Va'al - It's an honour for me to actually interview my first professional comics artist for a website, and who should it be if not Andrew Griffith, one of the minds (and hands) behind the highly popular current IDW ongoing Transformers: Robots in Disguise. Andrew, thank you for this opportunity and for your time! Before we get to what you do, let's find out more about you: How did you first get into Transformers?
Andrew - Well, I've been into Transformers for about as as long as anyone could be. I still remember my older brother coming home from school one day talking about this new toy everyone at his school was excited about. He was able to talk our parents into going to the nearest mall, and when we arrived it seemed like an entire row of the department store's toy section was displaying these cars, planes and machines that transformed into crazy looking robots. What more could an eight year old boy ask for? My parents were generous enough to buy my brother Prowl and to buy me what I found out later was a miscolored (red) Bumblebee.
By that point I had already been into comics a bit, and I remember soon after that we stopped at a bookstore that sold comic books, where I picked up G.I. Joe #24 and my brother decided on the very first issue of Transformers. I'd sneak into his room when he wasn't home and read that thing every chance I got. It just felt so alien and foreign too me, it really blew me away. (IDW Editor and RID scribe) John Barber and I have talked about that a number of times, how we had very similar impressions from reading Transformers #1 as a kid. (And man, that Bill Sienkiewicz cover is still one of my favorite Transformers images ever, just for the sheer epicness and alien-ness of how the Transformers are depicted.)
Soon after I discovered the toys and the comics, the cartoon show debuted in an after-school time slot on one of the few channels we had at the time, and from then on I was hooked.
Va'al - Schools seem to be the catalyst for a lot of fans' discovery of the brand! And as for most people, it looks like it was toys-comics-cartoons for you too. I can sense a tendency towards the artistic side of things more than anything though - were comics the highlight of your first years as a fan, or did you prefer other aspects more?
Andrew - Wow, hard for me to say what the highlight was now that I think about it. I was into the toys for most of the run. After the US line ended I had no idea they were still going in Europe as G1.5 or whatever they call it. Then G2 came out, and I think I got Jazz but that was it.
As far as the comics go, I had gotten a few of the early issues, but then my Aunt and Uncle got me a two year subscription for my birthday and that really cemented the US comics as part of my youth. At some point after they brought Optimus Prime back I stopped reading, just got into different things. But I came back about ten issues or so before it ended when Simon and Andrew were doing it, which was funny because neither I or anyone I knew in the States were aware that extra comics had been being made in the UK.
And the show? Yeah, getting up early before school to see it or coming home to find it on was anyways a treat.
Va'al - I have memories of getting up stupidly early to watch Transformers, but that was Beast Wars. Different generations (and different countries, too)! So your comics passion dwindled and was then relit by the Wildfur combination on the Marvel run - is that also when you found your own artistic streak?
Andrew - Well I wouldn't say my interest in comics dwindled. I just found myself reading different comics more often. My very first comic I ever purchased was Secret Wars 8, where Spider-Man first got his black costume. And after that I was always into Marvel stuff, including Transformers and Joe. I also read DC to a lesser extent. So whenever I wasn't picking up Transformers issues, I was still reading comics pretty regularly.
And I was drawing them. I first realized I could draw better than the average kid around Kindergarten. Most kids were drawing stick figures and I was realizing people had actual thickness and dimension to their forms. I'd always take an art class when I had the option, and spent a lot of free time drawing at home. I was always drawing comics of my own, and even made a submission or two to Marvel in high school. Looking back I can see why I was rejected. My stuff had potential, but I didn't know the first thing about putting together a good submission or knowing what to show.
But I was aware of my artistic interest pretty early on.
Va'al - I think I'm still one of those people who draws stick figures, unfortunately. But my idea is that the world needs artists and fans, and the two don't always need to overlap! So you were rejected with your early attempts to Marvel - when did the breakthrough arrive? What was your first, official, published work? How long until you became a regular creator?
Andrew - Well, I kind of gave up the idea for a bit of being a comic book artist after that. I cycled through areas of focus in school, including English Literature and writing, drama, and music but ended up back with art. I did a lot of fine art and really got into painting, took a good number of painting and figure drawing classes but ended up concentrating in Graphic Design so I could get a job.
