Seibertron.com Interviews Simon Furman: from the Past to The Death
Tuesday, August 30th, 2016 10:27am CDTCategories: Comic Book News, Site Articles, People News, Interviews
Posted by: Va'al Views: 50,059
You may be asking what we're playing at, with these odd turns of phrase, but the more perspicacious among you may have noted the pattern. We planted the seeds a long time ago, Seibertronians, it is now time to reap the whirlwind: please welcome to our interview series... Simon Furman!
Va'al - Simon, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, we really appreciate it! As you probably know, you're considered one of the cornerstones for the fictional world of the Transformers - but how did it all start for you? What does Simon Furman: Origins look like?
Simon Furman - Lots of lucky breaks and neat coincidences, not that much actual talent (at that stage). After a bit of aimless I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life I lucked into a journalist job at IPC Magazines, in their competitions department (writing editorial copy and judging etc). That in turn put me squarely in the sphere of IPC’s comics group, which included 2000 AD, Battle, Eagle, and many others. In time, I was head-hunted to join the team on Scream! A new ‘horror’ comic for kids in the style of 2000 AD. I became assistant editor to Ian Rimmer, who was the editor.
Sadly short-lived, Scream gave me my first comics scriptwriting gigs, on Library of Death, Terror of the Cats and The Dracula File. But, even more invaluably, it put in contact with Ian, who became a friend as well as just an editor, and when Ian subsequently moved to Marvel UK to edit Captain Britain Monthly he (first) put me in touch with Sheila Cranna (editor of TF:UK at the time), who was looking for writers to continue the UK-originated comic strip begun by Steve Parkhouse (Man of Iron), and (second) put me forward for the position of assistant editor on CBM. The rest, as they say, is history.
Va'al - A history we have more or less come to know, true, but fascinating nonetheless! Were you interested in the Transformers brand and franchise at all, even in its fledgling state at the time, or was this literally just another job that grew into what it eventually became?
Simon - Completely unaware of Transformers. I was 23 in 1984, and – as a rule – not watching a whole lot of Saturday am cartoons. I was a big comics (mostly Marvel) reader at the time (having been so in my youth and come back to it with a vengeance), and might well have seen the ads for the original TF mini-series in other Marvel titles, but largely the advent of Transformers passed me by. So I crash-coursed – VHS tapes of the cartoon, tech specs, toys and the Marvel comic series itself, then was kind of let loose. Then, as now, I focused on character(s) first and foremost, and kind of opted for a big name (Starscream), a smaller one (Brawn) and a middle one (Ravage) and threw them together. The Enemy Within was the result.
But even then, I had no thoughts of this being other than a one or two-off gig, and certainly never thought TF would last as long as it did, or be as big as it was. It was just work, and I was pleased to have it. I'd kind of thought Scream might be the end, so I was delighted to doing more script work… on anything… and be working Marvel (albeit Marvel UK). Unknown (to me) toy title it might be, but but this was Marvel… MARVEL!
Va'al - Marvel indeed, and old school Marvel at that! Was there a specific moment where you clicked, and realised you were in for the long haul - both work-wise and concerning personal commitment and investment? Or did it just all keep growing, slowly creeping up to what we know it to be?
Simon - It was definitely cumulative. I was never meant to be ‘the’ Transformers writer, but rather one of many. But after Crisis of Command (by which time I was assistant editor on Transformers UK, under Ian Rimmer) my familiarity with the brand and the general ease with which Ian and I could shoot ideas back and forth meant it was all round easier just to use me on a regular basis. Especially when it came to Target: 2006 and the Animated Movie, and tying our comic story in with that and the launch in the UK of Galvatron & Ultra Magnus, ‘the new leaders’, as toys.
That saga was formed in-house, and tailored to fit our editorial (and advertorial) needs – the UK comic was cross-promoted with the UK TV advertising for the toys, so it was a big deal for us and we needed to get it right. As it happened, the movie (undeservedly) kind of bombed in cinemas and our story soared to new heights. But if there was a specific moment, and I’m not sure there was, that was it.
Va'al - If Target: 2006 and the Movie were your turning point - after a fashion - what would you say to the various turning points for the Cybertronians that you created? You were there for the end of Bast Wars, for the various Dreamwave series, for the new beginning with IDW, after all...
Simon - I suppose the next biggest event was my taking over on the US comic (as of #56), after a strangely casual lunch with Bob Budiansky in a restaurant in Covent Garden. Bob handed the reins over to me on a visit to London, qualifying it slightly by saying the book had maybe four or five issues left in it before the powers-that-be cancelled it (in those days sales of under 100,000 qualified you for the unkindest cut). But it was my door-opener for Marvel US and I was delighted to have it. I didn’t exactly set out to prove Bob wrong, but it felt like there was nothing to lose if I just threw everything but kitchen sink at it, including a lot of the characters and mythos I’d introduced into a UK comic. I’m still hugely proud that we got twenty-five issues out of it, and that some of those issues remain people’s firm favourites.
