Q: Hi John. Robots in Disguise is almost a year old now. Has everything panned out as smoothly as you had hoped in the story you are telling?
JOHN BARBER: Hi! Well, we’ve stuck pretty close to the original ideas. New things have definitely cropped up, new ideas pop in all the time, but the essential story Andrew Griffith and I set out to tell over the first year or so has gone according to plan. Along the way there’ve been some nice synchronicities, some characters have asserted themselves in ways that either made them bigger characters or that changed the way the story unfolded, but overall, yeah.
Q: You’ve been trying to make sense of some continuity issues that have cropped up. Is this something you really wanted to try in fix from past TF comics?
JOHN BARBER: It’s not really that I set out to fix things as much as sometimes little continuity things suggest interesting stories or directions. Like, with Metalhawk—when More Than Meets The Eye writer James Roberts and I were working on The Death of Optimus Prime, James had come up with the notion of having a character be the de facto leader of the neutral Cybertronians who were returning home. I thought it’d be cool to use an existing Transformers character that we hadn’t seen yet—somebody that would have resonance with some fans, but it wouldn’t be essential that anybody know who he is.
We bounced some ideas between us and Andy Schmidt, who was the editor then, and to Michael Kelly at Hasbro. Eventually, James suggested Metalhawk. A quick internet search showed that Metalhawk had appeared in one panel in the Drift limited series. Or, anyway, somebody that looked an awful lot like Metalhawk was there. Alex Milne had drawn him in as, basically, a random ’bot. Nobody called him Metalhawk, he didn’t do anything particularly important. And it would have been pretty easy to just ignore that. And, honestly—and I know some fans vehemently disagree with what I’m about to say—I think it would have been fair to just write that off as “somebody that looks like Metalhawk” if it got in the way of the story.
But it got me thinking, and I thought it could be kind of cool if that were Metalhawk, and even though he’s only got that one panel in the Drift comic, that battle had actually been a key part of Metalhawk’s life. And that created an opportunity to bring Turmoil (who I think is an awesome character who deserved more of an on-panel life) back and have it mean something personal to somebody that Turmoil was around. So that panel just suggested some depth to the then-just-being-developed-in-current-continuity Metalhawk.
Hopefully, in practice, it doesn’t matter to the RID reader if they ever see that panel, but I think it’s fun that that panel is there. It creates a wider, more coherent tapestry of stories, without being obtrusive or stopping us from moving forward.
Q: After seeing all of the previous TF work, how hard did you find it get into the characters heads and come up with their voices and point of views?
JOHN BARBER: Well, over my life I’ve spent a fair amount of time with these characters—reading the comics, watching the cartoons and movies, playing with the toys when I was young—so I had some thoughts about the characters. There were some that, over the years, had been portrayed in ways that didn’t exactly match up all the way, which is just the reality of what happens when you have an ongoing comic book universe with different writers and artists playing in the same sandbox.
But, again, that was an opportunity. Real people do contradictory things, real people change their approaches over the years. We react differently to different situations. So I tried to use those different reactions and figure out what might make these particular iterations of these guys tick.
I tried to give the characters distinct points of view and voices based on what we’d seen them do over the course of all the IDW-published comics, and also what the sort-of “classic” versions of the characters are. I like using the big characters, and some of them have developed really interesting backstories, but that’s mostly how I view the previous stories, in practical storytelling terms. I mean, not that my stories are better, I just mean that as a writer, you have to focus on the story you’re telling, not a previous story. As a reader, you shouldn’t need to know the details of the character’s lives to follow what they’re doing now, or to enjoy them as characters… but if you do want to know about their life stories—a lot of it’s been published!
Q: Can you say much about your grand plan when you started writing RID? Did you have this time of peace on the re-born Cybertron well plotted out?
JOHN BARBER: Yeah, the big arc of the first year or so, definitely. It’s really about 16 issues that will get you a big climax to the story begun in issue 1. But not an end to the RID saga, I should add. That definitely keeps going!
Like I said, some of it changed a little, but the broad strokes are the same.
There were certain stories I wanted to hit—RID was never meant to be only about the political struggle. I wanted to have a story about somebody coming home trying to fit in on this world; a wilderness story; a story about the city surviving the changed environment of the planet. I feel like we did pretty well hitting those stories and still moving forward with a big, macro story about the power struggle in Iacon.
Q: Have you had to change or adapt how you write the stories, maybe based on something you’ve seen coming up in maybe an issue of More Than Meets the Eye (RID’s sister title)?
JOHN BARBER: We toss ideas back and forth all the time, James and I. So yeah, we’re constantly affecting what each other are doing. We’ve managed to not screw each other up, though, with our stories. If that’s what you mean.
Q: Have you found it difficult to keep a track of events in RID, especially with issues such as the time travelling space ship causing chaos (at least for the characters)?