And I did design for quite a while. Eventually I got married and had a pretty good life living in California, making a good living at a startup in San Francisco and pursuing a Master's at an art school there. Yet, I found I wasn't content doing design and instead I was yearning to draw comics again.
When news of the live-action Transformers movie came out, it reignited my passion in the franchise. I started reading the Mosaics and before I knew it I was taking part in that project; drawing, coloring or even writing some.
Josh and Shaun, who ran the Mosaics ended up in charge of a contest on the IDW forums designed to find IDW's "next cover artist." I took part in the contest and did much better than I ever expected. I didn't win, but I did pretty well and got some attention from some people at IDW. That same contest helped launch the careers of now-regular names in Transformers comics like Casey Coller and Joana Lafuente.
After that contest, I did a "cover" for the pitch Josh and Shaun did that turned into Spotlight: Jazz.
Around that time I started getting emails from IDW editors, and Denton Tipton hired me to do covers for IDW's "Best of UK" reprint series. I started on those covers, my very first being for City of Fear #1. While City of Fear may have been my first commissioned work, technically the cover for Spotlight: Jazz that I had done before City of Fear was my first pro work as it ended up being used as a cover for the book when it came out some months later.
After I got started on the covers, I ended up being brought in to help with inking duties on Defiance, the prequel book for Revenge of the Fallen.
After Defiance and the Best of UK ended, I was fortunate enough to get work from companies like Hasbro and Shout! Factory. I was blown away to get to work on DVD covers for the reissue of the G1 cartoon series that came out around 2009, including the art for the "Matrix of Leadership" box set.
That kind of work kept me busy for a bit, but I spent a long time after Defiance ended checking my email often hoping for some kind of work from IDW.
After some time passed, I sent in some newer samples to IDW and established contact with Andy Schmidt now that he was editor. It was good that I did so because almost immediately they brought me in to help ink Last Stand of the Wreckers, another proud point in my career. Getting to work on one of the best received Transformers comics ever is definitely something I'm proud of.
They must have been happy with my efforts because my next assignment for IDW was getting to work on Foundation with John Barber.
Va'al - The live-action films were definitely a pivotal moment in the life of the franchise, whatever opinion people have about them. So you've been inker, cover, DVD and box artist before getting into your own inside art. How does it feel to work with the others as part of the same creative team? How much do you all influence each other, between colourists, pencillers, inkers, writers and editors? Is it any different from when you started in those same roles?
Andrew - Yeah, when I say the movies reignited my passion, I'm talking about around 2006, early 2007 when news was coming out about a movie getting made.
Well, being an inker can be an interesting experience, because it can be an entirely different thing depending on who you are inking. Nick Roche was a joy to ink, his pencils on Wreckers were very tight and I somehow felt like I was able to be expressive while still staying true to his style. And he was very communicative during the process. He really seemed to be happy with what I did.
The challenge of doing the box art was the difficulty in capturing the feel of the 80s cartoon art without making it look ridiculous. And what I mean by that is if you take a single freeze frame of the animation it usually looks very poorly drawn with very simple designs, yet when you see them in progression you can overlook some of those flaws. By the time I got to the Headmasters, Victory and Masterforce covers I think I had developed a style that worked pretty well to handle that problem.
Now that I work as the penciller and inker, or sometimes with an inker, it really ends up as a collaborative experience with John and Josh. John is very generous about hearing my input on his stories, and even takes my ideas and runs with them when they work or can improve what he's doing. He's been great to work with, and he knows when to tell me if there are specific details he need shown, or when to step back and say "just do what works." And Josh is probably my next closest collaborator. I feel like we've really gotten to know how each other's style better and better as we've gone along on RID. And when we have an inker like Brian Shearer on it seems like he fits right in, and everyone has a good sense of humor and you never know who's going to make a joke in an email at just the right time to take the stress away a little while we're trying to make a deadline. Usually it's Carlos. (The editor.)
Va'al - It's good to hear about the mutual appreciation you each have for each other, also with the editors. The results are always more than pleasing, and knowing that you all have fun making an issue makes it even more enjoyable! Robots in Disguise, the series you are currently working on, has reached a big turning point, with the new event - Dark Cybertron - about to really begin: do you have any teasers you're allowed to talk about? Or about the future of the series?
