Already well respected for his nearly Quixotic attempts to bring sanity to the Transformers movie continuity, John Barber’s tenure over IDW’s mainline Transformers comics has been viewed as something of a renaissance period for the brand.
Besides writing a tense sci-fi political thriller in the form of Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Barber has also served as the editor of the award-winning Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye as well as the Transformers: Windblade mini-series. Since then he’s added even more to his plate by writing Angry Birds Transformers and co-writing the latest Transformers vs. G.I. Joe series.
As the man behind one of my favorite shared universes in comics, I’ve been eager to meet Mr. Barber for some time. Little did I know how deep we’d get into the current Transformers line-up.
Mr. Barber was incredibly gracious with his time and considerable knowledge so please enjoy and, if so inclined, check out the newly renamed The Transformers #35, on sale today!
N: One thing that I was definitely curious about is that one of the weird figures for IDW in Transformers has been Galvatron, in that you couldn’t fall back on a G1 interpretation.
N: But so he was kind of Nova Prime’s Starscream for a while and then he kind of had this very ‘glorious leader against D-Void’ period. What made you settle on ‘Galvatron the Barbarian’ for your take?
B: I was kind of intrigued by the story that Simon [Furman] had set up of these characters being of a different age, y’know? These people that were there, that took off on the original Ark? I just kind of latched onto this idea of, ‘what was society like before they had the Golden Age?’ For me, it went back to doing the Robots in Disguise Annual and I had this idea of like Game of Thrones with Transformers, of this idea of these different tribes. And I played with that actually a bit in the movie universe stuff, but it was different in the main line stuff.
And Galvatron was one of those characters, kind of like Soundwave, where even within the IDW universe different writers had radically different takes on where he was. So, thinking about how you can sort of unify those, what kind of person would do all that stuff? And I came to the idea of ‘what if Galvatron’s kind of Conan’ and you had this guy who’s kind of really a rough guy, really a barbarian, but who becomes king?
“Galvatron was one of those characters where different writers had radically different takes. So, thinking about how you can sort of unify those, what kind of person would do all that stuff?”
I mean the story of Conan isn’t just Conan the Barbarian. There’s all these eras of Conan as he goes on; he eventually is King Conan. And the idea that Galvatron kind of went through all that, so he’s been different places in his life, appealed to me. And, in [issue #34] we’ll get kind of a larger grasp of how those early days with him and Nova functioned. We’ll be seeing some stuff, that I think may be surprising to some people, that we sort of hinted at. There’re definitely some hints that have been going on, but some of the ancient Cybertronian lore and history is gonna come up.
But, in short, it’s kind of the idea of this guy who, in his own mind, he’s noble, but it isn’t the usual nobility you get from a villain because he’s really, really brutal and he’s- he’s- like he’s genuinely not a nice guy, y’know, where, Soundwave, to me, he’s the good guy Decepticon.
B: Like he’s the guy that genuinely believes in the Decepticon cause and everything they had to do that was bad was a compromise that he had to make to a greater end goal, where Galvatron isn’t like that. He’s less compromising, but much more brutal and, like, the underlying…like-
N: He doesn’t feel like a guy who’s like thinking very much into the future.
B: Yeah. Like he does in his way. So, there are moments where you’re going to see him kind of doing stuff toward a larger goal, but it’s a very distinct, direct barbarian way of doing it. He’s not doing the Machiavellian playing guys off of each other the way Starscream does. Even when he does like straight up lie, his duplicity is a little more honest.
Just taking a step aside from Robots in Disguise for a second, I was just curious. You are not only a writer, but you’re an editor for IDW.
N: As someone with that very unique experience, what do you think that -whether it be professionals, aspiring, anywhere in the process – what do you think that writers need to know about editors and editors need to know about writers? You have seen both sides.
B: That’s a good question. Ideally, everybody’s out to make a good comic. And there are good fits with writers and editors, y’know?
It’s funny because I have friends on both sides of the table. So, every once in a while you’ll sort of hear somebody, a friend of mine, complaining about, y’know, that editor didn’t work out. Then there’ll be people who are having a great relationship with that editor. So it’s like any other relationship in life. There are fits and there are non-fits.