JOHN BARBER: Yeah… it’s funny. I really intentionally focused in on five key players—Bumblebee, Ironhide, Prowl, Wheeljack, and Starscream—with Metalhawk playing a huge outsider role for most of the series. But as the series went on, a lot of other characters became important, too. So keeping track of where everybody is and where they wind up by issue 16 has been constantly on my mind.
Issue 10, with the time-traveling space-ship… that was it’s own beast. That was hard to keep track of on a totally different level. And I’m happy people came along for that ride.
Q: Is there any one stand-out moment from the first year of RID that you are most proud of over the others?
JOHN BARBER: Yes, but I can’t say what it is yet without giving things away.
Q: A certain character re-appears in issue 11 of RID. Had the return of this character been in your mind right from the very start?
JOHN BARBER: Yes, absolutely. Don’t miss today’s issue! Everything changes here.
Q: Between writing RID and editing the books across the TF license, would you say its one of the most challenging jobs you’ve done in comics?
JOHN BARBER: Sure, yeah. I mean, I edit more than just the Transformers comics, too—I work on G.I. Joe with Carlos Guzman, and on Dungeons & Dragons, and on a few other comics, too. So it’s a lot of good stuff to get to do. There’s definitely a lot of Transformers comics across a lot of timelines, but it’s a good challenge.
Q: Anything you can say about season 2 of RID? Can you say about possible happenings or characters that may reappear?
JOHN BARBER: Two words: purple reign.
Transformers: Robots in Disguise #11 Andrew Griffith Interview
As the Transformers: Robots in Disguise comic book series from IDW Publishing and Hasbro approaches the end of its first year, we thought we’d sit down with the series artist, Andrew Griffith, for his thoughts on the first nine issues of the series (the first five of which have been collected in a paperback) as well as the future of the series! Back issues (and last week’s giant-sized annual) are available at comic book stores everywhere, and digitally at http://read.idwpublishing.com/ —or download it on Comixology on your mobile device!
Q: Hi, Andrew. As we’re approaching the end of Robots in Disguise’s first year—how has it has been for you?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: Oh, it's been fantastic. I’m enjoying working on this book as much now as when I first began. I mean, nothing can beat the initial thrill of getting a call to take on the art chores for an ongoing Transformers series, but the fun and challenge of it has not dwindled a bit. I even recently tweeted the fact that it's been a year and a half since I got that call and I'm still as excited to be on the book now as I was then.
Q: You and writer John Barber have been working very closely on the look and feel on this book. Has it changed much from where you started out to where you are now?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: John Barber the writer? For a second, I was afraid you were asking me about the John Barber responsible for the development of rail gun technology. No really, look it up. Same name.
Parenthetical humor aside, John’s a dream to work with. We’ve been working together since July of 2010 when we started the Dark of the Moon movie prequel series Foundation, and I feel like it didn’t take us long at all to meld with each other’s storytelling ideas. I really notice as I read his scripts that he’s writing them specifically for me—he’s gotten to know what he has to detail out for me, and what he can let me take hold of and run with.
That man is writing so many different things now, as well as editing a few more, that I don’t know how he manages to keep each book straight—but working closely with him for so long I haven’t seen any less commitment or intensity from him on the part of RID. It’s kind of amazing. He just chugs right along. As far as the look and feel, I think it’s stayed pretty consistent over the issues. We’re really been trying to do some world building, with Iacon changing constantly as more ships arrive, ships are converted into buildings, and civilization takes hold. Meanwhile, this relatively settled section is surrounded by an entire planet that's been reborn and essentially unexplored. We've been working to establish a mix of strange structures naturally forming, ruined husks of ancient Cybertronian structures, and bizarre alien landscapes. Hopefully that comes across in the books.
Q: What characters have you been finding more of a challenge to draw, and do any of them come as a surprise to you? I bet there are some you can do with your eyes closed.
ANDREW GRIFFITH: I don’t know what it is, but for some reason whenever I draw a Sweep's decapitated head in RID (specifically in issue 5) it never looks right to me. Something about the boxiness of the helmet, I think.
Q: You did a different design for Starscream before going for the War for Cybertron designs. How many of the characters did you re-design that weren’t used?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: Well, truth to be told, not too many. I knew the series was going to feature Bumblebee, so my thought was to nail down (no pun intended) Bee’s look, and then base the aesthetic of the rest of the characters off of his appearance. I ended up doing about three Bumblebee designs that were never good enough that I’d want show them to anybody, and then I did some of characters like Prowl and Starscream. The Starscream one is the one you’re talking about, but looking back I don’t think the Prowl one would have worked well at all for his role in the series and I don’t know that I’d ever want to show him off. Just not a very good design in retrospect.
Q: Any stand out issues for you during this first year that surprised you?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: You know, I really enjoyed #4. When I first read that issue, I was instantly eager to draw it. On one level it read as a fairly straightforward action issue, but underneath there were a to of things going on, some of which has yet to be revealed to the reader. But I think eventually people will be able to look back at that issue and see it in a different light and say “ooooohhhhhhh.”
