The official Transformers facebook page
has posted the creator commentary for IDW's Transformers: Robots in Disguise
Ongoing #10. Writer John Barber and artist Livio Ramondelli give us their thoughts on the first five pages. We've mirrored the commentary below for those without facebook access.
PAGE 1- We’re seeing Spectro, Spyglass and Viewfinder back (or forward) in action. Things are starting to get a little strange. What made you want to bring these guys into the time travel story line that is going through Robots In Disguise?
LIVIO RAMONDELLI: I think most writers and artists hope to take a shot at doing a time travel story at some point, if only for the sheer challenge they represent. And I thought it was very clever of John to turn what might be seen as a continuity error into the springboard for such a story.
JOHN BARBER: Yeah, as long-time readers might know, there was a deal where these guys turned up in Spotlight: Wheelie and were, uh… partial spoiler alert, I guess: dead. And then later on, they turned up in All Hail Megatron, alive… When I saw that, back when I was first putting together what would become the story of Robots in Disguise, I thought there might be an interesting story to tell there.
I mean, I don’t want this to be a story that’s about some continuity problem; it’s just that continuity problem suggested an idea for a story I thought was worth telling. One that might be bigger and weirder… a disjointed story that doesn’t unfold linearly. It’s something I always really wanted to try to write. I kinda wanted to go full-Morrison on a story; do a story where the reader had to really keep up with what was going on. So I knew the Reflector trio was going to be in this story for a long time. I actually thought readers would figure out that Turmoil’s space ship was the Reflectors’ space ship, especially when you saw the little green guys from Spotlight: Wheelie when this ship turned up in RID, back in issue 7.
But to me, the thing I really wanted to do was to get into this time jump story. And the Reflectors provided a great way into that, I though.
PAGE 2- Following up with Orion Pax, Hardhead, Wheelie and Garnak, as previously seen in Syndromica Part 1. The hint of weirdness continues. Working with an artist like Livio, would you say that you both have an influence on the work you produce the way either of you wouldn’t have with a different writer/artist?
JOHN BARBER: Definitely. I mean, I see it as being in a band. The usual RID band is me and Andrew Griffith with Josh Perez on colors, but I feel like I get to do side projects with Brendan Cahill and Guido Guidi… and every once in a while that guy from the Autocracy band with Chris Metzen and Flint Dille comes over and we jam together. They’re all really different experiences to me—I love the collaboration of it all.
The first “Syndromica” issue that Livio and I did was in issue 6, and it was all big, wide shots; lots of landscapes and big action and scary characters. Livio and I really hammered that story out together, and it was great to do, but I knew this one would be different. I was kinda sticking Livio with a story here, and I missed that back-and-forth on the writing side, but anyway… such is life, and I wrote a draft of the first few pages and sent it to Livio. I thought he was waiting for the script, but he actually had some other work to finish first. We were pretty far ahead of the deadline, at that point.
I wasn’t really happy with what I’d sent, and I was flipping through Watchmen that night—you know, like you do—when Livio emailed me and said he wouldn’t be starting for a few more days. I emailed back and told him to delete the script I’d sent. It was much more of a straightforward opening; more of a… I don’t know, a regular comic book. But I was looking at how Watchmen used the 9-panel grid, where it wasn’t just 9 panels in sequence; each panel also had relationships and echoes to previous panels and pages and it was all part of a big whole, and I wanted to try to use that structure to make the time-travel stuff work better…
Getting this rigid structure and using it as a counterpoint to a really chaotic story and giving Livio the opportunity to play against what I usually think of him doing so well—but that I was convinced he would do really well and he was the only person on Earth who could draw this—all that opened up. I emailed Livio back and said “how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go, here?"
LIVIO RAMONDELLI: RID #10 is unquestionably the most challenging story I’ve ever worked on in terms of layouts. I’m not an overly mathematical person, and so reading the script (with descriptions like “panel 4 on page 3 here will echo panel 8 on page 21," etc.) was hard for me. I honestly don’t know how John wrote it without drawing it first, hah. It’s the only time I’ve ever sat down with him in person to talk through panel arrangements. But it was very rewarding to see the final issue coming together, and the repeating panels sliding into place. I really respect John as a writer, and the care he puts into telling his stories. And I think this issue represents a challenge we took on to deliver a different reading experience for this particular tale.
Originally, RID #10 was supposed to be relatively straight forward. But I recall getting a cryptic e-mail from John one day saying essentially “how do you feel about drawing something really crazy?" His ambition in crafting a story this complex was inspiring to be a part of. And so when he asked me how far I’d be willing to go with him on this, I told him I’d draw whatever he wanted. I have total faith in the guy, and so I’m happy to blindly commit to something he’s writing.
