Interview with IDW Writer Mike Costa and Artist Brendan Cahill Interview with IDW Writer Mike Costa and Artist Brendan Cahill

Sunday, May 29th, 2011 12:51pm CDT

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Prior to the big summer event happening in the TRANSFORMERS comics, we here at were privileged enough to be able to ask a few questions of writer Mike Costa, and new artist Brendan Cahill.

Ready to launch IDW's biggest Transformers event yet, these two creators share some of the insights in the creative process leading to CHAOS.

There may be some material ahead, considered SPOILERIFIC to some.

We opened fire on them with the biggest question we could think of...

Does “Chaos” refer at all to a certain CHAOS bringer in Transformers history?  And if not, do you have plans to bring him in?

Mike Costa wrote:I can reveal that he won't be in “CHAOS”, unfortunately. As for later... that would be telling.

How has the development of the Transformers ongoing series gone for you?  Is it going exactly as you laid it out and expected it to go, or have you had to scrap some ideas, in favor of others that you had not originally intended?

Mike Costa wrote:Well, I started writing the series nearly two and a half years ago at this point. So even though I had quite a few things planned out, of course several things have changed. New ideas have occurred to me in that time, or the work of other writers like James or Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have created new opportunities that I could not have forseen.

Some adjustments have been small (in my first-ever Q & A on the IDW message board, just as the first issue was coming out, someone asked if I had any plans for Brawn. I told them that issue #15 would make them very happy, but it eventually turned out to be #16 which had his big moment.) and a few major ideas weren't part of the original plan (I came up with Megatron's old body being turned into human-sized weapons very late into the development of that story-arc) but for the most part, it has stayed pretty-much on-track.

Who currently is your favorite character to write in Transformers Ongoing?  Why do you like that character so?  I am guessing Thundercracker for what I believe are obvious reasons, but one might say you've made your mark on many different characters--any of which could be considered your favorite to write--.

Mike Costa wrote:This is a hard question to answer. Obviously Thundercracker, because his journey has been so interesting. And both Megatron and Prime are very fun, if only because I can hear his voice so clearly in my head as I write his dialogue. If I had to pick favorites though, Ironhide is probably at the top of the list, and it might surprise some people to know this, but Bluestreak as well. I really like characters who simply speak whatever is on their minds, without any filter. Ironhide does this because he's a very direct, plain-spoken 'bot who doesn't have any interest in playing games. I admire that. And Bluestreak does it because he is a clueless doof seemingly devoid of self-awareness. So both of them, for almost opposite reasons, are both very easy and very interesting to write. (This is why Bluestreak is constantly popping up in scenes, even though he very seldom has anything important to say or d

 What is James Roberts doing to help you tell these current issues?  Is he doing the “Chaos” story, and you're doing the 'Last Story On Earth', or is it more complicated than that?

Mike Costa wrote:Well, the “CHAOS” story is an example of something that didn't exactly “change” from my initial plans, but certainly grew to a much more significant size than I had originally imagined. Two and a half years ago, when I first started thinking about it, “CHAOS” was the big arc that was going to end year two. I knew all the events from my stories (Ironhide's revival, Megatron's capture, Rodimus's exile from Earth, reclamation of the Matrix and subsequent journeys) that would lead up to it, but I could not have foreseen the work that Dan and Andy had done on Infestation and Heart of Darkness, because none of that had been planned yet. So after they came in, the story suddenly became a lot richer, and I had several more elements to deal with. Also, my plans for “CHAOS” itself were pretty sketchy: I knew the major characters involved, a couple of major plot developments, and how the story would end, and that was about it. So after Andy Schmidt (the Transformers editor) had brought in Dan and Andy, he realized that “CHAOS” had the potential to be a much bigger story than just yet-another arc in the ongoing. He decided to expand it into an event, and have both myself, plus Dan, Andy and James all come in like a brain-trust and use my skeleton to put together the biggest Transformers story we could. Unfortunately, Dan and Andy weren't able to continue working on it after an initial (but incredibly productive) meeting, so that just left James and I.

The “Last Story on Earth” was yet another story that had been planned for a long time, but since it didn't have the scope of “CHAOS” it wasn't given the same treatment. It's a relatively intimate story, so I took care of it myself.

What is the 'The Last Story On Earth' about besides Prowl, Jazz, and Bumblebee investigating Skywatch?  We know Skywatch had shaky origins in relation to the group in Maximum Dinobots that Scorponok was running, etc., but what exactly worries the Autobots so much about Spike killing Scrapper and not telling them that the Autobots feel the need to investigate further into Skywatch?  What do they really think that this version of Skywatch is keeping from them that they did not already have inklings about?

