The Mike Roberts Interview

Mike Roberts

Mike and friend in 2013. Turns out he was actually a proper C64 fan. Good man.

Roger Frames was Commodore Format’s accident prone “budjit game” reviewer. Every month his column would be illustrated with three or four cartoons of Roger’s adventures, usually inspired by whatever he was playing. Roger was the work of artist Mike Roberts. And for the very first time, he’s spoken to us  here about his time working on CF. He’s also dug out some sketches that are being shown here for the very first time

Hey Mike! So what have you been up to since we saw Roger Frames on the cover of the last ever Commodore FormatBlimey, that’s a while ago. There have been lots of changes in magazine design and production since the ’90s. ‘Drawn’ illustration went right out of fashion with art editors. Instead they would sit at Photoshop for hours and create digital-wibble grunge. I found work with paperback publishers, doing book jacket covers and lots of ‘educational’ stuff – books teaching English to foreign students, for example. I had a fun but short-lived job working for a company whose offices were in a barge moored on the Thames. The wash from passing freight barges made the studio rock!About 10 years ago I became the graphics officer for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust – which was a complete change. I designed their magazine and leaflets, lots and lots of interpretation boards for their nature reserves and learned a heck of a lot about native British wildlife and ‘green living’! Now, I’m happily retired from the pressures of paid work and I draw just for fun!

 

Take us back to 1990. How did you end up drawing Roger? I’d done quite a few one-off jobs for Future Publishing. The thing I remember fondly about those days was that, when I delivered a piece of art, it was a real event and other art editors and designers would gather round for the ‘unveiling’. It gave me quite a buzz. I guess Ollie [Alderton, art editor] had seen what I could do and asked me to come up with a new character for CF.

 

The very first sketches of Roger Frames!Was he a character you’d drawn in the past in any other guise or did the idea for a skinflint kid come from CFI can’t remember what discussions we had. My first scribbles (in a reporter’s lined notebook) didn’t look like Roger at all. One scribble looks like a ‘spiv’! Eventually, it gelled into him: broken glasses, spotty face, tousled hair. Looking back now I can see elements of Mad magazine’s Alfred E Neuman but that didn’t occur to me at the time. The first artwork I did was in black and white: line drawings with added half tone dots. I did a few of these including one of bee-hive coiffured mum in her faux leopard skin coat.

 

Talk us through a month in the life of drawing Roger. When the decision was made by CF to give Roger his own section each month I was delighted. I would go in for a meeting with Ollie and editor Trenton Webb after they’d thrashed out a scenario which loosely involved the games being reviewed and Roger’s over-active imagination. Ollie would know how many illustrations he would need to fit the pages and then…they’d leave it up to me.I always scribbled first ideas in a cheap reporter’s notepad. Then I’d progress via pencil scribble to a cleaned-up version which I would then photocopy and fax over to Ollie. Yeah, fax machines, how many people use them today?After the thumbs up from Ollie, I would trace the drawing onto watercolour art board, paint the linework with waterproof ink, and add colour washes to finish. Then a mad dash to Monmouth Street!

 

Roger's Mum even guest reviewed the budjit games in 1991! Here's Mike's first sketch of her.

Roger’s Mum even guest reviewed the budjit games in 1991! Here’s Mike’s first sketch of her.

There are loads of Roger cartoons showing him playing on the C64 surrounded by games boxes and copies of CF. Did you get the team to recommend that sort of stuff or did you have a bit of knowledge about the C64? I bought my son a C64 soon after they first came out. Was that about 1987? I remember being totally engrossed in Arkanoid one night and played through to the small hours of the morning when I suddenly realised I was freezing cold! I still have the C64… wonder if it still works?

 

You’ve said before that working with Ollie Alderton on Roger Frames was some of the most fun you’ve ever had. Ollie was just great fun. We had loads of laughs working on Roger Frames. And he let me have fun without interfering. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

 

The unusual thing about computer magazines in the nineties was that they would fold because the machine waned in popularity rather than the magazine itself falling out of favour. When there were no games to talk about anymore, did you mourn for Roger? Yes (sniff).

 

A few quick ones to finish with, Mike. Was there a favourite editor you worked with? No, I didn’t have any particular favourite. I always enjoyed the work I got from the folks at Future. They were good days.

 

Were Roger’s family or his dog based on anybody? Products of my imagination. But I sometimes wonder if Gromit is one of Debit’s pups.

 

And what about Roger himself – is somebody out there unwittingly actually Roger Frames? I hope not. But you never know.

 

Thanks for talking to us Mike. What you doing for the rest of today? Thanks for asking. We’ve recently moved house and I’m still emptying cardboard boxes of ‘treasure’. I just found an old five pound note that’s not legal tender any more! Wonder if Roger would like it? CF 

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