So was it fairly soon after "CSI" when the publishing division took over from creative services as the dominate focus of the company?
Looking back on it, it feels like it all happened quickly, but honestly it happened over many years. We still do creative service work today at IDW -- it's the quiet part of our business. Typically our clients, we're doing stuff for them that they don't necessarily want the world to know. Although now that we've become "IDW," and that's a brand, sometimes we have creative service clients who want to work with us specifically we are IDW, whereas 15 years ago, we were just four guys that were helping them get work done.
As far as how that transition happened, it was a pretty slow business. What helped us was bringing on Chris Ryall [in 2004] who's still our editor-in-chief and chief creative officer. He really brought his vision to the publishing. Chris is one of the smartest people I've ever met; he just knows how to get stuff done. When he came on board, he was really pushing me to build the business, and was really the driving force behind us going after "Transformers" as a license. If you look at that transition from creative service to becoming a publishing company, and then a bigger publishing company, that key hire in the early days was certainly Chris Ryall.
Speaking of " Transformers," licensed projects have certainly become a big part of IDW's identity, but from what you were saying, at the time, the first "CSI" comic was something of a risk -- that seems to have definitely paid off.
Certainly, nobody else was looking at "CSI" as a comic book back in those days -- it just wasn't something that anybody was considering. I think what our approach to it was to try and bring great talent to it. Max Allan Collins wrote those comics for us; I felt like he was just the perfect guy to write those comics, and he was. Gabe Rodriguez -- it wasn't hard to identify early on that Gabe was going to become a superstar. And Ash did us a favor by doing the flashback sequences.
I think that's really been the way that we approach our licensed books, even today -- we come to them with the intention of making great comics. If you look at our books today, our "[Teenage Mutant Ninja] Turtles" books are regularly on best-of lists. The "My Little Pony" books are loved. "Judge Dredd" -- these are books that we're bringing top-notch creative talent to. Maybe before, if you look back to the way licensed comics were perceived, they were thought as not necessarily being able to be great comics, and that was always our goal -- to try and make great comics out of them.
Looking at the past 15 years, what do you see as some of the biggest triumphs for IDW? Maybe some things that took you by surprise?
Honestly, even going back to "30 Days of Night," having that book be the No. 1 graphic novel was a huge surprise for us. But the early days of "Transformers" -- those books just found an audience really quickly, and really gave us the freedom to start to grow the business, because we were starting to generate real revenue from those. That was certainly a big step forward for us. Doing "Angel" with Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch, those comics were a big step forward for us. It was all driven by the creative -- what Joss Whedon and [late artist Franco Urru] were doing with those comics, they were just good comics, whether you liked "Angel" or you don't even know "Angel." So that was a big step forward for us. We did "Metal Gear Solid" with Ash Wood -- even today, that book still sells like crazy for us. If you look at the art that Ash did; it's a video game adaptation, which would seem on its face to be something that would not be worth your time. But what Ash brought to that is just extraordinary. That art's unbelievable. Every page could be hung in a gallery.
Now that Dark Cybertron is well and underway, we here at Iacon Underground were fortunate enough to get to ask IDW writers John Barber and James Roberts some questions about the series so far and both Robots in Disguise and going forward!
IU: Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk to us! Now that we’re halfway into the event, what’s your favorite part of DARK CYBERTRON so far? What upcoming part of the series are you looking forward to finally seeing the light of day?
John: Well, we’re a little past halfway, but that’s my fault for not writing this quicker… it’s funny, because of the way this comic came together, that so much of it kinda crushes together in my head… it’s hard to remember what’s out, what’s done but not out, and what’s still in progress… Early on, I think the combination of Phil Jimenez and Andrew Griffith in issue 1 was really exciting to see. I’ve known Phil a little bit for a while, but never actually worked with him or even spent any real time talking to him before we started this comic—and it turned out we grew up really close by each other. And Andrew, I love working with. That first issue coming together was really cool.
As far as looking ahead—I think the last act of the story, the last third is really strong. Issue 9 is really crazy action, and I think James and I found a good rhythm to the writing there. And issue 10 is a lot of fun, there’s sort of a breath to take, before the end comes.