Andrew - Well, I think I should probably hold off on any tidbits for Dark Cybertron until IDW has a chance to make some reveals at BotCon in a few weeks.
I'm working on it right now though, and one thing I can definitely say is that Shockwave is definitely a main player in the story. And personally, I think fans who have been following the IDW continuity for a while now will be very pleasantly surprised with what James and John are cooking up.
Va'al - Ah, not spoiling anything, are you. Our readers should stay tuned for the Seibertron.com BotCon coverage, if they cannot make it to the event itself (like myself, sadly). Speaking of conventions, you've just been added to the IDW VIP BotCon tour, and you'll be attending Auto Assembly in the UK -- how does it feel to be a guest at such a big event, where people are turning up especially to see you?
Andrew - I was recently at Wizard World Philadelphia as a guest and as part of Artist Alley, and I had more than one person come up and tell me that they came to the show just because I would be there. That's a very flattering and humbling thing to hear, and I am very conscious of the fact that these fans pay good money to come to these events in order to see myself and others. So I'm quite happy to sign books, or put a little extra effort into a commission or sketch.
Without the fans, we wouldn't have the opportunity to do this kind of work. Which is another reason I try to not take criticisms too personally. People are paying hard-earned money to read the books and pay for convention and VIP tour tickets, so they have every right to be critical if they feel the content isn't as good as it could or should be.
BotCon and Auto Assembly are two of the events I'm looking most forward to this summer. Always nice to meet and interact with other Transformers fans and to get to spend time with the other creators, just too many good people to list here that I'm looking forward to seeing. The VIP Tour looks to be a once in a lifetime chance for any Transformers comics fan who is coming out to it.
Va'al - Auto Assembly is something I'm really excited about too! The VIP tour sounds amazing, but it's in completely the wrong country for me at the moment. And I'm glad you pointed out the criticism issue - as a comics reviewer, I was a little nervous about talking to you. For no reason though, as this has been a really nice chat! Andrew, before we leave, one more question: you are now one of the people that fans go see at conventions, but are there any fandoms you are still a part of from this side of the fence? How deep does your inner geek go?
Andrew - Well my inner geek spreads pretty wide. I'm a big fan of a lot of geeky things when I think about it. I still collect comics. I love plenty of geeky movies. From Star Wars, to Star Trek, to Superhero movies, I enjoy them all. I geek out over scientific discoveries, or reading Stephen Hawking, or noticing a "Nikola Tesla died here" plaque on the New Yorker building in NYC. I'm even kind of a fanboy to things like Shakespeare and Renaissance artists. I love Woody Allen movies. I was (and still am to some degree) a huge music geek and always loved finding a great new record shop or radio station.
A few years ago when I did those DVD covers, I did a signing at San Diego Comic Con with Gregg Berger (who I don't have to tell any TF fans was the voice of Grimlock) and Earl Kress (writer of G1 episode B.O.T. and creator of Pinky and the Brain, and sadly no longer with us) as Leonard Nimoy was doing a signing a booth down from us. That's the kind of thing I can geek out over, especially as Greg Berger is plenty willing to do the Grimlock voice on request.
Va'al - There you have it: you never really stop being a fan. Andrew, thank you again for sitting down 'with' me and bearing through all the questions and time you've dedicated to our readers. It has been a pleasure! Any last words for the Seibertron.com community (and the rest of the Transformers fandom)?
Andrew - Boy... just keep reading! Keep enjoying and keep supporting the brand. Keep coming out to the conventions and saying hello. If you're coming to Botcon at the end of the month I'll be at the show. I won't be doing Artist Alley, but I'll be doing the IDW VIP Tour as well as the IDW panel. I'll probably do some appearances at the IDW booth too. And then about a month later I'll be at Auto Assembly the whole weekend, and will probably have some things to announce for that in the future.
Looking forward to seeing anyone who comes out!
And thanks for having me for an interview. I'd come back anytime.
For a look at more of Andrew's work, visit his deviantART page, follow him on Twitter or say hi to him in person at BotCon or Auto Assembly! And keep your peripherals tuned to Seibertron.com for our next interview, just in time for BotCon, too!