Steve White Talks About New U.K. Transformers Comic Book Series


It has been many years since the United Kingdom enjoyed their own successful Transformers comic book under Marvel UK. Now Steve White, who use to work as a colorist on the old Marvel UK Transformers series has returned to the Transformers universe. He has been tapt by Titan to help create a new United Kingdom exclusive Transformers comic.

Recently Steve White announced that he would be working on a new Transformers comic for Titan that would be published in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has not enjoyed a successful Transformers comic book since the Marvel UK day. Steve White hopes to change that. With the help of Professor Smooth, Hotrod was able to conduct the following interview with Steve White.

Hotrod Hotrod: Mr. White before we begin, I would like to thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule to do this interview.

Steve White: A pleasure...

Hotrod Hotrod: How did you get your start in the comic book business?

Steve White: My entrance into comics was by blind luck really. I had a school friend at an art college (Gary Gilbert, who designed TF for a while and was the letterer Glib) where Marvel UK were advertising for colour separators. He applied and got the job. I was working in a medical laboratory at the time, spending my days killing rats and chickens and realsing this was no way to make a living, and was intensely jealous of Gary. Anyway, one Saturday I asked if there were any jobs going at Marvel. He phoned me on the Monday night to say that there were. I called Marvel on the Tuesday, went for the interview on the Wednesday and was offered the job there and then – April 1st 1986. It was as a separator as well, which was the sort of job the Americans gave to sweatshops full of old ladies in the deep south. However, Marvel UK had made it more of an art form, although the separations were done not just in house but also by various miscreants and substance abusers. One of my jobs was to check the separations on light boxes – nine sheets of alcohol-based red ink on acetate overlays – the pens gave off strong fumes and would probably be banned now. Some would be awful and you’d virtually have to do the job all over again. Other would be brilliant. It was pretty tedious but at least I’d got my foot in the door.

Hotrod Hotrod: Up until recently, there was a stigma attached to comic books. The feeling among the uninitiated was that comics were simply disposable children’s entertainment. Now, thanks to the huge cross-over success of comic properties such as Spider-Man and 300, comic books have gained quite a bit of mainstream acceptance. Were your friends and family critical of your decision to work in comics?

Steve White: Not at all. To me, many comics were disposable comics entertainment. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that people would collect the junior stuff I started out on like Care Bears. I think it’s only the internet that’s really brought the collectors together. However, my mum was over the moon the first time she saw my name in print. I’m pretty certain it was as colourist on Care Bears, but it might have been assistant editor or colourist on the long forgotten Get Along Gang. As for my friends, most thought it was either really cool or were jealous. During my time at the Medical Research Council, I worked with Euan Peters, whom true fans will remember as editor of TF UK in the latter part of its run. I got him an interview and he joined Marvel in about 1987. Not what you know...

Hotrod Hotrod: For all of those Steve White completists that are reading this, what was your first work in comics? Also how did you first become involved with the UK Transformers comic?

Steve White: My first intro to TF was towards the end of 1986. At the time I was a mere assistant editor in the junior department. At the time Marvel UK was split into Junior (who did Care Bears etc) and Boys Action (who did Zoids, Spider-man and TF), and never the twain shall meet. As a ‘Junior’ I was looked down upon and hardly spoke to anyone in the BA department for several months. Then one day Ian Rimmer, the TF editor (Simon Furman was assistant editor at the time), asked if he could have a word and I was brought like some novice before the Boys Action department. I remember being very nervous. Ian asked me if I’d like to colour rough TF. Now, at the time TF was ‘fully coloured’ - that is the strips were usually hand-painted or similar. The junior stuff, as I mentioned, was mechanically separated. The first part of the process was to take a photocopy of the B&W art and colour it up using markers. This is quite boring so I’ll skip over it as quickly as possible: mechanical colouring required that all colours were made from up to three percentages of three colours – 25%, 50% and 100% of yellow, cyan and magenta. For instance, brown was 100% y, 50% m and 25% c; or crimson was 100% m 100% y etc etc. We had markers that roughly corresponded to all the various combinations of these percentages – something like 92 I think. There were certain limitations; you couldn’t have a 25% and 50% of the same colour overlapping as it created, for some reason, moiré patterns on the printed page, so you kind of had to take all that into consideration. If you want to graduate a colour – say grey for instance, which was 50%c 25%m 25%y, you’d go from that to 50%c 25%m to 50%c – if you look at those old pages, that should hopefully make sense – it’s how I used to show reflections on the metal of the robots. Anyway, it’s more complicated than you can imagine. After I did the colour rough, I would then have to mark on all the colours so your lovely photocopy would end up crisscrossed in lines and numbers, especially if you had some bastard Transformer with loads of different colours on him, including all the niggling bits. The point is that ‘colourist’ is something of a misnomer. All I did was the colour guide for the separators. Sometimes, you’d do this beautifully composed page with lots of clever graduations then some hack separator would throw down the overlays, ignoring all your lovely guidelines. I guess they got paid crap but it could be very disheartening. So in the end you’d kind of ask for specific separators who really got off on it. Annnyway... I digress...

