Back in the 80s, Rich Hedden and Tom McWeeney stumbled upon a novel idea for a comic: futuristic exterminator. More specifically, Roachmill, which ran 16 issues from late 1986 to winter 1990, follows the passage of the Extermination Act, in which folks were given license to deal with a rash of alien-related situations. (Read: Murder and mayhem galore.) The book, which debuted via Blackthorne Publishing before later moving to Dark Horse Comics, was a gem among weird 80 sci-fi, a truly self-aware story that rallied against the xenophobia of the time with endless wit and extreme action galore.
In fact, the series is so lauded that its being re-released by Its Alive, with a Kickstarter campaign having launched in late May. (As of publication, theyve hit over $4,200 of their $5,000 goal, with the campaign ending June 25.) The project will collect the series first six issues, alongside a suite of variant covers, including those from Richard Pace, Dan Christensen, and Nicols Giacondino. Contributors have the option to grab six single issues or a bound collection either way, theyre high-quality reproductions (a specialty of Its Alive!)
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We were lucky enough to touch base recently with McWeeney to talk about the book and the Kickstarter campaign. Topics included his reasons for re-releasing Roachmill, the series larger cultural impact, and his personal highlights/favorite moments.
If youre interested, you can contribute to the campaign here.
AIPT: Whats the elevator pitch for Roachmill?
Tom McWeeney: It would be a variation on the the Roachmill television ad we featured in Roachmill #4. Need an exterminator to handle those rats? Pesky roaches ruining your sleep? Maybe Grandmas getting on your nerves? Call Roachmill Pest Control and well get the job done!
AIPT: What was the appeal to re-release this book? Why do you think its still so vital?
TW: The appeal for Rich and I is just seeing it out there again. Although our last Roachmill story was published 23 years ago, the character is still dear to us. Rich and I were both 20 years old when we started working on Roachmill #1, we were kids, really. Now were in our mid 50s and feel if Roachmill is going to get one last chance it has to be now. Were not getting any younger. I also think that the 80s so-called Black and White Boom, though short-lived, is an important part of comics history and needs to be preserved. The industry was really hungry for content in a way it had never been prior and yet still small enough that a no-name could walk up to a publisher, pitch an idea and be working on it the following week. Today, even smaller comic companies are corporate enough that something like that will never happen again. It was kind of an amazing time for comic creators.
Courtesy of Its Alive!
AIPT: How does the book compare or rank in terms of similar 80s titles? I feel like there was lots of weird sci-fi from that era, but Roachmill felt different.
TW: Roachmill felt different because it WAS different. It was completely untethered to any kind of editorial restraint, for good or bad. It was whatever Rich and I wanted it to be, issue to issue, so it has a kind of crazy DYI energy. We never felt the need to make every Roachmill story fit a standard tone, or style and there was no one to tell us otherwise. If we felt like breaking the fourth wall, or having Batman or Robocop show up wed just do it. It was free-range comics
AIPT: What are some current series and/or graphic novels that maybe have a similar feel or flavor to help orient readers?
TW: The best comparison I can make to Roachmill is the film District 9. While, I would never say that District 9 is a rip-off of Roachmill, because its not, Id bet the farm that Neil Blomkamp read Roachmill at some point. There are too many similar ideas and themes. I see a lot of Roachmill in Deadpool too. The zaniness of the character is straight from Zoo-Lou, a rival exterminator who is essentially a living cartoon character. The cover of Roachmill #3 for example, has Zoo-Lou vandalizing the cover to mock Roachmill, indicating hes self-aware and knows they all exist inside a comic book. John Byrne started doing similar things in She-Hulk three years after we first did it in Roachmill.
Courtesy of Its Alive!
AIPT: What do folks get if they contribute to the Kickstarter?
TW: The initial campaign offers the first six issues, individually with new variant covers from guys like Richard Pace, Jay Fossgitt, Nicolas Giacondino, among others. It also offers a signed hardbound collection that will have some extras. The most important thing to Roachmill fans is that, if the campaign is successful, we will do a second and third volume reprinting the Dark Horse issues, which have never been reprinted before AND, Rich and I have been discussing the inclusion of some new material in later volumes. But, all of that all hinges on the success of this first campaign.
AIPT: Do you have a favorite cover (or covers)? Perhaps one that might speak to the series and also its revival?
TW: My favorite cover is the one we did for the first Dark Horse collection. Its 20 straight-on headshots of Roachmill, all drawn in different styles, with different media. That cover not only reflects the ever-shifting nature of the book, but captured, unintentionally, the way Rich and I were in our early 20s. We were just so excited about art, whether that was comics or cartoons, or films, or books, everything was our cocaine, so we threw everything into that cover.
Courtesy of Its Alive!
AIPT: Do you have a favorite moment or panel from the book?
TW: I do actually. In Roachmill #5 (Dark Horse) theres a single page where Roachmill is on the streets looking for information. The way Rich designed that page is brilliant. Its five separate panels but it also reads as one big splash. Its the only page from the series I regret selling.
AIPT: The book is pretty satirical in terms of its treatment of violence. Does that satire seem especially valuable to our current extra weird times?
TW: This is a great question. For years my reason for NOT revisiting Roachmill was that what started off as a parody of grim, violent comics and to a lesser degree, our national obsession with guns, now seems less funny because it is closer to reality then either of us ever imagined back in 1986. But, I was talking to a friend who said thats all the more reason to reprint it. It shows that what was once clearly, over-the-top satire has now become normalized. It acts as a mirror to reflect how things have shifted.
Courtesy of Its Alive!
AIPT: Why should anyone contribute to the Kickstarter?
TW: Why should anyone contribute to any Kickstarter campaign? Because they want to see it happen.
AIPT: Whats the future hold for Roachmill?
TW: The response to the Kickstarter, in particularly from comic book professionals who were fans when they were younger, has been overwhelming and has Rich and I talking new material. Whether that happens or not will depend solely on the campaign. If we feel theres enough interest well do some short stories for later volumes and perhaps some full issues down the road. Stand-alone stories in the Roachmill universe that will flesh things out. Its still a fun sandbox to play in.
The main cover below is by Tom McWeeney
The following variant covers come courtesy of Richard Pace, Jay Fosgitt, Rich Hedden and Tom McWeeney, and Dan Christensen
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Tom McWeeney details the Kickstarter-backed return of 'Roachmill' AIPT - AIPT
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