Roy Race’s footballing legacy was rejuvenated by Rebellion back in 2018 with the start of all-new adventures from an all-new Roy, played out across a series of books, by Tom Palmer with illustrations by Lisa Henke, and in three graphic novels by Rob Williams and Ben Willsher.
That was the 2018-2019 season, but now it’s time to get going with season 2 and with the publication of Roy of the Rovers – Transferred on 14 November things have changed both on and off the pitch and with the creative team.
So, time to catch up with Rob Williams and new graphic novel artist, Lisa Henke, to talk transfers and substitutions…
So far in the all-new footballing adventures of Roy of the Rovers we’ve seen young Roy get his chance, rising from new kid to star striker in the course of one season, but things behind the scenes haven’t been as smooth at Melchester.
Can you give us an idea of what’s been happening and what the new season holds for both Roy and for Melchester Rovers?
Rob Williams: Going into Season Two Melchester have been promoted via a thrilling playoffs win and Roy is now looking forward to starting a season for Melchester as their established centre-forward. But horrible money-grabbing team owner Barry ‘The Meat’ Cleaver has other plans.
Barry’s not only looking to sell the club he’s also looking to offload some of its best young players. And Roy finds himself potentially being ‘Transferred’ whether he likes it or not.
Having read Transferred, one thing that immediately struck me was how much more dense this was. Not in terms of storytelling, it’s still as flowing and wonderfully fun as always. But simply in terms of so much going on – having Roy and Paco move to Tynecaster, all the trials and tribulations with Melchester, the fates of Mighty Mouse and Johnny Dexter, even the checking in with Sowerby and Rocky for the women’s game…
RW: I think we built so many fun characters and plot threads into Season One that we have to follow them all and build on them somewhat in Season Two. It’s a fun ensemble cast and they’ve all got their arcs and personal journeys. Even if it’s a background character like struggling striker Patrick Nolan in mid-Season One who then pops up to score the winner in the Playoff final. You have to stay true to these characters.
And Rocky Race, Roy’s sister, is such a brilliant new character in her own right. We’re very committed to embracing women’s football in the Roy books. She and Sowerby deserve their own storylines. It’s a juggling act. But fortunately we have Tom Palmer’s novels along with the graphic novels.
Roy’s always been a soap opera. What’s going on in the characters’ lives is as much a part of the stories as what happens on the pitch. You need to care about these people. It’s always a balancing act and you can never forget that this IS a football comic. But will Mighty Mouse survive his heart-attack? Will Roy be able to afford to help his mum look after his wheelchair-bound father? How will a certain member of the Melchester squad deal with mental-health issues? That’s all the meat of the books, really? Roy hitting his Rocket into the top corner are the big broad beats. The icing on top.
Lisa Henke: I think season one was a lot about establishing Roy himself, what he’s about, and what kind of club he’s getting himself into. Also he pretty much entered this world from the outside, so the first season was all about him getting into Rovers and taking his first steps as a professional. However, the relaunch of Roy has been built up from the off to become a long running saga once more, so all the characters and initial conflicts were designed with a certain level of complexity in mind.
We’re now starting to be able to bring some things we planted in the first season full circle and as season two unfolds you’ll see the plot picking up quite a bit in between the books and graphic novels as well. I think it’s quite a natural process for the story to become bigger and branch out more as we keep going.
Why the change about of artists for this second season? Was Ben unable to do the graphic novels, or was this something that was planned all along to give the series a slightly different look for the new season?
LH: As far as I understand, Ben was about to be going strong on 2000AD again, so Rebellion chose to switch things up and make season two its own thing visually, and make both seasons really stand out from each other.
With me, having worked on season one, knowing all the characters and plot threads in depth, I think they just trusted me to smoothly pick things up where Ben had left off.
They also brought Dan onboard to take over on illustrations for Tom Palmer’s novels. I don’t think I could have handled both and, frankly, having access to another artistic perspective helps me keep things fresh and exciting. I used to draw quite a bit of inspiration from Ben’s work while we were on season one, so I’m happy that I’ve got Dan with me now.
RW: Oh it’s all down to scheduling. Ben did a terrific job on Season One and Lisa brings some amazingly vibrant new character to the second Season. She’s terrific.
Lisa, you’ve obviously been involved with the new ROTR for a long time with both illustrations for the first season of Tom Palmer novels and the Rocky Race strip in the Tammy & Jinty Special this year.
What does the change mean for you, going from illustration to full graphic novels?
LH: I definitely needed to rethink my approach. During season one I switched mediums a lot, starting on the short series of comic strips for Match Of The Day and then illustrating the novels. Moving on to the Rocky short story in the Tammy & Jinty Special and now the graphic novels, they allow for a lot more detail and suddenly there’s a lot more vertical space to organise, so that took some getting used to. But I enjoy the complexity of it. I can really get stuck in and that’s satisfying and fun for me.
