As 2007 draws to a close, I thought I’d look back on the year and consider the high and lows and bits inbetween. A year ago, this blog wasn’t even a glint in my eye, and yet here we are with my 125th post, and over 95,000 visits (from you lot) on the clock. Who’d’ve thunk it. Due credit to Andrew Wildman, who pretty much told me to do a blog and set things up for me here on WordPress. Mind you, if ever there was a time to start blogging, it was 2007, which was exceptional in terms of the sheer high profile of Transformers, largely (though not totally) due to the advent of a certain live-action Michael Bay blockbuster. Naturally enough, given how intertwined Transformers and I have become, my workload and the scope of the yearly signing/convention circuit expanded accordingly. The year kicked off with the movie uppermost in my mind, as I was working on both the Movie Prequel comics (with IDW’s Chris Ryall) and DK’s Transformers: The Movie Guide (book). The former was very rewarding, both in terms of the co-writing (which I hadn’t done a lot of) and the finished product (with Don Figueroa proving once and for all that he’s great at drawing more than just giant robots). The latter was less so, largely because we kept running into both the lack of available imagery (meaning that certain characters, such as Starscream and Ironhide, never made it into the book at all) and limitations on the scope of the book itself. Great (in my opinion anyway) spreads on the human cast sadly fell by the wayside (though I did get a more complete movie/book experience with the later Top Trumps/Transformers book). And, above and beyond the TF movie-verse, I was still rolling out scripts for the ‘ongoing’ (Escalation and then Devastation) series and the Spotlights, crafting the ever-expanding IDW/TF-verse. It’s here, perhaps, that I felt my most solid work of 07 was to be found, simply because we were building something we largely controlled from the ground up, something that was unique in and of itself, and thereby the amount of latitude to do something grand and cohesive was immense. Odd sidelines, such as the Madman/DVD insert comic, which bridged the gap between the G1 cartoon and the animated movie (sort of), were also great fun, not least because artist Nick Roche clearly was having such fun with it. 07 also saw the second series of Beast Wars in print (for the most part) and–finally!–the Beast Wars Sourcebook. The only low in all this was Don Figueroa’s subsequent decision to more or less finish on Transformers (hopefully for the time being only). Can’t say I blame him, given how much was asked of him, but Don… you’ll be missed! Overall, it was a great year for Transformers work, made more so by the launch of Titan’s UK Transformers comic/magazine (the first homegrown title since Panini’s brief foray into the world of TF Armada). Working with Geoff Senior again on a Transformers comic strip was truly an event to be treasured. Hope we get to do it again (soon). Beyond the world(s) of Transformers, there was Terminator 2 – Infinity, a five-issue series for Dynamite that I was, after the event, genuinely pleased with in terms of both execution and story (I’m hyper-critical of my own stuff when it sees print, and yet I found little I’d actually want to change in T2 – Infinity). Nigel Raynor’s art was exemplary (consistently so), which always helps. Then there was Wallace & Gromit and A.T.O.M. and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cougar (though that’s yet to see print) and probably other bits and pieces I’ve (already) forgotten about, all of which provided a welcome change of pace from battling robots. And, in the midst of all this, film journalist Mark Salisbury and I even got to write a (spec) film script, which got us some positive feedback from film companies and agents but no actual deals. Had great fun doing it, largely because it flexed a very different writing muscle, and (having done one) we intend to do another in 08. Of course, there were projects in 07 that got so far but no further. Casualties include The Horror Collection, a New Line ‘monster’ themed partworks from Eaglemoss (to which I contributed several text features). That one didn’t get past its 5-issue test run. Various mooted Transformers partwork-style projects (from the same company) came and went too, though the movie version (The Transformers Battle Card Collection) did get at least get its (limited) 5-issue test run. The final verdict’s still to come on whether that one will go any further. I’ll keep you posted. Other things that didn’t fly were a Battlestar Galactica series I pitched to Dynamite and my attempts to get some work on the Shaun the Sheep animated series. Can’t win ’em all. Appearance-wise it was a very busy year, with conventions in Derry (my personal favourite), Bristol, San Diego, Dublin and London and assorted in-store signings (Orbital, Forbidden Planet et al). Strangely, I didn’t go to a single Transformers convention (there were, bizarrely, no UK conventions in 07 and Botcon was just too close, time-wise, to the San Diego Comicon to make it workable). The overall verdict… a packed and eventful year, with Transformers holding sway over all else. Finally… my film of the year: Last King of Scotland. My book of the year: Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child. My album of the year: Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. My cultural moment of the year: visiting the Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum. My Transformers moment of the year: sat in a San Diego hotel bar (called DW’s Bar strangely enough) with Eric Holmes, EJ Su and Don Figueroa, just putting the world to rights. “Priceless,” as they say in the credit card ads. Look for my ‘… IN WITH THE NEW!’ trailer/teaser for 08 shortly!
