Rocko Jerome Interview by Anthony Andujar Jr 12/17/22
Interviewer: Anthony Andujar Jr
Interviewee: Rocko Jerome
Appearing on the indie comics scene suddenly in 2021 with GHOST Agents, self-described “Writer/Producer” Rocko Jerome and his partner in crime, Cosmic Lion Productions Publisher Eli Schwab, made history with five successful Kickstarter campaigns run back to back within the length of a year. The final one of that marathon run, entitled GHOST Agents: Apocalyptico, collects material from the previous campaigns’ now totally sold-out comics, a trippy anthology featuring the work of a murderers’ row of up-and-coming artists, as well as a few pages from the Outlaw Comic icon himself, Ken Landgraf.
Q1. Hi Rocko! To start things off, what started you on the path of comics and comics making?
RJ: For anyone who loves comics and doesn’t have the foggiest idea of how to get into making them, let me give you hope. It was totally accidental! I just kind of wound up in the position that I’m in now. A door opened, and I ran through it and kept going.
Q2. You worked on Image Grand Design. What was that process like as an editor and writer?
RJ: For anyone who doesn’t know, Image Grand Design was this massive bootleg comic made during the worst of the covid pandemic. It involved dozens of artists from several countries taking advantage of a sudden surplus of time on their hands and a hefty desire to distract themselves from reality, all making fast friends with other people who also needed something to keep them on the bright side on the other end of a zoom meeting screen. It’s been called the greatest bootleg comic ever, and I agree.
That’s where it all began for me.
I was called the editor of Image Grand Design because that was the familiar comic book lingo, but I did minimal editing. I was more like a project manager and conceptualist. I’m proud of everything we did there; if you can find that book, I encourage you to grab it, even if you don’t think you like those early Image comics. I didn’t know I did, either!
I never quite understood that line from Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” until 2020. The news was increasingly heartbreaking and anxiety-inducing, but at the same time, I had found my tribe working with these guys from all over the planet who love comics as much as I do and in a similar way that I do. We would do these late-night marathon zoom meetings with cats from all over the globe jamming on that thing. We all had a lot on our minds and spirits, and that was where we put that energy. It was happy and exciting and inspiring and felt actually socially engaging. Even though we were all physically secluded in our own daily lives, it felt like we had a party on Zoom every night. And it’s not hip to say this, but we owe that connection to Facebook!
Q3. How did your current project, GHOST Agents, come into being? What was the inspiration for this book? What was the development process like?
RJ: Since I’m not much of an artist, I didn’t have any actual work to do on IGD between the planning phase and when all the pages started coming in, which would be months later. It was exhilarating to suddenly find myself working on comics after a lifetime of loving them, but just as suddenly as it began, it ended for me from like June forward. So that’s when I started working on GHOST Agents as a way to use the same model from IGD on something that hopefully has longer legs.
GHOST Agents works based around doing what I liked about IGD and not doing what I didn’t like. Those guys worked on IGD like it was their job but had no possible or potential ability to make a dime off of it. When it came time to release it, it was like it was radioactive. Contraband. There was all this interest, but we were tempting getting sued by several different entities if we tried putting it out in a big way, including Warner Bros and Todd McFarlane. I’m never putting myself in that predicament again, where there’s zero profit and actual danger involved due to something that requires months to create.
Another thing is that every GHOST Agents story stands alone, even though they all exist in the same world and timeline. That means that, in most cases, if an artist blows a deadline, it doesn’t affect me at all. Because most guys do make it. The book comes out without the artists in it who don’t. Hopefully, they catch the next bus. I keep making these, GHOST Agents is an ongoing project.
I don’t intend to sound bitter about that because I respect the hell out of artists, and I’m pretty confident any of the many creative people I’ve worked with will tell you that. Comics are a visual medium. Art makes the thing work and is the deciding factor in whether the stories I write succeed or fail. I get them paid. I try my best to get their work seen. GHOST Agents is a very art-forward project.
Q4. You’ve worked with a slew of artists on GHOST Agents, such as Chris Anderson, Ben Perkins, Barry Tan, Chris Fason, Christian J. Meesey (Meesimo), Adam Lemnah, John Burkett, Craig CK, Shawn Coots, Chris Humphreys, Dave Grom, Rick Lopez, Chris Fason, Danny Nicholas, Dave Praetorius, Miguel Galindo, Jason Foster, Peter Hensel, Tony Fero, and Sam J. Royale, and a few other illustrators. What was the process like when collaborating with each illustrator?
RJ: I usually write the stories with the specific artist in mind after they tell me what they want to draw. I lean into that. And I’m talking very broadly, like, “What do you want? Monsters, cars, women? Don’t like drawing motorcycles, guns, robots? Ok, got it.” Then I eat a Delta 8 hemp gummy, and the stuff falls out of me into the computer.
I don’t often give the artists much direction outside of “Keep it weird.” I never want this to look like just some comic book. I want it to be perpetually adventurously designed and even challenging.
Q5. The GHOST Agents face a threat, a terrorist organization known as Apocalyptico. What kind of challenges do they invite for GHOST Agents?
RJ: So once you reach a certain point in your life, the archetypes all start to look more alike than not alike. Whether we’re talking Spectre, SMERSH, Hydra, Cobra, KAOS, the Galactic Empire, you name it… They’re all kind of the same thing. So in writing this thing, the only way I could think of was, what if this one was not interested in world domination but was instead just made up of absolute nihilists? They only want to end human life on earth. So that’s been fun to write.
Q6. What do you find is the most challenging part when writing GHOST Agents? Do you navigate the writing thresholds that come with making an anthology series that is standalone yet connected?
RJ: I realize this will sound a certain way, but there’s nothing hard about it. It’s extremely easy. I occasionally jot down my daydreams, and these incredible artists make them real. The only thing that’s challenging is keeping it all straight, but that’s not hard. These characters are my friends in a way.
Q7. Given that a lot of GHOST Agents is set in the 1960s and 70s and is inspired by many things that came from those decades, was there a particular soundtrack or playlist that you wrote each installment to in order to guide the tone or narrative of the series? What tracks or albums would you describe to best fit each installment or which tracks best suited the stories contained within the series?
RJ: Yeah, it’s all about Lalo Schifrin. Also, go on youtube and do “KPM library.” Just dive in there if you have not. That kind of instrumental jazz music is used in a lot of movie and TV soundtracks. I’m nuts about that kind of thing. One of my favorite genres of music. Also, I’m working on getting an original piece done. I don’t want to say too much, but there may soon be an actual GHOST Agents Theme…
Q8. Will readers get to see how far GHOST Agents spans across the decades, such as the ’80s, 90s, and into the 2000s?
RJ: For certain. Apocalyptico is mainly of that Cold War era or far futurescapes that looks as if they were conceived back then, but we’re not married to that, and later this year, you will see proof of that.
Q9. What’s next down the pipeline that readers should keep an eye out for?
RJ: I’m sticking with GHOST Agents for the rest of my life. I’m just going to keep doing these. This book can be anything, and I’m going to prove it.
The book, treasury size and on newsprint, is out now and you can order it here: