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Spy new material with Rocko Jerome latest GHOST Agents stories

Rocko Jerome, writer of the GHOST Agents stories, which sprawl across dozens of iterations from nearly as many artists, sits down in the Yeti Cave with Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin, to discuss work both available and upcoming.

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Rocko, this conversation has been a long time in the making, and I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to give GHOST Agents some attention. How’s everything going so far this year? 



ROCKO JEROME: 

As I type this, the inaugural Indie Comics Creator Con, or, as we call it, IC3, since even “ICCC” is kind of a mouthful, is just days away from happening in New Haven, Connecticut. For a certain plucky gang of upstart comic book makers that first happened to become acquainted around this time of the year back in 2020, it’s a gathering we’ve been talking about making happen for all these years. This will be my first time face to face and hand to hand with at least a couple dozen people that I’ve come to consider as spiritual siblings, most of them GHOST Agents collaborators. If you’re reading this before March 9th and like what we do, get your ass to New Haven. If it’s too late, well, maybe see you next year.    



CBY: I think you've given everyone something to look forward to in 2025! You plunked down GHOST Agents: Apocalyptico, GHOST Agents/Metropolis, and GHOST Agents: Crimson Reckoning in our interviews inbox, and you said you had more in store. What’s the latest news you’d like to share with our readers?



RJ: The first ever “feature length” GHOST Agents story is available for order now, and it’s a fucking doozy. Up to now, GHOST Agents has been an anthology series in which up-and-coming artists create comics based on my scripts. Now, we’ve got one that’s a 30-page story drawn by one dude: Ken Landgraf.


Ken Landgraf makes absolutely insane comics, and has for a long time. His work was in the first comic little Rocko pulled off a spinner rack, a story where Wolverine and Hercules kick each other’s asses in a barfight over a woman. Today, he sells original art on eBay. A lot of images of like a 38 DD Wonder Woman about to beat Hitler to death in various permutations, that kind of thing. 


Now, Ken is no slouch. He’s very talented and his art has been very well honed over a lifetime. But he’s not polished, and he’s better for it. His work is primal. I say, with love, that it has what I call, “ninth grade energy.” The same part of my brain that loves pro wrestling and the smell of super glue is activated by Ken’s art. I’m not alone in that. The dude is a beast, he has a following, and I think when people see this book we’re making, it’s going to be considered one of his all time best. It will be colored by Christian J. “Meesimo” Meesey, and will be 11” by 7.5” on newsprint. It’s called GHOST Agents: Outlaw Town.


CBY: That sounds exciting - I looked up Ken's work once you mentioned it, and I've definitely seen some of it over the years! Now, the GHOST in GHOST Agents  is short for Global Hierarchy Of Secret Tactics. What was the rationale behind landing on this organization name, and what does it mean in the context of historic American power elite during the Cold War and the efforts to secure hegemony underway during the 1960’s (which is the initial/primary timeframe in which most of the comic is set)?



RJ: I just needed to string some spy-fi sounding words together to spell out GHOST.


I always tend to answer those types of questions in a glib manner like that, because frankly, I feel stupid talking about the fantastical plots of these things. There is an overarching story made up of many stories, and I know what it is, but I think of these primarily as art books. I don’t really care for most comic book writers, even though I am one. Come for the art. If you like how I write, cool.



CBY: Your various installments definitely put the art at the forefront, often with stories very spare on dialogue, letting the visuals do the heavy lifting, for sure. You’ve worked with dozens of artists across the various G.H.O.S.T. Agents titles. The visual style goes in all sorts of incredibly experimental and creative directions, drawing on a variety of influences from artists of previous decades. Can you detail the collaborative methods and arrangements that you find work best? What sort of notes do you customarily provide your artistic collaborators? What challenges have arisen, and what installments really flowed along most smoothly?



RJ: I hang on loosely, but don’t let go. I think of things in cinematic terms. I call myself the “Writer/Producer” of GHOST Agents. Robert Evans was a big hero of mine. Without him, we wouldn’t have The Godfather, Chinatown, and Rosemary’s Baby. His main contribution was in letting creative people be creative, and advocating for them so that boring people with boring interests didn’t interfere more than absolutely necessary to get amazing shit made.


You’ve heard that old chestnut about how the special effects on comics are unlimited because the artist can draw whatever? Well, I go several steps further. I also think of the artist as the director, the cinematographer, central casting, everything you see. I write my scripts, which are all drug fueled, to suit the artist I’m collaborating with on that story. I don’t think of art as something I “hire.” I write to see them do things I think they would enjoy doing and make art I want to see. My mantra to them is “get weird.” The only thing I never want to be involved in the making of conventional looking comics.  


Challenges are few. I’m easy. I am protective of my core characters and that they look how I need them to look and that certain continuity things are maintained, but I am equally or more into letting artists do their shit. Every time there’s been a monster in this, I just say, “Draw a monster.” And there have been a lot of those. 

I don’t consider this a barometer of success, but it’s interesting to note when the art comes in - which is always an event - how much it looks like I envisioned it. Barry Tan, who is into so much of the exact same stuff I’m into (Steranko, Toth, Kirby, Cooke), his stuff is 90% what I saw in my head. Ben Perkins, who is kind of a wild card and I honestly don’t know who his influences are, it’s like 40% or less. I love them equally. It’s interesting and exciting either way.



CBY: Ah, yeah - Ben definitely takes some novel approaches to panels - often from angles I'd never have thought of, and that's part of why I've grown fond of his stuff the more I've seen of it. Can you provide some additional context on the publication of G.H.O.S.T. Agents, the relationship with Cosmic Lion, and the process by which you brought all these vignettes together in a coordinated series of publications? What sort of considerations have gone into getting each of the G.H.O.S.T. Agents releases out to the market?



RJ: I work in marketing and have always been fascinated by it since I was very small. Star Wars came out in 1977, I came out in 78, into a world where all things had that groovy logo on it.  I was in kindergarten when all that deregulated children’s programming like He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe hit, and let me tell you, that shit worked


Any artist I’ve conspired with can make, and has made, comics without me. The only thing they need from me is a little outside inspiration and a lot of promotion. Guys who have put in their ten thousand hours to get good at drawing don’t tend to relish public engagement. Well, I do, and I shamelessly attack the public with the promotion of these things. I love devising plans and working them out. It’s what I do. 


I didn’t get to start making comics until I accidentally found these people. I’m 45 years old. I go through every door that opens.


Without Eli Schwab, who essentially is Cosmic Lion, there’s no GHOST Agents. He’s the practical support system. Full stop.


CBY: It's great to have defined roles you can count on people to fulfill. To that end, there’s an ensemble of agents in the comic, but most prominently featured is Donna Prentiss. Was there any specific inspiration behind her character, and what sort of 60’s/70’s influences resonate most with you? I can see a lot of small features harkening back to material I recognize, but I don’t want to make specious leaps - any Easter eggs you want readers to keep an eye out for while they’re going through these stories?



RJ: So back to Star Wars, one thing that’s always fascinated me since I learned this; Lucas wanted to remake Flash Gordon serials and King Features Syndicate wouldn’t let him. So he started making up his own very derivative shit anyway, but before long, he’s throwing in Akira Kurosawa and lofty concepts from Joseph Campbell and it becomes its own entity that, today, let’s face it, has become a religion. 


I wanted to make Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD and I don’t get to do that if I want to actually generate revenue, so I started there and then along the way threw more stuff I’m interested in into the conceptual blender until it’s become its own thing. 


I don’t want to tell anyone what to think about it. It’s art.  



CBY: You’ve got a surf rock-inspired theme song for G.H.O.S.T. Agents by a band called The Bellfuries (from my home state of Ohio). How did that arise, and what’s the greater intent behind adding an auditory layer to the comic? You’ve also got a great splash page of Donna in the Apocalyptico collection with a bunch of album covers featured, showing another glimpse of the sort of music central to the aesthetic being crafted. What music do you find most inspiring for your own creative endeavors? 



RJ: I mean, there again, it’s whatever you’re hearing. Donna on that just had a bunch of albums I like and think she likes, and Ben also made his contributions to that. I can say that I really love that period in comics where they were kind of counter-cultural, with Barry Windsor Smith showing up to conventions looking like he was in Led Zeppelin and Wendy Pini as Red Sonja looking like a stone fox. I want comics to get that vibe back.


Joey Simeone of the Bellfuries is a friend of mine and a goddamn genius. I forget if he offered or if I suggested it, but once it started to become a reality I pushed it and it happened, the GHOST Agents Theme. He and I have like three hour phone conversations once every few months, it was definitely a product of one of those.



CBY: I just got back a theme song for one of my projects, and it's certainly a nice feeling to have a touchstone to listen to and make you think of a whole fictional world you've built. You recently packaged G.H.O.S.T. Agents stories alongside an adaptation of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which is now in the public domain. I’m a huge fan of Fritz Lang (and German Expressionism, more broadly) - what conversations and planning led to this project being put together and included in the mix of your release schedule?



RJ: I’ve always been into Metropolis and I like the idea of things like that falling into the public domain; these big stories and concepts that are in the lexicon that we don’t get to properly treat like conventional folklore because some soulless corporation owns them. I mean, I would not be psyched if someone started straight up doing GHOST Agents because we’re still cooking, but if it was a multi-million seller with a bunch of movies and shit and fifty plus years go by, you know, fucking knock yourself out.


An important thing to note, it’s not so much an adaptation as it is a narrative of scenes set in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. In actual practice, I was thinking about how the way AI is destined to play out for people like me who are said to “create content” while they call the plagiarism machine “artificial intelligence” is pretty much what the movie shows you, where we’re all enslaved to drudgery and the robot gets to wreak havoc. 

I didn’t have any conversations with anybody. I just thought about what I wanted to do and then did it, with the help of my friends. That’s all things GHOST Agents



CBY: Not to spoil anything, but the settings the various GHOST Agents stories take place across are shown to vary massively. You’ve mentioned this is all taking place in a contiguous narrative universe - what does your “series bible” look like? How do you keep your world-building in order, and what leads to your decisions to depict certain parts of the overarching tale in the sequence you’ve delivered to the public?



RJ: My whole thing is that people don’t pay attention anymore. Or maybe they never did, but they definitely don’t now. So I’m battling short attention spans, and the only way that I know how to do that is to keep it all really pithy. You can read one story and get something or all the stories and get a whole saga in which I’ve gone to great pains to maintain a continuity. But I don’t really care what you do with it once you’ve bought it. I think it’s a great shame that comics have become such an insular thing that normal people out there feel like they’re somehow not allowed to just read one comic book, or even one panel, and feel something, you know? I really want GHOST Agents to make it to an audience beyond comic book people. We’ll see.


As for a series bible, it’s all in my head. Will I write it down and show people? No. Not until I’m done, and I’m not intending to be done with this until I’m done with life. 



CBY: It's always good to have something to give you a reason to stick around! Finally, I might be creating a slight spoiler by mentioning the comic isn’t just sixties spies - there’s an eldritch, otherworldly undercurrent slowly making itself known over the course of the story. Is there anything you can share about this aspect of the comic without giving away too much?



RJ: It’s all in GHOST Agents: Crimson Reckoning. That one especially is a bunch of stories that are one big story, if read in order. Or maybe my plan failed and it didn’t work. Whoops. The art is still magnificent. It looks excellent.


I don’t tend to love stories where everything is spelled out for me, and I don’t really want to tell those, either. I mean, if you look at 2001: A Space Odyssey, so much of the next 50 years of science fiction has just been pulling concepts from that and dumbing them down. Not that I think I’m Kubrick or something, but I admire that. There’s the work. We made it. What is it? It’s not for us to say. 



CBY: Yeah, I think every installment just provides cumulative contributions towards the greater story you're slowly unveiling. To conclude, I always provide creators with an opportunity to set aside their own work at the end and share with our readers some other inspirations. What other comics, movies, music, literature and other art has been catching your attention lately?



RJ: I might be in the midst of a midlife crisis, if the sudden uptick of ironic t-shirts that I’m probably too old for that I’ve added to my wardrobe anyway the last few months is any indication. Another dead giveaway is that I’ve been trying very deliberately to watch movies of substance and steer clear of the usual mass market shit I’ve been mostly inhaling the last few years. I, like all of us, sat through like thirty fucking Marvel movies (including the long ass end credits) and I’m over it, so it’s going to be A24 and Criterion fare for awhile. My brain needed a better diet. But my whole thing now is, I’m giving myself permission to not rate everything and do all that self-important nerd shit. My whole standard of criticism these days is, was I entertained? Was it interesting? Was my imagination engaged? That’s all I care about.



CBY: Rocko, thanks for stopping by today and keeping our imaginations engaged, and if you’ve got any portfolio, publication, and social media links to share, this is the place!



RJ: 

It’s always GHOSTagents.net.



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