HERE IT IS EVERYONE! Enjoy.
Remember, the final 5 q&a's will be posted on Simon's blog.
1) Character-wise are there any aspects of a character ie: role, alt. mode, character that you haven't had an opportunity to explore but you still would like to either through an original character or through the expansion on an existing one?
SF) What I feel I used to do well but (in the new IDW/TF-verse) haven’t done much of recently is take a little used character and really kind of escalate/advance them into terms of motivation, role and overall story impact. I’m thinking of the likes of Bludgeon, Thunderwing and Carnivac, where characters with little or no depth ended up virtually carrying whole story arcs. The closest I’ve come of late is with Razorbeast, in Beast Wars (Gathering/Ascending), where a toy/character who otherwise came and went without much of ripple has become quite pivotal (even collectable!). So far, with the Spotlights, I’ve largely focused on already A-list characters (or the likes of Nightbeat, a character I'd already got to grips with in a previous incarnation). Moving forwards, what I’d like to do is bring in a character or two from the ‘B’ or ‘C’ list and really go at them from scratch, bring them thundering into the ‘A’ list in terms of the IDW/TF-verse. Sixshot more or less fits those criteria, but I found there were limitations with a ‘living weapon.’ I’m looking forward to doing more with the likes of Doubledealer, Banzaitron and Jhiaxus. Right now, I’m searching for ways to confound expectation, so pretty much every character I tackle in an IDW comic comes with a fresh coat of paint, so to speak. Whatever established profile/tech spec/biog the characters already have, I’m using that as a loose template and taking it in different directions, without necessarily reinventing the wheel. It’s a very exciting way of working, as it seems to really let the creative side of me loose.
2) In your years working in the comic industry how much does it differ today to when you broke into the industry (art, story and the general production of a comic)? How do you see it in the years to come? And what is your favourite part of working in that industry?
SF) For me, the main difference is structure. Everything now is about the trade (paperback). With that in mind, stories are pretty much always arcs, be they four or six or more issues. I kind of miss the more rambling, unfolding nature of an ongoing comic. When we came to do the Titan reprints of the Marvel Transformers series, it was a challenge to break up the storyline(s) into cohesive (vaguely standalone) volumes. And, in fact, it often didn’t work. If you look at All Fall Down and End of the Road, there’s a distinct ‘To be continued…’ at the end of the first of those volumes. And I think because of distinct story arcs, there’s a natural tendency not to make single issues as self-supportive as they used to be. Which is also a shame. It’s why I love the Spotlights so much. They seem to hark back to a different era, where, as well as being part of a larger structure, each single issue also had to be semi-complete in and of itself. What I don’t miss about the ‘good old days’ is thought bubbles. It’s weird how old-fashioned they seem now. I much prefer narrative captions. They seem, to me, more grown-up (in a good sense of the word). Because, and this is a shame, comics are just no longer pitched at (or as accessible to) kids. Even ‘kids’ comics are just more sophisticated. I think back to the (Marvel) UK Transformers stories and compare them to the (Titan) UK stories of today, and there’s a big creative gulf. The one is not necessarily better than the other, just different. It’s no point getting misty-eyed with nostalgia, as a writer you have to move and evolve with the times, which I hope I’ll continue to do (wherever, and in whatever form comics go/take). The best bit is just being IN the industry. They’ll have to take me out in a box!
3) What one change would you make to the Transformers history you've created? (eg. do you wish maybe you hadn't made Magnus quite so scared of Galvatron? Do you wish you hadn't killed off Cyclonus? Not used Unicron in a particular story, etc).
SF) It sort of depends which Transformers history is being referenced. And even then, the only places I’d maybe want to go back and change/revisit are where external circumstances (such as imminent or sudden cancellation) dictated that either a story not go the way it was originally intended or not be completed at all. Certainly, the IDW/TF-verse is too new and still evolving to be the subject of retroactive second-guessing. New opportunities and avenues to explore are plentiful and ongoing there, and it’s probably the most well thought out/cohesive long-term structure I’ve ever had the luxury of working within. If I had to pick points to revisit, it’d be: with the original Marvel UK stories, I’d have loved to be able to play out the Ultra Magnus/Galvatron ‘rematch’ as originally set up. But the imminent change to black & white 5-page stories meant that Time Wars pretty much had to wrap up everything (and with two Primes in the mix, Ultra Magnus kind of got sidelined). With the Marvel US stories, I’d love to have been able to do the full post-Unicron storyline I had mapped out, with wasteland Cybertron and the quest for the Last Autobot unfolding over multiple issues (instead of, like, one). But again, it wasn’t to be. Once I knew issue #80 was our last, everything had to be condensed/accelerated (to an ultimately unsatisfying degree). I wish I could have continued Transformers Energon, I wish I could have wrapped up War Within v3, but really these things were just not meant to be, I guess. Largely, I try not to look back, only forwards. What’s out there already is out there, end of story. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’d want to tamper even if I could.
4) Will we be seeing more of the Micromasters in the future? (ie. why they are small and such and related to the Dead Universe?)
SF) Definitely more Micromasters in Revelation (and beyond)! This time around, in the IDW/TF-verse, I’m trying to apply thought and logic to concepts that previously were maybe just thrown into the mix without much due care and attention. If it’s Pretenders, it’s well why would Transformers need an outer shell? As a disguise element it always seemed slightly redundant to me in the original storylines. If it's Headmasters, what is it about a human/Transformer hybrid that makes them special? Why bother unless the end product is markedly better, and it cuts both ways (after all, it’s a kind of symbiosis)? I’m asking myself all the tough questions that were maybe skipped over in the rush of new product lines, and the same applies to Micromasters. Why is small better? What new, interesting abilities do pint-sized Transformers bring to the mix? And, as always, who is responsible? What’s their bottom line? The whole Jhiaxus/Nemesis Prime/Dead Universe storyline is about to explode, big time, and Micromasters are an integral part of what’s to come.
5) It's a very loose term, though. Can you define "brothers" in a TF sense? Is it merely some trivial notion of 'created around the same time' or 'somewhat looky-likey designs', or that they share some E.S.P., or what?
SF) What defines a ‘brother’ is going to feed into and be explored in two ’08 storylines. In the ‘ongoing.’ Sideswipe is about to step up and make his presence felt, most notably when he meets Sunstreaker again and realises he’s no longer just Sunstreaker! There is a bond between lots of characters, it’s just that in some cases it’s more pronounced, and the pair (or more) of characters in question are aware of it (even if it’s purely subliminal). Then, in a kind of standalone (but, of course, very connected) series, we’ll start to understand exactly where that link/bond came from. It’s connected to the lineage idea introduced in Spotlight Optimus Prime and to the eventual concept/realization of Combiners. Whatever it is, in some Transformers the bond is very strong, almost like in twins, in others it’s so watered down they don’t even know it’s there. A lot of ‘fundamental’ stuff, in terms of what makes a Transformer tick, is planned for next year.
6) If you were to radically reinvent the concept, allowing you to disregard anything and everything, for a one-off ‘Evolutions’ type story, what would it look like?
SF) It would probably not be terribly different to what we’ve done for the IDW/TF-verse. In many ways, it’s a reinvention/update of the classic G1 era, cutting out some elements, making others more contemporary, dropping in new ideas/designs/rationales, etc. So if I was handed carte blanche to do an Evolutions-style story, I’m not quite sure what I’d do with it. Even with Beast Wars, where I thought the abrupt leap into Beast Machines missed major storytelling opportunities, I got to drop The Gathering and The Ascending into that mix (and maybe more to come). The idea of just taking a different era and setting Transformers (G1) there doesn’t greatly appeal to me. Trying to re-do or re-style classic G1 stories doesn’t greatly appeal either. I feel (strongly) Transformers (as a whole) needs to keep moving forwards, evolving, in a way that doesn’t limit it to hardcore fan appreciation. That’s why I was so pro the new movie makeover. The quickest way to kill it dead would have been to make it a retro G1 piece, harking back entirely to the 80s (either in look or sensibilities). What I did enjoy recently was doing the ‘classic G1’ mini-comic for Madman’s DVD release of the entire animated series. That, in essence, ‘plugged a hole’ if you like, between the end of the animated show and the animated movie and felt more pertinent. Mostly, though, it’s my preference to keep looking upwards and onwards.
