Wednesday, May 18th 2016 8:37am CDT
Categories: Comic Book News
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Posted by: Dr Va'al
Alex Milne, Va'al
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Greetings Seibertronian beings, and welcome to another thrilling and enthralling visitation of the talent behind the IDW Publishing Transformers production, as we're till slim on the ground in terms of new comics this month! In the past, we have spoken to a lot of artists, some colourists, some inkers, some pencillers, but we have an all rounder coming up for this instalment - all the way from the Great White North.
Making his mark a very long time ago in the current Transformers mythos, he's become a fan-favourite, he is responsible for many tears, many crowd shots, many pairings and ships for the fandom; he is the hands behind death, love, stars and returns. Ladies and gentlebots: Alex Milne!
- Alex, thank you so much for giving us some of your time! You've practically become a staple in the Transformers fiction, and the first big name that many new readers encounter, visually, but we're curious to find out where it all started for you, before we reach today. So my first question is: When did young Alex get into Transformers, what is your origin story - as a fan?
- I think it's the same as a lot of people in the fandom: I grew up with the original G1 cartoon and the toys. I remember getting Optimus Prime as a child and playing with him on the piano we had. My older brother got the 3 Decepticon jets which I thought were cooler looking at the time, but maybe that was only because my brother got them and not me. I lived in a townhouse complex growing up, and myself and the other kids would play outside with what toys we had and had little battles. Sometimes it was fun just setting up the bases and laying out all the character you' d have on your team.
I grew up with the show, I saw the 86 movie as a child, I had the comics. I think it's a pretty standard tale of most fans. I fell out of it when there was nothing on TV to keep watching, you know, the stupid young teen days when toys aren't cool to play with and everyone was trying their best to be cool and act tough. Thankfully that didn't last long and I got back into Transformers with Beast Wars and continued from there. I had a friend who worked at a comic book store who knew someone who had lived in Japan and had some recordings of the Headmasters series - he asked the guy to make a copy of them for me and I got to watch some of that. Didn't understand what they were saying, but that didn't matter to me: it was Transformers and I loved it.
- That does sound like your average story, indeed! I'm curious, though: during the 'falling out'/'too cool for toys' phase, did you get rid of all your Transformers stuff, or was it just hidden in a box somewhere? And I mean everything, from toys to comics to actual interest in the franchise.
- I sold off a lot of my toys that I grew up with in a garage sale or yard sale to be more to the point, since we didn't have a garage. Most of the TF toys were broken by this point anyways and some were lost or I had traded with a friend for G.I. Joe figures. During this time I guess my interests were shifting more to comic collecting and into buying models.
I know I bumped up my collecting of Star Trek merchandise, trying to get hold of more show accurate props and costumes. By this time, also, there were a few anime shows airing on TV and some of the fan magazines showing up which caught my interest, so I started to find out if there were models for these sorts of things. I eventually found a few and that started me collecting Gundam model kits and that hasn't stop. Even now I have a large collection of them and continue to buy them. So I guess I never got into that "too cool for toys" phase. I just shifted my interests around to something else other than Transformers. In the end it didn't matter though, since that interest was probably just taking a long walk around back to the Transformers and gave me time to get excited about it again.
- We'll be coming back to anime and Gundam in particular later, but before we get there... if you were to choose something particularly significant from the Transformers at the time - a character, a toy, a storyline, a series, a comic issue, a writer/artist - is there anything that has stuck with you since? Or was it all very changing after all, before returning in full?
- There are 2 things that have stuck with me and will probably always stick with me. The first is the 86 movie and more specifically the fight between Optimus and Megatron. This is the first time that we see characters we love and admire fighting and dying. There are actual consequences to their battles and that no, not everything is going to be fine at the end of this movie, a lot of characters aren't coming back from this. That has always stuck with me.