Mike Costa wrote:Well, they are definitely keeping some troubling secrets, and you'll find out what those are when you read the arc. But the Autobots are worried because Spike had made them certain promises, and he has clearly broken them. He is, in effect, lying to the Autobots, and possibly manipulating them. What's more, he went and killed Scrapper without any of his superiors knowing either, so he has performed a totally rogue operation, essentially betraying the trust of everyone he works with. It's clear that, despite being a capable soldier, he is a loose cannon. What the Autobots will do with that information, should they discover it, remains to be seen...

What are we going to see from Jazz in future issues?  He clearly wants to get back into it, but what isn't clear is that he is feeling any guilt, or remorse for what he did.  His character, and his judgment are being singled out by his comrades.  Is he going to be a subject for human hatred and mistrust?  Is this going to effect him in the way it would the Jazz many of us know as culture loving, Earth-loving Jazz?  Or is this Jazz not really the Jazz we have on Earth in Ongoing?

Mike Costa wrote:It's still the same Jazz, and I thought the fact that he both loved the Earth, but also was a highly trained operative was an interesting contrast, and made him the perfect character to take the drastic step he did. But that does have serious consequences, and you will see exactly how Jazz deals with those consequences in the Last Story on Earth.

Was Jazz always the Autobot who was going to take that shot (TF #17--killing the human with the Megatron gun--)?  Was anybody else even considered?  Why was he chosen?  Was there ever a problem passing that piece of writing off to HASBRO?  Did they want it nixed, revised, told differently, or for it to be a different character taking that action?

Mike Costa wrote:Jazz was always the character I intended to perform that act, for the reasons I said above. Hasbro must have been fine with it, because they never suggested I use anyone else, or express any reservation whatsoever. At this point, I think Hasbro pretty much trusts me (or at least they trust Andy Schmidt) and it's very rare that I hear that they've vetoed something I want to do. In fact, I can't even think of the last time that happened.

Who is in charge of the Autobots now?  As we have seen from upcoming covers, Bumblebee will be joining Jazz and Prowl to investigate Skywatch, but is he going to be the acting commander, or is Optimus Prime?  Or is Ultra Magnus?  Or is Prowl?  Or is someone that we have yet to meet going to be in charge?  Can you explain how the role of leadership has supposedly changed?  Why is Optimus Prime so willing to take the reigns again, after he was so sure he did NOT want to lead way back in the beginning of ongoing?

MIke Costa wrote:Bumblebee is technically the leader... but yes, it certainly does seem that Prime is still the REAL leader, doesn't it? This is a question that will be addressed very soon in the lead-up to “CHAOS”.

Where is Don Figueroa?  Do you feel that the group of artists you have (Alex, Guido, Brendan and Livio) are able to tell the story artistically as Don envisioned it?

Mike Costa wrote:Don lives in the Los Angeles area, I think. And I think that Alex, Guido, Brendan, Livio, Nick, Javier, Casey and EJ have all remained true to the collective vision that is Transformers. Don is a huge contributor to that vision, certainly... but I want Nick to draw like Nick, or Guido to draw like Guido. I don't want these guys aping Don's style, and I don't think Don would want that either. I think they have all created some of the most stunning and memorable work in TF history, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

(Wow. That is a really stunning line-up of TF-artist talent I've worked with when you really lay it out like that.)

Any Punch/Counterpunch or more Transformers espionage based work in your future similar to how you worked Chuckles in GI JOE: COBRA?

Mike Costa wrote:There are definitely plans for Punch/Counterpunch in the works. I'm not exactly sure when you will see them, but we have serious plans.

Any teasers for the future like, what is 'Issue #125 - encrypted' all about?  Why should readers continue to read Transformers Ongoing?  "According to Mike Costa, we should continue to read IDW Transformers comics because _______________________."(fill in the blank as you see fit).

MIke Costa wrote:You should continue reading IDW Transformers comics because “CHAOS” is probably the biggest event in TF comic-book history, and issue 125, when the details finally become unencrypted, is going to blow the mind of every TF fan who has read a comic in the IDW era. You guys will not believe it when you see what we have planned.

Thanks for your time Mr. Costa! We really appreciate you taking a few moments to fill us in on some of your creative ideas and processes.

Mike Costa wrote:Well it's my pleasure. Thank you


Next was able to also ask new artist Brendan Cahill some questions about his experiences.

From the Transformers fans at, welcome aboard, Brendan! We Transformers fans are a very fickle fandom. As you have probably read, we are quite passionate, and picky. How do you feel about the task ahead of you in illustrating Transformers Ongoing?