Q: Would you say that you’ve changed much as an artist during the year as you’ve done more and more issues?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: Well, I hope so. I always want to be improving as an artist. I definitely feel like I can confidently turn out a competent page at a faster rate than I could have at the beginning. And there are certain things I wish I would have drawn differently in the first few issues, like Bumblebee and Prowl’s heads. I don’t know what it is about Bee, if I’m not careful I just end up making his head wider and wider and wider.
Q: You went to San Diego Comic Con this year, met the fans, signed many things and talked giant robots. How’d you find it? Was it a fun experience?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: Well, I’ve gone to a number of conventions this year, and from all the fans I’ve talked to, they are all really excited about what is going on in Transfomers comics, so it's been really encouraging. That’s a very rewarding thing to hear, that what you're pouring your heart and soul and time into is being appreciated. The highlight of SDCC for me is always getting to see the people there that I never get to see otherwise, and getting to meet and talk with [legendary G.I. Joe writer] Larry Hama and [legendary Transformers writer] Flint Dille for example. But the best part was probably finally meeting John Barber and [editor] Carlos Guzman, who I’d been working closely with for two years by that point but had never met in person.
Q: From the characters you’ve designed for the series, which one of them would you like to see turned into a toy? If you were given the choice.
ANDREW GRIFFITH: I’m pretty happy with what I’ve come up with for the Constructicons, they retain enough of their G1 appearance while still looking like Cybertronian in nature. It’d be pretty awesome for me to see a Generations-line Devastator combiner based on them, similar to the combining Fall of Cybertron Bruticus toy that’s out.
Q: As we’re wrapping up the first year, there’s still to more issues to go until we hit #12. is there anything little snippets you can say without giving to much away?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: Well, I can’t say too much without IDW snipers placed across the street filling me with tranquilizers and shipping me off to Siberia, but I can promise that issues 11 to 15 are ones not to be missed. By the end of that arc, you'll have a lot of questions answered, some long unseen characters make an appearance, and some resolution to the first year’s over-arching story. Basically, it’s good stuff. I just hope I can draw it as well as it’s written.
Q: Heading into year 2, you’ve probably been talking with John Barber about the future. Anything you can say about what the fans could possibly expect?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: Yeah, we had a chance at SDCC to sit down and bounce ideas off of each other. A bit early to see if he uses any of mine. [Laughs] In all seriousness, one of the great things about John is how he’s so open to collaboration between us, and if he likes an idea I have, he’s not too proud to use it in the story. If it seems like I’m avoiding spoilers as far as where the story is going, I am. It’s hard to discuss it without giving too much away. But I will say that John and I are both excited about where things are headed.
PAGE 1- Ironhide is setting out the mission for this issue. It seems like Ironhide is changing as a character as much as Cybertron itself continues to evolve.
JOHN BARBER: Yeah, he’s evolving as he tries to make sense of the vision of the future that he had in “Chaos.” I wanted to make that something that really impacts the character. He’s still the old battle-ready roughneck, but he’s seen something that’s really changed his perception of the universe. And yeah, it’s continually changing—his ideas about what he saw—and we’re also seeing more aspects of what he know, and what he thinks.
ANDREW GRIFFITH: I was surprised you didn't ask about the obvious visual reference to the movie Patton, which I give full credit for to John. I think John's shown a real good handle on Ironhide's character, which is something worthy of note considering he's a battle-hardened and weary warrior who's been killed, resurrected and presented with a vision of where he ends up billions of years in the future. Whether or not what he saw is real or a dream, that's gotta leave a mark on a guy. And it's been fun to see old Ironhide explore his metaphysical side.
PAGES 2 and 3- The Dinobots are revealed along with Sky Lynx. As a team they appear to be a natural fit. What made you want to bring them back now and Sky Lynx, what draws you to him as a character.
JOHN BARBER: I love the Dinobots—I’ve never made any bones about that! (Er, get it? Bones? Dinosaurs? Sorry.) The thing that drew me to Sky Lynx is about 100 billion emails and phone calls from Andrew asking when he’d play a big role. What works here is that Lynx has such a different personality than the Dinobots. I mean, going back to his original G1 personality—we haven’t really seen him much in the IDW comics. I think he’s such an odd Transformer… people get drawn to him because he wasn’t a car or a jet that changes into a humanoid robot-mode… he’s a bird, he’s a cat, he’s a space shuttle, and he’s an odd combination of all those. I’d actually tried to get Mirage in this issue, too, after Andrew suggested it, but he didn’t really work. The story was better without him. No offence, because he’s a great character that I’d like to see more of—he just wasn’t playing out in the story the way he needed to.
ANDREW GRIFFITH- Did I lobby for Sky Lynx to play a bigger part? Really? Ok, OK. Yeah, it's coming back to me now. What can I say, I always enjoyed his toy and thought of all of the characters that have yet to make much of a mark on IDW's comics that he's one with a lot of room for exploration of his character. And yeah, when you see the Dinobots and Sky Lynx together, it does just somehow feel natural, doesn't it?
