(author, Joe Bradford)
I met Alan Roach on day one of my first internship at Hasbro back in 2010. At the time, Roach was 18 years into his toy and game design career at Hasbro, then serving as design director overseeing the GI Joe and Battleship brands.
When I arrived at his office, he stood behind a messy desk scattered with an assortment of collectables, oddities, and action figures, next to a wall covered floor-to-ceiling with sketches, post-it notes, and torn pages from magazines, all held up with painters’ tape (he wasn’t allowed to poke holes in the wall, but sometimes after a tough meeting, he would passive-aggressively pin something up using a thumb tack to ‘stick it to the man’, as I would come to find out). At the back of the room, an enormous green ‘Philadelphia Eagles’ banner, and a shelving unit filled with boxes of toy parts - ready for a spontaneous brainstorm or kitbash.
Alan was a big guy, a former high school athlete, but the type who also used to draw cartoons for the school newspaper. The friendly, jovial jock. He introduced himself as ‘Alan, but you can call me Roach’, with a big smile and a firm handshake. I introduced myself as ‘Joe, the G.I. Joe design intern’, which he dismissed instantly, insisting that there would be confusion between the brand “G.I. Joe”, and my name Joe, and so the team would call me ‘Parker’, a reference to Peter Parker from ‘Spiderman’ comics. I asked if that made him J. Jonah Jameson, Parker’s boss who would often be seen in the comic panels blaming Parker for just about everything, and he guessed that he could play that role just fine. He told me that the best thing to do in my first few days on the job was to get to know everybody, because an intern that no one knows is an intern than no one remembers. He then proceeded to spend the rest of the day introducing me to all of his friends around the office. He had a lot of friends, and he introduced me as Parker to each one.
Over the course of those four months, Roach treated me like a core member of his team. He’d gone out of his way to include me in meetings, brainstorms, line reviews, and concept pitches. If at any point he needed to bounce an idea off of someone, I’d often hear him yelling from his office, “Parker! Get in here!”, just like his role of J. Jonah Jameson dictated. He was always chasing that next ‘thing’ that so many are after in the toy and game industry. Alan had a special creative foresight to identify a great concept in its primordial stages, and the ability to rally everyone around with vision, excitement, and passion. His natural ability to lead extended beyond proficiency with product development, he was also a masterful manager of people, and applied his skills to find the best in the people that he worked with. At an early brainstorm when I admitted that I was hardly familiar with the characters from the G.I. Joe universe, he saw it as an opportunity to kick off a side project he’d had in mind and tasked me with putting together a pitch for his concept. By the end of the semester, he invited me to pitch the concept alongside him.
I returned to Hasbro two seasons later for a second internship, once again working for Roach, on the same G.I. Joe team. I didn’t see him all that much during my first few days back, but I was greeted warmly with “Hey Parker!” by all of the people he had introduced me to during the first time around. When I finally ran into him, he was unlike the Alan I had worked with previously. A few weeks in, after I’m sure he was tired of me asking if he was feeling under the weather, he invited me into his office, closed the door, an explained that he had just recently been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a form of cancer that was likely terminal, but that he didn’t want to worry about that, and instead wanted to focus on making ‘cool shit!’. He was trying chemotherapy, and hopefully it would put the cancer into remission for a little while.
Working alongside Alan through good days, bad days, and a few really bad days, was inspiring. His passion for creating things and problem solving remained front and center, even on days he was tired and resigned to his office chair. Still, he remained kind, competitive, optimistic, passionate, and funny throughout the whole ordeal. He even continued to find new ways to ‘stick it to the man’ - Despite doctor’s orders that he’d not climb up on anything, we’d often walk by his office and find him on a chair or his desk, pinning something up high on the wall, for no other reason than because he was told not to. We always yelled at him to get down, he’d grin, let out an ‘alright, you got me!’, and then we’d yell at him some more.
By the end of my second internship, he became a mentor and friend. He shared life advice, told stories that only a veteran of the industry could, and shared some deep insights into how he saw his work and the positive impact ‘play’ makes in the world. I’d keep in touch with him when I returned to school and let him know when I was graduating, in hopes of working for him again.
Not long after graduating, Alan called and offered a temp position on a new team he was leading with Hasbro Gaming. I accepted the offer, joining other interns he had told stories about – Alan’s “dream team”. On my first day back, I walked into his new office, he was standing behind his desk, covered in games, surrounded by other designers as they laughed and passed around a gadget he found at Tokyo Toy Show. His big green ‘Philadelphia Eagles’ banner hung behind him, and he greeted me warmly with “Parker!”
(Alan Roach lighting a latnern)
In 2014, after three years of ups and downs with his health, Alan made the decision to leave Hasbro and join a game company based out of Western Mass called The Haywire Group, eventually taking on the role of their VP of product development. Time passed and we kept in touch. I’d see him at the yearly ‘BarryCon’, a gaming convention he co-fouded with friends in Barrington, Rhode Island, or for a beer with some other friends a