Q&A: A new ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ comic book series is on the way

A detail of a variant cover for “Rocko’s Modern Life” No. 1 by Nick Pitarra.
(Nick Pitarra / Boom! Studios)

Here’s a treat for your inner ’90s kid: A brand new “Rocko’s Modern Life” comic book series is on the way.

Earlier this year nostalgia fans flipped when Nickelodeon announced the return of the animated wallaby named Rocko. The beloved cartoon, which ran from 1993 to 1996, will be restored with a TV special set in the here and now. Which means Rocko and friends must brace themselves for all things millennial.

Paired with that arrival is the resurrection of the “Rocko’s Modern Life” comics, which will showcase additional ways the illustrated gang struggles with modern-day issues plaguing 21st century adults.

Teaming on the comic series are writer Ryan Ferrier (“Kong on the Planet of the Apes,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”) and artist Ian McGinty (“Adventure Time,” “Bravest Warrior”), both huge fans of the original cartoon.

“The linchpin of the series is kind of how Rocko hasn’t really advanced much,” Ferrier explained during a phone call to discuss the upcoming series. Decades later Rocko still isn’t very good at holding down a job. “That [sounds] very grim, but it’s also very funny too.”

So what will the comic offer that the new animated special can’t? “In a comic you can kind of unpack characters’ motivations a little bit more than in a cartoon because a cartoon is so fast,” McGinty said. “ ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ characters actually had weirdly complex personalities, and that’s what I’m looking forward to exploring a lot more.”

Fans of the original cartoon can expect to see familiar characters including Heffer (a steer), Filburt (a turtle) and the Bigheads (a pair of cane toads).

For die-hard “Rocko” fans, Ferrier and McGinty hope to include Peaches, Really Really Big Man, Ralph Bighead and maybe even a visit to Heck in future issues.

“It really freaks me out to be working on properties I grew up with and thought I would never see again,” McGinty said.

The main cover for
The main cover for "Rocko's Modern Life" by Jorge Monlongo. (Jorge Monlongo / Boom! Studios)

The first issue of “Rocko’s Modern Life” is scheduled to be released Dec. 6 and will include a bonus short story featuring Ed Bighead and Dr. Hutchison by KC Green. The main cover for “Rocko’s Modern Life” No. 1 is illustrated by Jorge Monlongo, with variant covers by Bachan and Nick Pitarra.

The ongoing series will be the second Nickelodeon title hitting the Boom! Studios’ KaBoom! lineup.

Ferrier and McGinty discussed “Rocko’s Modern Life” over the phone (the interview has been edited for content and clarity).

What are you excited about being able to do in the comic?

Ian McGinty: I’m really excited to go from the “Adventure Time” art style to this “Rocko’s” series because “Rocko’s” was kind of how I learned to draw.

I used to trace the characters off the TV, put a piece of paper on the TV and draw all the characters. So it was really cool to go back to this art style that I haven’t done in forever and it’s just so natural. It’s super-expressive, crazy cartoony. … I think people are going to be really excited with the art.

Boom! and Nickelodeon are giving us a lot of freedom to be a little more loose. It doesn’t have to look and sound tonally or aesthetically exactly like the show. I think that’s going to be appealing to newer fans and older fans. That’s something I’m really excited about. I get to have fun.

Ryan Ferrier: There are some people that see licensed work as not being as genuine or authentic as creator-owned stuff, but I disagree with that. I can make any work — licensed or not — have really resounding themes or be very personal.

We don’t lose our voices or vision at all. It’s super fun and refreshing. I’m excited to break that stupid stigma completely.

The look and find variant cover for
The look and find variant cover for "Rocko's Modern Life" No. 1 by Bachan. (Bachan / Boom! Studios)

Are there any unanswered questions you had from watching the original series that you get to explore yourself now?

Ferrier: I didn’t look too much to plot threads or narratives from the old stuff, just because I wanted to make sure that Ian and I got to put our own stamp on it. But I remember the girl Rocko was madly in love with that we saw, like, once. Melba Toast. At one point I did have a note to explore that relationship. But otherwise I think we’re excited to put our own spin on it and explore the new stuff.

What do you think is the difference between ’90s cartoons and cartoons that are popular now?

McGinty: I feel like people are a lot more willing to take risks artistically now. For example, “Steven Universe” has a huge manga and anime influence and “Adventure Time” does too. What I’ve found is that people, like editors, publishers and animation producers, they really want you to push push push to be as expressive as you possibly can. Amazing backgrounds that blow my mind. And that’s stuff you see for, like, two seconds.

With comics you have that many more beats to look at the art. “Adventure Time” is very simplified — in a good way — in how the characters are portrayed in the foreground while having very amazing and expressive backgrounds. Whereas “Rocko’s” is the opposite. Artistically, the foreground characters of “Rocko’s” are insanely animated and have crazy expressions. The backgrounds are a little more simplified so you can focus on the emotions of the characters.

Ferrier: I feel like cartoons now are more inclusive. It’s not so much like “stay in school” and “drink your milk,” so after-school special-y. It’s a bit more applicable to being a better human being in the long run, which is great. And obviously the art and the actual creation of it is pretty amazing. Not to say that it wasn’t before, but we’re seeing some pretty amazing artwork as a whole.

The fandoms have changed too. The fans of the cartoons are so much more passionate than we were. Back when we were young we just watched cartoons. Now you can go to conventions and people are dressed up and some have tattoos of them and there’s merchandise. It seems like a lot more passionate of a fandom.

The audience is bigger and it’s also older, I think, too. Which is interesting. It’s probably good for us with “Rocko’s.” We’ll be tapping deep into that nostalgia.

The variant cover for
The variant cover for "Rocko's Modern Life" No. 1 by Nick Pitarra. (Nick Pitarra / Boom! Studios)

How would you pitch this series to a person who has never seen “Rocko’s Modern Life”?

Ferrier: I would say this is a hyperrealistic snapshot of a young man’s everyday struggles in the world alongside his anthropomorphic friends.

McGinty: It’s the most fun depressing comic you’ll read about Americana life through the eyes of anthropomorphic animals. Because they are dealing with issues we’re all dealing with very realistically. They take it and spin it in a super fun, super hilarious way that is very cartoony and expressive, but at its core it’s this slice of Americana life. Just trying to survive day to day through the eyes of a turtle and a wallaby and a steer and cat with a hook for a hand and two cane toads.

Ferrier: I think “Rocko’s Modern Life” celebrates its hopefulness while also holding on to its helplessness.

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Twitter: @tracycbrown