PAGE 4- Bumblebee reflects, quickly, on how far they’ve come since everyone returned to Cybertron. Has anything changed in the way the characters are reacting so far from how it was initially imagined?
JOHN BARBER: Sure—some characters have asserted themselves in different ways than I would have anticipated, but in the main, the idea here is that normal life now is so different than it has been for the past four million years. Even these quiet moments are full of frustrations and… is it hope? Is it impending doom?
ANDREW GRIFFITH: I'm actually impressed with how closely things are playing out compared to what John had originally discussed when I came onboard, in terms of the overall ideas and story arc. But of course as things have evolved and new ideas have come along, I think they story has only improved. Of course when you see the finished product in retrospect, I think it can affect how things go in the future. A specific character in the background might inspire John to write that character in to a scene later and add some depth to their initial appearance, for example. I can't say if that specifically has happened, but sometimes John has gone back and expanded on things I drew in of my own volition. It's great being able to contribute to the storytelling in that way.
PAGE 5- The prospect of new elections is looming, something which is being reflected across some nations on our own planet today. Have these events influenced the progress and possible outcome of this story thread?
JOHN BARBER: Not really specifically. I mean, this isn’t an analogue to any specific instance. It’s really about the idea of building a nation. The same problems occur over and over in history. It’s more about the exploration of the idea, not about any one place. Of course free elections are the right thing to do, but without the framework of a solid, stable government, they can make things worse, is the hard, terrible reality that Bee’s dealing with.
ANDREW GRIFFITH: As I've been drawing this series, I've looked to places like Deadwood or Rome (The TV series) for how a fairly primitive and unsettled city might be convincingly be portrayed, but I haven't really tried to allude to any specific contemporary political situation.
PAGE 1- The Decepticon Justice Division (D.J.D.) had had a few mentions in other Transformers publications you’ve written. Now we finally see them here in action. Can you tell us about where the idea for them came from?
JAMES ROBERTS: The D.J.D. were first mentioned in issue 1 of Last Stand of the Wreckers; Springer refers to a mole within the DJD. That’s all you get, one mention. My co-writer on Wreckers, Nick Roche, came up with the name but we never discussed who the DJD might be or what they might do.
When I came to write “Bullets,” the short story featured in the Wreckers trade, I decided to revisit the D.J.D. What I liked most about their name, for fairly obvious reasons, was the word “justice.” I got to thinking about what justice might mean in the context of the Decepticon army. What if justice meant vengeance or retribution? What if a name that conjured images of policing or righting wrongs had a darker, more horrific connotation? And so the D.J.D. became a group of Decepticons who hunt down and punish deserters, turncoats, and incompetents—basically, anyone who would compromise the realization of Megatron’s goals.
Through their actions they keep the rest of the Decepticons in check. If you know the D.J.D. are going to hunt you down, you’re less likely to quit or betray Megatron. So the D.J.D. are conscious that they have a reputation to uphold; namely, that they are terrifyingly sadistic killers.
The idea of there being a mole in the D.J.D. was explored in “Bullets,” where we discovered that this undercover Autobot agent, Agent 113, sends intelligence reports to his superiors by firing special info-laced bullets into Autobot badges (specifically the right eye socket).
I decided early on that the D.J.D. should be one of the “big bads” of MTMTE. I thought the best way to “sell” their dangerousness was through other characters—by showing that even people like Drift, who can handle himself, were afraid of them.
PAGE 2- Poor Black Shadow is getting, well, fried here. These guys seem to be named after Cities on Cybertron. What was your thinking behind that? And why choose Black Shadow for this scene?
JAMES ROBERTS: They call themselves after the first five cities to fall to the Decepticons after the war broke out. So, their names are freighted with significance.
The D.J.D. are the ultimate Decepticon loyalists. They passionately believe in Megatron and his ideals and so everything they do and say is steeped in Decepticon culture and iconography. Also, by giving them codenames we can have some fun down the line with regards to who they really are. The D.J.D. has a rolling, shifting line up. If and when Vos dies, they’ll recruit someone else and give them the same name. And it was in this way, no doubt, that Agent 113 got onto the team.
I chose Black Shadow for two reasons: firstly, regular readers will know that he is a Phase Sixer (i.e. a phenomenally powerful Transformer). By beating him, the D.J.D. demonstrate what a serious a threat they pose to anyone out there. Secondly, Black Shadow had a brief cameo in Wreckers, and, as I guess everyone knows by now, I like referencing old stories.
PAGE 3- 3 pages in and we’re seeing just how brutal and nasty these guys are! How much worse can they get?!
JAMES ROBERTS: The only acceptable response to that question is, “Much.” You’ll see. They each bring something to the team, and usually that “something” is related to their destructive capability. For example, Helex has a smelting pool built into his chest. And Tesarus’ very torso is lined with drills and blades designed to mutilate his victims. The others have special talents too but you’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out what they are.
PAGE 4- We’re seeing more or less the bible that the D.J.D. follow. Are these true believers or have they simply been manipulated by words, as so many others have?
