Va'al - In the aftermath of BotCon, here at Seibertron.com we are delighted to have another chat with another of the amazing people behind the Transformers comics: Josh Burcham! Josh, thanks again for doing this with us. Before we move to your work on the comics, a couple of more personal questions to start us off. Where did it all begin for you? How did you become a Transformers fan?
Josh - Boy, ya know I wish I could say that I had memory of THE moment when I was first introduced to Transformers but I really can't. Transformers have just always kinda "been there". I was born in the latter part of 1985 so Transformers was already pretty well on its way by the time I was born. I HEAR from my mom that my first Transformer was probably Targetmaster Kup and he came out in 1987 I think? So I was about 2 years old when Transformers came into my life and really, growing up, they've ALWAYS been around. There was a part of my childhood where I kinda forgot about them, they were just kind of "those toys I've always had" hidden away in the closet. It wasn't until G2 came around that I started to remember "hey! i think I know what these are!" I remember, even then, feeling a sense of nostalgia as the G2 cartoon [if you can call it that] was on TV.
I guess as a small youngster I used to make my parents/grandparents record episodes of G1 on VHS for me that I could watch over and over, so it was really pretty crazy. And I've always had a copy of TF:TM around that I'd seen a million times. I could recite practically the whole movie line for line, I watched it so much! But, I didnt REALLY get back into Transformers during G2 but that certainly brought them back to the forefront of my mind. It wasn't until Beast Wars was pretty well under way that I REEEALLY got back into the franchise. And when I say "under way" i mean that I didnt quite believe Beast Wars was ACTUALLY Transformers until they started doing some G1 namedrops when I gave it a chance.
I remember my parents got me a couple Beast Wars figures and they were neat and all [Terrorsaur and Snapper, I think his name is? The turtle one] but I just wouldnt believe that THESE were supposed to be the Transformers that I remembered. I mean, they were animals and stuff! I thought it was just some other company trying to cash in on the Transformers' name or something. But once the cartoon started making evident its ties to the G1 universe I started to believe and ended up getting myself hooked! I'd wake up super early to watch the show before going to middle school, and it was around the time the Transmetal stuff was going on when I got full back into collecting the toys. I had two backpack fulls of what G1 toys had survived my early childhood mixed with what new Beast Wars stuff I was getting. I remember forcing my younger sister to play with them with me too. Making bases for the good and bad guys on opposite ends of the house. It was pretty great! But from Beast Wars on, the Transformers were back for me. And they've been with me ever since!
Va'al - See, we're getting closer to my territory here too, as I essentially grew up with Beast Wars. There seems to be a common denominator in getting up stupidly early to watch Transformers, across all fans in all countries! So Kup may have been your first toy, and the cartoons were your way in - when did you encounter the comics? And which ones?
Josh - When I was younger I would, every now and then, come across garage sales with Transformers comics [the Marvel ones] and I remember getting them mostly because they said "Transformers" on 'em. I'd read 'em once or twice then kind of shuffle them to the side. I'd keep them as a collectible but comics were never really my "thing" when I was a kid. I never really read them. The time I took notice of the Transformers comics was when Dreamwave got hold of the license. I guess the biggest detractor I had against the old Marvel stuff was that I just wasn't all that into the artwork. And I'm not restricting that to JUST Transformers comics, but ALL comics from that sort of era. It was simple, never really found it exciting, and I never liked the worn, faded, dot matrix kind of coloring so I never really gave comics a chance. But when Dreamwave came around and we started seeing what the comics would look like I was pretty floored. I remember saying to myself "THIS is what comic books look like now?!?! This is awesome!".
So I started to read the TF books Dreamwave was putting out, and then this is where I started to get interested in comics. Not necessarily in reading them, but in making them. Around the time Dreamwave had the license, and actually even before that, I was getting into the Transformers Fan Art scene on the different message boards. I wasn't very great at drawing and I had no way to get my drawings into the computer so I got hold of Photoshop and started teaching myself to color. And it's at this point where I realized that the stuff I was doing was more or less how comic books were made. So that's what drove me to want to get into making comics. It all kinda happened at once, my interest in comics as a medium and as a career!
Va'al - Dreamwave! That was quite a change from what was going on before it, wasn't it? I still really like The War Within storyline, and especially the artwork. You started drawing and colouring, focusing on the latter, as many a fan is still doing - how did you get noticed? What was your first job?