7) Given that you're well-known for taking obscure characters and breathing new life into them (Bludgeon, Nightbeat, Thunderwing etc.), are there any underdeveloped Transformers you'd like to give the same treatment in future?
Yes. And, assuming the Spotlights continue, I hope to do just that. The IDW/TF-verse is just so brimming with potential right now, I feel there is this vast pool of characters waiting for their chance to shine, to step out from (often limited) profile/tech specs, or simply just to be completely re-thought/re-made from the ground up. I think it's important that the main players have been established, either as the title character in a Spotlight or the main supporting character in a Spotlight (such as Ultra Magnus/Scorponok), but that done it’s time to move other, maybe more minor characters into major roles. After the trio of Blaster, Arcee and Grimlock Spotlights, I’m involved (rather than outright writing) in one more Spotlight (in what will be volume 3). That one definitely feels more in the spirit of minor character given due credit, gravitas and screen time. And, as always with the Spotlights, it plays into something much bigger. Can’t say any more at the moment, but I think it’ll surprise a few people.
8) What exactly does it take to kill a Transformer in IDW continuity? The amount of damage a TF can take before dying has always seemed to be fairly inconsistent to me, and so I'm curious as to what your take on the matter is.
SF) I think if I have played fairly fast and loose so far in the IDW/TF-verse, it’s with the actual mechanics (literal and otherwise) of how much injury a Transformer can sustain before it becomes critical. The two key elements to me are neural processor (brain) and Spark core (‘soul’). Take out either one of those, and you’re dead, gone, etc. Mind you, both are heavily shielded. Even a headshot (such as in Spotlight Ultra Magnus) might not necessarily destroy the processor. In Escalation #5, Megatron digs his hand into Optimus Prime’s chest cavity and squeezes his Spark core, meaning to crush it. Had he followed through, Prime would be dead. We have to assume that when Megatron shoots Starscream (in Infiltration #6) he misses (or fails to destroy) his spark core. EJ made it more graphic (and a much bigger torso hole/wound) than I’d maybe anticipated (in the writing), and so a certain degree of dramatic license may have to be applied there (especially if we ever actually place the Spark core specifically in some kind of internal cross-section). Though presumably there’s some room for manoeuvre here, what with different sizes and shapes of Transformers and all. Though we haven’t shown it as such, in the case of disembodied heads (such as Sunstreaker in Devastation), I’m working on the principle that the head is still hooked up to the Spark core (which has either been removed to a place of safekeeping or the original body preserved). The one can’t function without the other. I do mean to pay stricter attention to the physical limits of Transformers in upcoming arcs and series.
9) Now that IDW has the licence to produce Doctor Who comics, do you want to write for the series again? If you could, what elements would you explore, like in Axis of Insanity you explored the Doctor's curiosity and the dynamics between Peri and Erimem.
SF) I’ve always had a soft spot for the Doctor. Over the years I’ve done a fair few Doctor Who stories, whether in Doctor Who Monthly/Magazine (in the 80s) or in audio drama. And I’m currently doing some new (junior) Who for the UK (more details on my blog as and when I can trumpet this officially), as well as some Torchwood comic work (again, watch my blog for more details). So the short answer is yes, I’m always up for more Who. And, in fact, I have talked to Chris Ryall about doing some IDW-Who. But if I do, it’ll be later rather than sooner in 08, as story arcs (by other creators) are already in progress or upcoming (and I’m snowed under right now). What would I do, story-wise? I’d like to put the Doctor in a situation where he’s just totally and utterly out of his depth. Sometimes I feel the just always seems to know what’s what and what to do about it. I think if I get to do an IDW arc, I’d put the Doctor completely out of any kind of comfort zone, in a situation where he’s got to more or less think/act on a wing and a prayer. I loved the Human Nature/Family of Blood two-parter in series 3 of the new TV show. It showed the Doctor in a refreshingly new light. It’s that kind of thing I’d like to tap into any story I might write. Beyond the companionship, why does he have a companion? It’s for situations exactly like that.