JAMES ROBERTS: Their leader, Tarn, absolutely believes in what Megatron is trying to achieve. He venerates Megatron and considers himself something of a Decepticon scholar- an expert in the Decepticon school of thought. He has read all of Megatron’s masterworks, not just “On Peace,” and is fond of quoting them prior to killing his prey. As you can see!
PAGE 5- Black Shadow goes out with, quite literally, a bang. And the DJD simply pick their next target and move on? Can you say anything more about these individual bots and what they are thinking?
JAMES ROBERTS: In these first five pages the focus, deliberately, is on Tarn. He does the introductions, essentially. They move on because their whole modus operandi centers on The List—literally, a list of targets that they work down, methodically, one by one.
We’ll certainly be finding out more about Helex, Tesarus, Koan and Vos as the story unfolds. Suffice to say that there may be more going on than meets the eye. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to say that.
10:00-11:00 Activision Panel Featuring Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Video Game Talent— Legendary Transformers voice talent and game experts at developer High Moon Studios come together in one epic panel to discuss their roles in the upcoming Activision video game Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Panelists include Peter Cullen (voice of Optimus Prime), Gregg Berger (voice of Grimlock), Nolan North (voice of Cliffjumper), and Matt Tieger (High Moon Studios game director). They'll give everyone an inside look into bringing your favorite characters to life in the making of the video game, as well as answer the questions you've been dying to ask. Room 7AB
11:30-12:30 IDW's Digital-First Comics— IDW is at the forefront of digital comics, bringing special new series to digital before they come out in print. Hear more about the making of digital blockbuster Transformers Autocracy, and learn more about new projects featuring Transformers, Star Trek and Memorial. Join an all-star cast featuring Chris Metzen (World of Warcraft, Transformers Autocracy), Flint Dille (Transformers Autocracy), Livio Ramondelli (Transformers), Mike Johnson (Star Trek), Chris Roberson (Memorial), John Barber (Transformers, G.I. Joe), Lorelei Bunjes (IDW Digital), and Jeff Webber (IDW Digital). Room 24ABC
1:00-2:00 Cartoon Voices I— Audiences flock each year to moderator Mark Evanier's panels of folks who supply the voices of your favorite animated characters. They demonstrate their craft and tell who they are and how they got into that bizarre line of work, and you'll hear a voice session happen right before your ears. This year's Saturday gathering features Matthew Mercer (ThunderCats, Resident Evil 6), Debi Derryberry (Jimmy Neutron, Monster High), April Winchell (Lilo & Stitch, The Legend of Tarzan), Steve Blum (Transformers, The Super Hero Squad Show), Fred Tatasciore (Kung Fu Panda, The Hulk), Jack Angel (Toy Story 3, G.I. Joe), and the legendary Chuck McCann. Room 6BCF
11:30-12:45 Cartoon Voices II— It's the second of two panels this weekend featuring folks who supply the voices of your favorite animated characters. Moderator Mark Evanier will interrogate them about how they do what they do, ask them how they came to do what they do, and make them demonstrate what they do. Their ranks this time will include Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad, SpongeBob SquarePants), Rob Paulsen (Pinky and the Brain, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Audrey Wasilewski (The Garfield Show, My Life as a Teenage Robot), Jim Ward (The Avengers, The Fairly OddParents), Gregg Berger (The Garfield Show, Transformers), and Misty Lee (The Garfield Show, Spider-Man). Room 6A
PAGE 1: Fortress Maximus in a therapy session with Rung. It looks like the beating he suffered at the hands of Overlord in Last Stand of the Wreckers isn’t something he can get over easily, or quickly. There’s still a lot of darkness there.
JAMES ROBERTS: He possibly came off worse than anyone else at Garrus 9 [the prison in LASOTW], even those that died. Firstly, it was his responsibility to stop the facility falling into enemy hands, and he failed miserably, and Fort Max is someone who takes his responsibilities very seriously. G9 fell and his officers died. Secondly, he wasn’t just trounced by Overlord, he was thrown into the crowd of inmates and all-but ripped to shreds, so he suffered a monumental physical pounding. Thirdly, he ended up minus his arms and legs, hooked up to the door of the Aequitas chamber, being used by Overlord as a living lock pick. So the poor guy’s suffered physically, emotionally, psychologically… you name it.
But Maximus is the kind of Autobot who bottles all this stuff up, internalizes it; and it gets expressed in other ways. Like tearing Decepticons apart.
NICK ROCHE: Nice cinematic opening there, and interesting that it’s one of the few occasions in this issue that we leave the ship. It’s almost the only time there’s space to breathe – literally and figuratively – before story boxes us in. The title hints at the internal nature of the story, as will become evident after you buy the full issue following the mesmeric properties of these five pages.
The last panel on Page 1 was fun too; really happy I got to draw Overlord once more. This is one of those instances in the script where it’s labeled as one panel, but James then asks for four or five different action beats within one image! He’s sly, you see. But it worked out well, I think. I like these little montages, and this one especially felt like I was filling in a blank within Last Stand of the Wreckers. And people lap that stuff up. Thankfully.