Josh - It was really all just luck. Back when Dreamwave was putting out books I, and a lot of the world, were still rockin' the America Online internet provider. There was an option to search for people with keywords and one day I just got a wild hair and typed in "Dreamwave". To my surprise I ran across a fella who actually worked there! [It's all about who ya know! Networking is key in this business, I've found!] I struck up a conversation with the guy and eventually I told him who I was and that I was an aspiring colorist. I showed him little bits of the artwork I had at the time and asked if I had a chance. The guy eventually agreed to show my work to their art director so I could find out! Not too long after that I heard back from the art director there and he gave me his thoughts and critiques of my work. He told me what they were looking for and encouraged me to keep trying, gave me areas to concentrate on improving and suggested I send my stuff in again in the future.
A number of months passed since then and I got in contact with the art director again with some new work and, hopefully, some improvements. The one thing I still needed to work on was getting that painterly kind of look they liked to do for their backgrounds but he saw that I had potential. My character rendering was good enough so they ended up putting me to work on the Armada profile books! Which was a project that suited me just fine. It was all just character art and no backgrounds, so it was really great that he put me on a project that played more to my 'strengths'. After the Armada profile books wrapped up I was left with a choice to either help out on the Energon books or see if I had what it took to work on their "big" upcoming mini-series: The War Within vol. 3. And thats kinda how I got rollin'!
Va'al - Networking is the key to most jobs, I can confirm that for freelance translation too! You must have made some good ones while you were working for Dreamwave, definitely. But then they ..collapsed. To put it lightly. How was that for you? What happened next?
Josh - Well as far as money owed, I got hit lightly compared to some of the other amounts I've heard owed to different artists. It was a pretty surprising thing when it all happened. Definitely a lot of "well....now what???". After Dreamwave went under and before IDW ended up getting the license was, I think, a year's span of time where there was just nothing. While I was waiting to see where the TF license would fall I did some work for my pal Mike S. Miller [the artist of Devil's Due's first Transformers/GI Joe crossover] and his company doing colors on a series called "Sixgun Samurai". I had a lot of computer problems as well during that time so it was pretty much just that and a whole lot of nothing. Unemployment, really. When the TF license ended up going to IDW Publishing I found out just like everybody else on the internet, and as soon as I did I hit up all the people I could think of to see if they could point me in the right direction. Eventually that lead to Chris Ryall and I shot him an email explaining who I was and what I did over at Dreamwave and if they had any open projects. Between them already being creatively set up for the -ation books and my only having Dreamwave work to show for my abilities [a look they were understandably trying to stray away from in the outset] I was ultimately turned down.
It wasn't until some time after that they were gearing up to do the first Beast Wars mini-series with Simon and Don that I got my first "in." They were looking for a colorist and had asked Don if he had anyone in mind to work with and it wasn't long after that I got an e-mail from, then editor, Dan Taylor and was given a test page to see if things would work out. Keeping in mind what Chris had said about wanting to stray away from a Dreamwave sorta look I kind of "invented" a new coloring style for me on the go. I was just making it up as I went along. Luckily they liked what I had done and that's how I got my first gig at IDW. I also did some helping out on the -ations stuff as well, which was challenging and a lot of fun! It was like it was all new to me again!
Va'al - You have undoubtedly made a name for yourself since getting back on the Transformers wagon. The colouring work you've done since, including your current role as on the fan-acclaimed Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye is nothing short of amazing. But you are now also producing your own art, and are even in charge of the official BotCon comic! I know that fans have started a campaign of sorts to get you this far, but how did it actually happen?
Josh - Heh, How did the campaign happen or how did I get to draw some robots? Well the campaign came about over on the IDW message boards courtesy of some friends. They started making banners and not long after it seems like half of the posters there started sporting them. It was pretty crazy to come onto the boards and see all of those post signatures with those banners! It wasn't my idea, but I'm humbled by the amount of friends I have on there showing their support for me and my artwork!
The BotCon comic came to me because of the theme for this year's exclusives: Machine Wars. For quite a few years now I've been in the process of producing a fan project centered around the Machine Wars. The toy line was VERY short lived and exclusive to only KB Toy stores as a way to test the market to see if consumers would be open to going back to Autobots and Decepticons, since we were into the Beast Wars era stuff. The toys consisted of repaints and had virtually no fiction to go along with them. Just generic bios. So my project's always been about giving some sort of fiction and creating a fresh and unique universe for these very unique character interpretations to exist in. The plan's always been, and still is, a fan made full-length comic book to act as a sort of "pilot episode" introducing the universe. So I've had a lot of artwork I'd done for the project floating around online that I'd drawn. I guess one day Pete Sinclair, from the Collector's Club, had been googling Machine Wars stuff and ran across my Machine Wars art I'd done and then contacted me about doing the card art for all of their exclusives for this year. Me taking on art duties for the comic came a little later, but yeah! Here I am!