10) What are some of the best experiences you’ve had working with artists? Any particular issues, old or new, where you were especially blown away?
SF) Too many ‘blown away’ experiences to list. Some notables would include: my very first strip work (a ‘Library of Death’ story in UK comic Scream), drawn by (of all people) Steve Dillon. What a way to start out. Story was truly dire, by the way, but hey, it looked good! Transformers UK #113: Geoff (Senior) was forever blowing me away with his artwork, and in fact #113 isn’t his best TF work (I’d reserve the likes of Target: 2006 pt 8 and Edge of Extinction in US #75 for that distinction), but it was inspirational inasmuch as it pretty much pushed me into rethinking what was supposed to be a minor (disposable) supporting character (Death’s Head) and turning him into what’s become, I guess, my signature creation. For all the wrong reasons, I remember a Dan Reed UK job where he was so late with the pages I thought I was going to have to run with a reprint filler story. He had to physically bring the pages (from Paris, where he was living at the time), at which point he lost the splash page (in customs) and had to redraw it with me standing over him looking at my watch. I still shudder to this day. The first page of Transformers (US) #56 is another of what I’d call personal landmarks. It wasn’t just my first page of Transformers US, it was my first work for Marvel US (something I’d always dreamed of). Good, bad or indifferent (art-wise), that page was always going to be special. My collaborations with Andrew Wildman have always been memorable, not least because we actually developed our own IPs. Some of the ones that got away, like the (proposed) Neo-Knights series, I remember vividly. Again, for all the wrong reasons, I remember working with Pat Lee and how kind of disappointed I was to find how little of the art was actually him. He gave me an original art page of Armada, and there’s so little art on it! The good side of Dreamwave was my first collaboration with Don Figueroa on War Within v1. His art blew me away (in terms of its amazing detail and dynamism) and then blew me away again (because this was when I first realized that the new generation of TF artists were utterly passionate about the work).
11) In 2008, are there any plans for a mini-series of Primus and Unicron story and fit the core continuity?
SF) I shall restate categorically what I’ve said before. No Primus. No Unicron. I’m just not going there (outside of Beast Wars, and then not directly). BUT, that’s not saying we won’t at point start poking and prodding around the pre-history of the Transformers and begin to ground what’s happening in the present with stuff that goes all the way back to the very beginning. There’s stuff I’ve laid into the IDW/TF-verse already that pays into the timelost roots of the Cybertronian race and I don’t intend to let that mystery drag on too long. The Dead Universe wasn’t always dead. That’s all I’ll say for the time being.
12) Marvel G1 question: whatever happened to Professor Morris? I believe the last we saw of him was when Centurion was beheaded by Galvatron. Later, when Wheeljack rebuilt him, Morris was never mentioned again. So was he trapped in his underground bunker when Centurion was sent to the bottom of the Thames or what?
SF) OK. This question sent me scurrying back to my collected editions of the UK stories (and de-archiving the original issues that featured ‘Ancient Relics’ the Transformers/Action Force crossover). We last see Professor Morris (in person) in issue #102 (‘Fallen Angel pt 2’), when he mentally communicates with Swoop, asking permission to mind-share again (following on from events in The Icarus Theory in UK #45/46). We ‘assume’ that’s him communicating through Centurion later in ‘Ancient Relics’ (though I confess it’s not clear). However, it’s still something of a loose end, as we never really know if Morris was ever extracted from that bunker (after Centurion disappeared into the Thames… to be extracted later in ‘Salvage pt 1’ in TF-UK #160). Let’s assume so, eh? Maybe Swoop was feeling charitable and (after the events of ‘Ancient Relics’) freed him. Or maybe Triple III finally broke in or RAAT got involved. Whatever the case, let’s hope Morris got out somehow. He only had enough food and water for a year!!
13) Have you ever considered that maybe all the various storylines from all the previous companies (Marvel, DW, Club exclusives, etc) could be brought together in a huge storyline that could redefine the future of Transformers and use all the characters from all the comics, toys, manga and anime available (G1 to Galaxy Force, Beast Wars, and back), just like DC is actually doing in their Countdown comic series?
SF) Some kind of big ‘Crisis on Infinite Transformers’ was considered (and then rejected) when IDW first picked up the license. Chris Ryall and I discussed several options, of which that was one. Another was a way of running G1 and Cybertron comics in tandem, with a sort of crossover story that simultaneously launched both titles (the original pitch for which can be seen as an ‘extra’ in the Best of Simon Furman book). Both were ultimately rejected in favour of the complete reboot of the G1 line that now forms the IDW/TF-verse and I believe it was the right way to go. Even if we’d gone the ‘Crisis on Infinite Transformers’ route and effectively cleaned house, it would still have been a confusing and off-putting (especially to new readers) way to start. Though part of me still loves the idea of doing something on that scale I don’t think (this far on and in) it’d be something IDW would ever consider.
14) You have been involved with Transformers more or less since the beginning. How do you feel about how the line has grown and evolved since its inception? Has it improved, degraded, remained true to the original vision, forgotten it, reshaped it for the better?
SF) I think, as with all properties that have been around as long as Transformers has, there have been both highs and lows. The great thing about Transformers as a whole is how easy it is to ‘transform’ itself for each new generation (whether they be young kids or adults, fans or newbies) without losing the core concepts and ideals that underpin it. I’m not going to get into what I feel those highs and lows are, but I do think that even 23 years on from when it first hit toy shops in the west, Transformers is still delivering across a wide variety of media. Whether it's the IDW/TF-verse, the new movie franchise, Transformers Animated, the passion the creators and toy designers and moviemakers bring to each is undiminished by time. In fact, I’d go as far as to say we’re in something of a golden age right now, where the sheer momentum delivered by the first (new) movie is pushing everyone involved to be that much more on their game when it comes to new product. There will always be those who hanker for what they see as the original and best, the G1 of the 80s (be it toy, comic or cartoon), but clearly the main reason Transformers has survived and thrived is because things haven’t stopped still, haven’t remained stuck in the nostalgia era. The long-time fans are incredibly important, but it’s even more important that new generations are given an easy access point into what otherwise could be a daunting and off-putting 23-year (and counting) history.
15) When writing dialogue for the Transformers, do you imagine it being spoken by the voice-actors that played the respective characters in the cartoon?
SF) Sometimes, but increasingly not. I pretty much always write dialogue for Optimus Prime with Peter Cullen in mind as I do so. He’s just so completely attached to the character in my opinion. But when it comes to the IDW/TF-verse, I try not to go in with any vocal preconceptions, because it may subliminally make me write a given character as if its their classic G1 equivalent (which it’s not). However, when I write Beast Wars characters in comic form I absolutely do think of their voice actor counterparts. How can you not think of David Kaye (“Yess”) when writing BW Megatron or Scott McNeill with Rattrap? So it depends. The (new) movie voice cast didn’t really have enough screen time (or make enough impact on me) to affect the way I write any surrounding prequel/roll over movie comic material. So, strangely, those I do tend to base more on their original animated counterparts. (New) movie Starscream I write just like his G1 counterpart. I have Chris Latta’s whiny, shrill delivery in mind when I write him. Mostly, though, when it comes to writing dialogue for Transformers, I try to approach each character as I’ve previously set them up (with any accompanying vocal tics) and not be too influenced by ‘outside’ sources. That said, while writing Torchwood stories recently, I had each of main actor’s voices nailed to my subconscious.
Check out simonfurman.wordpress.com for final 5 questions and answers!