Are you on board for the full season of three graphic novels across the 2019/2020 football season?
LH: Yep, I’ll be drawing all three GNs this season. We’re doing book – GN – book – GN – book – GN, all interlocking with each other, like last year.
What process do you use for your art for ROTR?
LH: I draw ROTR almost entirely digitally. The only exception are storyboards, sometimes I’ll draw those on paper. Usually I work on several pages at once and jump a lot between drawings to keep a fresh view.
One thing that’s essential in sports comics is getting the right mix of the on and off-field action and it’s something you seem particularly good at, with the action really jumping off the page at the reader. And just picking out a few things that really stood out…
In terms of off-pitch art, the first wow moment is right there on the first page, where you captured the crowd in a more abstract style, just a fluid mass of supporters, all dressed in Tynecaster Blue. A fabulous moment a little further on comes with a dejected Roy walking past Melchester’s stadium, alone, with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
And as for on the field action, the first we see of that also has a moment where you drop the reader’s eye to pitch level and stretch angles out, creating a really strange but wonderfully dynamic effect of ball and player.
Can you talk us through the difficulties of getting that mix of sporting action and the melodrama just right for ROTR?
LH: Cheers, Richard, I appreciate it! To be honest, I don’t find it too difficult. While I’m not a big football fan (I watch the World Cups, but that’s about it), I enjoy drawing it a lot because it’s so energetic.
There’s a couple of things to this, so this is going to be a bit longer…
Usually I break down a scene like this: Where does it start in terms of space, mood, character relationship and emotion, where does it end and how do we get there? This works for any scene, both action and character moments.
In general I use a lot of reference. Sometimes I watch tutorials on how to do volleys, various back flips and such, I’ve learned what “Rondos” are, what “off the laces” means or what a “Cruyff turn” is. I like to act stuff out, so I’ll try to pose in front of the mirror in a way that’s still safe for me to do, so that I can get a feeling for where the energy would go in my body. Same with all the melodramatic stuff so I get it to feel genuine.
Acting scenes out makes you more aware of what’s happening and that goes right into the drawing. Sometimes I grab one of my colleagues to pose for me or I’ll get reference photos from our ROTR design team at Rebellion posing with zombie head figurines for lack of a real football, so there’s some good fun involved 😀
Also, it really helps that I’m not alone. Keith (Richardson), our editor on the GNs, is a master at troubleshooting and whenever there’s a query he just pulls a solution out of his sleeve like it’s nothing and he’s on top of all the world building and plot lines. Also, there’s so much in Rob Williams’ scripts, he’s a brilliant director – always clear about what the characters’ motivations and feelings are. Even if we choose to not show these openly it still informs how the scene will play out and it makes for a denser story overall.
So when I start drawing the pages I always have a strong foundation that I can build onto and I always know exactly where we’re going.
It’s the 65th anniversary of ROTR this year and it’s you who have the responsibility on your shoulders to both keep that legacy going and bring in new readers to secure Roy’s future. How does that weight of responsibility sit?
RW: It’s huge. We’re fully aware of and love the legacy. When you write a comic like Roy of a Judge Dredd or Spider-Man, Batman, you know you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. You want to do their past work justice while also adding your own flavour to things.
LH: To be honest, I feel quite at home drawing Roy. I’ve been wanting to tackle a longer, more complex story, build some more muscle in terms of my artistic and storytelling abilities and I find that Roy is challenging me in a healthy way.
I suppose one question should be about your footballing involvement? How much do you follow the game?
RW: I’m an Arsenal fan. Started going to Highbury in George Graham’s days. Wondered ‘Wenger Who?’ when Arsene joined like everybody else. Used to go a lot prior to my having kids. Now I’m an armchair fan.
LH: Maybe this won’t be a proper footballing answer. Like I said, I’m not a footie fan as such, more about World Cups, men and women, than anything. But… I’m a bird person and I like great bird designs, so one day I stumbled upon Tottenham and now I kind of fancy them because their badge is so cool looking!?
Lisa, whatever gets you into a sport is always good!
In Transferred we get to see the return of Rocky Race at Melchester’s women’s team, along with an unexpected new coach. Any more plans for the best footballer in the Race family after her short appearance in the Tammy & Jinty Special?
RW: We have plans! Can’t say more yet but you will definitely be seeing Rocky taking centre-stage in the near future. Elbowing her brother out of the way. After all, she’s the best footballer in the family, right? (She thinks so anyway)
LH: She’s got so much potential, I think she’s becoming one of the major players in the story next to Roy and it’s happening almost automatically. She’s dead set on playing for England by the time the next World Cup rolls around, so we’ve got to get her and Sowerby into shape. Lots of stuff to do!