Va'al - Here you are indeed. IDW also seems to be adding more recognition to your work, and that of other colorists and inkers: I was sorting out issues today, and suddenly everyone's name starts appearing on the cover! Have you ever experienced 'discrimination' because you're 'just' a colourist? How do you find working as part of artistic team compared to a one-person job?
Josh - Yeah! Getting colorist/inker's credit on the cover page was a surprise indeed! A little victory, I think, for us 'second stringers.' There's definitely some descrimination out there, but I think that's more people who just dont really understand. A lot of people dont even REALIZE that there's another guy that does JUST the colors or JUST the inks. A lot of companies will credit the penciller as just "the artist" and people think "well I guess that guy did all of the art that I'm seeing here!." It's just one of those behind the scenes things you dont really think about. Like for me, as a kid, LOVED watching cartoons and I just took them as they were. Optimus Prime sounds like this because that's Optimus Prime and what he sounds like. It never ONCED occured to me that there was a man behind that voice that WASN'T Optimus Prime; that there's a guy whose JOB is to do the voice of a cartoon character. And it's kind of like an epiphany moment when you realize that. Or at least it was for me. And that's just one poor example. Doing what I do has definitely made me more aware that everything you see there's a person behind that. Even the little logo design on that box of frozen fish sticks. SOMEBODY did that. It didn't just appear out of nowhere. And so, yeah. When you see colors in a comic book know that there is some person behind that. Color just doesn't magically appear out of nowhere. I've had some people ask "well why don't they just let computers do it? Isn't there some kind of
program that can color all the characters?" and, sometimes, I wish that were true! But it's not. Being a colorist, it's just so secondary to a person's mind. Nobody really cared before, in comics, who colored what. It was always the writer and the artist that sold the book. Thats why when DC announces a new big title or reboot they say "CHECK OUT THIS NEW SERIES BY JIM LEE" because thats what the general audience is aware of. They know Jim's work, they follow Jim's work, and not that his work is bad by any means, but a penciller or a writer's efforts definitely SEEM more evident to the eye. And so a lot of companies, well they take advantage of that and they don't worry so much about the 'other guys.' The day you see a new project announced and the first person they try to draw you in with is the colorist will be...well it'll be one crazy day. I don't see it happening, lol. But I am thankful for companies giving more proper credit to the whole creative team. Definitely thankful to fans for taking interest in guys like us colorists, like you guys here at [url]Seibertron.com[/url] with the interview and all. People are starting to be more mindful and pay a little more attention to who all is involved and it's really great.
And, oh yeah, there's another question in there! Sorry! heh! How do I find working as part of artistic team compared to a one-person job? Oh, I very much prefer it! [The 'it' being working with a team!] I really hate to do stuff on my own or by myself because I only have so many ideas! And when you're working with a team of other people there's just so much more you can accomplish! Every person is unique and has their own thoughts and ideas and different ways to do things that I'd've NEVER thought of doing on my own and it all serves to make something, whatever it is, BETTER.
Va'al - We do aim to please, both fans and our guests! Plus, I have a lot of interested vested in the visibility of 'secondary' creators, being a translator myself. Speaking of computer programmes and digital artwork - I've seen a recent discussion you had with people on Twitter about the positions and reactions of digital vs printed art, and the value that people give to one over the other. Would you care to summarise your thoughts about the debate?
Josh - Yeah! That conversation was pretty interesting! I'd been wrestling with the concept of original art [hand drawn] VS digital art even before that conversation. I was getting myself ready for Botcon and initially I was trying to decide how I wanted to draw this year's convention comic; digitally or traditionally. The big reason for doing it traditionally is that since it's all hand drawn on paper artists tend to sell their originals for a substantial bit of money. It's one way that artists have to make a little more money from their work. [you've heard of starving artists right?] And so people pay pretty decent money for original artwork because it's one of a kind. It's the ACTUAL page that the artist spent hours upon hours working on. THE one and only physical page that the one seen in the comic is made from. So it's pretty special to people who collect/purchase original artwork. Now the argument comes in when you bring up digital artwork. Like I mentioned, I was trying to decide whether I'd go traditional [so that I would have all the original artwork for the comic, should anybody be interested in those] or whether I'd go digital. The biggest thing that working digital has going for it is speed. Speed and convenience. You save so much in both time and material. The page is pencilled/inked/colored/lettered all right there on the computer. Drawing digitally is much easier when it comes to fixing your drawings; if things don't look right there's no wasted time erasing and redrawing. There's no 'wasting' paper, no having to buy pencils/pens, no wasted time scanning, and the list goes on. It's just infinitely more convenient for me, the artist. The "downside," if you wanna call it that, is that having a page be entirely digital there is no actual physical representation of that page. Not like a traditionally drawn page. My dilemma was "would it be seen as 'okay' to sell physical print outs of my digital work, like people do with traditional art?" and that's kind of where the conversation on Twitter came from. "Is digital art the same, in terms of value, as traditional art?"