Hotrod Hotrod: The UK Transformers comic is considered to the be the definitive G1 timeline by many fans, beating out the cartoons, tech specs, and even the US comics. What is your personal “favorite moment” in the series?

Steve White: My favourite moments I guess would be defined by the colouring I was doing, which was Death’s Head’s first appearance. I loved colouring Geoff Senior’s stuff, just clear and crisp. But I loved his style as well and those few issues were great.

Hotrod Hotrod: The UK Transformers comic is remarkable for featuring more characters than any other incarnation of the Transformers (save the toy line itself). If you had to pick one as your favorite, who would it be?

Steve White: Hehe. Probably the one with the least colours! No, it would have to be Galvatron. The Darth Vader of TF, although HE never wimped out – he remained true to his evil nature.

Hotrod Hotrod: When you made the jump from colorist on for the UK Transformers comic to the editor of Action Force (the international equivalent of GI:Joe), was it a difficult transition?

Steve White: As you may have gathered, I did actually have a full-time job at Marvel. The colouring was actually something I did freelance in my spare time. The money at Marvel sucked and I did because it was extra cash. I got paid a little more (about a fiver) for TF than, say, Care Bears and it was a lot more interesting creatively. My move to Action Force was actually a shift in my Marvel career from Junior to Boys Action, where I started out as assistant editor under the auspices of Richard Starkings (he of Comicraft fame). He taught me a lot about editing and encouraged my colouring career. By the time I took over as editor, I was still doing odds and sods on TF, but was also writing Action Force and Real Ghostbusters, and colouring other stuff like The Sleeze Brothers and Captain Britain, plus stuff for Marvel US. I was also editing Thundercats, then moved onto The Knights of Pendragon. It was also around this time that the origination on TF shifted to B&W then stopped altogether.

Hotrod Hotrod: What have you been up to since the conclusions of Transformers UK and Action Force?

Steve White: Following the demise in AF and TF, Marvel UK underwent something of a quantum shift in the late 80s, with a change-over in management and approach. The comics boom sparked by the likes of Dark Knight Returns and Watchman was underway, and you had the likes of Image and Dark Horse launching and really shaking the pillars of Comics heaven. The new Marvel UK regime was keen to get in on the action and I was involved in getting a new series of titles underway. But my views weren’t those shared by the management and I was let go in November 1991 (same years as my divorce, so a fun time for me). However, I was very lucky (or so it seemed at the time) and walked straight into the role of Senior Editor at Tundra UK, the British arm of the comics company established by TMNT creator Kevin Eastman. It was an ‘interesting’ time. I’d come from an environment where deadlines were king – they had to be working on fully-originated weeklies. Tundra didn’t even have a publishing schedule. Initially stuff was thrown out without any real rhyme or reason. Anyway, it’s a short and interesting story for another time, but ended with me quitting in June 1993. I became a freelance illustrator/colourist/writer. I love dinosaurs and 1993 saw the Jurassic Park craze. I had several really good years, writing for 2000AD, colouring Sonic the Hedgehog and many others, and drawing all the dinosaurs I could eat. Had a blast. But then CGI came along and killed the illustration work – I hate Walking With Dinosaurs. I took a job in bookshop – my wilderness years – but kept getting work, although never enough to quit (for an idea of what I’ve been up to, see: ). Anyway, Simon Furman came to my rescue and managed to land me a job at Titan as graphic novels editor in the books department in 2003. About 18 months later, I defected to the Magazines Department and through careful manipulation and cunning, managed to get myself another comics department, where I’m once again a Senior Editor.

Hotrod Hotrod: Fast forwarding to 2007, you are once again involved in UK Transformers. How did this happen?

Steve White: Not long after I joined Mags, Titan managed to snaffle up the TF license. Not sure if Panini let it go, and it was before anyone knew there was a movie, but, boy, they must be kicking themselves. It was after their abortive nine issues, which I looked at with interest. Anyway, we sat on for about two years, waiting for the rumoured movie to come to fruition. I’d like to think it was a case of ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man”, but to be honest it was just blind luck, fate, karma or whatever that I just so happened to be here when the cogs began whirring. Even so, history dictated that I was obvious choice as editor. I was also still in contact with my Marvel UK cadre. Simon had left Titan to go back to freelance writing on the Dreamwave and IDW TF material, and I still saw Geoff Senior and Andy Wildman on occasion. The pieces of the puzzle were really already in place and it’s been, so far, a very smooth launch.

Hotrod Hotrod: Should the new movie inspired comics attract new fans, as everyone is hoping, will this lead to new stories rooted in other continuities? Perhaps even a continuation of the original UK Transformers?

Steve White: The continuities situation will be interesting. Unless the film really bombs, it’s almost absolutely certain that there’ll be a sequel, which means, unlike after the animated version Simon used to develop for the Marvel UK continuity, we’ll be hamstrung by the franchise. Of course, we have to take into consideration what IDW will be doing (it’s fortunate that Si is writing those as well!), so we’ll really just have to see what we can and can’t do. I’d love to resurrect the Marvel UK storylines but we also to take into consideration who the fans will be of the new comic are. If they’re essentially youngsters locking onto the new movie, they’ll have no idea who the hell Galvatron and Cyclonus and Unicron and Kup are, so what would be the point? We’ll just have to wait it out and see how things develop.

Hotrod Hotrod: This new series will focus on the movie continuity. Are you being limited in what characters you are able to use or could fans, potentially, see a movie version of Star Saber (for example) somewhere down the line?

Steve White: Being tied to the movie continuity does, of course, does place something of a limit on the number of characters. Until a (or should that be ‘the’) second movie appears, which would no doubt throw open the doors on the number of new characters, writers like Simon may have to be a little creative, developing all-new, comic-specific TFs – which I guess might be a good thing because we could end up with another Death’s Head.

Hotrod Hotrod: How will this series differentiate itself from IDW’s North American series? Perhaps some UK exclusive stories like the glory days of Marvel UK?

Steve White: Titan’s and IDW’s comics are defined by their markets. The UK newsstand is pretty much diametrically opposed to the US Direct Sales market. Very few UK newsstand titles make it into the comic shops, whilst in the US, that’s pretty much the only place you get them. This drives the way comics are produced and marketed. In the UK, readership is broadly much younger and pretty much everything is cover-mounted with a free gift - a nightmare in itself for our marketing department as TF doesn’t really lend itself to the usual kind of stuff we throw on a cover, but it’s led to some very creative thinking – the first issue, for instance, will have TF dog tags which actually look very cool. In the UK as well we never look at the limited edition approach of the US, where it’s all four or six-issue arcs that are then collected into trade paperbacks. Our title will be on going, four-weekly, thirteen times a year; they’re also physically bigger. In terms of stories, the current plan is to run 10 pages of all-new strip material which will dovetail into the IDW prequels – all helped by the fact that much of it is written by Simon so he knows how to avoid overlapping or diluting storylines. So far we’ve commissioned up to six stories, all character-based vignettes. After that, well, who knows?

Hotrod Hotrod: Honestly, just between you, me, and 100 thousand or so readers, what do you think of the robot designs for the movie? Will the artists welcome or dread trying to translate them to the printed page?

Steve White: I have a funny (well I thought it was at the time) story about the robot designs. I was really pleased when Geoff Senior decided to come out of comics retirement and asked to do a TF strip. I immediately gave him the first issue and dispatched all the necessary refs we have from the style guides and IDW material. About a day later, I got a phone call from him, sounding very perplexed, and he asked if this is how I really wanted the robots drawn as they bore absolutely no resemblance to the TFs he’s drawn all those years ago! I think they were just so radically different that Geoff was completely flummoxed. However, I just said, yep, this is how the look in the movie and away he went. Can’t wait to see the pages – only wish I could colour them. Anyway, I think the robots will be a nightmare for the artists, even though there are simpler, more stylised versions that we can use. Still the IDW guys are doing a great job, so I don’t foresee any problems from the UK artists – maybe just some head scratching at what they did to our babies.

Hotrod Hotrod: A long time has passed since the UK had a (successful) Transformers comic. How will the mistakes made with Armada be avoided this time?

Steve White: I think we have many things on our side with the new comic – a blockbuster movie for a start. But I don’t know, maybe being seasoned TF veterans, we’ll have a different view. For one thing I would never try and make it a ‘kids’ comic. I am expecting our readership to draw in lots of younger fans, but their frame of reference will almost certainly be solely based on the movie. I’m also pretty certain that they will form the core of our readership, so we’re looking at a bottom range of about six, maybe even lower, with very little knowledge of the TF universe. Then of course we’ll have the serious fan elements – the long-term followers. I have to try and appeal to everyone and I think the simplest way of doing that is not talk down. I pretty much expect to pick up where Marvel UK left off in terms of approach – aside from the stories, take the view that you expand on the mythos – instead of puzzles and colouring pages, you do characters profiles, faux histories, and more fun stuff like “Who would win in a fight between...?” To be fair, Armada kind of fell between two stools – no movie, little TV, few toys. That said, I would never have done what they did.

Hotrod Hotrod: What is the goal for this series? 10 issues? 20 issues? 300+? At what point does this series become a success?

Steve White: We haven’t really set out with a longevity goal in mind, any more than we did at Marvel. You just place your bets and take your chances. Although, to be honest, after 300 episodes, I’d be utterly and completely sick of the sight of the damn things. I guess that’s the thing that often horrifies the fans – that many of us who worked on the title weren’t fans at all. It was just a job, OK, one that we really enjoyed, but not much else. This is why fans always trounce professionals at convention quizzes.

Hotrod Hotrod: Is there anything else you would like to say the potential readers of this new series before we wrap this up?

Steve White: Only – just go out and buy the damn thing, although I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir on that! Also – don’t slag off the movie just because the TFs don’t look like the toys from the 80s. Sometimes, change is a good thing, even if at the time it doesn’t look that way.

Hotrod Hotrod: Once again, Mr. White thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

Steve White: It’s been a pleasure.

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