Monday, November 21st 2016 5:24am CST
Categories: Comic Book News
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Posted by: Dr Va'al
Jack Lawrence, Va'al
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We return, once more, to the IDW ever-shifting stables and rosters of creatives, for another interview in the Seibertron.com folder of 'the minds behind the hands behind the robots' that we read and love and hate and hate to love and love to hate. This time round? It's an entirely new addition, for an entirely new title, riding the wave of an established story...
Readers, please welcome the co-artist on new title Transformers: Lost Light, the newly renamed brainchild of James Roberts and Alex Milne - Jack Lawrence!
- Jack, we are ever so grateful to have you find some time for us, with all the new workload you undoubtedly have! You are the latest victim
collaborator of James Roberts after all... but, first things first: where does the Lawrence story begin? How did you first encounter Transformers?
- Right at the start. I want to say 1984 now of course, but I can't be sure whether it was end of '84 or early '85. My brother was into them first; the only ones available locally at first were the mini Autobots.
He got Bumblebee and Brawn, and not being interested in cars, I got a Skeletor to replace my broken one. Very soon after that I saw the TV show and it all snowballed from there!
- So you started from the toys, and went into the show - but it sounds like they didn't grab you immediately: do you remember what the actual turning point was for you? Was it a later toy? An episode, a comic issue, or magazine?
- I remember the actual turning point exactly. It was a couple of weeks later, and we were on holiday here in the UK. My brother had Bumblebee and Brawn with him, and another kid here had Optimus Prime.
I was still pretty unimpressed, until I saw the leaflet that came with Prime and there were the Decepticons. I'd had no idea they existed until that point. Megatron, Soundwave and the Seekers just grabbed me and the obsession began!
- Another one for the bad boys, huh? So the toys have caught young Jack's eye - which was one was your favourite as a kid? Are there any you still kind of miss or would go back to obtain if you could?
- I was 100% Decepticon until the Prime TV series. That show changed the whole thing for me and I've defected to the Autobots (even got the symbol tattooed on my leg to prove it!). As far as the toys go, Soundwave was the one I wanted the most, but didn't actually get him until I bought a second hand one when I was 13 or 14. He was SO hard to find.
But it was the characters and their personalities that kept me hooked rather than the toys themselves. Back during G1, I inevitably tended to be disappointed when I got a new toy. They never seemed to live up to their box art or the Bio card. Powermaster Optimus Prime really stands out for that; the illustration of him on the back of the packaging made him look just absolutely incredible and I was so excited to get him for my birthday. Of course, we all know he's kind of a brick, and kid me was hugely disappointed with his two points of articulation!
So there aren't really any toys I want to go back and get. I tend to look ahead rather than to the past. I absolutely love what Hasbro are doing with the toys now. I'm on the lookout for Weirdwolf, sorry, Wolfwire, at the moment, and I do want a really good Ratchet. He's one of my favourites, but the only version I have is the Prime toy. None of the others have really done it for me. I'm hoping Hasbro will do a nice, chunky one soon.
- That's fascinating, I can see some of my own thoughts about toys in there, too! If the toys could leave you a little disappointed, then, when did the art and fiction love start? Was it all with the G1 cartoon back in the day, or did something later really stoke the fire (before we reach Prime, as you just said)?
- It was always the bio cards that fired my imagination and kept my love for them going. The mottos alone often gave such incredible insights to these complicated characters. I loved the show, but it was hard to catch over here, so I had all the videos they released and watched them over and over. The Movie still stands as one of my favourite films; I just love it.
I got the Marvel UK comic every week from about issue 23 I think, until it ended. It kept my interest because it was Transformers, but again, it never really lived up to the seeds that were planted in those bio cards. It actually wasn't until the entire Prime universe that it finally clicked into what it had always been in my head. The two video games and the TV series are absolutely perfect as far as I'm concerned.
As a matter of fact, Transformers did lose me in 2009 after Revenge of the Fallen. I did not enjoy the film, and the toys for that and the main line left me cold. The whole landscape of Transformers seemed to lack any of what I originally fell in love with. Not long after that decision, I started to see previews of Prime and a little fire reignited in me. Again, it was tough to catch over here, so as soon as the complete season DVD was released, I grabbed a copy and fell in love again.