The second would be in Beast Wars when Dinobot dies. It's probably the only episode that gave me the same emotional impact as the 86 movie did. I guess the second one is a foot in foot out type deal. I was back, but not fully into Transformers again until really the 3rd season of Beast Wars when I actually started buying the toys again. So I think it counts for what you asked.
- Those are some cheery memories you keep there! It does go some way to explain some MTMTE moments, though... It seems so far that the toys were not as important as the fiction (but please correct me if I'm wrong) to you: is that what brought you closer to the visual side of things? When did young Alex start drawing, what was the spark?
- For me, toys are toys. Yes I enjoyed them and I was upset when I couldn't get the ones I wanted as a child, but I enjoyed the ones I did get and was sad when I broke one or lost a part of one ( the head from Apeface stands out ). However I enjoyed the cartoon more since that's where you saw the characters come to life and you got to know their personalities and how they sounded. So I guess it's safe to assume that that toys were second to the fiction for me. It makes sense since I left collecting or having interest when there was nothing on TV for a while, and then came back when there was.
I did have the comics, but even they stopped for a while. I was never able to get issue 80 of the original Marvel US run when I growing up. The last issue for me was 79. I had a lot of gaps in the issues I had, I know I didn't have 78, and at the comic stores I shopped it was hard to find all of them. It was also hard when you only got 4 dollars for an allowance and you had to really choose what you were going to pick up. I know I liked buying Cobra figures at the time because they looked the coolest so my allowance just covered a figure. When I did get to the comic shop, there was a lot to choose from, but I remember seeing issue 79 on the shelf for new comics and I picked it up. It's one of the issues I remember the most from when I was a kid because it had Fort Max fighting Galvatron in it. I remember how brutal the fight was, it was just great and the last page that tempted you for issue 80. Yep, I wanted that issue but never found it.
As for when I started drawing... well, as my mom would like to remind me and embarrass me when people are around, it would have been when I was very young and she needed a way to stop me taking crayons and, as I like to think of it now, improving
the walls of our home. So she gave me some colouring books to scribble in. I remember one of them was a Transformers colouring book. Then after that I would start to try and draw things I saw in colouring books, that would move to trying to what I saw in comic books and so on. I think that's a basic way for kids to get into drawing or art. You want to recreate what you see in front of you.
I remember one year, one of the big department stores in my area had a Transformers colouring contest going on and the grand prize was a Sixshot. I remember trying my best to keep the pencil crayon I was using in the lines and not make a mess of it. I handed it in and then there was nothing for a long time. I guess I didn't win and then my mom got a call and she told me I had won. As you can imagine I was super excited about it, and it's a fond memory I have of my younger years with art. I guess it's when I found something I enjoyed to do more than playing with toys: drawing and colouring. I know that when I was in Grade 7 that I wanted to draw comics, and that lasted all the way to the present day. There have been other things that I thought about doing as well, but comics has always been there.
- It sounds like you had a penchant for battles, teases, brutality, things that look cool, and the artist in you woke up! How long was it until you actively got into making sequential art? Did you ever self-publish or write your own stories too, before going professional?
- Well I did a few comics for myself back when I was in Grade 8. One I used as a school project that I had to read in front of the class. I did not enjoy doing that since I don't really like getting up in front of a large group of people. To this day I still don't but I've gotten use to it and it comes with the job. Oh well, maybe I should have tried harder with public speaking! Making those comics wasn't anything special, and they were pretty crap. You know, your generic super hero type comics that you found in the early 90s. I still have them, and I will show them to no one, but it's interesting to see what I drew like when I was 13 and compare it to something when I was 18 and then 21 and so on. I did self publish a small comic when I was in my last year of high school. It was very low budget, I used a photocopier at my mom's school (she was a teacher then) to print in black and white double sided, so it looked like a real comic. Then I went to a mall print shop to have the colour cover I had done printed and I stapled all the pages together and poof, I had a comic that I sold in high school for 2 bucks. What amazed me more was there were people at the school that actually bought it off of me. That was pretty cool and I felt like all my hard work was appreciated.
