AdamPrime wrote:Hi guys and gals,
I'm the editor of Toy Meets World magazine. Recently we had the great honor of chatting with IDW writer supremo James Roberts. He's a proper gent, so I thought I'd treat you all to the full interview.
TMW issue #1 is undergoing a 'trial launch' right now, and is available at selected retailers in the south west. We're listening to feedback, and will tweak the mag slightly for the proper nationwide rollout in a few weeks' time. If anyone would like an issue, and there is plenty to read about (such as interviews with Simon Furman, Stan Bush and My Little Pony's Nicole Oliver; reviews of all the coolest toys and books; and tonnes of retro fun with TF, He-Man, Sega, Power Rangers and much more!) then please contact me and I can send one out in the post.
Anyway, on the the interview:
When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? Was it always going to be in comics, or was that something you pursued later in your career?
I’ve always wanted to write fiction for a living, but not comics necessarily. And that’s strange, I guess, because as a child I read comics to the exclusion of pretty much all else: Whizzer & Chips and Buster, then Marvel UK titles (including Transformers, of course), then 2000AD and what little Marvel US and DC stuff found its way to the Channel Islands. I was a member of an unofficial Transformers fan club – a group of pen pals, really – and even then, for most of the time at least, I contributed prose fiction rather than comic scripts. In my late teens I discovered authors like John Updike, Martin Amis, Graham Greene, George Orwell and Julian Barnes.
It's fair to say that the best TF writing has come from the Brits; previously, Simon Furman was considered the godfather of Transformers - were those big shoes to step into? Did he officially pass the torch?
Oh, I dunno – Nick Roche, John Barber and Mairghread Scott all write a mean TF story, and none of them are British. But thank you anyway! I was and am a huge Simon Furman fan – I’d hold him up alongside my more traditional literary heroes as being a formative influence – and I have him to thank for being a Transformers fan. More than the toys, more than the cartoon, more than the Marvel US material… if it wasn’t for Simon’s work on the British TF comic, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I got his autograph back in 1991, just after #75 of the American Transformers comic came out; he signed the comic for me. I got him to sign it again 10 years later, when I was promoting an unofficial TF novel I’d written; and 10 years after that, in 2011, I had him sign it a third time – and by then I was writing TF stories professionally, and he asked me (tongue in cheek, but still…) to sign something for him.
Simon’s my TF dad, really. There was no “official” passing of the torch – I’m not sure how that would even work…! – but he did give me a copy of the script to the last Marvel US issue with a lovely note that essentially invited me to carry on what he started.
When you're writing a script, how do you keep to the page count for each issue? Do you supply the script that you feel is complete, and the artist squeezes it in to 20 pages?
No, it’s more complicated – and time-consuming – than that. It’s my job to break each issue down not only into pages, but panels. I have to work out the pacing and structure of each issue, how the story unfolds, how many panels I’ll need to do a scene justice. It’s a case of ‘Page 1, Panel 1’, then a description, for the artist, of what needs to go in the panel, and then the dialog that will go inside that panel. MTMTE is a dense comic – both in terms of plot and dialog – and a huge amount of my time is spent working out how best to tell the story over 20 pages. It’s all planned down to the last detail.
Your stories are characterised by an incredible amount of world-building and backstory. You have also introduced concepts relating to Transformer anatomy and beliefs such as Rossum's trinity, the Guiding Hand and so on. Does Hasbro or IDW ever try and reign you in? Or are you allowed to add as much depth as you like to the characters and universe?
I’m encouraged to world-build – it’s almost part of the job description. IDW, Hasbro and readers (I hope) want to see the Transformers Universe expanded and enriched. I’d only be reined in – and it hasn’t really happened yet, touch wood – if I wanted to introduce a concept that was fundamentally at odds with what Hasbro felt Transformers was about, or if my editor thought, frankly, that it was a rubbish idea, or if anyone responsible for singing off my scripts feel that what I wanted to do was too… well, I was going to say “adult”, but that’s not what I mean. MTMTE has always operated on an adult level in terms of not talking down to its audience, and in terms of exploring mature themes.