Then, a couple of years later, MTMTE came out and was the book I'd always wanted to read, and the book I always knew James was capable of. It very quickly became my favourite comic; I actually stopped buying comics except that one because what was the point? It had everything I needed!
- So this is talking about the aesthetics and appeal that Transformers had and has on you - what about the interest in actually creating material (art, fiction, anything else), rather than just consuming it? When did that start?
- Well, before I owned any of the toys, I was drawing them based on the photos in that first leaflet. I knew seriously that I wanted to be a comic artist from about the age of 12; Up until then it hadn't occurred to me that it was a job that I could aim for. At that point, it seemed only right that Transformers be one of the comics properties I was aiming to work on.
I got involved with TMUK, the UK-based fan club, in 1995 and started contributing to fanzines. I illustrated "Atonement", a Christmas Optimus Prime story written by James Roberts in 1997, and it's also how I met and became friends with Nick Roche all those years ago.
I've been working as a pro creator since 2003, mainly on UK books. The pay is good, and I sort of fell into a comfortable, but unsatisfying rut. Once IDW got the TF license, I planned on getting some samples together, but work was plentiful and I just couldn't find the time. I worked on Skylanders with them last year and loved every second of it. I knew then that I had to at least try for Transformers. So towards the end of last year, I decided to gamble; stop taking jobs on, work through what I had, then put something together to show IDW. The gamble paid off and, though I can't quite believe it, I'm working on my favourite comic book!
- For someone working in the robot field for so long, that's actually the first time I've heard that version of the story! We've established that you've been following the fiction for really quite some time - but why become part of its creative team? What really drew you towards making Transformers comics?
- I enjoy drawing them and I have a burning need to create, so I've never really analysed why I want to work on Transformers; I just do. I can tell you I was hesitant to go for it for a long time for two reasons. Firstly, I was nervous that working on something I love would somehow taint it and I was NOT prepared to lose my love for them, and secondly, I wasn't confident that I could do them justice. I started to find, for some reason, that I was getting Transformers commission requests at conventions and as that became more common I realised that not only was it increasing my love for them, I was making people happy with what I was doing. People keep telling me I'm overly critical of my own work and that was obviously what I'd been doing.
The real turning point came when I'd become frustrated and dissatisfied with the stuff I was working on because it all seemed to lack emotional depth. I'm an emotional person, and respond to highly emotive storylines, passionate characters. James has brought a level of that to MTMTE that I rarely see in other comics and I just thought, "That. That's what I want." I'm honestly enjoying my job now more than I have at any time over the last 13 years.
- That's heartening to hear, as the More Than Meets The Eye fandom has been very vocal in both its appreciation and criticisms of the series! How does it feel to join the ranks alongside Alex Milne? Do the two of you cross paths at all?
- So far, Alex and I haven't really crossed paths at all, other than some brief greetings on Twitter. I've been a fan of his work since the Dreamwave days though, and just love his MTMTE work. Love it.
I'm most excited to be playing in the same sandbox as James and Nick though; we've all known one another for so long, created stuff together as fans. I've rabidly consumed everything they've done at IDW and now the three of us have just been invited to a signing together in Manchester this December. It's really exciting.
- Yes! You're all TMUK alumni too, right? How are you finding working with James Roberts' scripts, now that you get to not only read them, but materialise them? Do you have any input in the creative process?
- Before I got the script to issue 1, I had people warning me about the length of James's scripts and I had to really hold back from saying, "Look, I've worked in comics since 2003. I've worked to countless scripts; long, short, good, bad. Sometimes terrible! MTMTE, to me, has been the best comic on the shelves since day 1, bar none. Maybe, just MAYBE, part of that can be attributed to James's scripts?"
Nevertheless, I was prepared to settle in for a day and wade through a potentially unwieldy script. That's not the case at all. What I sat down to was 45 minutes of pure entertainment that I couldn't wait to get drawing and I told him as much as soon as I'd finished. And again, working on Lost Light is the most fun I've had in my career to date.
As for input in the creative process, I'm not interested in co-scripting with him; I am a writer, but in this I want to leave James to do what he does. The stuff I'm most interested in exploring creatively is body language and character work. In that I'm given tons of creative freedom.
