♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in his series of features on comic stories or series that never happened. This week it’s the turn of Tom McWeeney’s Roachmill Movie …
Tom McWeeney’s Roachmill Movie
Remembered for his chart-topping work on Battle Chasers and Gen13, creator Tom McWeeney is no stranger to comic book fans everywhere. But in the dawn of the new millennium, McWeeney was going to bring his unlikely hero to the silver screen with his “Lost Tale,” the unfinished Roachmill movie.
What is the story behind the creation of Roachmill? How did this iconic character come to four-colour life?
“In our final year at the Kubert School, 1986,” said McWeeney, “Rich Hedden and I decided we would likely fare better in the comic market if we worked together. We just started discussing ideas for books to pitch to these smaller comic companies that had sprung up and Rich showed me a sketch of this scraggy looking guy dressed all in black with four guns and a pair of creepy bug arms. He told me the basic premise, that he was an exterminator in the future who could be legally be hired to exterminate anybody or anything. So you could have him come to your house and deal with your termites or take out your noisy neighbor! It made me laugh and I just loved the idea of a pest control guy who was also part bug. As soon as Rich said his name was ‘Roachmill’ I just knew that was the idea we were going to run with. It really helped that Rich had the concept pretty clearly defined from the get-go. I contributed some of the supporting cast, but Roachmill was mostly Rich’s baby.
“Over the last month of school, I filled a sketchbook with ideas for Roachmill based on what Rich and I discussed. In July we went to a comic con in New York, armed only with the sketchbook and sold the idea to Blackthorne Publishing – out of San Diego. By early September, we were working on issue one. It really happened that fast. We stuck with Blackthorne for a year and then jumped to Dark Horse.”
Who approached McWeeney about a Roachmill movie and during what year? Was it to be animated or live-action?
“In early 2000,” McWeeney remembered, “I got a call one night from a guy named Eben Mcgarr. He told me he was a small-time film producer and a huge Roachmill fan, and that his dream was to make a live-action Roachmill movie. I thought it was a prank, really. I kept him on the phone for almost an hour asking him questions to try and trip him up. I would quiz him on individual Roachmill issues and what not. Eventually, he convinced me. I then asked him how he was going to get the money to make Roachmill, a big science fiction movie set in a decaying New York City populated with humans and various alien races. He said that he and a partner had secured the rights to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and they were going to use that leverage to finance Roachmill. He assumed that once they announced they were making Wheel of Time, investors would flock to them. The problem with this plan was that those investors, like myself, had never heard of Wheel of Time – so Eben was spending money he was never going to get.
How was Roachmill’s jump from the comic page to the silver screen planned out?
“The plan was to do a short test of an actor in the suit – with the bug arms,” McWeeney said. “Eben insisted the insect arm needed to be a practical effect, so Rich and I began sketching ideas for the movie version of the suit and bug arms. There’s a photo floating around somewhere of the initial sculpt on the arms. They weren’t very good, even Eben felt so. They looked too cartoonish, like a Power Rangers monster.”
How involved was McWeeney in the pre-production process?
“Just sketches and bouncing ideas off each other,” McWeeney admitted. “It was very similar to us working on the book.”
Was the movie going to tell the origin story of Roachmill – or was it designed to go in another direction?
“No,” McWeeeney insisted. “Roachmill doesn’t really have an ‘origin.’ He was born with his insect arms because his mother was raped by an insect-like alien. There was going to be more to that story, but since we never got to it in the comic, we decided why bring it into the movie. We wound up trying to flesh-out the world of these pest control guys more. The comic only briefly touches on the idea that there are other exterminators out there and the Roachmill is the best. One idea was to have an ESPN-type show that covered exterminations. They would follow them around, handicap them based on the type of job, and cover it like a live sports event.
“Eventually, Rich said that he always thought it should be like a Western. Roachmill is just a guy doing going to work, doing his job. Sure he’s a killer, but it’s legal now. He just wants to get through each day alive. Then he is faced with something that threatens him and his friends and he is forced to fight against it or lose everything. That ‘something’ was going to be a big Pest Control company that’s taking out the small time competition, literally. I thought the idea of a Western set in New York was brilliant.”
Was Hedden and McWeeney producing a Roachmill comic at the time the film was being made?
“No,” the acclaimed artist said. “The last issue of Roachmill came out in 1989 or 1990. After that there was a stand-alone story that ran in Dark Horse Presents #139 and that story was done specifically because HBO was sniffing around Roachmill and Dark Horse felt we should do something new.”
What happened to the film? Why wasn’t it ever made?
“It just died on the vine,” McWeeney recalled. “It didn’t get very far, either. Some sketches and some bug arm prototypes and eventually we were asked to write a short outline of the film. Rich was too busy so I suggested to Eban that I could write a detailed opening scene, something that would capture everything a Roachmill movie would reflect. I was in the process of writing that scene when he just disappeared. As I mentioned earlier, they overestimated the power of Wheel of Time. They had trouble financing it and as a result never got the money for Roachmill.”
Does Tom McWeeney plan to revisit his popular character in the near future?
“No, not really” said McWeeney. “I think that Roachmill wouldn’t really work these days. It was a direct reaction to books like The Punisher, and films like Dirty Harry where the audience is essentially cheering on someone to murder. Roachmill was the antihero taken to its next logic step. It was a black comedy about a world so awash in guns that everyone had become desensitized to violence of any kind. In 1986, that was a funny notion, in 2019 it’s sadly accurate.”
What projects is McWeeney currently working on?
“Besides my latest book, Atomic Frenchie II: The Cow with the Nuclear Heart,” McWeeney added, “I’m working on a new book pitch, an animation concept, and general freelance.”
Lost Tales©2019 Scott Braden. All Rights Reserved