little restrictive. Part of me has always been keen on doing something a bit medieval and swashbuckly, based on a love of Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers as a lad, so something that scratches that itch would be ace.
DO’L: What does the rest of this year hold for you work wise?
NR: The whole year isn’t totally mapped out, but definitely something in serial form written and drawn by me from IDW, as well as the covers for MTMTE. More product and concept design –some of which you will see and other bits which will remain in NDA hell – and spare time given over to some of my own writing with an eye on creator-owned comics and possibly kids’ books. I’ll be hassling the wonderful ICN to pimp whatever does curl from my poopchute though!

Nick Roche

DO’L: Are you still mediocre at Mario Kart? 🙂
NR: Hnn. Yes. And getting mediocrer-er. I’m a solid mid-tabler. Never come last, but struggle for first place. My Wii skills have totally dulled my Gamecube reflexes though. But it’s one of the few games in this existence I play for enjoyment. Everything else I get moody and stand-offish if I don’t win.
DO’L: Nick, thanks for your time, take care.
NR: Love you lots, ICN. You’re good people.
DO’L: Too kind, cheers man.