Then I guess it was being invited to Botcon in 1997, which introduced me not only to Beast Wars but the wonderful Bob Forward and Larry DiTillio (script editors on the show), who it turned out liked my G2 stuff well enough to have considered binding some of the ideas therein with their concept for the Vok. Anyway, that in turn, via some twists and turns, led to Nemesis pt2, my first animation work (and solidly took my career in that direction). Then, I guess you’d have to count Dreamwave and The War Within as the next big turning point. My first real shot at doing the pre-history of the Transformers, and – whatever the ...niggles of how badly Dreamwave ended – the era that really rebooted the franchise as a whole for the 21st century, cueing up IDW’s tenure and maybe even making the live action movies a solid proposition.
But possibly the biggest, for me, is starting up the whole IDW-verse up (with IDW EiC Chris Ryall), my first ‘from scratch’ bit of Transformers storytelling, a continuity that ten years later continues apace (and shows no sign of flagging), outstripping Marvel — certainly in terms of volume. If there’s a pinnacle, it’s that.
Va'al - You did initiate the Infiltration protocol, didn't you - and it kind of escalated from there. If you'll allow me a fairly specific question at this point: what did you make of, and how did you (do you) feel about what has happened to the stories you started once they were out of your control? All Hail Megatron springs to mind, in this case, for example.
Simon - I can completely see all the rationale for All Hail Megatron, to create that kind of jumping on point after five or so years of story, but I think (initially at least) it was a misstep to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ when readers had invested so heavily in the –ations, Stormbringer, Spotlights et al.
But the latter half of AHM and the Codas did their level best to rectify that, and now what you have are all these initial threads still being picked up and expanded upon/taken in bold new directions, by the likes of James Roberts and John Barber (to great effect). So overall I think the IDW-verse is in great shape these days, and in very safe hands, but AHM could have been a bit of a disaster.
Va'al - We are indeed still seeing elements of AHM show up, even in the upcoming Revolution event! I could ask you your thoughts on that, but would rather retread another path briefly: ReGeneration One. How did you feel it went, are you satisfied with closing off the story, and would you go back to that universe again?
Simon - I’m really pleased with RG1. We accomplished everything we set out to do, I feel, in a way that was both faithful to the original 80 issues and yet not knowingly retro in look or feel (while still drawing on 30 years’ worth of TF lore and disparate universes along the way), and so could stand alongside other modern comic books. It pulled together a massive amount of threads and had a proper, no-nonsense (no sequels) ending. We set out to finish that continuity/story and we did so (I have no wish to do more in that universe - it really is, “over, finished.”).
What kind of amuses me is some of the instant/knee-jerk feedback we had from people who just said, “no, that’s not how it would have happened/should be,” or words to that effect. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is – the creative and editorial team say so. You don’t have to like it, but those are the decisions we made and the paths taken (it’s not storytelling by committee). Can you imagine back in 1991, someone writing into the US or UK comic and saying – I’m sorry, I completely disagree with that ending – change it?
Va'al - I'm sure there were fans who would've done that, though, they just didn't get printed in the backmatter! Having more or less concluded all of your stories, in one way or another, I'm curious though: a lot of your early work fleshed out characters without affecting the main story necessarily (I'm thinking Marvel UK here); now that all is done, is there anything you'd like to revisit in a similar fashion? And I mean that in any of the fiction you have or have not worked with.
Simon - While I was glad to do RG1, I’m more for looking forwards. I’d always do more Death’s Head, that’s a given, but largely my focus is elsewhere now, on stuff I have a proper vested interest in. Apart from Matt Hatter Chronicles, the animated TV show I write and show-run for, I’m involved with a trio of creator-owned projects: The Chimeran (the brainchild of Paul Goodenough, Gary Kurtz and Richard Bazley), Spirit of The Pharaoh (Terry Jervis) and mine and Geoff Senior’s To The Death. That trio of projects is where my focus is right now, as well as writing movie scripts with co-writer Mark Salisbury. I have such a nice variety of projects (for different media) on the bubble right now, and I’m enjoying myself enormously. Add to that the Transformers: Earth Wars (game) for Space Ape, Marvel Fact-Files, and a few things I can’t talk about yet – and every day is a new treat and challenge.
And To The Death is especially exciting, as I get to work with longtime friend and collaborator Geoff Senior (his first substantial body of comics work for nearly 20 years), who is just one of the most exciting artists out there. I love writing for him, because I know he just wants to cut loose with that amazing kinetic full bore style of his, and my scripts do their level best to give him exactly what he wants. And just to make it even more interesting than regular comics, I’m writing the episodes as loose screenplays, which Geoff is turning into these meaty batches of full colour (landscape format/widescreen) frames, like a movie shooting board (he’s mostly in advertising these days, so this approach really suited him). Then, like the old Marvel plot-style approach to script, I go back in and reformat and readdress the dialogue, adding or subtracting as best suits the frames. Some I just leave well alone, because the art totally speaks for itself.
