Roy of the Rovers: Foul Play

When I was a boy I used to get a number of UK weekly comics from the local newsagents: Whizzer and Chips, Victor book for Boys, Battle and Roy of the Rovers (they all cost about 6p each so you had cash left over for a knuckle duster, a sherbert fountain and a flick-knife). I loved the footballing adventures in the Roy stories – Johnny ‘Hard Man’ Dexter. Mighty Mouse. Melchester Rovers’ trials and tribulations – who shot Roy Race? Paco Diaz and his convincing Spanish dialogue – “Si, boss!” I was a Roy reader before I knew of Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and co.

In fact, it was via Roy that I first discovered 2000AD, as I have vague memories of a Johnny Dexter (maybe… long time ago) football match being interrupted by the appearance of an alien spacecraft overhead, from which emerged Tharg The Mighty who hovered down to centre of pitch and told the stunned football-supporting faithful that he’d come to our puny planet to bring Thrill Power(tm) and we should all read this new scifi comic he was editing called 2000AD. Shameless. Mike Dean would have given him a straight red there and then (Mike Dean – definite Thrillsucker).

Anyway, fast forward something like 35+ years (cough) and I receive an email asking if I’d be interested in writing a reboot of Roy of the Rovers. I presume this call came because there are something like four comic creators in the world who are genuinely into football. And I just happen to be one of them.

Finally, all those years and finite life force I wasted playing Championship Manager pays off. And myself, Ben Willsher, Tom Palmer and the rest of our Roy team get to reinvent a genuine footballing icon for a new generation.

And our brand new, second Roy of the Rovers Graphic Novel ‘Foul Play’ is out on March 7th and can be ordered here:

‘Roy of the Rovers stuff!’ is one of those phrases that never goes away around the game of football. Because, for people who remember him, Roy is synonymous with those pure aspects of the game that never change – the dramatic last minute winner, the thunderbolt ‘rocket’ into the top corner. Forget huge wages and super agents and all that celebrity noise. Roy is all about those joyful moments of football that never change, no matter the era. In the World Cup last summer Harry Kane winning the Golden Boot was dubbed ‘Roy of the Rovers stuff!’ (as an Arsenal fan, I can’t condone this).

Roy’s weekly comic ceased publication in ’93 and aside from the odd appearance here and there, there’d been no new Roy material for over 20 years. But… football’s not exactly fading in popularity, is it? Kids play it and love it. FIFA on the PlayStation, jumpers for goalposts, eh? (I’ve gone Paul Whitehouse). It was rightly decided that now was the time for a comeback.

So, we took the ‘Ultimate universe’ approach with Roy. A cross between that and ‘Creed’. Make him start his journey all over again. He’s 17, Melchester Rovers, his local team, were once giants of the game but have fallen on hard times and are now threatened with closure in the Second Division. They’ve got no money, have to start winning to survive and are forced to give the local kids a go.

So Roy and his mates get their big chance.

Meanwhile across the city, Melchester’s main rivals Tynecaster are the Manchester City of the day. Massive oil money revenues have them buying up galacticos left right and centre and aiming to win the Champions League now. Melchester, and Roy, are immediately the underdogs. And if you’re telling a sports drama, you need it to be David vs Goliath, really. Big basic, stirring dramatic beats. That’s what sport does best. Edge of your seat stuff!

And in terms of making this revamp a bit more 2018/19, we kept some of the old characters but gave them new looks or changed their ethnicity. Lofty Peak was a big ginger brick outhouse of a bloke back in the classic Roy stories. Now he’s Roy’s basketball-obsessed black mate from down the road. Melchester have a local boy right back Asif Merza, who’s a Muslim. This is a very multi-cultural version of Roy’s city.

And the growing popularity of the women’s game meant that we wanted to make Ffion Guthrie (Vic Guthrie’s sister) and Rocky Race (Roy’s little sister) part of the overall narrative too. They both play for Sowerby, the local women’s team. You’re going to be seeing a lot more of their stories as the overall Royverse expands.

We have lots of the classic characters for the old guard to enjoy – Johnny Dexter, Mighty Mouse etc – along with plenty of brand new ones.

The approach was that you can have never picked up a Roy comic in your life and you’ll be able to follow these new adventures.

Art by Ben Willsher (2000AD) throughout here, with letters by Jim Campbell. Our regular creative team.

The over-arching Roy storyline has really had a writers’ room-style approach, with myself, Tom Palmer, Rob Power and Keith Richardson getting together a few times to work out the overall world setup and where Roy’s story goes from here. From there, we’ve split the story so that I tell the comic side of the tale and Tom – an excellent novelist – writes the prose. All different chapters of the one Roy tale.

Tom’s Roy novels can be bought here

And if you didn’t pick up the first of our Roy graphic novel – Kick Off – rectify that here:

It’s been fun for me for a number of reasons. I’m a big football fan, I was a Roy reader back in the day, and also I’m writing for a Young Adult readership, which is something I’ve not done before.

That leads you to ‘simplify’ your writing, which could lazily be taken as something detrimental. But actually, in concentrating on keeping the storyline pretty linear, and aiming for big, powerful narrative beats and twists, you actually find that it helps improve your writing in some ways. It’s been a bit of a learning curve and one that I’m pretty pleased with. “Keep it simple, stupid” is a writing maxim that we should all follow at times. Really strong storytelling can come from it.

Anyway, Roy Graphic Novel 2 out next week. Preorder!

Also out next week is JUDGE DREDD; COLD WAR – a new GN collection that features ‘Get Sin’ – a story by myself, Trev Hairsine, Barry Kitson and Dylan Teague.

You can order that here:

And JUDGE DREDD: THE SMALL HOUSE, the GN collection of my and Henry Flint’s Dredd epic story from the end of last year can now be preordered. It’s out in September, and will contain ‘Act of Grud’ – the three-part prequel that preceeded The Small House. I’m hoping it also contains a one-off epilogue ‘Pets’ that I’ve written, that’s been delayed as Henry did his back in. Fingers crossed:

Speaking of Dredd, Chris Weston and I are currently hard at work at a five-part story that has the return of JUDGE PIN (she’s a wrong ‘un) – it’s called ‘Control’. Well, I say we’re hard-at-work, I’ve finished writing it. Poor old Chris is hard-at-work. Sneak-peak at Chris skimping on the detail, as ever:

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