MTMTE has an intriguing stance on politics, governments and social injustice. It makes for fascinating reading. Have you ever considered a place in Parliament?
I’m a political nerd and I do have strongly held beliefs about how society should be organized and how we could bring about a better quality of life for everybody. Maybe one day I’ll take the plunge and put my money where my mouth is.
MTMTE threw out the concepts of 'goodies' and 'baddies'. The Autobots and Decepticons are revealed to just be people - whether it's Rodimus' crew, the Scavengers or Deathsaurus - under the badge they're all basically the same. We're dreading the day when the war starts again - will the peace (and MTMTE as a comic) last?
You’re giving me too much credit. The decision to end the Autobot/Decepticon war was made by IDW’s editorial team back in 2010, and John Barber and I had a year in which to prepare two ongoings – John’s Robots in Disguise (now simply titled The Transformers) and MTMTE – which would explore postwar life in more detail. Neither John nor I knew how long the peace (and that’s a relative concept; there’s still lots of conflict in the Transformers Universe) would last. We didn’t know whether fans would demand a return to war, or whether we’d find it difficult to set stories in peacetime for too long. But here we are, in Year Five of each of the ongoings, and the war is still officially over.
It’s true that putting the war to bed has opened up a huge number of new storytelling avenues, most of them predicated on the idea that, once (overt) hostilities cease, and the red and purple badges are put to one side, you’re forced to see each Autobot and Decepticon as a Cybertronian – as a character defined by something other than who they used to take orders from. As I say, it’s opened up lots of new story possibilities. All that said, if the war started again – and it well might – that would mean MTMTE had to end. It would just create some interesting new tensions…
Have you petitioned Hasbro for a toy of Rung? We can imagine the packaging now - "Tranforms from ROBOT to ORNAMENT and back again!"
Ha! I’ve never petitioned Hasbro for anything. They do their thing and, from time to time, I learn that, for example, there’s to be a Minimus Ambus figure, or that another of the Lost Light crew – Brainstorm, Whirl, Chromedome, whoever – is being re-released as a toy. I would LOVE Rung to have a toy, but I damaged the chances of that ever happening when I decided, early on, that he should turn into something which happened to have a very limited play value. You see the sacrifices I make for the greater storytelling good?
With MTMTE, you've taken a few obscure characters, and a few prominent characters, and really made them your own. Characters such as Rewind, Whirl and Ultra Magnus will never be the same. Did you set out to do this from the beginning? Did you think to yourself "Now's the time for Brainstorm to shine!!"
Kind of, I guess. I deliberately selected lesser-known G1 characters, but characters I was fond of, to accompany the Big Four (Rodimus, Magnus, Ratchet and Drift) that were at the center of MTMTE Season 1. Autobots like Tailgate, Skids, Swerve, Brainstorm, Chromedome and Rewind were attractive to me principally because they hadn’t been explored in the past. They were recognizable (to more dedicated TF fans, admittedly), but they were almost blank canvasses. I knew that MTMTE – certainly in the early days – was all about secrets and hidden histories, and I couldn’t tell those type of stories with A List characters who had appeared in IDW comics for the last few years, or with characters who had very well-established personalities. I’m immensely proud of the fact that, through MTMTE, these D-listers have become well-loved and well-recognised characters in their own right.
This may sound silly, but do you take voices into consideration when writing a character? Most people would claim to "hear" the voices in their head when they read. Do you ever give it much thought?
It’s not a silly question and I do give it some thought, mainly because so many readers ask me “Who do you think X sounds like?” And I have to give a very dull – but truthful – response and say, “S/he has a British accent and sounds a bit like me.” I have an imagination deficit in this regard, because I really don’t ‘hear’ their literal voices. I do, of course, know their voices in terms of their character – what they would and wouldn’t do, what they’d say, how they’d say it, the rhythms of their speech and so on, but I don’t, say, write a line for Nautica and hear a certain actress’s voice. But I know that many fans DO, and that’s great!
Do you think that MTMTE, with its tales of space-faring derring do, has a wider appeal than regular Transformer comics? If something like Star Trek can have such universal appeal, there must be hope for Transformers. Could we see a TV version of MTMTE in the future, and would you want to be a part of it? Conversely, do you think its nature makes it LESS appealing to some Transformer fans?
MTMTE is an easy sell in terms of concept: a group of misfit Transformers head off into space in search of their mythical ancestors. It’s a traditional quest story and, as you say, very much in the Star Trek tradition. That might give it a better chance with the casual reader – the non-Transformers fan - than other Transformers comics, but I don’t know. Casual comic readers whose Transformers knowledge is informed by growing up in the 80s – people who think Transformers should be about Autobots versus Decepticons on Earth – may prefer something more in keeping with their childhood memories. I don’t know. I think many people have a preconceived idea of what Transformers is about and sometimes that dissuades them from giving IDW’s titles a chance; and unsurprisingly I wish more people would put such notions aside and pick up MTMTE or John’s Transformers, because they’d be pleasantly surprised.
Can I see MTMTE transferring to TV? I don’t know if I can see it happening, but I’d like it to. MTMTE almost reads as a TV show adapted for comics, with most of the stories being structured as if they were a 45-minute episode. And each story arc – the MTMTE fandom even calls them “seasons” – lasts about 22 issues.
If MTMTE ever transferred to the small screen I would love to be part of it. Even if I ended up hanging about making tea for the animators and actors.
TMW thanks Mr. Roberts very much for his time.
As you can see in the video, Kirkman says that he loves Transformers, and became a part of the writing team after a casual lunch wth di Bonaventura, who optioned his comic Invincible (the comic adaption list that Perri mentions in the video is Dave Trumbore’s 10 Comic Books That Need an R-Rated Adaptation). Still, though he’s no longer a part of the project (which is a bummer because it seems insane and his involvement made it seem somehow less so), he says,
“I have heard from the people that are in that room there are a lot of amazing Transformers things coming, and I’m very happy as a fan to see what comes from that.”
Now, it seems like reality is finally catching up with us. When Transformers vs. GI Joe #13 hits shelves in June, it’ll be an extra-sized 48-page final issue that ends the series — and possibly the entire universe.
We reached out for comment, and Tom Scioli had this to say about the book’s epic conclusion:
I’ll say it. It’s the greatest crossover of all time. This is the new standard by which all crossovers will be judged.
What a rare privilege in comics to begin something and to end it exactly as you envisioned. To create a universe and then torch it in the most explosive way imaginable. In the end, the creative challenge is the only thing that matters. When you push the limits, the world gets bigger. We wanted to see just how much juice you can squeeze out of these concepts and out of the comics page itself. How much story can fit into a comic book before the staples pop out? I look forward to seeing how the next generation of cartoonists builds on these innovations, the way we built on the work of those who came before us. I look forward to seeing the inevitable movie adaptation of this comic.
Transformers vs. G.I. JOE #13: Armageddon
Tom Scioli & John Barber (w) • Tom Scioli (a & c)
THE END IS NIGH! Final battle erupts—the forces of G.I. JOE and the AUTOBOTS head-to-head (or head-to-toe, depending on the size difference) with the DECEPTICOBRA alliance! The fate of the universe hangs on every decision!
FC • 48 pages • $7.99
·One of the most talked-about comics of the 21st century—see what everybody’s been yelling about!
·Visionary writer-artist Tom Scioli’s canvas has never been so big!
·Far-flung cosmic action in the scintillating Scioli style!
·The epic conclusion!
io9: What’s the journey for you as a writer been like on More Than Meets The Eye over the last 50 issues?
Roberts: Obviously it’s great to be given an opportunity to tell stories featuring characters that you loved growing up, and to add new layers to the mythos. When I think about MTMTE reaching issue 50, it’s not so much that I’m amazed that I’m writing a Transformers comic that’s lasted that long... it’s more that I’m writing an ongoing comic book that’s racked up that many issues. In 2016, that’s a rarity.
io9: You’ve said in the past that you’ve written the final line of MTMTE already. Where do you see yourself going as a writer after this comes to a close?
Roberts: After MTMTE, who knows? I don’t think I’d move on to more Transformers stories right away—in fact I may find I’ve used up all my best ideas and it’s time to move on. (All of this presumes, of course, that IDW wants me to stick around!) The Transformers script I’m working on right now is the75th, if you count the issues I co-write with Nick Roche and John Barber, and the last thing I want is to find myself running on empty in a few years’ time.
io9: Finally, looking back at your 50 issues so far, what’s been your favorite part of the process working on an ongoing series like this?
Roberts: Watching the MTMTE fandom grow and take shape, I think. No-one knew if the book was going to be successful—the first story arc was tailored to 12 issues just in case the whole thing tanked. But I like to think that pretty early on the book found its voice, and that it was a voice that resonated with people who were ready to get very invested in a bunch of sarcastic, mopey, affable, ridiculous and relatable losers.
[...] One of the things with Optimus Prime is that he’s a good guy. Like, a really good, powerful, guy. So over the years, he'd sort of had doubt introduced to him in the IDW comic books, where he was a little more hesitating in his actions. As I was writing him, I started to realize he was maybe going down that direction again, and it seemed to me—as a character, from his point of view—he’d want to avoid that.
But at the same time, one of the looming questions has been “what does it mean to be Prime?” Starscream’s ruling Cybertron; Megatron’s an Autobot... Some people see him as a war leader, others see him as a messianic figure... Some ’bots are loyally on his side and will follow him anywhere, and others—old friends—start to doubt him.
Nrama: As the battle and the main story ended, the issue kicked into another gear with that dream sequence from Optimus. What can you say about that? Is it a premonition? Will some (or all) of it come true?
Barber: Some of Optimus's dream is literally true. Some is symbolic. Some is what he fears. Maybe some is leading him to what he needs to know. And a big part of it recalls an ancient prophesy from the days of the original Primes. Is it Optimus projecting himself onto this old tale? Or is it the prophecy asserting itself onto its object?
But what really comes next is all of the pieces of this series coming together. The politics of Cybertron, the ancient history of Earth and Cybertron, the relationship with Earth and its giant metal visitors. Optimus Prime, Starscream, Prowl, Arcee, Victorion—all those characters come together. Plus ghost-Bumblebee. Or hallucination-Bumblebee, whatever Starscream is seeing. Even poor dead Bumblebee has a role to play!
IDW looks to be setting up a major change to the status quo of its Transformers line, as longtime series writer John Barber and artist Andrew Griffith begins the "All Hail Optimus" arc.
But the battle lines are more than just Autobots vs. Decepticons, as different factions emerge against Optimus, Galvatron and Starscream... and that's not even including the humans of Earth, which as you can imagine might have issues with Optimus Prime annexing Earth.
Barber: At the start of the series, Galvatron is poised to wreak havoc on the Earth with an army of disaffected Decepticons. This isn’t the first time the Earth’s been in this dangerous position—among other things, Earth’s useful to the Transformers because it has this substance called Ore-13 which can be converted to energon, their lifeblood. Optimus has tried battling on Earth to defend it; he’s tried leaving Earth behind to keep it out of the Cybertronian’s war. Neither of those really worked. So now, he’s looking at Earth and seeing the Decepticons striking again, and he’s seeing there are people starving on Earth and people being disenfranchised in many ways.
"Transformers #50" preview
[Pin It] CREDIT: IDW Publishing
View full size image
And Optimus’ motto has always been, “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” It’s pointed out to him that he could act to make the people of Earth more free… and free from this eons-long Cybertronian war, that—while it’s technically over—is still endangering the planet.