The problem that's run into is that all digital artwork is still a pretty new "thing." Most artists still work traditionally because there's a stigma amongst people [fans/collectors/what have you] that think that digital artwork is somehow 'less than' traditional art. People just don't know what to do about digital art. And this is even moreso a problem with guys like colorists, who literally have absolutely no way to sell "original art" in the same way that pencillers and inkers do, because it's done entirely digitally. Do colorists just throw up their hands and accept it, or should there be some sort of equivelant for digital artists as well? Pencillers and inkers get to make money off their originals but what do you do with something that has no tangible physical something to grab onto? There's the idea of just printing it out but even then people dont trust it because being digital you can, to put it simply, just make more. There's no definite one individual piece thats unique and "original" about the digital work. And so that's kind of the big problem. When you talk about digital VS traditional with people it always feels like it comes down to "one is real and the other isn't" and that's just not true. And that's pretty much the end thought that I came to in my own work for the convention comic. I ended up doing one single page traditionally, just to have one, and the rest of the book entirely digitally. When I went to Botcon I made print outs of the B&W line art on comic book board and had them in my portfolio and to be honest, nobody really thought anything of it.
I dunno. I ended up looking up the conversation we're talking about here and, well, here's some of my tweets about the subject. Probably a bit better/more simply explained than my big paragraphs above!
"Originally I'd considered doing half of this MW comic digital and half traditional for the easons we're talking about here but the more I thought about it I'm just pandering to people with wrong perceptions on what's the 'real art' and what's not. If any of my prints of my Machine Wars line art isn't "original" enough, I'm happy to personalize/number/ make an extra scribble-somewhere to make it so if that'll make people feel better. And if someone wants exclusive rights to a page I'll have the artistic integrity enough to only sell that one print of the page. In the end, if it's your *preference* to want something done traditionally that's fine, but to anyone who doesn't understand: PLEASE don't sell digital artwork short by thinking it's "not real" or not worth as much as traditional stuff".
Basically that's kind of my stance. There's one or two bits in there that references different ways I've heard other artists try to make their digital stuff more "original" by maybe half inking a page digitally and finishing it up traditionally or something and in the end I just feel like if it's the artist's choice to work digitally then that's their choice. It's a tool. It's a method. It's a, as of now, new way of making artwork and I don't think the artist should be punished for choosing to work in a way that makes their job easier. So I'm fine with working digitally and selling prints of that digital work, be it colors or straight up line work. People just don't know or fully understand so they have these preconceived ideas about things. I mentioned in my tweet there that if it's a person's *preference* to want original art over digital that's fine. That's a preference. The main thrust of my argument is that I hope they don't undervalue digital work just because it's not something they prefer or just because it's something they don't understand.
Va'al - Whoah, that's quite the answer! Those all sound like excellent points, thank you for taking the time to outline them. I personally don't value digital art less than 'original' work, especially for the coloured stuff I get off people like yourself and JP Bove. Yes you can have multiple copies of it, but it's still something I asked you to do! I think we'll have one final question, if you don't mind: Now that you're a celebrated artist (lines, scribbles, colours, all stuff), how do you feel towards the franchise? Are you still a Transformers fan from that side of the table?
Josh - Being on the other side of the franchise hasn't dimmed my fanfare fire one bit. I've always considered myself a fan first . An extremely lucky fan that is! I can't say enough how honored I am to get to contribute to the franchise in some small way. I know it's just the colors in some little comic books, not anything super impactful, but still!
Va'al - Trust me, the comic books ain't that little, and we do enjoy the colours. Maybe the 'campaign' will work, and we'll see you on lines and doodles sometime too! Josh, it's been a pleasure to talk with you, and get some insight into the Burchamverse. Any final words to our readers?
Josh - Thank YOU for the awesome interview! Not sure I have much else exciting to say other than thanks to you and everybody reading! I can't say enough how much I, and the rest of the team, appreciate all the support fans have been giving MTMTE. Keep reading because there's some exciting stuff ahead! And yeah, hopefully I'll get the chance to do some more drawing! I know there's been some talking about me doing art for another issue or two of Machine Wars so I'm really looking forward to that!
Josh Burcham's technicolor adventures can be followed on Twitter, Tumblr, deviantArt, YouTube and his own website. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more comic creator goodness soon!