The metamorphosis into a major independent player was complete when IDW won comics command of an army of robots in disguise.
“It sounds very trite to say it this way, but the one that really feels transformative to the company is when we started doing the Transformers,” said Chris Ryall, IDW Publishing’s chief creative officer and editor in chief, who joined in 2004 and helped land the license the next year.
“People were going, ‘Wait a second, who is this little company in San Diego that was suddenly awarded this giant licensed property?’” Ryall said, noting that IDW won franchise creator Hasbro’s bidding process over larger and older publishers. This summer’s blockbuster movie “Transformers: Age of Extinction” included a character, Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe), created in the company’s comics.
The editor, who has seen IDW’s monthly slate grow from about 10 titles a month to 60-70 titles a month in his decade at the company, and Adams both noted that, whether it’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “Godzilla” or “Star Trek,” the company doesn’t pursue licenses unless it has people on staff who are already fans of the franchises.
Digital ventures are bringing people who rediscover comics on iPads and smartphones back into comic book stores, Adams said, citing anecdotal evidence and financial statements from IDW and other publishers that show print and digital revenues growing together over the last couple years. The company also is reaching out to kids in such stores as Target and Toys R Us with Micro Comic Fun Packs for its “My Little Pony” and “Transformers” titles that include sticker sheets and the like – an effort Adams said has been a hit, with more titles, including “Skylanders,” lined up.
With several more brands set to get the movie treatment in the next few years, we spoke with Hasbro Chief Marketing Officer John Frascotti to find out exactly how the company selects which of its toy lines get adapted to the big screen and how you can possibly turn a board game into a movie.
"We look for those brands that have story and character at their foundation because inevitably for any type of storytelling format, whether it's a movie, a television show, a digital comic ... it has to have great story and great characters at its foundation," says Frascotti.
"When you look at brands like Transformers and G.I. Joe they actually have a lot of lore and storytelling behind them already. So, in the case of Transformers, it's a 30-year-old brand and it had a long history of storytelling," said Frascotti. "Very similar, G.I. Joe who was founded in the '60s. Since then there's been a lot of storytelling and development in terms of comic books and television shows and movies and all types of rich storytelling. In those cases, where there's already a lot of storytelling in place, I think the roadmap is a little more evident."
After the success of "Transformers" in 2007, Frascotti says Hasbro continued to pitch other brands while studios began approaching them as well.
DAVID WHITTAKER: Ok, so starting at the beginning how did the concept of More Than Meets The Eye come about? Had you had any plans for what became More Than Meets The Eye as you were working on cooperative projects such as Last Stand of The Wreckers or Chaos Theory? I ask this because you have seemingly innocuous characters, such as Rung or Whirl appearing in those tales, who go on to become major players. So to speak.
JAMES ROBERTS: Well, the series’ core concept – Rodimus heads off in search of the legendary Knights of Cybertron – was decided back in 2010 by either Andy Schmidt (John Barber’s predecessor as editor of IDW’s Transformers titles) or Mike Costa (who wrote IDW’s first ongoing Transformers title from 2009 to 2011) – maybe both of them. I think Mike came up with the idea of the Knights, although I was never given more than the name when I was asked to write More Than Meets The Eye. Anyway, back in 2010 IDW decided that from January 2012 Mike’s ongoing series would split into two titles, More Than Meets The Eye and Robots In Disguise. One title would follow Rodimus and Drift on their quest, the other would focus on Bumblebee trying to make a go of things on a devastated Cybertron. The Autobots would have fallen out – there would have been some kind of schism – and some characters would side with Rodimus, some with Bumblebee. At the time this game-plan was decided, no one knew what it was that would precipitate the schism, or which characters (beyond Drift) would side with the two Autobot figureheads. It was all really up in the air.
Vulture.com wrote:Listening to it, one might think, With lyrics like "it's in the mighty hands of steel," this must be a song written about Optimus Prime. But no. Bush says he had never even heard of the Transformers until after the song was already finished. Bush had written it with visions in his head of other iron bodies: Sylvester Stallone and Lou Gossett Jr.
Vulture.com wrote:"We wrote the song with the Stallone movie Cobra in mind," Bush said in his amiable southern drawl, picked up during his childhood in northern Florida. "We wanted to get it on the soundtrack. But the record label, they got it in the Transformers movie instead. We thought, What in the hell is that? An animated movie about robots? Really?"
"I am not a native speaker, but I had to perform as if I am fluent in the language," said Li. "I had to really memorise my dialogue well."
However, the tendency for the production to change the script made the experience more difficult and challenging for the actress.
In addition, Li also revealed that she had to make several changes in terms of her character's name and overall appearance.
"I portray a CEO in the film and they gave the character's name, Liao Xiumei. It's not that the name is not good. It's just that it sounded weird. So I changed it to Su Yueming instead," said the actress.
The veteran executive oversaw the 2010 launch of the kids cable network, a joint venture between Discovery Communications and toymaker Hasbro, and has run it ever since.
“After five years at the Hub Network as its founding President & CEO, I am announcing that I will be leaving at the end of the year when my contract expires,” Loesch said in a statement to Deadline. “I am very proud of the work we have done and the accomplishments we have achieved at the Hub. The network is now in excellent financial shape, its ratings are up year-to-year, our programming has won more than 30 awards, including 12 Daytime Emmys, and the Hub Network has become a TV home for quality programming that kids and their families come together to enjoy. I will be working closely with our parent companies, Discovery and Hasbro, to assist in the leadership transition. I want to thank both companies for the opportunity they extended me and thank my wonderful team at the Hub. I have loved my job and am proud of the achievements we’ve made. While my career has spanned over four decades, I look forward to evaluating future opportunities and writing the next chapter.”
C/D: You’ve worked a lot with GM. Do they swing open the doors to their studios and let you pick and choose what you want?
MB: I walked into a special secret facility they have where they develop prototypes, and they said, “Let us show you what we’ve got.” I saw the new Camaro, and I think they were on the fence about making it, and I said, “That’s the car.” So they made a prototype for us. We took that car to Jordan, to just a little, poor town, and these kids were gathered around it and they were all saying, “Bumblebee!” Bob Lutz said that this was the best car-movie tie-in in history. I don’t know if that’s true, but they certainly treat me like that. When I go to GM, Ed Welburn, their global design vice president, literally takes me through all their design rooms and says, “What do you like?”
C/D: Did you wreck anything big-time on this new Transformers movie?
MB: Yeah, we had some crashes. But this movie feels very different from the other ones—in a lot of ways. We had everything from souped-up government Cadillac Escalades to a Bugatti Veyron and the [Local Motors] Rally Fighter.
C/D: Is there anything you wanted but couldn’t get?
MB: There always is. Now that we’ve done four [Transformers movies], car companies have found out about it, and a car will be at an auto show in Europe and then they literally fly it to my office. That’s what they did with the Bugatti and that’s what they did with the Pagani.
The new ongoing series will be told in stand-alone issues, with each featuring "life, death, love, hate, mechanical aliens from space." Scioli and Barber spoke with CBR News about "Transformers vs. G.I. Joe" #1, explaining how Megatron functions as the series' Darkseid, how Scioli is playing with readers, why Doctor Venom should get his own series and much more about their nontraditional approach to both franchises.
CBR News: First off -- did Bumblebee make it out alive from "Transformers vs. G.I. Joe" #0, the FCBD issue?
Barber: Well, he didn't look very good on that last page, did he? I think we might have to wait and see.
Scioli: Life and death have a different, not-quite-analogous definition for Cybertronians.
You said in our last interview that these stories will be single-issue stories. What are the benefits and challenges to writing one-issue stories?
Barber: Every issue stands on its own, but they definitely flow into each other. I think the rhythms of the series will start to be clearer as the series progresses, but really -- if all you did in life was read any single issue of "Transformers vs. G.I. Joe." I think you'd have had a pretty satisfying life. It's all there in every issue -- life, death, love, hate, mechanical aliens from space.
It's really a matter of taking an approach where every single issue is a whole unit. Not every issue is going to feel the same. I think the best comics are like that, sometimes. Every issue of this comic will have a personality. If you like one, you'll probably like the rest, I hope, but every one will have it's own idiosyncrasies.
The Free Comic Book Day #0 issue was very G.I. Joe-heavy; issue #1 is also very much from the point of view of the G.I. Joe team (but, believe me, is not lacking in Transformers), and then issue #2 switches it up completely.
Scioli: The major benefit is long-term goodwill. The readers will know that when they purchase their issue, they'll get a complete entertainment experience that they will want to repeat. The challenge is fitting all the story beats, and have them unfold in a natural manner, in a set number of pages. With my webcomics, I had the flexibility of having any give chapter being however many pages it took: 20, 14, 100. I do like the creative problem solving that's required for a rigid format. Jack [Kirby] and Stan [Lee] did all of those early epic "Fantastic Four" sagas in 20 pages. I'm not just talking about the to-be-continued soap operas from the middle issues, I'm talking about the self-contained stories in the first 20 or so issues.