Va'al - You are definitely busy, I'll give you that - makes me appreciate even more you talking to us! I have two questions coming out of that last point, though: first, your experience is varied, but has had a lot of robots in it; is the approach to writing organics (humans, even) different, do you find yourself having to find a different gear, or does one inform and influence the other?
Simon - I’ve never treated the Transformers as anything other than sentient lifeforms, albeit alien lifeforms of a completely different order of life. So my approach is pretty much, bar the (um) mechanics, the same whether I’m writing Transformers or To The Death, Death’s Head or, say, Alpha Flight. Boil it right down, and the core of any story is the characters of the protagonists and antagonists, whether it involves human, aliens or alien robots characters, and how they bounce off each other given a set of circumstances, extreme or otherwise. Beyond the sci-fi trappings and the high concepts, I always ask myself: what is this story about? What resonance will it have with the audience? All sci-fi really is a disguised social commentary on the here and now. Just look at something like 2000 AD. When the powers-that-be at IPC Magazines told the writers of Action to cease and desist doing socially relevant stories in a “kid’s” comic, they just fed the same two-fingers-at-the-establishment [V - note for US readers: two fingers = middle finger] ideas into a sci-fi setting and made it allegorical – and no one noticed.
So beyond the future war, alien "soldiers-of-fortune" and kick-ass mechs, To The Death is about one man who refuses to be crushed or rendered insensate by the all-consuming greed of a powerful elite who have ceased to care, to the point where they’re prepared to ‘sacrifice’ billions of lives in the name of feathering their own nests. The gulf now between the haves and have-nots is wider than it’s ever been, and governments are now merely pandering to big business (allowing them to get away with monstrous tax dodges and the like), while letting the wider world/populace to go to hell in a hand basket, ever more reliant on charity as the government purse strings get tighter. To The Death has simply gone to the next level and removed governments entirely, so that Earth is now ruled by the all-powerful Tri-Corp, who have carte blanche to do whatever they want, without heed to morality, humanity or accountability. Our ‘hero’ is the one who says “enough”, even though it’s a battle he can’t possibly win.
Va'al - Whew. One does hope that someone will notice the commentary, in this as in any other book or piece of entertainment, really. The other question I had was: you talk about working with a number of creators, and how you're happy to be collaborating with Senior again; is there anyone else you'd like to partner up with again? Someone you've never had the chance to?
Simon - There are of course people like Andrew Wildman and Geoff [Senior] who I love working with, and have worked with enough times that I kind of know how to tailor what I write for them (and to get the best out of them), but I also love working with new artists or established ones I’ve never had the pleasure of working with. I really enjoyed working with Nick Roche, he brings such (youthful) energy and passion to what he does, and would happily do so again.
In fact, I’ve worked with a whole lot of amazing artists, from Don Figueroa to Alex Milne, from EJ Su to Guido Guidi, all of whom I’d be happy to work with again. I’ve been very lucky. They all made me look good (or at least competent). Biggest thrill for me, on a fanboy level, was getting John Byrne (I’m a big fan) to draw a cover for one of the direct market Titan hardback variants of Transformers collections we put out a while back (Dark Designs, above). That was very cool.
Va'al - And after so many collaborations, so many stories, so many projects, is it now over? Finished? Or are we to see more Furmanisms show up in the TFverse in the future?
Simon - Ha. That’s a cue to trot out a Furmanism right there. I have a feeling I’ll always be involved in Transformers, in some shape, way or form. I love it, and I love the passion of the fans (mostly). It’s pretty much defined my career, so there’ll always be room for TF in my schedule, no matter how busy I get. Earth Wars is keeping me pretty busy and there’s something else TF-related that I can’t talk about yet. So yeah, short answer: "it never ends."
Va'al - Well played. And thank you again for finding words to give to us, rather than an actual word-related project, Simon. It was an honour and a pleasure! Before the time comes for us not to be here... any final words to the readers?
Simon - Hey, just go give To The Death a spin. The first episode is free to download on the site (http://www.to-the-death.com) from Sept 10th, and our exclusive print graphic novel, To The Death: Forged By Fire, is (only) available via our Kickstarter campaign that launches on the same day. These Furman-Senior collaborations are not likely to be ten a penny, so grab that goodness while you can. And thanks supporting us in our venture!
You heard the Furminator, give a new comic by a tried and tested partnership a looksie, find more of his words in the Transformers: Earth Wars game, or just patiently wait for this new Transformers related project he keeps hinting at. More interviews coming soon here at Seibertron.com, keep your receivers tuned - until then, be excellent to each other!
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Posted by Va'al on August 30th, 2016 @ 10:33am CDT
Posted by Braker on August 30th, 2016 @ 3:30pm CDT
Posted by Va'al on August 30th, 2016 @ 3:47pm CDT
Braker wrote:Jeez, guys, why'd you have to scare me like that...? With the wording and the black-and-white photo, I thought Simon Furman had died! 0-0
Made you look!
Posted by D-Maximal_Primal on August 30th, 2016 @ 5:04pm CDT
Posted by Tyrannacon on September 4th, 2016 @ 2:01pm CDT
Thanks to you both for getting together and doing it.