The comic was about 2 of my friends at the time who were in 3 of my classes. I made them superheroes, but they argued a lot between each other about random everyday crap that normal people argue about. Just they would do it in the middle of battling robots that were trying to take over a city. I also used 2 more of my friends as the bad guys in the comic, and I think I added myself in there as a cop for 2 panels at the end of the book asking what happened and how were we going to clean up the mess. If I remember correctly the comic had a superhero/robot/Frankenstein vibe to it. Wow, I really wish I still had a copy of it. It's a fun memory from high school when there weren't many. I did try to make a second issue where I was going to make it longer and actually try to write a good story, but that didn't happen due to exams and a part time job. I did more little one page comics when I was in college, but nothing I published.
Dreamwave Transformers: Energon #32 interior art
For my final year in college, I had to do a 1 month work placement which I ended up doing at Dreamwave Productions who had the Transformers license at the time. They had me do alt-modes for some of the characters in the Armada profile books and then one day when I was waiting for work to be assigned to me, I was doodling some Transformers and that got attention from the production manager who asked if I wanted to draw some robots, which I did. That lasted even after my work placement was done and then I was asked to do the final page for issue 3 of the profile book which was a page of sequential art and the rest is a long story that I'm sure lots of people know.
- We have indeed come to know your story behind the giant spreads and populated panels in Transformers comics, that is true! Your style has undoubtedly become one of the staples for readers and emulating fan artists, but how did you develop it? There are some influences of other mecha fiction/visuals - we mentioned your penchant for Gundam already - but it is very much your personal take on robots... care to talk about that?
- I see this will be another long answer, lol. How I draw today has developed over my whole time working in comics. It's still something that is developing, and with every issue I work on I'm trying something new in a way trying to expand the visual language I use. I don't think I'll ever stop developing or changing how I work, I think as an artist you never stop learning, you're always growing and turning your talents in new directions to keep things interesting for yourself. I look back at what I've done and I can see all the changes I've made to how I work and the new ways I've decided to do things. Most times when I have someone at a convention come up to me and tell me how much they liked something I've done from a while ago I'm like oh, really? All I see are the mistakes and how I could do things now, and that goes for about everything I work on. At the time I work on it, I'm mostly happy with what I've done, but wait a while and it's lost its appeal for me and I'm just like, I could have done this, or this would have been visually better. I'm pretty stubborn and will work at something until I decide that I can't make it work and get sick of it, but it's something I have to work out for myself. So if people out there don't like what I'm doing or something I've changed, well it's something I have to work out myself to see if it's doesn't work and if I happy with the results from it. The best thing I've taken from working in the industry for the time I have is that you can't please everyone, so don't try to. Make sure you're happy with what you've done at the time and don't worry about the rest.
Like you mentioned I like Gundam, and I'll use influences from them in my work. I see how they do mecha and they have a lot of the mechanics worked out for a giant robot that has great range of motion. So I try and take some of those elements and add them into my work, like in the way the shoulders work or the other joints. I know that when Don Figueroa was working on TFs that I really enjoyed the way he did stuff (even when fans didn't) and he was another artist who inspired me. There are so many artist out there that I look at how they do things and I want to try that with my own work at times. I know that I love the work of Syd Mead, and I've always enjoyed his look of the future and the technical style of his work. I try to add some of that flare into my own work with the backgrounds I do.
A more recent large influence for me has been Sean Gordon Murphy. I really enjoy his work and the use of light and dark he uses. I look at his ink work and I would really like to do something like that for a Transformers book, but I know that most TF fans wouldn't like it as much since it would be too much of a departure from what they are used to, so I have to do little things here and there. His work however has given me a greater appreciation for traditional style inking and I'm trying to use more then just a tech pen when I ink. A tech pen gives you a lot of control, but it can be very stale looking, but there are a lot of straight lines on a TF so its what's comfortable to get that across. Another favourite artist and influence is Otomo Katsuhiro. I love the work he has done and have many art books by him where I just sit and try and digest all the line work he puts into a piece. His work is inspiring and dream shattering all at the same time. It inspires me to push myself to do as much as I can with my work, but shatters me in knowing I don't think I will ever get that good. However... one needs their dreams to go on, right?
Galvatron meets Gundam
One other out of all the artist that inspire me is Sarah Stone
. I love the work she does and how she breaks down simple shapes of colour to make up a background. It has a very cinematic feel to it, and the rich colours that she uses are tasty for lack of a better word. I look at her work and it makes me want to get better at colouring on the computer so I can attempt to do something like that. I'd probably only do it once, since doing all the art for a book is a lot of work and with what I draw in an issue would probably eat up so much time for me to colour it myself.
Oh well, a goal to set for future.
- Those are some seriously impressive references and influences, and going behind your process put a new perspective on all of your work! With the constant changes, how do you feel when your visuals are used a reference, either as fan art emulation or even toy designs? Is there anything physical/plastic you'd particularly like to see come out of your art?
- it's all very enjoyable to see people taking an interest in the work I do and using something I created in a piece of art or in a toy form. As for fan art it's all very nice and I'm glad people enjoy it enough to try and re-draw a character model of mine. I think the only thing that bugs me, and this has popped up a couple times recently is when fans ask me how to draw in the MTMTE style. There is no MTMTE style. There is the way I draw and my own style of art, but that's not beholden to just MTMTE. I would draw that way if I did work on any of the other Transformer titles. It's just the style I've developed for myself. So it's a bit upsetting to have people ask about drawing in this style thinking this the the key to drawing MTMTE when it's really just my way of drawing and no one asks any of the other artist that help out on the book to draw like me. I guess I've been drawing the book so long that people just associate my style of art with MTMTE. It's a good and bad thing IMO.
It is nice to see fans drawing the characters in the book, but it's hard to see if it's due to the art or the characterization? Do people like them because of the way I've drawn them or is it because of they way they act and speak in the book? It's a bit easier if it's just a background character that has no dialog and I can do what I want in the background with them. Then it's more because of the art then the story. A bit harder when you have a main character, because then you add James [Roberts] into the mix and I think it's the story and the characterization that they really like and the visuals don't mean as much. I guess it's just nice either way to have people interested in what James and I work on, and I think it's safe to say we're both thankful for that.
Now when having something I drew get a toy, well that's pretty awesome. To me it doesn't matter if it's a Hasbro official toy or a 3rd party product, I just like seeing something I've drawn turned into a toy. Official toys are nice since it shows me that Hasbro also likes the work I do enough to have some of the design elements I've done for the comic in the toys they make. I know I was super happy to see Skids and Trailbreaker with elements of the comic designs in the toys. I'm also super happy to see 3rd party toys try and make more comic accurate versions of the characters, like Tailgate and Swerve with their comic accurate alt modes and the DJD that are being produced. If there were more toys based on designs I've done, I'd like to see Thunderclash, Firestar and her crew that I've designed. Possibly Deathsaurus. There are a few too many to list!
- It must be such a good feeling indeed to hold your designs in hand - here's to more! Before we bring this interview to a close, I have another people-shaped question: you're an artist, and you've named several artists, but you've also brought in your partner in crime on MTMTE James Roberts. What's it like working with him on the series, how much control and input do you have? And, of course, how different is it working with different writers?
- This is the time when James fears what I will say. :p Well I've been working with James for what, about 5 years now? It feels like more, but I'm sure we started working together back in 2011 on the Chaos Theory 2 issues (Trasformers: Ongoing issues 22 and 23
). At this point in my career I had already worked with 7-8 different writes on different books so I like to think at this point I'm pretty flexible to work with anyone. I know I was excited to work with James since he had worked on LSOTW
with Nick Roche and I enjoyed that, so I was interested to see what he was going to do on his own. I have to say that the scripts were very detailed, maybe a little overboard at times? I could tell that this would be great if it was something like a movie or TV show, but it was going to be hard to fit it all in a single page or single panel. However that didn't stop me from trying my best to try and get it all in there. I think after working so long together James can write less in the panel descriptions and just give me the important information that needs to be shown and I can handle the rest now.
I can say that most of the time we work smoothly together on the series, however there might be times that we bump heads and have very different ways of wanting to do things. I think this is natural with anyone one who is a creative person. It can be frustrating at times, but it's nothing that can't be worked out most of the time.
Alex 'The Machine' Milne and James 'JRo' Roberts
I'm not sure how much input I have when it comes to the series. I have some ideas that I will talk with James about and he seems to like some of them, but then later he writes something totally different that makes sure that those idea can't happen, so that irks me a bit. I'd like to feel like there is more collaboration between the 2 of us, but for right now it's he's the writer and I'm the artist. This is fine for now, but like just about every artist, we all have a need to grow and do more than what people merely think we can do, and I'm ready to do more.
However, I don't want to be all negative: at the end of the day I do enjoy working with James. We seems to work well together even if we have different ways of doing and seeing things. I think this is proven by when I see people talk about the issues and they talk about something going on in the backgrounds and attribute it to James and setting something up and it was just something I did to have fun in the background with a couple characters. I guess we think alike at times, so that's neat when people can't tell if it was scripted or not.
I know one thing. I'm always excited to work on a new issue and see what James has come up with. There have been times with other writers that I've kind of gotten bored near the end of the project, but that hasn't happened with MTMTE. I'm always excited to work on it and I try to push myself to do better with each issue and I think James does also, even if others can't see what he's doing yet. So I guess you're stuck with us for a while longer. Hopefully.
Skids in MTMTE #21
Working with different writers is just about finding a balance between your person vision for the project and what the writers vision is. It takes a bit of time to get comfortable working with someone and to start to know what they want and how to handle things that will make them happy. You do want to try and make the writer happy since you are illustrating their story, yet you also have to be happy working on the project. If the two are out of balance, then you will end up with a mess and things not working out. I can't really say that I have had a bad time working with any writer. Most are pretty easy to work with and they all have interesting takes on ideas and characters. As a comics artist it's your job to find that common middle ground that you can share and work together. It's tough at the beginning, but given time it works out and you end up having fun and hopefully creating something fans will enjoy.
- I can assure you, fans very much enjoy your work, be it on MTMTE or in the art you produce outside of the series! One last thing, if you're up for it - quick question round!
V - Paper or digital?
A - Paper
V - Colours or grayscale?
A - Colours
V - Cygate or Chromewind?
A - Chromewind
V - Nautica or Ratchet?
A - Nautica
V - Overlord or Tarn?
A - Tarn
- Controversial? Potential spoilers? We'll see.
Alex, this has been an absolute pleasure, and I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to go through it! Any last things you want to let the readers know?
- Thanks for wanting to talk with me and letting me ramble on.
I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all the fans who like and have supported the work I do. It does mean a lot, and hopefully I will continue to do work you enjoy. For those who don't like what I do, sorry, I can't please everyone but I'm sure there is someone who does do work you can enjoy.
I'd also like to thank the colourists I've worked with over the years. I'm sure I haven't made their lives easy with the lines I give them to colour. Thanks for all your hard work Joana, Josh Burcham and Josh Perez and the rest
Now it's time to get back to ruining people's lives with MTMTE.
That was quite the ride, and quite the read, I'm sure! If you've made it this far, make sure to keep an eye on Alex's guest appearances at a number of conventions this season, and you can follow his work as it happens by taking a look at his Tumblr
accounts - and of course, by reading Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye every month!
Catch you later, Pokéballers.