Before we dive into the issue, I’ll ask this: why do a #0 issue instead of a #1?
Tom Scioli: That way you get to have two first issues instead of just one.
John Barber: We’d planned out the early version of the story, as it would launch with issue one…Well, wait, let me back up. I should say Tom planned it out—he built a really detailed outline. But then it came up at IDW to do Transformers vs. G.I. Joe as our gold Free Comic Book Day comic. I guess we could have just used what would’ve been issue one, but I think Tom and I both felt like that wouldn’t work…I mean, then you’d be launching the regular series with #2, essentially.
I think Tom suggested doing a G.I. Joe mission where they run into the Transformers—like, anchor it to the G.I. Joe squad, as opposed to an all-out, full-scale mixing of the two—make it a G.I. Joe story where you’re with them and you meet the Transformers for the first time, but they only sort of realize what you see. I think the initial idea was a little more real-world, but I suggested doing something with the creeper bombs that Tom had already been talking about…and after a while, it turned into the final battle between G.I. Joe and Cobra. Which, at the scale this comic operates, is the prologue.
What’s the overall reaction been to the debut? I know what readers were saying at my local shop (loved it), but do you feel like the Free Comic Book Day premiere served the book well?
TS: It basically changed my life. There were a massive number of books in circulation, dwarfing any previous project I’d worked on. I was in Toronto for Free Comic Book Day along with Ed Piskor, and stayed for TCAF the following weekend. Being able to sign piles of books then have people tell you how much they loved it a week later was great. We were the toast of the town.
JB: Wow. I was just excited Gerard Way liked it. I’ve heard a lot of good things. I think my life is largely the same, but hey, we’ll see how it goes. I’m very, very pleased with the reaction. I saw, and actually still am seeing, a ton of people on Twitter just loving the comic.
For the uninitiated to the GI Joe universe, this issue provided them a very clear guide to who these characters are, and what their motivations and personalities entail. Will readers get a clearer view of the Transformers side of the book in the future?
JB: It’s important to me, for anything but especially for a Free Comic Book Day comic, that this comic is accessible. Ted Adams over here at IDW was very concerned before we started that this comic would be clear to somebody that hasn’t got a master’s degree in Transformers and G.I. Joe. There are times where you can get a little more inside-baseball on some stuff, I think…but FCBD isn’t the place.
After we finished the issue, he read a PDF of it and called me and..I don’t know if you noticed, but this comic is a little unusual. So I didn’t know how Ted – how anybody – would react. I mean, up to this, it was Tom, me, Carlos Guzman (our editor), and Michael Kelly and the team at Hasbro who’d seen it – but I’d only talked to Michael about it, from the Hasbro side. So the first person I see reading it is Ted, the owner of IDW.
And the first thing he said was that it was totally accessible. And it’s funny, because as far out as the story goes, as complicated as the formal aspects of the comic are, it does walk you into this world. “Here’s what G.I. Joe is; here’s who Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Duke, everybody is. And what’s this mystery of the Transformers?”
So, ah, yeah—that’s exactly the plan with the Transformers, too. I don’t want to count on anybody having everything about the characters memorized… but if you do know everything, I think you’re in for a fun ride, too.
TS: The balance in this issue is a little more on the Joe side than the Transformers side. That balance will vary from issue to issue. The issue we’re currently working on, #2, is very Transformers-heavy.
While many, if not most, of the readers of this series had the opportunity to pick up the issue on Free Comic Book Day, some will be entering #1 with totally fresh eyes. Will the first issue be a traditional “setting up the book” story, or will it jump in a little faster, due to the #0 issue?
TS: I treat each issue as a stand-alone mini-movie, but like the Marvel movies with bits and pieces carry over from chapter to chapter. Each one is a complete reading experience, a complete aesthetic experience for that matter. That extends to the look of the book, too. The art is very different in issue #1, although still related to the art in this issue. It’s a new look for my work that I’m very excited about sharing with the world. I think some people will be blown away by it.
JB: Yeah, this is a prologue issue, not an if-you-missed-it-you’re-out-of-luck issue. Issue 1 is issue 1. If you’d never read any comic at all, issue 1 is a good point to jump in to the medium. But wherever you’re coming from, things have changed by the time issue 1 occurs, so it’s not like we’ll be going over the same set-up—the status quo is different by the time #1 starts, so in a way, everybody’s on the same footing coming in to the issue.
In addition to being on tour into August, Skrillex is currently working on sound design for the next Transformers movie, creating "the craziest Skrillex sounds I could ever make." He also has other film scoring projects in the offing, while he and good pal Diplo have been making some new music together as well.
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