Brendan Cahill wrote:Thanks! I’ll try to live up to your expectations. In a way, the potential fan reaction is a bit daunting, but then I’m usually my own toughest critic, so in a different way just putting lines on paper is daunting. It sounds corny, but it’s true: I Just do my best and hope it’s good enough.

Despite the reputation you might feel the fans have, I think they’re willing to accept a lot of different styles and ideas. Each artist on the book has put his own spin on the characters. My main concern is not to be strict about adhering to visual preconceptions, but to service the core of who that character is, from the broadest identifiers of body color and eye-lens style, to how he walks, to facial expressions. For any character in any genre, I try to work from the inside out. Get the core right, and the rest follows. And that’s what I’m trying to accomplish here

We've seen a few examples of your work, you're off to a great start! What do you feel is your greatest strength as a new artist on this series?

Brendan Cahill wrote:I think my strength as an artist is in storytelling. When I approach any given panel or page, my main concern is how it reads: Do the backgrounds effectively establish place and time? Is the blocking clear? Is the “cinematography” internally consistent? Are the characters “acting” appropriately? The overall awesomeness of the image is a secondary concern--I’d rather a panel be workmanlike and tell the story effectively than be a smorgasboard of action that confuses and calls attention to itself. Besides, if every image shouts, then the whole thing gets really loud, and when you really want to pull out an incredible shot, it doesn’t rise above the din.

That’s a pretty general answer, I guess, but I think it’s the most important part of what I do. In bringing that to Transformers, I hope I also bring a sense of realism. The better the layouts and action read, the more immersive the experience is, and in sci-fi of any stripe--especially when you’re dealing with something as improbable as giant robots--I think it’s important that it be as real as possible. You start out with a significant challenge to suspension of disbelief (the unreality of the story), so it’s the artist’s job to remove as much friction as possible from that process of immersion. That’s not to say that a cartoony approach can’t work (clearly it can and does!), but my particular approach is to go for that realism.


Who are your influences in your creative style? Whose work do you love in comics (any) past and present?

Brendan Cahill wrote:There are many and they change all the time. My single favorite artist working in comics right now is Stuart Immonen, and I definitely try to steal as much from him (and his long-time inker Wade von Grawbadger) as possible technique-wise--while avoiding aping his style of course. Bryan Hitch, Olivier Coipel, Jim Cheung. Going back, I’ve always been a huge fan of Matt Wagner, Masamune Shirow, and Dave Sim. And that’s not even getting into writers and digging into process, which I love. As an artist, (and as a writer, which I also fancy myself) I feel like I have to pay attention to how a real pro like Mark Millar writes, because part of the visual quality of his books comes out of his scripts. It’s immensely fun and rewarding trying to figure out how much of what ends up on the page is an interpretation that Hitch or McNiven or whoever made, and how much was in there at the script stage.

Who is your favorite Transformer to draw? Who is your favorite character to draw from any company in any comic? Please give any details you can about why? What makes Transformers so unique a property and group of characters to draw compared to, oh, The X-Men, or Superman?

Brendan Cahill wrote:My issues of the book have centered a lot on Prowl, so I’ve formed the deepest connection with him--both visually and in terms of his personality. Drawing Transformers is challenging because each character has a very specific design. When you’re drawing humans, they all have the same basic parts and roughly the same shape--especially when you’re talking about superheroes. Sure, Wolverine is shorter and thicker than Cyclops, but that’s just a difference of scale. Draw a muscular male body at the right proportions and then put either claws or a visor on it, and you’re good. That’s oversimplifying, but you get the idea. In Transformers, each bot is different from the ground up. So since I’ve been drawing Prowl a lot, he’s the first one I’ve really internalized to the point where I can just lay him down on the page, rather than having constantly to check and recheck my design sheets to make sure I get all the parts right. That makes him easier for me to draw and it also lets me concentrate more on his personality as I draw him. Of course as I draw the others more, I find things to love about each of them. Ultra Magnus is fun because he’s just so darn big and imposing, Bumblebee probably has the most inherent personality, etc.

As for other properties (ignoring for the moment my own characters that haven’t actually appeared anywhere yet), I really love drawing the X-Men. I mean, who doesn’t? For a single character? That’s tough to narrow down, but Emma Frost might make the cut. Or Black Widow. In fact, the only complaint I have about drawing Transformers is the distinct lack of shapely women in spandex.


Are you new to the Transformers brand or have you been one of the 'loved 'em since I was a kid crowd?'