JOSH BURCHAM: You are correct sir! (in his best Ed McMahon impression)… Ha ha. Nah really, I think what I’m loving most about this issue, and what we see here on this and the next couple pages, is the fact that we see what had happened to Max does in fact affect him. I love that we get to see these ’bots as more than just mindless war machines but as actual characters with feelings and emotions and problems, not unlike ourselves. It’s an interesting dichotomy for sure! We have these huge giant warring creatures, completely mechanical in nature, but who can think and feel much the same as us. I really love that we get to take some time and see/explore that aspect of these characters. I really do think that’s one of the main reasons Transformers has gone on as long as it has and has such a dedicated fanbase. It’s one of the endearing qualities of the franchise for sure! It’s almost like they’re more than meets the eye! *ba dum tsh*
PAGE 2: Fort Max thinks about what happened to him on Garrus 9. Was it always the intention to go to the events in Wreckers and explore what we didn’t see before, and was it hard to find gaps to tell more parts of that story?
JAMES ROBERTS: It was not my calculated intention, no, but it was one of those connections that seemed to make sense. And I like it when events in previous stories spark new stories – it’s the opposite of pressing a re-set button every issue. To my mind, the current TF comics universe is the first serious rival [in comics] to the hallowed Marvel continuity in terms of the amount of story material and the depth and interconnectedness of the stories themselves, and if you can create new stories by sparking off events in old stories it helps give the impression that the likes of MTMTE and RID and Autocracy all serve to push forward one epic storyline.
Was it hard to find gaps in Wreckers? Nah. You can always find gaps if you look hard enough. And certain gaps may be bigger than you realize (he says cryptically).
NICK ROCHE: More LSOTW additions here – my prime reason for working on this issue, to be honest! I got all sweaty and panicky and territorial about someone else working with James (and Josh) on what is almost a “deleted” scene from that series. It just made sense creatively to get us together for snatches such as this. It’s worrying to think James and I could probably write a whole other series exploring the atrocities that occurred within Garrus-9 before the Wreckers arrived. It wouldn’t be big or clever, but it’d be a lot of gruesome fun.
JOSH BURCHAM: Well I’m certainly glad for the opportunity to revisit the story lines in the Wreckers books! And I’m even more excited that we’ve been able to bring back the band who made it happen for this issue! It’s been great fun having to revisit old pages for references (color-wise)!
*re-united and it feeeeels so goooood!*
PAGE 3: Swerve’s bar seems to have become the main focal point for fun on the Lost Light. Presumably we’re going to have a lot more happening there as the series goes on. And what makes you want to go back there and play with the characters in that setting?
JAMES ROBERTS: I love Swerve’s bar! You need a place where the crew of the Lost Light can just hang out and socialize. You can match up different combinations of characters, and they can talk and laugh and argue and fight. As in real life, an environment like that can provide the backdrop for everything from a practical joke to a brawl to a death threat – or just be the place where our heroes relax. As the series progresses, different sets of characters will have adventures away from the Lost Light, and I like the idea that they always eventually end up in Swerve’s bar, recounting what happened.
Alex Milne did an amazing job designing the bar (seriously, he designed it like a film set). Nick did the impossible and made a supremely complicated group scene work, and Josh surpassed himself by infusing the whole sequence with a warm pub glow.
NICK ROCHE: This was a tricky scene for me, as I have never been in a bar, apart from the one I was born in. But as the boy Roberts sez, Dutch Rubs and Tweaked Noses to Alex for so succinctly designing the environment. It really helped in choreographing a scene in which so many characters talk across one another. In addition, I haveta say that Tailgate and Swerve are as much fun to draw for me as they seem to be for James to write. I’m just really pleased with the proportions and shape on those characters and will happily return for an issue just starring them in an adventure where they get jobs as ice-cream salesmen.
I also need to congratulate James on picking a cast with so few actual facial features and then cooking up such amazing sparky and sparkling dialogue for them! Luckily, Rung’s eyebrows take up a lot of the slack in the Emotional Display Department in this book.
JOSH BURCHAM: Why, thank you James! Credit has to go to Swerve, though, since he’s installed that dynamic lighting system. The mood lighting can go from night-club to cozy pub in the flash of an optic! Keeps a colorist, like me, on his toes!
PAGE 4: Tailgate is clearly (not) having fun learning the Autobot code with Ultra Magnus while we learn a little more about Rewind and Chromedone. Can we assume that the entire back story for these central characters is fully worked out and ready to be told at some point?
JAMES ROBERTS: You certainly can. I’m conscious that it’s a big cast and that each character needs his chance to shine. I think virtually all of the main cast have secrets, and we’ll be finding out more about them as the series progresses – sometimes the information will be delivered piecemeal; other times you might get a big hit of important backstory. Chromedome and Rewind come under the spotlight in issues 9 to 12, and there’s some big, big Magnus stuff coming up.