When you’re putting a creative team together for a comic, it’s sort of like putting a band together, y’know? Like everybody has to get along. You have to know what parts everybody’s playing and what everybody’s doing. On the Transformers books we’re really lucky, everybody gets along really well, I think, between James, me, Mairghread, Chris Metzen, Flint Dille, plus like Alex Milne, Andrew, Livio, Sarah, everybody; we all interact really well.
Later this month, writer Shane McCarthy returns to the samurai Transformer he created in "Drift: Empire of Stone," a four-issue mini-series from IDW Publishing with artist Guido Guidi. As a former Decepticon who found sanctuary with the Autobots, Drift is currently on a journey of self-discovery, attempting to discover his place in the Galaxy. Along with Autobot medic Ratchet, who is along for the ride to help clear Drift's name from a wrongful accusation, Drift will go through what McCarthy describes as "buddy cop meets space adventure."
The writer discussed re-visiting his samurai Transformer in the new IDW mini-series "Drift: Empire of Stone," revealing why Drift finds himself without alliances yet again, his feelings on Michael Bay's interpretation of the character in "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (and why it was "bordering on offensive") and more.
CBR News: Shane, what's the main story behind "Drift: Empire of Stone?"
Shane McCarthy: "Empire of Stone" takes place after Drift was booted off the Lost Light and sent on his way into the galaxy. It's about what he's been doing while he's been gone and how he's trying to be relevant and find his place in the galaxy now he's neither Autobot or Decepticon. Knowing Drift was wrongly accused, Ratchet comes looking for him to bring him back and the two become well and truly caught up in something from Drift's days as a Decepticon. While Drift is trying to save the galaxy, Ratchet is attempting to save Drift from himself. Buddy cop meets space adventure.
Are you coordinating your story at all with IDW "Transformers" architects John Barber or James Roberts? Will it connect to either "Robots in Disguise" or "More than Meets the Eye?"
Nothing beyond having John as my editor, no. John let me know what happened prior to "Empire of Stone" and I read up on Drift's appearances but, outside of that John's left me completely alone. He's a great guy to work with. Whilst the mini series takes place after the events on the Lost Light, the mini doesn't connect with the major books.
What's it like working with artist Guido Guidi?
Working with Gui is always a treat. He's a great artist! As I was writing up "Empire of Stone" I was sending Guido ideas and letting him know what characters I'd be using that he'd need to design. As the scripts start coming through to him he sends through sketches and pages for John and I to look at. It's like Christmas every time. I really enjoy working with Guido a lot and was over the moon when I found out we'd be able to work together. He was the one guy I really wanted for this and it's fantastic to come together to work on the character we created.
Let’s first talk about your recent work on the new “Transformers Universe” game. What inspired you to get involved with the project? What has impressed you most about working on this game?
JH: I enjoyed Transformers as a child and I’m just one of those people who finds it difficult not to get excited by large, warring robots. I particularly like how they’re partially organic as well and have such distinctive personalities. Basically, I’m a sucker for the mythic theme of ‘good vs. evil’; not to mention being a sci-fi and fantasy buff in general.
Did you also take some inspiration from the music that composers such as Steve Jablonsky and Brian Tyler wrote for the films and animated television series that would help make your score fit in the Transformers Universe musically?
JH: Not specifically, although I love the work of those composers. I was merely trying to, on one level, create music that fit into the wider world of Transformers (which is already very varied across film and television over decades now) but with a new dimension as well. Some of the music of Transformers Universe is pretty harsh, grinding and mechanical, yet at other times it can be quite minimal and ethereal. The team at Jagex have also been working on music, and their output is also varied, a reflection perhaps of the fact that the Transformers themselves have wildly different personalities.
What were the recording sessions like?
JH: Very nice and we recorded the Philharmonia at Abbey Road Studios in London for some of the music. It is always a humbling and breathtaking experience to have your music performed by a full orchestra and the level of musicianship among players in London is truly outstanding.
Will a soundtrack album be released?
JH: Very possibly, but I have no details.
n Cambridge, the city where the studio is based, the tasks aren't quite as mystical, but as Jagex head of IT Barry Zubel told Computing, their completion will reap rewards for both developers and players as the studio prepares to launch its next blockbuster title: Transformers Universe.