James: We’ve just signed off Part 9, and it was even more frenetic and action-packed than it seemed at the script stage. Andrew had the unenviable task of cramming about 50 characters over those 22 pages, and the majority of panels – I’ll say it again: the majority of panels – have about five people in. It’s testament to his artistry that he can make all that look natural and not cluttered.
I think Part 10 is going to be popular, particularly with those people who were anticipating a more traditional crossover where the two casts mix it up early on. MTMTE and RiD have always been defined, in part, by their separateness, by the two stories happening at arm’s length from each other, so John and I wanted to approach the reunification of the overall cast slowly — really build to it so that it forms part of the climax of the story. And really, issues nine through 12 are the climax. 88 pages of everything colliding.
Part 10 is also special because Alex Milne is back on pencils for. I’m flagging up that fact not to disparage the likes of Livio Ramondelli or James Riaz or Atilio Rojo, super-talents one and all, but because Alex makes his “comeback” in an issue of MTMTE, and for lots of people, MTMTE is Alex. So that just feels right. And, y’know, in Part 10 John and I had fun mixing up the casts and – really important, this – playing with some core post-CHAOS continuity. We get to reference and progress plots that began in the first 22 issues of the two ongoings.
So yeah, Part 10 I’m looking forward to (even if Parts 11 and 12 are the ones that will kick people in the guts); as for my favorite moment so far… Phil and Andrew drawing the Lost Light crew in Part 1. Seeing those pages take shape made the crossover seem real to me. Oh, and working with John over an extended period – as two writers, rather than writer and editor – has been fun, especially as we entered the final furlong and all the scenes started to blend. In a good way!
IU: Are you planning more crossovers for the future, or are you happy to have your respective books to yourselves for a while?
John: I think we’re good for a while. I don’t think we’re eager to do another massive event like this, but we’ll continue to have little bits that carry over from one series to the others. DARK CYBERTRON was a big deal to us; we’d been apart for about two years, which—in comic book terms—is an eternity, so doing something really big to draw everything together and tell a huge-scale story was very appealing, but it’s not something we want to overdo.
James: We’re both very aware that repeating these events too often might affect the forward momentum of our books. That said, unlike “Year One” (or however we’re referring to the period of time between CHAOS and DARK CYBERTRON), when the two casts were cut adrift and unable to communicate, at least now they can keep in touch with each other. So there’s more scope for… I don’t know what you’d call it. Everyday crossovers. Ground-level crossovers. But fans of huge, tum-thumping, after-this-nothing-will-be-the-same epics needn’t despair: you can have those without yoking the two books together.
Jaydot: The TFWiki entry about Windblade is pretty sparse. We know she’s got a “fancy sword” and turns into a jet, and there’s almost literally no other info about her. Without getting into too much background detail, which I understand might be spoilery, can you elaborate at all on who/what Windblade is?
Mairghread: To be fair, beyond being a jet and a sword fighter I started with a pretty blank slate when I developed Windblade, so don’t fault the wiki for that one. The most important thing for me when constructing Windblade was to make her a fully three-dimensional (read: flawed) character, so if I had to pick one word to describe her I would say that Windblade is trying. She’s an optimistic, hard-working Transformers character who is genuinely interested in helping others, but she’s also been dropped in the aftermath of a millennia (for real) long war that she was not really part of, so while she’s a very competent character, she’s way behind the curve when it comes to knowing who’s who and what’s what on Cybertron. This actually makes Transfomers: Windblade a really good starting point for new readers because almost everything on Cybertron is as new to her as it is to someone just entering the brand.
What’ll be the overall tone of the book? Transformers can run the gamut from very kid-friendly to very mature (although even Transformers Prime had its extremely dark moments, see the whole Silas storyline, for example). While I have no doubt Windblade will have its emotionally impactful moments, are you aiming overall for something lighter or more fun, or is this a much more serious endeavor?
Transformers: Windblade is, at its core, a story about hope: who has it, who doesn’t, what does it cost and when is it worth (and not worth) that price. So you should expect a story that runs the entire emotional gamut. That said, Transformers: Windblade will definitely be fast-paced and fun because Transformers as a brand is so fast-paced and fun, but hope in the hands of someone like Starscream can be a very dangerous thing and Windblade, who is so centered around the idea of hope, is going to learn that the hard way.
what’s the #1 (or #1 through #5) thing you want people to know about WINDBLADE? Either the comic as a whole or the character.
