Joe Rocco is an LA-based illustrator, designer, and comic artist with several children’s books under his belt (Harper Collins, Scholastic, and National Geographic Kids). He goes way back with The Stranger and always delivered high-caliber work with a wicked sense of humor. In our interview, we talk about pushing creative boundaries, hustling to make the dream real, and connecting with your inner child.
You’ve worked with The Village Voice, The Stranger, Nickelodeon, Fantagraphics, Entertainment Weekly, and lots more. What have been your favorite projects so far?
I’m really proud of the work I’m doing in children’s publishing lately. I recently got new representation with the Tugeau 2 Art and Literary Agency (Ethan and Heather Long are my agents and they’re insanely supportive, not to mention inspiring, too) and I’m developing many new projects that range from picture books to chapter books and comics/graphic novels for kids. I think the older I get the more I value creating projects for kids and being in touch with my inner child, as corny as that might sound. Kids have no limits to their imaginations and to what the future holds. Gotta love that.
I do miss the old days in editorial publishing when there was so much work for humorous illustrators, but I do feel right at home in children’s publishing and I’m busier than ever in that genre. This country could use more humor in any form, that’s for sure.
I was always delighted to run your irreverent comic Fluffer & Nutter back in the 2000s. It remains an all-time fave. What are Fluffer and Nutter up to now?
I just could not quit these furry critters. I like to think of them as very much alive and living in their Prospect Park treehouse, or working at the Chinese take-out and manifesting the big dreams they have in a city that doesn’t know what to do with two middle-aged guys who don’t fit the image of success in 2023. I based these guys loosely on my friend Buddy Hickerson and me. I’m still making new strips and organizing them to make self-published zines and eventually a book of the best of Fluffer & Nutter for my Etsy shop. Also, Curt Doty over at Vertuoso is pitching them for both vertical media and streaming networks as an adult-animated series, so their big dreams may come to life one day after all.
Tell me about Killer Rock Productions.
Killer Rock Productions is a venture with my good friend Wallace Keller to develop and produce both adult comedies and kid-themed projects for animation and for publishing. I’ve known Wallace for decades and we’ve both mutually admired each other’s work. So we decided to join forces and see what could come of it. Wallace and I work so well together and we’re just getting started. We both challenge each other and push our boundaries. He currently teaches animation and illustration at CCA (California College of the Arts) in the Bay Area, but we communicate via Zoom and over the phone to plan out each idea and set our goals for that week or month.
You moved to LA from NYC years back to boost your animation connections, do you miss New York?
I do miss NY every now and then. LA has really gone downhill in the years since I moved back and the spark that used to be in this town isn’t here anymore. It’s a shame because there’s such a rich history in LA and it’s being buried under luxury apartments and exclusive nightclubs. Certainly, when I go back to NY (which is where I was born, by the way) I feel the energy and it definitely makes me nostalgic. My partner Max and I have a goal to move to Saratoga Springs, NY and buy a house up there. We’re looking for our own “Willoughby,” if you know the Twilight Zone reference.
What are you listening to in the studio these days?
Some Peggy Lee, some Lena Horne, some Ink Spots, anything with a ukulele, my friend Matt Weinhold’s podcast Mad Monster Party, The Plot Thickens (Season 3 about Lucille Ball), and The Dana Gould Hour.
What’s on the horizon? Cool projects or goals for 2023?
I have a crowdfunding campaign going on to make an animated short for Fluffer & Nutter called "Meat Wranglers." So far, I’ve raised part of the funding and I recorded all the dialogue, the animatic is more than halfway completed and many of the assets are all rendered. At this point it should be done and ready to premiere over the summer. I’m doing all of the work myself and taking pride in every second, but also juggling my daily “gotta pay the bills” work too.
Looking forward to "Meat Wranglers"!
I have to say a big thank you to you and The Stranger for helping to birth Fluffer & Nutter and for showcasing my work. It’s good to see them come back to their womb… at least for this issue!