"Our biggest project is virtualisation and that's going to be a big winner for us," he said, describing how "we've historically not virtualised anything operationally" due to the limits it would put on game performance – but that's changing.
"The closer we can push the game servers to our customers, the better the connectivity," said Zubel, who added that while RuneScape is able to function on high latency connections, the upcoming Transformers Universe isn't so tolerant, so Jagex has been attempting to install servers nearer to players.
"Transformers is a little less forgiving because of the game that it is, so we've been looking at placing servers in places where players will be," he said.
Next spring, a war is coming to IDW’s Transformers comics – and it’s bigger than one single robot, or even the divide between Autobots and Decepticons. It’s the “Combiner Wars.”
Combiners are the term used to describe super-robots of sorts, made out of multiple Transformers combining together into one – and they’ve been a major part of the Transformers franchise, from the Destructicons’ Devastator to Predacons’ Predaking and numerous others. In the IDW Transformers line’s upcoming “Combiner Wars,” the technology that made Combiners possible has been found and it starts what IDW Senior Editor (and longtime Transformers writer) John Barber calls a “cold war” between Transformers factions.
Beginning in March “Combiner Wars” will crisscross between the main Transformers comic series (formerly subtitled Robots In Disguise) and the upcoming Transformers: Windblade ongoing series. The crossover will be written by Barber along with Mairghread Scott, and illustrated by Sarah Stone and Livio Ramondelli.
Newsarama: Mairghread, John, what is this “Combiner Wars” about?
John Barber: “Combiner Wars” is, in the comics, the cold war between factions on Cybertron and Earth growing hot. Starscream is the (mostly) legitimate ruler of Cybertron, but not everybody thinks he should be. And when one of his ultimate goals—contact with the missing ancient Cybertronian colonies, as seen in the Transformers: Windblade miniseries—starts to come to fruition, other parties—Optimus Prime, Windblade, Prowl—see an immediate danger to the sanctity of the galaxy.
Beyond that—“Combiner Wars” is a great example of Hasbro and IDW working together and building a huge storyline that goes between toys and comics and into other media. We on the comics have worked very closely with Hasbro’s Transformers brand team, especially Mark Webber and Sarah Carroll, plus Director, Global Publishing Michael Kelly—there’s pieces that come straight out of the comics (like the new Megatron toy for next year that gives you the option of giving him an Autobot symbol, like he has in the Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye comics) and some new things coming from the toy side that we get to debut in the comics. Plus, while the comics will come out from IDW first, they’ll be packed in with select Transformers Generations toys, which will get the comics to an all-new audience that might have never had the chance to read them before.
And beyond that—“Combiner Wars” is a great chance for Mairghread Scott (writer of the amazing Windblade series) and I to work together and to team with Sarah Stone (artist on that amazing Windblade series) and Livio Ramondelli (who’s just finished the Transformers: Punishment motion comic and is in the middle of Transformers: Primacy, the story of the early days of the war) and make a big, action-packed, character-packed story with huge ramifications for the comics in 2015.
Nrama: We’ve mentioned theWindblade miniseries and ongoing series, but what about Windblade herself – how does she factor into it all?
Scott: The end of Windblade saw our heroine striking a real devil's bargain with Starscream and she's still trying to maintain that very dangerous balance. So we see a really different side of Windblade, one trying to hold her own in the shadowy political world of Cybertron (a world Starscream is the undisputed master of) while still trying to hold onto some sort of moral compass. The question for Windblade in “Combiner Wars” is really: How far can you go in the name of good until you aren't good anymore? When does the end stop justifying the means?
His latest, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” promises more of the action and explosions Bay is known for, but the director reportedly almost didn’t take the job this time around. He’s not saying why, but he admits he was “prevailed upon. Expertly.” Coming back on board for a fourth time, he decided to make a few changes to the franchise. In particular, he didn’t want the robots to look too much like toys.
“I understand the need to draw an audience of kids and the global considerations, but I wanted to be involved with something that had a longer-lasting, even cerebral appeal. And I don’t want to be tied — artistically or in people’s minds — to ‘Transformers’ after ‘Transformers,’ ” he says, perhaps alluding to the series’ planned fifth installment.
