I’ve been a huge fan of G.H.O.S.T. Agents since its first issue. Writer/Producer Rocko Jerome, along with 20 new artists and outlaw comics icon Ken Landgraf, is making waves in independent comics by riding the Kickstarter system hard. We talked about G.H.O.S.T. Agents: Apocalyptico, a treasury-sized, newsprint-papered book called “a stunning achievement” by cartoonist/podcaster Jim Rugg. He’s currently in the last days of a Kickstarter campaign for the next installment, called G.H.O.S.T. Agents: Crimson Reckoning, which he is feverishly attempting to make successful. Here’s his take on how it’s all going.
Monkeys Fighting Robots: So tell us about G.H.O.S.T. Agents.
Rocko Jerome: You mean like what it’s about or how it’s made?
MFR: I’m curious to hear both. Give me plot AND process!
RJ: So it’s a spy-fi, sixties, style-as-substance thing that spins out into many genres. It’s all short stories that are very episodic, but if a person commits the bandwidth to read all or a few of the stories, there’s a bigger narrative arc. I write the stories, many artists draw them. I’m monogamous to none. I sleep around. How I make it is that I spot an artist somewhere that I like and just hit them up. Great art you got there. Wanna make some money? If it’s a yes and we connect, I ask them what they wanna draw, how many pages, by when, and then I get high and write that. I always have a few of those going at a time.
MFR: And you used Kickstarter to promote these?
RJ: Yeah. My partner, Eli Schwab of Cosmic Lion Productions, and I, we ran five successful G.H.O.S.T. Agents Kickstarter campaigns in 2022. Back to back to back to back to back. We’re running one right now, and it’s our most ambitious one yet. Kickstarter is a fucking miracle for people like us, man.
MFR: Kickstarter is great! How did it work so well for you?
RJ: It’s one thing to just go out on a limb and print a bunch of books and try hawking the damn things at local shops, conventions, and whatever pookie-ass online setup you can finagle. It’s quite another to have this established Sherman tank of promotion with a sleek presentation that people are familiar with and a built-in imperative for people to support the thing. You see the goal, you know if it doesn’t hit the goal it won’t be made, you know if you don’t throw in and it does get made, it might be a bitch to get later. It’s all right there for you. And what people don’t tell you is that the profit margin on printing comics is sickeningly thin. A book you can sell for five bucks costs four to print if you do it in America. But a poster you can sell for ten can be printed for a buck. Buttons, stickers, shirts, shit like that, similarly loaded. And Kickstarter helps you package that in the tiers and all that. It’s normalized what we do. Seven years ago, I got my first job in advertising, and I knew Steranko had done that for a while. So I asked him for advice. He said the three big words are new, now, and free, and watch your back. I internalized that. He also said that within ten years, I’d do something really interesting, and I kinda blew him off even though it was flattering. And now I’m almost accidentally doing this shit, so I feel good remembering that.
MFR: What’s the most important thing you would like for people to know about you?
RJ: It’s something that you hear a lot from people that make any art at the lowest independent levels, where we’re just kicking cans, but every bit of juice you can get from the squeeze is precious if you’re trying to get something going. Every person whose attention this thing gets, every dime, every share on social media or anywhere, all of it matters. I’m pretty shameless about getting G.H.O.S.T. Agents in front of as many people as possible and selling as many as possible in a way I likely would not be if I drew it. I’m shameless. Because all these artists trusted me to hustle for them. Everybody got paid, and that’s important to me, and I’m proud of that, but now the next thing is, I need this book seen. I look at it all the time. I show it to everybody. I fervently want this thing to succeed because I believe in it beyond any involvement I have in it. I believe in it more than I’ve ever fuckin’ believed in anything I’ve been a part of. This art deserves to thrive.
MFR: So what you are promoting now, G.H.O.S.T. Agents: Apocalyptico and the newer G.H.O.S.T. Agents: Crimson Reckoning, are old-school treasury size and newsprint books, which is a pretty bold choice. I love Apocalyptico and I’m looking forward to Crimson Reckoning. As soon as I opened the book and smelled that newsprint, I was transported to another time. Apocalyptico collects the first three issues of G.H.O.S.T. Agents that you previously did with all these artists, right?
RJ: Yeah, that’s right. Or well, there are some changes to a lot of the art, particularly in coloring and stuff. I wouldn’t use the word improvements, but I wanted to add variance, so anyone who bought those previous books wouldn’t feel cheated and might still want this new thing. And I just wanted to try some new ideas out, because newsprint hits differently. Then Crimson Reckoning, that’s all new material.
MFR: Those previous issues, are they still available?
RJ: Nope! We printed about as many as we sold and gave the rest of the money to the artists.
MFR: Isn’t the idea of Kickstarter to actually kickstart a project so people can get it later?
RJ: I mean, yeah. I guess. We didn’t do that. If you see something that says G.H.O.S.T. Agents on it and you want it, guess you better buy it, huh?
MFR: What separates you from your peers?
RJ: I feel like comic writers at the level I’m at, which is, like, barely a comic book writer, they have some big concept in their head, and they maybe are really precious about it. And the way they think of the art is that it’s something they’re gonna go hire. I’m not seeing it that way. I want the artists to soar. I’m like, draw something weird. Draw your nightmares. Push the medium hard. Challenge the perceptions of what a comic book can be.
MFR: finally, what do you wish more people understood about you?
RJ: That if this thing works, in five years, I don’t want to be able to afford any of the guys in this book I’m pushing now. I want them all to have made it really big and be swinging hard in the business on their terms. And when that happens, I’ll be doing books with people who will be popping like that in ten years. And I also want everyone to know they can go to GHOSTagents.net and order this badass book that will help this concept keep thriving.