Transformers: Regeneration One #89 Q&A with Simon Furman
Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 2:16PM CDTCategory: Comic Book News
Posted by: El Duque Views: 16,061
Q: Let’s say you’re sitting down to write a new story. What are the first things you start thinking of?
SIMON FURMAN: Character. Or characters. Frankly, I’m not sure if story stems from character or vice versa, but one without the other is useless. You can have the best, most original high concept idea for a story, but unless it serves/reflects the characters you populate it with, it will fail. Every story, however fantastical, has to have a resonance with the person reading/listening to/watching it. Even if your character is an alien squid assassin, something in that character has to be relatable. You (the audience) have to empathize with/understand the twists and turns and conflicts that you (the writer) put that character through. I want the reader to wonder – what would I do in that situation? How would I react? The fundamental choices your character(s) makes have to be believable. I’m also a big proponent of the “fish out of water” scenario. So, at it’s most basic, if your character hates cats, then you send him to stay with his aunt with a houseful of them. See what he does. So, I either have a character and find a story that fits (and puts them through the most number of loops) or I have a story I desperately want to tell and then find the best cast to convey the story’s message. I’m doing a lot of movie writing at the moment, and the thing I most keep hold of (from the various screenwriting books I’ve consumed), is the idea of what your character wants (on a surface goal level), and what your character needs (on an internal, often unrecognized level), and that both should be achieved/realized to some degree by the close of the story.
Q: As there are some many characters in TRANSFORMERS, how do you decide what characters to put into the story? Is it driven by the theme or can you decide on a story depending on what character(s) you wish to use?
SIMON FURMAN: Sometimes, I freely admit, there are just characters I want to use and will find a good story/theme for. But the TF universe is so rich and diverse, you really have to narrow down the focus and not get swamped in characters. By necessity, some become background/functional players, the right ‘bot for the right action, but I’ll always try and settle on four or five key characters in a given story arc, who’ll be given layers, depth and conflict, and whose travails will drive the backbone of the story. My favorite thing is to advance multiple storylines in any given issue or arc, with one right in the foreground and the others simmering gently in the background, ripening into front and center stories in due course. That way you can juggle multiple cast members, gradually pulling the strands together and intertwining the stories/themes.
Q: Having worked for so long in TRANSFORMERS, do you still from time to time have to look up tech-specs or bios to learn maybe a little more about the characters, especially if its one maybe you haven’t written for to much?
SIMON FURMAN: The trap I try not to fall into if I can help it (if I’m lazy at script stage, I’ll polish up dialog when I review the art and place the speech bubbles), is not short-changing the characters that only have bit parts in the story. Making sure they have the right character traits, the right weapons, the right speech patterns. For that, the tech specs are invaluable, as it’s nigh on impossible to hold all the variations in your head, and so yes, I often reach for my print and paper TF Universe books or look up a character online. Some characters I know inside and out, and their voices, etc., are entrenched in my head, but I tend to err on the side of caution outside the ten to fifteen characters I’ve written so often I just know what they can and can’t do. Though sometimes, even with familiar characters, I’ll suddenly think, ‘what the heck does that gun of his shoot?’
Q: Do you often tend to outline your stories before actually writing the script or do you find you can go in blind and work from there?
SIMON FURMAN: I always, always present the stories in (detailed) outline (issue-by-issue) form first. For two reasons, the first being that it helps me beat out the action, and you can see pretty quickly if you’re just asking too much of any given issue or clutch of issues. I also like to know where I’m going (know your ending is my sage advice to all budding writers). Secondly, stories generally (especially with Transformers) need to go through layers of editorial (and often licensor) approval, and it’s far easier (and less demoralizing) to make significant changes at outline stage than script stage. But, all that said, I am never bound by the outline I produce. Almost always, my scripts stray from my outline. Things are added, subtracted, moved around, refined. They definitely evolve as I go along, but generally I aim to hit all the original (major) beats. REGENERATION ONE has been particularly fluid. I always knew where I was going (on a macro scale), but on the issue-to-issue level things have definitely grown and gained extra layers or angles as it’s progressed.
Q: Ok have a story and characters in place, now you’re scripting. Do you have to tailor the dialogue for each character differently? Do you find it harder to describe what you’re seeing or to put down what the characters are saying?
SIMON FURMAN: I do try to find the “voice” of each character. Sometimes that’s their animated or animated movie voice, sometimes it’s an actor I associate with that character. But once I’m rolling on a given scene, I rarely have to pause and think what a character will say or what the scene description needs to be (I try and keep the latter to a minimum wherever I can). The most difficult thing, the one that can stop me in my tracks, is a change of scene (especially to a new location or new set of characters). I kind of hate getting bogged down in the minutia of a scene description, which I feel loses all the momentum I’ve built up. Sometimes I’ll skip all that and fill in the bits and pieces when I do my second draft. Minimum of four passes on any given whole script, then I tend to do a scene only read and a dialog only read as passes five and six.
Q: In most cases, you get to work with a different artist on a different book. Do you write the script to suit the artist you are working with or do you keep things on the page the same with each one?
SIMON FURMAN: Largely, I just write the script, and worry about who’s drawing it later. But, if I know in advance who’s drawing it, I’ll tailor the script a bit (often unconsciously) to that artist. Adopt a kind of shorthand if it’s artist I work with regularly. Mostly I just try and make sure all the necessary information is present and correct, in case there’s a change of artist.
Q: As the pages start coming in, can things change still, if maybe the artist has an idea about how to do a page or if they feel they can make a contribution to the plot?
SIMON FURMAN: I actively encourage this. Andrew and I speak regularly on aspects of REGENERATION ONE (be it panels or scenes or pages). Though I like the control you have writing full script, I used to love getting pages back when I was writing “Marvel” plot-style (where it’s more of a breakdown of a bunch of pages and you throw the pacing/panel breakdown over to the artist almost entirely), and being genuinely and pleasantly surprised (and inspired) by what he (or she) had done. I like comics to be a team effort, as it generally makes for a better comic in the end. And as I always do a final dialog pass over the artwork (to make sure it’s the best it can be and it fits the page/panel), it’s no great problem to make those last minute changes.
Q: Whoever the editor is on a given book, do you think there are still changes to be made even with the book in production or do these issues get ironed out in the scripting stage before the artist starts drawing?
SIMON FURMAN: Certainly my experience on REGENERATION ONE has been that editorial/last minute changes have been almost zero. There was one time recently when John (Barber) identified something that simply wasn’t clear enough on the finished page (and we all agreed with him), and [colorist John-Paul Bove] had to do a quick fix, but really we try and deal with any problems at script or pencil stage. If there’s something that’s not quite right, I (or John) will tell Andrew and he’ll fix it.
Q: On the coloring and lettering, are you still having a say in what characters should be, if backgrounds should have more or less in them or if certain words should be emphasized on the page?
SIMON FURMAN: As JP grows into RG1, the feedback from Andrew, John or myself on the pages he produces have dwindled to next to nothing. At first, because we wanted to echo the feel, if not the exact look, of the Marvel era coloring, we chipped in with lots of suggestions, but really JP just does his thing these days as we utter a collective “wow.” That’s it. I (and the whole team) review the first draft PDF of the whole issue, and any final issues are dealt with then. But again, I can’t think of an occasion where I’ve picked up anything more than a stray typo or stylistic thing with the speech balloons or panels. [letterer] Chris Mowry really knows his stuff. As for emphasis on words, that’s all there in the original script.
Q: Are the type of writer who does the script, and then allows the rest of the production team to put the book together, or do you prefer having a more hands on role during the production process?
SIMON FURMAN: Oh, afraid I’m an all-stages, poke my nose in kind of writer. I care too much about the finished product (especially if it’s going to have my name on it) to just turn the script in and move on.
Q: Even though you’ve done so much in the past 30 years on this franchise, do you still get the feeling or pride once you see the finished product or when you get to hold it in your hands?
SIMON FURMAN: Of course. In fact, I’m normally most proud of my latest thing, and certainly true of Regeneration One. It’s been (and continues to be) a real team effort, right down to the alternate covers by Geoff and Guido. On a personal/writing level, I’m very proud of striking that difficult balance between something that reads like a comic used to read (back in the 90s), and not letting it become or look dated in the process. Back in 1991, the idea of structuring story arcs for trade paperback was simply never in our minds, but these days it has to be. So that’s one concession to the modern. Same with thought bubbles. They had to go. But a certain amount of the carefree naivety that was in the comics back then I’ve disinterred for RG1, and I’m glad of it. Comics can take themselves a little too seriously these days, in my opinion, and I wanted to hearken back to that 80/90s zeitgeist of gung-ho fun and entertainment a little more. There are still big themes and serious tones, but it’s leavened by a more rollicking, hell for leather approach to the stories and storytelling (and maybe even logic). When we get to #100, when it’s all bound up in nice collected editions, I feel this is something I’ll be proud to hand to people and say, “Look what I did!”
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Posted by Va'al on March 13th, 2013 @ 2:48pm CDT
Interesting interview, but I'm more into the things Furman is saying about Mowry and Bove than about his own process.
It will be sad to see the end of the series, but I do think its time is coming about.
Dreamwave and IDW have both tried working out a new continuity, and I think a lot more can be done in the IDW-verse. Having this title running along the other two is nice, but it's even nicer that we know it's a limited release.
In my opinion, obviously! I know that a lot of fans really don't like the IDW take on the characters or storylines at all.