When it comes to the comic, you should be reading it.
If you’ve loved Hasbro and IDW’s Transformers comics for years, you should read it: Sarah and I have really tried to push the envelope in both storytelling, artistic style and that wonderful point where they meet. We’re going to open whole new worlds for you both in-story and on the page and you are not going to want to miss it.
If you’ve never read Transformers, you should read it. Transformers: Windblade is a perfect jumping on point and designed to show off all the best (okay, all my favorite) parts of this brand: fantastic characters, imaginative landscapes, awesome fight scenes and, yes, even humor.
And if you’re an impulse buyer, you can order issue 1 from your local comic store right now: FEB140337 E TRANSFORMERS WINDBLADE #1 (OF 4) gets you the Casey Coller cover.
FEB140338 E TRANSFORMERS WINDBLADE #1 (OF 4) SUBSCRIPTION VAR gets you Sarah’s cover.
Q: Of everything you’ve done, and everything you could do, why comic books?
A: Well, I’ve been almost five years going back and forth between the coasts. I’d like to live here more full-time. But it’s really hard to run a show from 3,000 miles away and, for the time being anyway, it seems like it’s going to be a hard time to get the networks to let me run an animated series out of Portland. I do still have a development deal with Hasbro. I have another “Transformers” series coming; that’s in full-blown production right now. I have a documentary I executive-produced that’s coming out this year, as well as other TV and movie projects, but I’ve been looking for something I can do from here. With comic books, you don’t have to be on a studio lot. It’s a lot of working with freelancers who can be anywhere in the country. It’s a business that’s very used to happening not in person. So, it’s a good business to start from my home in Cape Elizabeth.
In the overwhelmingly male comic book industry, it has been a challenge for some editors and readers to see the ever growing number of talented women currently trying to make a name for themselves. With that in mind, ComicsAlliance offers Hire This Woman, a recurring feature designed for comics readers as well as editors and other professionals, where we shine the spotlight on a female comics pro on the ascendance. Some of these women will be at the very beginning of their careers, while others will be more experienced but not yet “household names.”
This week we’re talking to comics and animation writer Mairghread Scott, who is best known for her work on the Transformerss property both at Hasbro and at IDW Publishing, where she became the first woman to write an official Transformers comic.
ComicsAlliance: Tell us about your process.
Mairghread Scott: I always break out my outlines on paper before I type the actual script in my computer, then I go back to paper, breaking the script back into an outline during my revision process to see if/where I may have strayed from the original plan. Digital writing is wonderfully easy to edit, but the physical act of writing with a pen gives me the time I need when I’m thinking through a story as a whole. Of course, I can also use only one of three pens to write with or nothing works, but that’s another story.
CA: What projects have you worked on in the past? What are you currently working on?
MS: In television I’ve written for Transformers Prime, Rescue Bots, Kaijudo and several other shows that haven’t aired yet because animation takes so long. In comics I’ve co-written Rage of the Dinobots and Transformers Prime Beast Hunters. I am currently writing Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs for Lion Forge (yes, it is about an intergalactic law enforcement officer on a robotic horse), and the Transformers Windblade miniseries for IDW with the fantastic Sarah Stone. I’m also pitching my first original graphic novel with Sarah and… between you, me and the Internet… it’s awesome!
But as the brand evolved over the years, the toys became more complex, some involving dozens of steps to complete a single transformation. In the eyes of Brian D. Goldner, Hasbro’s chief executive, they had lost their magic.
“We’ve made incredibly sophisticated robots,” he said, “but it can be like a 1,000-piece puzzle.”
Enthralled by the special effects in three big-budget “Transformers” movies that enabled the robots to convert in a matter of seconds, Mr. Goldner decided the toys needed to return to their roots. So he challenged his design team to reconceive them. Now, on the 30th anniversary of the brand, Hasbro is revealing a new look for the toys, including simple maneuvers that will complete a transformation with the push of a button or flick of the wrist.
The remake of the line, which includes new branding and packaging, is meant to coincide with Paramount Pictures’ release of the fourth movie in the franchise, “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Retailers will get their first look at the line in London this week at Toy Fair, an annual industry trade show.