- That last part is also very good to hear, but now I'm curious: how do you approach those elements? Do you use references (toys or models or other), do you do rough layouts and drafts, do you jot it all down and go back to it? And, I suppose relatedly, are you a digital or paper kind of artist when it comes to comics pages?
- Usually, when I'm working on a toy line-based property, I buy all the toys and have them constantly at hand for reference. That's how I did it when I was working on Skylanders. But with Lost Light, the character designs are too far removed from the toys, so you can't really do that. I used Alex's designs as reference, kind of finding my own voice in them while keeping continuity with what came before in MTMTE. We'll find out if I was successful in December!
In terms of the process, I do thumbnail layouts which I scan and print out in blue line, then pencil over them. Then I scan the pencils and print those out in blue line and ink them. And yeah, always paper and ink! I love the physical relationship between artist and materials too much to ever go fully digital.
- That sounds like a very long, and careful process, actually - must come in handy for shows and events where paper sketching is only option available though. I'm curious about your work though: in building your own voice, do you look at any other artistic influence, in robot-designs or anything else in the comics or art world at large?
- My influences for Transformers come mainly from the old box art, back during G1. But it's more an ingrained sort of thing, rather than constantly using it as reference now. As for my comics style, I'm pretty much set in my ways at this point. Besides, deadlines tend to necessitate a "get up and get on with it" attitude!
There are a few artists who have inspired or influenced me over the years; Ed McGuinness, Humberto Ramos, Ryan Ottley, Sean Galloway to name a few contemporary guys. John Romita Jr was THE guy who made me want to be a comic artist, so I have a deep love of clear, uncomplicated storytelling from him. I think, in some ways, my comic style is quite old-fashioned in terms of layout, etc. I like things to be clear. I did get a very simple piece of visual advice from Didier Crisse, ooh, about 10 years ago that I won't bore you with, but that echoes in my mind and I use every single day.
- I won't pry, but you have definitely piqued my curiosity even further... and I do think this is a good note to end on, actually! Is there anything you want to add to what we've discussed so far, any last words before we see your work in the comics next month?
- No, I think we’ve covered just about everything. I don’t do blogs and stuff, but if you could add my Twitter account, that’d be great!
- In that case.. thank you for your time, Jack, and we'll see you soon aboard the Lost Light!
You can find Jack on Twitter
, and can meet him and James Roberts at the Lost Light #1 signing in London, in December - more details on that event here
We Have Achieved Something: An Interview!
Tuesday, August 30th 2016 10:27am CDT
Categories: Comic Book News
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Posted by: Dr Va'al
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You won't believe the things we can do now, as Seibertron.com has been fidgeting behind the scenes to bring you more exclusive content from the creators of one of the longest running brands of fiction about giant transforming robots out there. You all bring so much to the community and fandom... can we do any less for you?
You may be asking what we're playing at, with these odd turns of phrase, but the more perspicacious among you may have noted the pattern. We planted the seeds a long time ago, Seibertronians, it is now time to reap the whirlwind: please welcome to our interview series... Simon Furman!
- Simon, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, we really appreciate it! As you probably know, you're considered one of the cornerstones for the fictional world of the Transformers - but how did it all start for you? What does Simon Furman: Origins look like?
- Lots of lucky breaks and neat coincidences, not that much actual talent (at that stage). After a bit of aimless I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life I lucked into a journalist job at IPC Magazines, in their competitions department (writing editorial copy and judging etc). That in turn put me squarely in the sphere of IPC’s comics group, which included 2000 AD, Battle, Eagle, and many others. In time, I was head-hunted to join the team on Scream!
A new ‘horror’ comic for kids in the style of 2000 AD. I became assistant editor to Ian Rimmer, who was the editor.
Sadly short-lived, Scream gave me my first comics scriptwriting gigs, on Library of Death, Terror of the Cats and The Dracula File. But, even more invaluably, it put in contact with Ian, who became a friend as well as just an editor, and when Ian subsequently moved to Marvel UK to edit Captain Britain Monthly
he (first) put me in touch with Sheila Cranna (editor of TF:UK at the time), who was looking for writers to continue the UK-originated comic strip begun by Steve Parkhouse (Man of Iron
), and (second) put me forward for the position of assistant editor on CBM. The rest, as they say, is history.
- A history we have more or less come to know, true, but fascinating nonetheless! Were you interested in the Transformers brand and franchise at all, even in its fledgling state at the time, or was this literally just another job that grew into what it eventually became?
- Completely unaware of Transformers. I was 23 in 1984, and – as a rule – not watching a whole lot of Saturday am cartoons. I was a big comics (mostly Marvel) reader at the time (having been so in my youth and come back to it with a vengeance), and might well have seen the ads for the original TF mini-series in other Marvel titles, but largely the advent of Transformers passed me by. So I crash-coursed – VHS tapes of the cartoon, tech specs, toys and the Marvel comic series itself, then was kind of let loose. Then, as now, I focused on character(s) first and foremost, and kind of opted for a big name (Starscream), a smaller one (Brawn) and a middle one (Ravage) and threw them together. The Enemy Within
was the result.
But even then, I had no thoughts of this being other than a one or two-off gig, and certainly never thought TF would last as long as it did, or be as big as it was. It was just work, and I was pleased to have it. I'd kind of thought Scream
might be the end, so I was delighted to doing more script work… on anything… and be working Marvel (albeit Marvel UK). Unknown (to me) toy title it might be, but but this was Marvel… MARVEL!
- Marvel indeed, and old school Marvel at that! Was there a specific moment where you clicked, and realised you were in for the long haul - both work-wise and concerning personal commitment and investment? Or did it just all keep growing, slowly creeping up to what we know it to be?
- It was definitely cumulative. I was never meant to be ‘the’ Transformers writer, but rather one of many. But after Crisis of Command
(by which time I was assistant editor on Transformers UK, under Ian Rimmer) my familiarity with the brand and the general ease with which Ian and I could shoot ideas back and forth meant it was all round easier just to use me on a regular basis. Especially when it came to Target: 2006
and the Animated Movie, and tying our comic story in with that and the launch in the UK of Galvatron & Ultra Magnus, ‘the new leaders’, as toys.
That saga was formed in-house, and tailored to fit our editorial (and advertorial) needs – the UK comic was cross-promoted with the UK TV advertising for the toys, so it was a big deal for us and we needed to get it right. As it happened, the movie (undeservedly) kind of bombed in cinemas and our story soared to new heights. But if there was a specific moment, and I’m not sure there was, that was it.
- If Target: 2006
and the Movie were your
turning point - after a fashion - what would you say to the various turning points for the Cybertronians that you created? You were there for the end of Bast Wars, for the various Dreamwave series, for the new beginning with IDW, after all...
- I suppose the next biggest event was my taking over on the US comic (as of #56), after a strangely casual lunch with Bob Budiansky in a restaurant in Covent Garden. Bob handed the reins over to me on a visit to London, qualifying it slightly by saying the book had maybe four or five issues left in it before the powers-that-be cancelled it (in those days sales of under 100,000 qualified you for the unkindest cut). But it was my door-opener for Marvel US and I was delighted to have it. I didn’t exactly set out to prove Bob wrong, but it felt like there was nothing to lose if I just threw everything but kitchen sink at it, including a lot of the characters and mythos I’d introduced into a UK comic. I’m still hugely proud that we got twenty-five issues out of it, and that some of those issues remain people’s firm favourites.
Then I guess it was being invited to Botcon in 1997, which introduced me not only to Beast Wars
but the wonderful Bob Forward and Larry DiTillio (script editors on the show), who it turned out liked my G2 stuff well enough to have considered binding some of the ideas therein with their concept for the Vok. Anyway, that in turn, via some twists and turns, led to Nemesis pt2, my first animation work (and solidly took my career in that direction). Then, I guess you’d have to count Dreamwave and The War Within
as the next big turning point. My first real shot at doing the pre-history of the Transformers, and – whatever the ...niggles of how badly Dreamwave ended – the era that really rebooted the franchise as a whole for the 21st century, cueing up IDW’s tenure and maybe even making the live action movies a solid proposition.
But possibly the biggest, for me, is starting up the whole IDW-verse up (with IDW EiC Chris Ryall), my first ‘from scratch’ bit of Transformers storytelling, a continuity that ten years later continues apace (and shows no sign of flagging), outstripping Marvel — certainly in terms of volume. If there’s a pinnacle, it’s that.
- You did initiate the Infiltration protocol, didn't you - and it kind of escalated from there. If you'll allow me a fairly specific question at this point: what did you make of, and how did you (do you) feel about what has happened to the stories you started once they were out of your control? All Hail Megatron
springs to mind, in this case, for example.
- I can completely see all the rationale for All Hail Megatron
, to create that kind of jumping on point after five or so years of story, but I think (initially at least) it was a misstep to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ when readers had invested so heavily in the –ations
, Spotlights et al.
But the latter half of AHM and the Codas did their level best to rectify that, and now what you have are all these initial threads still being picked up and expanded upon/taken in bold new directions, by the likes of James Roberts and John Barber (to great effect). So overall I think the IDW-verse is in great shape these days, and in very safe hands, but AHM could have been a bit of a disaster.
- We are indeed still seeing elements of AHM show up, even in the upcoming Revolution event! I could ask you your thoughts on that, but would rather retread another path briefly: ReGeneration One. How did you feel it went, are you satisfied with closing off the story, and would you go back to that universe again?
- I’m really pleased with RG1. We accomplished everything we set out to do, I feel, in a way that was both faithful to the original 80 issues and yet not knowingly retro in look or feel (while still drawing on 30 years’ worth of TF lore and disparate universes along the way), and so could stand alongside other modern comic books. It pulled together a massive amount of threads and had a proper, no-nonsense (no sequels) ending. We set out to finish that continuity/story and we did so (I have no wish to do more in that universe - it really is, “over, finished.”).
What kind of amuses me is some of the instant/knee-jerk feedback we had from people who just said, “no, that’s not how it would have happened/should be,” or words to that effect. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is – the creative and editorial team say so. You don’t have to like it, but those are the decisions we made and the paths taken (it’s not storytelling by committee). Can you imagine back in 1991, someone writing into the US or UK comic and saying – I’m sorry, I completely disagree with that ending – change it?
- I'm sure there were fans who would've done that, though, they just didn't get printed in the backmatter! Having more or less concluded all of your stories, in one way or another, I'm curious though: a lot of your early work fleshed out characters without affecting the main story necessarily (I'm thinking Marvel UK here); now that all is done, is there anything you'd like to revisit in a similar fashion? And I mean that in any of the fiction you have or have not worked with.
- While I was glad to do RG1, I’m more for looking forwards. I’d always do more Death’s Head, that’s a given, but largely my focus is elsewhere now, on stuff I have a proper vested interest in. Apart from Matt Hatter Chronicles
, the animated TV show I write and show-run for, I’m involved with a trio of creator-owned projects: The Chimeran
(the brainchild of Paul Goodenough, Gary Kurtz and Richard Bazley), Spirit of The Pharaoh
(Terry Jervis) and mine and Geoff Senior’s To The Death
. That trio of projects is where my focus is right now, as well as writing movie scripts with co-writer Mark Salisbury. I have such a nice variety of projects (for different media) on the bubble right now, and I’m enjoying myself enormously. Add to that the Transformers: Earth Wars
(game) for Space Ape, Marvel Fact-Files, and a few things I can’t talk about yet – and every day is a new treat and challenge.
And To The Death
is especially exciting, as I get to work with longtime friend and collaborator Geoff Senior (his first substantial body of comics work for nearly 20 years), who is just one of the most exciting artists out there. I love writing for him, because I know he just wants to cut loose with that amazing kinetic full bore style of his, and my scripts do their level best to give him exactly what he wants. And just to make it even more interesting than regular comics, I’m writing the episodes as loose screenplays, which Geoff is turning into these meaty batches of full colour (landscape format/widescreen) frames, like a movie shooting board (he’s mostly in advertising these days, so this approach really suited him). Then, like the old Marvel plot-style approach to script, I go back in and reformat and readdress the dialogue, adding or subtracting as best suits the frames. Some I just leave well alone, because the art totally speaks for itself.
- You are definitely busy, I'll give you that - makes me appreciate even more you talking to us! I have two questions coming out of that last point, though: first, your experience is varied, but has had a lot of robots in it; is the approach to writing organics (humans, even) different, do you find yourself having to find a different gear, or does one inform and influence the other?
- I’ve never treated the Transformers as anything other than sentient lifeforms, albeit alien lifeforms of a completely different order of life. So my approach is pretty much, bar the (um) mechanics, the same whether I’m writing Transformers
or To The Death
, Death’s Head
or, say, Alpha Flight
. Boil it right down, and the core of any story is the characters of the protagonists and antagonists, whether it involves human, aliens or alien robots characters, and how they bounce off each other given a set of circumstances, extreme or otherwise. Beyond the sci-fi trappings and the high concepts, I always ask myself: what is this story about? What resonance will it have with the audience? All sci-fi really is a disguised social commentary on the here and now. Just look at something like 2000 AD. When the powers-that-be at IPC Magazines told the writers of Action
to cease and desist doing socially relevant stories in a “kid’s” comic, they just fed the same two-fingers-at-the-establishment [V - note for US readers: two fingers = middle finger]
ideas into a sci-fi setting and made it allegorical – and no one noticed.
So beyond the future war, alien "soldiers-of-fortune" and kick-ass mechs, To The Death
is about one man who refuses to be crushed or rendered insensate by the all-consuming greed of a powerful elite who have ceased to care, to the point where they’re prepared to ‘sacrifice’ billions of lives in the name of feathering their own nests. The gulf now between the haves and have-nots is wider than it’s ever been, and governments are now merely pandering to big business (allowing them to get away with monstrous tax dodges and the like), while letting the wider world/populace to go to hell in a hand basket, ever more reliant on charity as the government purse strings get tighter. To The Death
has simply gone to the next level and removed governments entirely, so that Earth is now ruled by the all-powerful Tri-Corp, who have carte blanche to do whatever they want, without heed to morality, humanity or accountability. Our ‘hero’ is the one who says “enough”, even though it’s a battle he can’t possibly win.
- Whew. One does hope that someone will notice the commentary, in this as in any other book or piece of entertainment, really. The other question I had was: you talk about working with a number of creators, and how you're happy to be collaborating with Senior again; is there anyone else you'd like to partner up with again? Someone you've never had the chance to?
- There are of course people like Andrew Wildman and Geoff [Senior] who I love working with, and have worked with enough times that I kind of know how to tailor what I write for them (and to get the best out of them), but I also love working with new artists or established ones I’ve never had the pleasure of working with. I really enjoyed working with Nick Roche, he brings such (youthful) energy and passion to what he does, and would happily do so again.
In fact, I’ve worked with a whole lot of amazing artists, from Don Figueroa to Alex Milne, from EJ Su to Guido Guidi, all of whom I’d be happy to work with again. I’ve been very lucky. They all made me look good (or at least competent). Biggest thrill for me, on a fanboy level, was getting John Byrne (I’m a big fan) to draw a cover for one of the direct market Titan hardback variants of Transformers collections we put out a while back (Dark Designs
, above). That was very cool.
- And after so many collaborations, so many stories, so many projects, is it now over? Finished? Or are we to see more Furmanisms show up in the TFverse in the future?
- Ha. That’s a cue to trot out a Furmanism right there. I have a feeling I’ll always be involved in Transformers, in some shape, way or form. I love it, and I love the passion of the fans (mostly). It’s pretty much defined my career, so there’ll always be room for TF in my schedule, no matter how busy I get. Earth Wars is keeping me pretty busy and there’s something else TF-related that I can’t talk about yet. So yeah, short answer: "it never ends."
- Well played. And thank you again for finding words to give to us, rather than an actual word-related project, Simon. It was an honour and a pleasure! Before the time comes for us not to be here... any final words to the readers?
- Hey, just go give To The Death
a spin. The first episode is free to download on the site (http://www.to-the-death.com
) from Sept 10th, and our exclusive print graphic novel, To The Death: Forged By Fire
, is (only) available via our Kickstarter campaign that launches on the same day. These Furman-Senior collaborations are not likely to be ten a penny, so grab that goodness while you can. And thanks supporting us in our venture!
You heard the Furminator, give a new comic by a tried and tested partnership a looksie, find more of his words in the Transformers: Earth Wars game, or just patiently wait for this new Transformers related project he keeps hinting at. More interviews coming soon here at Seibertron.com, keep your receivers tuned - until then, be excellent to each other!