While the Japanese roots of “Transformers” may be apparent in the design of the robotic heroes and villains of the film, the “global considerations” Bay refers to come mainly from the newly important Chinese market.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” was partly financed by Chinese backers, has Chinese product placement and co-stars Li Bingbing as the owner of a factory manufacturing Transformers for a U.S. outfit named KSI. Bay says that cooperation between China and the United States for future filmmaking ventures will be important. The tendency of Hollywood to cast the citizens of foreign nations in villainous roles might be coming to an end if that’s the case, I suggest, to which Bay replies, “I don’t think the Chinese see themselves as villains. They do want to be admired.”
Grammer, who played the titular role in the popular U.S. sitcom “Frasier” (1993-2004) takes on the role of Harold Attinger, the paranoid head of an elite CIA unit.
“His name’s Harold — isn’t that a perfect, anal-retentive, paranoiac name?” Grammer says with a grin. “Then you have Cade, pretty much an average Joe, and his daughter Tessa (Peltz) — these wonderful names! Stanley Tucci is this arrogant technocrat (head of KSI) who wants to make and control his own Transformers, and his name is Joshua Joyce. It’s a bit comic-bookey, but it really works on screen.”
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” has succeeded in drawing in a large audience despite replacing its cast, and Grammar believes this is because the film brings back the real draw — familiar robotic characters.
You've worked with filmmaker Michael Bay and his production company, Platinum Dunes, on a number of projects. How involved is he in working with you?
He's very involved. He said to me one time that for him, the sound of his movies is 50% of what he puts out there. He considers it that important. That includes music and sound effects. He wants to hear every cue, he likes to live with it for a little while-which I get, when someone hears a piece of music for the first time and I say, do you like it or not? If I were in his position, I would go "I think I like it. I need to hear it a few more times. Can I hear it again tomorrow?"
He's very involved, not just in sound and music, but he's very involved in every aspect of his films; which I think is why his life is just so crazy because he'll come to me to hear some music and he's always racing off to go to look at the color timing of the picture or to go listen to sound effects. Whatever it is, there are a million things ... he might be more involved than people think. The music to him, he either feels it or he doesn't. He feels the music and he knows it's something working for him. That's how he judges it, and like I said, he wants to hear everything. It's good for me because he pushes me to make it right. There's so much music in these movies, I kind of get lost in these scenes, writing for days and days. He's a good judge of what works, what doesn't and what's boring. It's a good collaboration, I think, that we have at this point.
How much creative freedom do you have?
He gives me all the freedom in the world, which is great. When we started Age of Extinction, the only thing he said to me is that it was a brand new cast; let's treat this as something new. We have three movies worth of music, but let's set it aside and start working on these new ideas. That was it; I just started writing and would send him theme pieces that I was writing. I wasn't even writing to picture yet, I was just writing music inspired by some of the visuals that I had seen in his cutting room. I would just send pieces to him to see what he was responding to. He seemed to be responding to the simpler things. This little piano melody I did and things like this, which is just something I thought would be cool in the movie. It's not something he asked me to do, so he definitely does give me an open canvas to try new things that I think might work. Of course, if he doesn't like it he's gonna say so. If there's something that's not quite right, he will definitely give me general notes. "I like this, you lose me here..." We have a good shorthand now where I can just send him music and he will listen to it when he's in the music mood. He will call me up and tell me if it's good or not. He let's me do what I think is right and we take it from there.
WHITTAKER: Knowing you go through that kind of stringent screening of dialogue lends, at least from this reader’s perspective, the characters a certain charming honesty. They seem like real entities rather than just mouthpieces for certain ideas and opinions or to appear simply as catalysts for narrative.
ROBERTS: Thanks! A lot of MTMTE stories are quite high-concept, or if not high-concept then high-density in terms of the plot and the number of things happening at any one time. And because you’re limited to 22 pages and a certain number of panels per page, you only have so much space to convey ideas and information. I try, sometimes successfully, to smuggle exposition into natural-sounding dialog.
I’ve become more confident in how to impart information, and in how good readers are at filling in gaps when you hold stuff back. You can structure a conversation between two characters in such a way that the reader comes in halfway through and discerns the thrust of what’s been said; and then you can dance around a bit and use ‘hard info’ sparingly, but the tone and pace of the conversation, and the order in which certain details are revealed, can lend everything a realistic bounce and ensure that what needs to be established has been established.
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