A big HAPPY HOLIDAYS (from me) to one and all in this the festive season. And special thanks to all of you who’ve visited, commented on or otherwise supported my blogging efforts to date. And here’s a little Xmas something for you all, a look at the Beast Wars series that never was, in the shape of my original script for ‘Shell Game’ issue #1. Created to tie in with the BW Summer Special story published by a certain ex-TF publisher, it differs significantly from what became (in the fullness of time) Beast Wars: The Gathering. Click on the link below to view. Enjoy… and I’ll be back on New Year’s Eve (or before) with my retrospective look at 07 (and maybe a look forward to 08!).
It’s the turn of the upcoming Transformers Spotlight Grimlock to get the post-script treatment. As always, what follows is more teaser than spoiler, but if you want to avoid any potential insights into what the issue holds, look away now. Right, here goes: this one’s been a long time coming, inasmuch as I pointedly didn’t want to lean too heavily, too early in the evolution of the IDW/TF-verse, on what’s become almost my signature character across the various eras of Transformers in comic form. But, having trailered Grimlock (and his Dynobots) in Spotlight Shockwave, it was only a matter of time before the linguistically-strangled one (and don’t go reading into that that I’m necessarily going to play IDW/TF-verse Grimlock like previous incarnations!) got a Spotlight of his own. That begged the question, who was IDW/TF-verse Grimlock? How was he different? What drives him? What makes him who he is? I wanted to make sure that this Grimlock was presented as completely as possible as quickly as possible, and that we got well and truly inside his head. Anyway, the actual events in Spotlight Grimlock (as well referencing Spotlight Shockwave, naturally) spiral out of the catastrophic conclusion to Devastation #6, in more ways than one. On the one hand, Skywatch, the alien-aware, off-the-radar government organization responsible for the salvage/reactivation/reorientation of Ravage and Laserbeak (in Spotlight Soundwave, etc), attempt to bolster their ‘pet’ anti-robot robot strike team with a Dynobot (or so). Things, naturally, don’t go to plan (for reasons which will surprise you, I think), and this in turn sets in motion a blazing confrontation with another of the previously-introduced cast (and no, I’m not saying who), who gets some decent page time in Devastation #6. Though self-contained, Spotlight Grimlock is most definitely a sequel to Spotlight Shockwave, inasmuch as it deals with the consequences (to Grimlock himself and the other Dynobots) of Grimlock’s actions therein. Spotlight Grimlock is also a key part of what’s coming next. Its crunching head-to-head opens the door for one of 08’s (several) big ‘events.’ Can’t say more, as I’m sworn to secrecy right now, but it’s a crowd-pleaser! Spotlight Grimlock is drawn by Marcelo Matere and hits in March 08. Don’t miss it, really, DON’T MISS IT.
Here we go. As promised, those 20 questions now have the appropriate (or inappropriate, you judge) answers. Thanks to everyone who posted (sorry I couldn’t answer ’em all) and thanks also to Chris Ryall at IDW and Luke (Bassbot). Click here to go to questions (& answers) #1-15 (over at the IDW forums) and read on for #16-20. Enjoy!
16) How does the Matrix work in the IDW universe (i.e. power of Primus, souls of all the Transformers, sacred battery, etc)?
SF) Well, we’ve yet to actually meet the Matrix in the IDW/TF-verse. So we may be getting ahead of ourselves here. What do we know about it so far? Well, according to Spotlight Galvatron, the Matrix was (and maybe is) “carried” by Nova Prime, and he (Nova Prime) disappeared into the Dead Universe (along with the Matrix, we assume). Nova describes a bottomless well and a resonant tug on the Matrix. What happened next we don’t know (yet). But what is the Matrix (hm, that sounds familiar somehow)? Not telling. Not yet. But ’08 holds the answers: what it is, where it came from, what is does (then and now!). The Matrix (and what it’s become) will figure large in all that happens post-Devastation. The Matrix has been gone from the IDW/TF-verse for a long time, and its return will not necessarily be a thing of celebration.
17) Was it always the intention to introduce Acree to the IDW-verse, or was it as case of being suddenly struck with a workable idea? If so, what inspired the idea and story?
SF) I think once the nature of IDW/TF-verse Jhiaxus started to properly take shape, so the idea of doing an Arcee story became both workable and desirable (in the context of both a Spotlight and the larger story). To an extent, I wasn’t willing to go anywhere near Arcee (as a character) until I had worked out the whys and wherefores (in the IDW/TF-verse) of quote-unquote female Transformers and the whole issue of gender. Back when I was writing the first clutch of Spotlights, the idea of Arcee started to germinate. The Nightbeat Spotlight opened a door, and the involvement of Hot Rod just somehow made me want to get Arcee in there too, somehow, even though the two aren’t linked in the IDW/TF-verse. But even then I didn’t really have all the answers I needed (for myself) to properly introduce/write the character. I’ve been vocal about my resistance to the idea of gender in Transformers, so if Arcee existed (and she was a she), then I really needed to know exactly why that was (and how she and others react to that fact). Arcee, Combiners and Micromasters all have a common point of origin, in terms of forcing the evolution the Cybertronian race. Once I had that in mind, Arcee just seemed to work (and I had the motivation on both sides) as both a concept and a character.
18) As more people chip into building this new IDW/TF-verse continuity, are there any guidelines for what creators should/shouldn’t include to avoid clashing with other books?
SF) My main rule of thumb has always been (and remains), if it’s been done that way before, don’t do it again. It applies equally to me and, I hope, the other writers contributing to the IDW/TF-verse. Mostly, other than looking at what’s been established so far in the ‘ongoing’ arcs, the Spotlights and so forth and making sure new story elements don’t blow it all (in terms of the over-arcing story) out of the water, it’s just a matter of continually thinking outside of the box, and not falling back on classic G1 (knee-jerk) story/character traditions. Defy expectations. Turn characters on their heads. Assign them roles and functions that don’t necessarily match their classic G1 counterparts. And try and keep the story rolling onwards, rather than keep dipping back into what’s gone before (or if you do go back, make sure it has some present day/future resonance/pay off). On the IDW forums there’s a great thread, which painstakingly details who’s appeared, when and where. It’s very helpful, not least to me. The great thing about the way the IDW/TF-verse is set up is there are stories to tell that don’t necessarily have to be set on Earth. It’s been established that the war is spread out across many worlds, many frontiers, and that there are disparate groups of Decepticons (Infiltration units) and Autobots (Tactical Response units) involved, and that the ‘staged’ process established in Infiltration, Escalation and the like is underway on those other worlds too. So it’s reasonably straightforward to assemble a cast on some far-flung world and tell whatever kind of story you want to tell.
19) What goes into writing a new character who’s not been featured before? With, say, Sixshot was there a process involved in how he would act or did you look at tech specs or previous appearances in other mediums to get a basic idea?
I do at least start with the tech specs. