In the summer of 1998 I finished my year of mandatory military service. The year dressed in green wasn’t something I looked forward to, but in retrospect it’s 12 months that set the course for the rest of my life. I grew a lot mentally, and I met Terje, who convinced me I should attend college in Grimstad. Had I not taken his (brilliant) advice, I’m absolutely certain my life would have been very different today. 1998 was also the year that Martin Kellerman made a decision that would dominate the next 20 years of his life. In 1998 Kellerman got booted from his job as a cartoonist for a porn magazine. On top of that, his girlfriend dumped him, and he found himself living with his brother in the suburbs.
He needed a new job, but with a dozen of life’s curve balls thrown at him, Kellerman didn’t feel like trying to draw something funny. Instead he created a cartoon about himself, and the mess he was in. Getting it all down on paper was “a really nice feeling”. What started as a something Kellerman did while he figured out what to do with his life, soon got picked up by the free Metro newspaper. People started talking about it, and Rocky was born.
Drawing a cartoon about your own life means that it has to include your friends - even if they don’t know it. In Kellerman’s case, he didn’t tell all his friends that he was the mastermind behind Rocky. But they saw the cartoon in Metro, and was amazed how much they related to the characters. Not a great surprise, considering they were watching their own lives unfold. In fact, a lot of different people started to relate to Rocky, and his gang of misfit friends. Punk rockers, heavy metal freaks, and ecstasy flipping rave heads all projected themselves and their life style on to the characters. This was something that annoyed Kellerman a great deal since he thought it was obvious that Rocky was into hip hop, and nothing else.
The upside of everyone thinking Rocky is about them, however, was that the cartoon became amazingly popular. When he sat down to sell signed copies of his first book in a mall bookstore, the queue of people lining up to grab one went straight through the mall, and outside into the street. The cartoon was also sold to numerous other newspapers, like Norwegian Dagbladet. One of the reasons why Rocky also became very popular in Norway, was the outstanding job the translator, Dag F. Gravem, did. A cartoon set in Kellerman’s Stockholm wouldn’t have been terribly relevant for Norwegians, but Gravem brilliantly moves the plot to Oslo.
Downhill From Here
In 2001, Kellerman took a break from Rocky. He’d sold 60 000 books, and written a play about Rocky. Now he wanted to create a TV series based on the cartoon. That failed miserably. Then he tried to write a movie, which also fell flat. And after yet another failed attempt to write a movie, Kellerman got depressed, and started drawing Rocky again. Too bad for him, good for us.
The official Rocky site is offline, but according to a short essay Kellerman posted to the site in 2005, he thought he would draw the cartoon for the rest of his life. He anticipated that he would take a break when he got kids, though.
It’s funny how life turns out. 13 years later, he’s stopped drawing Rocky, has no kids, and lives in a small hut in the forest, surrounded by empty beer bottles. Just like Rocky himself. Of course.
Over the last few years, I’ve saved some of my favorite strips when they’ve been published. Here is a handful of them. They’re in Norwegian, and I was unable to find any collection of English Rocky strips.
Thank you, Martin Kellerman, for all the laughs, and the all brilliant, thoughtful social commentary.
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