With issue 6, however, I deliberately went for an ensemble vibe – it has an end of season feel about it, where lots of people have cameos. Pretty much everyone we’ve met in the previous six issues crops up in this story – not just the core cast, but the likes of Trailbreaker and Pipes and First Aid. And there are lots of callbacks to events, some big, some tiny, that happened in the first five issues.
NICK ROCHE: Seven panels, including two flashbacks, and a skipload of dialogue? You don’t get this value for money every day, darlings. It’s wonderful to see in these recessionary times an effort made to give more content to the discerning reader. But will MTMTE keep you warm at night or feed you? You can definitely use it for swaddling on a park bench, and staples hold massive nutritional value, so yes. But it’s also great that this series (and it’s fair to say, Robots in Disguise) are happy to eschew the once-trendy decompressed method of storytelling. And scenes like this really help sell to the uninitiated that, to the creative teams, the Transformers are characters first and shape-changing toy robots second; this bar chat exists for good reason, and the pay-off will be well worth you sticking around for.
JOSH BURCHAM: Foreshadowing!!! *dun dun dunnnn*
I guess one fun little tid-bit I could add is that for that last panel there; I had a lot of fun color-homaging the Transformers: Animated show, whenever they showed bits of Cybertron. (Love that show!)
PAGE 5: Magnus finally finds out about the bar and Fort Max “mingles”. The impression here is that things are about to get a little more complicated.
JAMES ROBERTS: Lots of things come to a head this issue, yeah, and Magnus finding the bar is one of them. With Trailbreaker, I wanted to get away from this idea that he’s “Mr. Forcefield” – something I’ve absolutely contributed to, because in Chaos and in MTMTE issue 3, that’s what he did: generate force fields. I like that he has self-esteem issues, and I think he’s the type that, when his inhibitions slip, has quite a few issues he needs to work through. He’s going to keep cropping up; his story’s not over.
NICK ROCHE: What I tried to do here was have Magnus literally be the party pooper, insomuch that you don’t get one clear look at his face. He’s not a character to be identified with in this instance, so keeping him obscured and in shadow distances him from the fun, carefree atmosphere in the bar. He’s a spectre at the feast; a boogieman that hates to boogie. Also, I like to think that he has, secreted away in various body cavities, different-sized restraining devices and handcuffs for the disparate Transformer shapes that exist on board the Lost Light. And that he polishes them every night before bed.
JOSH BURCHAM: Well I, for one, and certainly glad to see Trailbreaker get more page-time! (Even if he is a bit off his rocker here!) Trailbreaker was always a favorite of mine from G1. Kind of an unsung hero who never really got his due (unless he had to, like ya said, throw a forcefield around). Again, it’s fun and interesting to explore that emotional side of these characters!
-Please tell us how "Transformers" began.
Yoke: As Diaclone Car Robot series was quite successful, we presented the products at New York Toy Fair through our American subsidiary. Our booth was small, but we received enough positive responses. However, in order to to market our product we needed a popular media tie in to introduce the background (of the characters), also we did not have the means to compete in the large American market nor the budget to spend on advertising which was much more expensive than in Japan. We weren't confident enough to take that much risk, and concluded that finding a partner would be a smarter move. We began our partnership with Hasbro by chance, and they wanted other products as well as Diaclones! (*laughs) Our strategy then was the same as now; make a comic 1st, and if it's successful, produce a cartoon, then a movie. However, when we were working on the story setting for a Transformers comic, we decided it would be best to be made into a TV cartoon right away. According to the time line, the storylines for the comic and cartoon were combined to create a story for the comic, and the cartoon was made next, though the process was almost simultaneous.
Oono: To be honest, I was shocked when I was told Diaclones and Microman series were to be merged. We had been working on those two lines with distinct ideas of how each should be and differentiated the two. Even the scales were different in 1/1 (Microman) and 1/60 (Diaclones). Every member of the team was complaining. (*laughs) But once we saw the new series, it was quite interesting. I thought, "This is awesome!".
Yoke: Mr. Bob Budiansky put together Transformers' early character setting and fundamental worldview. I had a chance to meet him for the first time in Botcon last year. We talked about our contributions to Transformers in the waiting room of 2010 Hall of Fame ceremony. He has been active as a writer mainly in Los Angeles, which is the center of the movie industry, but according to him, he majored in architecture. The magnificent story of Transformers he constructed - beginning from where they come from and why they are here, to each character's distinct personality and role - was written skillfully and consistently because of his architectural way of construction. Considering his age at that time, the amount of work he accomplished is marvelous. He said he was only given 1 week to work on Transformers, and he finished it off without stopping - he told me all this without stopping, too!
Oono: What I was especially impressed was how the enemies were depicted. We designed enemies for Diaclones and Microman, but I admired that the enemies were described in a much cooler way. It was different from Japanese point of view - both sides were equal and even the bad guys were made into products that would be in demand. I really thought it was the most wonderful aspect of the series.
Tell us about how The "Headmasters" series was born.
Oono: The combination of transformation with another gimmick was a new concept. In fact, Hasbro wanted us to provide them with something new at every meeting, but it was difficult to add more multiple modes than a triple changer, and there was a limit as to how many different combiner variations we could come up with on a regular basis.
Yoke: The idea for Headmasters happened when we had a meeting regarding product development with Hasbro in Tokyo - we had spent many days preparing, and we presented an enormous number of projects. However, it happened that after we had already used up all these ideas, none of the projects we presented was good enough be considered a breakthrough. We eventually ran out of material that day, and some of our superiors told us to gather more ideas by the next day before leaving for dinner. Many of us toughed it out all night, and one of the result was Oono's Headmasters.
Oono: I was inspired by "Koutetsu Jeeg" ("Steel Jeeg"). The head was always the most noticeable part, and I thought of using that fact. I feared the detachable head might not be a popular characteristic, and suggested a gimmick that a head could turn into an independent figure. Then....
Yoke: The reaction was, "This is amazing!" - he got an instant approval. That was the moment Koujin Oono became legendary. (laughs) I was impressed with his ability as well. Thanks to him, the whole team was spared.
Oono: The indicator gimmick on the chest also worked well. I went as far as making a test mould using our own factory, and when I saw the prototype, I was convinced it was going to be good. Since then, we always name a project that we really want to push "~master", and that was the case for 10 years or so. (laughs) Targetmasters followed, and a "key" was the motif in its successor, Godmasters (Powermasters) - the problem of the concept was that you couldn't transform the toy without the Godmaster figure, but I made it unlockable with the release button. The "key" feature was more a part of the background story.
Amber Whetstine asked: Have you always been a Transformers fan? Who's you favorite Transformer and episode in the show so far?
AUSTIN BLOCK: I definitely watched the original series in the '80s, but working on Prime has given me a newfound appreciation for the brand and its mythology. I'd say my favorite transformer is a toss-up between Starscream and Knock Out. My favorite episodes that have aired would be 7 and 26-- but my favorite episode is actually one that hasn't aired yet! ; )
Abby Dillon asks: Thanks for all your work on Prime! As supervisor, what does your work day for the show usually look like? Is there a particular moment during the post-production of an episode that you enjoy the most?
AUSTIN BLOCK: My work days are always different but include some combo of making sure the edit/review sessions start on time, making sure our outside 'crew' (sound design, composer, color correction editor) has what they need, verifying we have all of the approved footage for a given show, resolving scheduling conflicts, coordinating with our QC facility to make sure our shows pass, and making sure we have the paperwork and media deliverables we'll need for network delivery. My favorite moment is attending the final audio mixes. It is very cool to see all the different elements finally come together.
Clark Gray asks: I am wondering if you are a fan of Transformers new and old and is it hard to separate the fan from the job when coming into contact with new content and actors?
AUSTIN BLOCK: As a child of the '80s, I definitely watched Transformers and I really liked playing with cars so Transformers and Micro Machines were among my favorite toys. As an adult and working on the show, I've become a fan again. I'm most intrigued by the backstory moments. I always look forward to getting more information from the new episodes.
Jocelyn Simmons asks: How do you manage, trying to juggle the calendar for such a huge series? Especially with all of the details that go into it! Is it hard, trying to coordinate so many things? Do you have help?
AUSTIN BLOCK: I think I've gotten pretty good at juggling. When you have to move one session, it often impacts the next stage. So other things might have to be slid around to make it all work. There are sessions that aren't as easy to move around, like an edit session with a busy Executive Producer, or a Color Correction session that we need to book well in advance. Most other sessions I am able to move around without too much trouble. I do have help: Bess Thompson assists me in Post and is in charge of calling and tracking animation retakes on every episode.
Danial Chong Quek Choon asks: Hi there, I wanna ask as a post-production supervisor for the best animation series, can you describe how do you make sure is everything of the preparation for each episode is going accordingly?
AUSTIN BLOCK: On my calendar, I plug in everything- supervised sessions; unsupervised sessions, footage deliveries, crew schedules, distribution dates, and delivery deadlines. My Blackberry is my best friend and I sort my inbox so I have important emails or emails that I need to follow up on at the ready. For those items that come up that do not involve scheduling I have a planner. That way if I have something due on a certain date I can just flip to that page and write myself a note.
--Austin Block is the Post-Production Supervisor on "Transformers Prime." She is in charge of scheduling and overseeing the post-production calendar for each episode, including all in-house sessions (such as edit sessions and picture reviews) and out-of-house sessions (such as color correction and audio mixing).
In addition to working on "Transformers Prime," Block worked on "G.I. Joe Renegades," and is now currently working on another Hub series, "Rescue Bots." Before coming to Hasbro, Block worked at Nickelodeon for seven years, where she worked as a Post Coordinator on Fairly OddParents, Tuff Puppy, Spongebob, Avatar, and Making Fiends.
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