Brendan Cahill wrote:Of course I grew up with Transformers--I even saw the animated movie in the theater--but I didn’t keep up with the brand over the years. When I came back to it for this project, I didn’t know how much I’d remember, but the characters are so well-defined that I felt comfortable just jumping in and trusting in those strong archetypes to carry me until I got my footing. There was a weird moment where I was drawing Optimus Prime for the first time on this project and my muscle memory started remembering some of the details--the contour of his mouthpiece, that sort of thing--from when I’d drawn him when I was a kid! There’s definitely something enduring about these guys.

How do you feel about the story that Mike (Costa) and James (Roberts) are fashioning? What do you like most about working with them?

Brendan Cahill wrote:Terrible. Just awful. No, I’m kidding, of course. I have to admit that when I went into it, I was a little bit doubtful: Sure, these stories were cool when I was a kid, but would they appeal to me as an adult? So Andy sent me a bunch of issues and I sat down to read them and instantly I was relieved. As I’m sure you in the community can attest, the answer to my question is “of course.” I think Mike and James have nailed it. They didn’t start from “okay, I’ve got these big robots,” but from “okay, I’ve got these characters, and here are their personalities, their flaws, their internal conflicts.” I found it really easy to slip into the current story, even without knowing a lot of the backstory, and I found myself caring about it right away. That’s the biggest hurdle for a writer to clear, and the one where the angle of approach is so hard to identify: make me care. And these guys do it.

As far as working on it, I can only speak to working on Mike’s stuff. Aside from general quality of workmanship, which is there, one of his best traits is that he knows how to fill twenty-two pages with exactly the right amount of stuff. That’s a bigger challenge than you might think: Four to five panels a page, with an appropriate amount of dialog in each panel, comprising twenty-two pages that starts at a starting point and ends with a big reveal, and meanwhile each scene accomplishes something. Mike’s stuff is really consistent and really lean. Each scene has just the amount of dialog it needs and no more, which means there’s always space for the art, so layouts are really easy and enjoyable. And on the other side of that coin, I’m not filling in space, trying to support flabby storytelling with art that has to be forced to be dynamic. He’s very good at balance, which I think dovetails nicely with my own storytelling style.

Any bits you want to share with the community of fans at about yourself, your work, or anything else? What famous Transformers moment/event would you love to illustrate, or re-create in comic form?

Brendan Cahill wrote:Well, I hope that just about everything I have to share is right there on the page. I’ve felt really accepted both by the editorial and creative team here at IDW, and by the fans who saw my work at WonderCon and reacted with an encouraging lack of jeers and hurled tomatoes. I’ve been wanting to work in comics for years and I held off even trying to get in, partly because it’s intimidating, and partly because I really didn’t think I was good enough until just recently. So now that I’m here, I plan to make the most of it. That’s the deal I’ll make with you: I do my absolute best to bring the characters you love to life, and if I pull it off, in return, you talk me up to anyone who will listen. And, you know, even people who won’t. With the Transformers fan base behind me, fame and fortune can only be a few short steps away!

As for a famous Transformers moment, I have to go back to the animated movie because at the time it blew my little mind. Unicron devouring planets, the emergence of Galvatron, the passing of the Matrix to Hot Rod, it was all grand theater--space opera in the best sense. Huge adventures with huge themes and huge reach. Any little part of something like that would be awesome.

"According to Brendan Cahill we should continue to read IDW Transformers Comics because ____________________________________________________________________________."(please fill in with your thoughts/word/words/etc, as you see fit!

Brendan Cahill wrote:Because if you don’t, Andy will cry. Seriously. And none of us wants to see that.

Thanks Brendan for all of your insights, and sharing about your role in Transformers lore today! We fans love it when we get to talk with you creators. Many of us are hacks at being comic artists or writers ourselves, and we really love the opportunity to pick the brains of those whose work has been granted status of 'approved' and have made it to 'the big show' to throw out a cliche or two.

Take care, and we look forward to hearing and seeing more from you!

Also, thanks and lots of appreciation to Transformers Editor and soon-soon-to-be HASBRO Employee Andy Schmidt for helping us to stay in contact with IDW, and getting us psyched for this summer's CHAOS! Best of luck to you Andy!

Credit(s): tigertracks 24

This article was last modified on Sunday, May 29th, 2011 12:57pm CDT

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Got Transformers News? Let us know here!

Re: Interview with IDW Writer Mike Costa and Artist Brendan Cahill (1230372)
Posted by Doctor McGrath on May 29th, 2011 @ 2:43pm CDT
I'm looking forward to seeif what IDW does with Chaos this summer.
Re: Interview with IDW Writer Mike Costa and Artist Brendan Cahill (1230427)
Posted by Downbeat on May 29th, 2011 @ 4:49pm CDT
I'm not the only one who cracked up when they saw the "lean script" line, right?

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