So he decides to annex Earth into Cybertron’s council of worlds. Whether Earth wants to come or not; and whether the council wants Earth or not. He’s going to pull Earth into the cosmic community and try to improve life on the planet.
So, yeah—a lot of his friends see this as… not a good move. I think all of his enemies see this as bad. But Optimus has loyal allies, plus followers who view him as a messianic figure for being a Prime, and carrying (what’s left of) the Matrix of Leadership. Optimus has been unwilling to use that good will to his advantage… until now.
Nrama: Last question -- Transformers #50 looks to be extra-sized. Overall, what should fans expect?
Barber: There’s a 30-page story by me and Andrew, then Casey W. Coller drew a 10-pager that deals with the fallout. Plus some rambling reminisces by me. And some nice special guest covers, by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Choi and our regular gang of Transformers superstars like Andrew Griffith, Casey W. Coller, and Alex Milne.
Paramount will sandwich a Bumblebee movie between its next two Transformers pics. The three films will roll out in successive summers beginning with a Michael Bay-helmed Transformers 5 on June 23, 2017, followed by the Bumblebee spinoff June 8, 2018. Another stand-alone will arrive June 28, 2019.
The studio announced the dates for the three movies Feb. 12 but was vague about whether or not the trio would include a spinoff, simply calling the films Transformers 5, 6 and 7.
“There are characters in the Transformers universe that can be and should be made into their own movies,” Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Brad Grey told The Hollywood Reporter. “We will make the first movie with Michael and go right into a Bumblebee movie, which will be at a lower cost.”
Considering the Transformers franchise has spawned $3.8 billion in worldwide box office since 2007, it should come as no surprise that Paramount is looking to pick up the pace on its robot juggernaut.
The Transformers Generations franchise offers us a sneak peek at the beginning of their “TITANS RETURN” product with these images of upcoming packaging artwork. There’s only so much room on a box or a blister card, so the scintillating character images developed by our artists sometimes gets maneuvered and cropped from the full glory of the original piece. The Hasbro Pulse has secured the full character artwork that will adorn the packaging for this July’s “TITANS RETURN” Deluxe Generations Wave 1.
The original artwork for their packaging was created by Ken Christiansen, a longtime contributor to the Transformers brand. Ken’s dynamic art style is well-known and appreciated by Transformers fans, and he took some time to talk to us about his work on the “TITANS RETURN” images:
HASBRO PULSE: You've been providing phenomenal artwork for Transformers toys over the years - is this the first time you've worked on a Power Master toy? How different is it to draw a Transformer with a removable head?
KEN CHRISTIANSEN: Thanks very much. I was really thinking about it, and up until working on Titans Retun, it's possible I hadn't drawn a Power Master since I was a little kid, and the original toys were on shelves, back in the 1980s! Drawing a removable head isn't much of a stretch when I'm working on Transformers - it's just another part that is in a different place during a transformation. Though the real magic of the removable head is that it's going to be yet another level of transformation, into a new character!
HASBRO PULSE: Your personal art style is a fantastic match for the aspirational nature of a franchise rooted in metal parts and straight edges - what artists have influenced your style and development?
KEN CHRISTIANSEN: My personal art influences as I was growing up were Drew Struzan, Frank Frazetta, and more to the point of the question, famed industrial and futurist designer Syd Mead. But the direct influence on my Transformers work to this day, is the original box back art on the first line of Transformers, the incredible battle scene that gave life and energy to the very idea of the Transformers. And now that I get to opportunity to contribute to the packaging art, I hope I can inspire the next generation of kids.
HASBRO PULSE: The first wave of Titans Return figures features four fan favorite characters in Blurr, Skullcruncher, Hardhead and Scourge. Do you have a favorite among these "first four?"
KEN CHISTIANSEN: I'm excited about all of them, but for me Skullcruncher is a real standout. I think the design team did an amazing job, and I can't wait to get my hands on him!
These four Transformers will have their toy versions unveiled at New York Toy Fair, and are expected to be available in stores this August.
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