Having said that, I also now feel like John owes me for drawing his insane fever dream. And one day, and that day may never come, I will call on him for a grave favor.
But seriously, I think the band analogy is a great one. One thing that all the current creative teams seem to like is that we have our own sandboxes to play in (be it More Than Meets the Eye, Autocracy/Monstrosity, or RID), yet we can also mingle with one another as part of the cohesive universe. So it’s always fun to pop in and work with John the writer, in addition to John the editor.
PAGE 3- Pax’s ship arrives on LV-117, the planet that Wheelie crashed on in Spotlight: Wheelie. And he finds the dead Viewfinder inside the ship they were just following. How do you plan for an issue like this, with so much complexity to it?
JOHN BARBER: Well… I just had to keep all this in my head as I was writing. I had a couple diagrams but most of it was just… I just tried to visualize the shape of things—I mean the shape of the panels, leaving these Livio-sized holes in my thinking—and keep all that in mind.
I do have to say that editor Carlos Guzman was utterly invaluable here. I mean, he always is, but here especially. He really came in with lists of things that didn’t work; plot points that were utterly impenetrable (instead of just, like, mostly impenetrable) and things that didn’t add up… Carlos went in and diagrammed out all the layouts based on the script and I did a pretty significant rewrite and then another bit here and there…
Then we sent it over to Livio and I just dumped out all the data I’d had stored. I mean, it was kind of crazy. There was a week or so where I knew where everybody was on every page in every time period and what they were doing and what direction in time they were going and blah blah blah… and then it was just GONE. And Livio would ask questions and I would have no idea… it was his problem at that point.
LIVIO RAMONDELLI: The issue was very complex. Some of it might not even look that hard in the final pages. But we were dealing with repeating panels, and different time periods. In addition, the pages had a very rigid panel arrangement and smaller shots for the most part. I tend to like to frame things in more of a horizontal, widescreen fashion. But this was fun, playing with the almost Watchmen-style architecture that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did so masterfully.
Each of the time periods had to look different, and so that meant a new lighting scheme for each one. This can be insanely tricky. I knew Pax and co. arrived in sunshine, and so I contrasted that with the kind of red, hellish light that the final battle takes place in. But in addition, there were other lighting schemes to consider: Pax fighting Bludgeon, as well as him encountering Turmoil, among others. I like the red lighting in the final battle, as I think it’s strikingly different from what has come before. And I think the extreme nature of it fits the crazy landscape. But the Turmoil scene is the one I wish I’d found a better lighting technique for. Ah well, you learn and move forward.
PAGE 4- Pax continues looking thought the crashed Decepticon ship, strange things are happening to him. Was there a specific reason why this time place with Pax and his crew, rather than on Cybertron with Bumblebee and everyone there?
JOHN BARBER: Yeah. I mean, Bumblebee and his crew are the main story through issue 15 or so. And after that… the stuff we’re getting set up here is really the next big story. It’s all together, it’s all interconnected—I mean, the Reflectors came from Cybertron in issue 9 leading here; the story of Jhiaxus and Monstructor builds on what we saw in the Annual… it’s all one big thing, but yeah—it’s intentional we’re following Pax and the crew here.
PAGE 5- Pax goes through what appears his own time travel event after touching the glowing sphere in the Decepticon craft. Any relation between the possible time bending here and what he experienced as Prime in Death of Optimus Prime?
JOHN BARBER: He experienced a time jump there, so yeah—he recognizes the phenomenon here. It’s not necessarily the same cause, but it’s an effect he’s familiar with.
Actually—one of the things I really wanted to get across here was the way Prime reacts to that. When we see the first time jump with the Decepticons, they start panicking. When we see it on page 2 with Pax and the Autobots, Pax immediately takes control and gets a read on the situation—“Everyone saw that?" The first thing he does is confirm it wasn’t a hallucination; it wasn’t an error with him. Then he calms everybody down and sends them toward the planet for answers. That’s why he’s Optimus Prime and the Reflectors aren’t. Even when he’s Orion Pax, he’s Optimus Prime.
LIVIO RAMONDELLI: I think that whether he’s calling himself Orion Pax or Optimus Prime, he can’t help but be inherently noble and a natural leader. One of my favorite moments in this issue is what Pax does to Turmoil upon seeing an innocent threatened. I always thought of Prime as being a gentle soul… but he will absolutely beat someone down if they attempt to prey on innocents. He’s such a great mixture of strength and compassion. Which is why I assume he’s meant so much to myself and many other people around the world.