“Our retail partners, they are getting very excited,” said Joshua Lamb, the senior design director for the toy line. “This rethinking of the brand is setting the stage long-term.”
The toys are expected to land on retail shelves in May, a few weeks before the release of the movie. Hasbro says it will build on the promotion for the movie with a marketing campaign of its own that will include ads on television and in theaters as well as on digital platforms, like mobile and social media.
Hasbro will continue to make complex Transformers for adult fans who have collected the toys since their inception 30 years ago. But the new design is intended to re-engage parents and children, who found the transformations too challenging.
TV KIDS: What new shows do you have coming up?
DAVIES: We have this great new show, which is kind of the entry point forTransformers for littler boys called Transformers Rescue Bots. Although interestingly, when we reimagined Transformers for a younger generation, typically big brother doesn’t want to watch what little brother is watching, but because the Transformers brand resonates across so many generations and it’s so relevant and relatable, we’re actually finding that while we conceived Rescue Bots principally for 4- to 5-year-olds, the older brother, who is 7 or 8 years old, is also watching with little brother.
We just talked about co-viewing and children wanting to watch with their parents, well, now we have this show where little brother wants to watch with older brother and big brother also wants to watch with little brother, which is a phenomenal opportunity because, again, there are not a lot of shows where you have that kind of multigenerational appeal at all levels. In fact, Rescue Botsinspired us for our new chapter of Transformers, because Rescue Bots is a much simpler show to understand, the transformations are much simpler, and it’s a lighter, brighter, more humorous approach. So a lot of what we learned fromRescue Bots we are now applying to our new Transformers series.
It starts with Transformers; we’ve had several very successful seasons ofTransformers Prime. Excitedly, Finn Arnesen, who runs international distribution for us, is introducing our new Transformers series, which is a lot of fun because it really harkens back to the old Transformers: Generation 1 days. It’s a lighter, brighter more comedic show. It’s still full of all the wonderful characters that our fans love, but it’s really a complete reimagination of our Transformers series, which we will be rolling out next year.
Details on the book are hush-hush and Scioli is finalizing the artwork on everything, but we got him on the line to talk about his love of these characters, from the classic toys to the classic cartoons to the classic comics.
Here now are excerpts from our long, long geek-out session with Scioli on these great characters and how they warped our childhoods, and a look at some of the behind-the-scenes drawing for the upcoming series. If anything, we did learn this: Scioli is bringing a real passion and love for the characters to this book, and you can get a glimpse of it here.
Newsarama Note: The art shown here is not final, and only represents Scioli’s initial doodles and experiments with the characters’ looks. It does not represent what will appear in the actual series.
Newsarama: Tom, how did this come about?
Tom Scioli: Pretty organically – I sent some samples of my work to IDW, and then I was contacted by John Barber about doing a cover for Black Dynamite, and then I started pitching ideas around the image I’d come up with, and it was a bit too much all at once, but after a while he contacted me with an idea for a Transformers/G.I. Joe comic, this one-sentence pitch. So those were all the steps.
Nrama: This can get confusing, but what continuity does this take place in?
Scioli: My thoughts are that this is its own continuity – they can be similar to other books except for how these worlds interact, or they can be completely different, I hate to change anything without a good reason, but I do like to feel like everything is up for grabs.
There’s no unified continuity for either of these properties – they’ve both existed for a long time, and had their own worlds, but there is no one “right” version.
Nrama: To kind of give this reminiscing a point – these were characters explicitly designed to sell toys. And yet here you and I are, nearly three decades later, we’re talking about them, fans are still going to see the movies, watching the cartoons, buying the toys – why are they so powerful?
Scioli: I think the designs are really strong, that whatever the initial impetus for creating these things was, people still invested the full weight of their imaginations and creativity on them, and so they transcended whatever initial decision-making brought them into being.
Someone like Larry Hama offered whatever he had in terms of life experience and imagination into G.I. Joe, and it’s something that transcends generations, something kids and adults can enjoy years later. Comics are something designed to sell themselves, and I’ve spent might adult life reading and making comics.
The commercial aspect is almost invisible. I think it’s almost beside the point.
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