Rogue Rocket

The Belfast illustration company producing perfect panels locally and internationally

The Ormeau Rd is ‘a nice, vibrant and peaceful part of the city,’ according to Ken and Will Simpson - the brothers behind Rogue Rocket, an innovative illustration and comic book company
based there.

Will Simpson has been lucky enough to realise his dream of developing major characters in comics such as Judge Dredd, Batman and Constantine and is undertaking new digital animation and film ventures through Rogue Rocket.

After the working on the theatre piece Stevie's Big Game devised by Ballynafeigh Community Development Association, the brothers struck upon the idea of producing a graphic novel of tales from the Ballynafeigh area.

Inspired by anthologies that recorded realistic, up-to-date scenes of a distinct locale, they began recruiting people through Ballynafeigh Community House and advertisements in local papers. Soon a team was assembled and the collection of ideas had started.

The project, a partnership between the BCDA, Partisan Productions and Rogue Rocket, aims to explore the diverse nature of one of the few remaining mixed communities in Northern Ireland.

Learning about your own area in a different way is a valuable process in helping to maintain a community. Funding for the project was provided by the Arts Council New Works Lottery Programme and by the Community Relations Council.

The project has been an energising experience for everyone involved. Beginning with15 people the team has been distilled down to an enthusiastic eight.

The participants come from different artistic backgrounds. Some from fine art or illustration, others coming out of the blue, apparently unaware that the project leader, Will Simpson, is an internationally renowned artist and animator.

During his long career, Simpson has had the opportunity to develop a sound overview of the trade and is in a prime position to guide aspiring artists.

Their first story for the graphic novel was the traditional battle between good and evil. The different interpretations by the various artists bore a huge variety of ideas and the surprise is how that archetype has been re-imagined.

A child on a motorbike enters onto a pitch full of football players in Ormeau Park. The players are obviously not happy to have their Beckham-like concentration disrupted.

Not everyone was happy with this true story, researched by Fintan Brady, but it certainly did show how the same story can be told in different styles.

‘Sometimes as a cartoonist you have to draw things you do not like 100%. You have to be able to picture anything,’ Simpson explains.

Soon a variety of stories came from locals and new arrivals in the area: a Zimbabwean story about exorcism, another of an Eastern-European girl shopping for clothes for a job interview, and local memories of World War II.

Some of the artists provided the stories themselves. Diarmuid Best used a story about his father who ran a famously lively bakery, a real iconic feature of the area.

The input of Belfast screenwriter Stephen McAnena has also been important. He has helped with the editing process – trying to find the right hook for the story. The book will feature the beautiful surroundings of the Ormeau Road, the park and a local pub, The Parador Hotel.

The positive responses to a work-in-progress exhibition at the community centre suggest that the project will be a great success.

Project manager Ken Simpson sees the graphic novel as a fertile ground for creative expression. Other similar projects are planned. There is the possibility of creating short films and theatre pieces - a clear demonstration of how the gathering of different ideas in the background of South Belfast can lead to big achievements in the world of art.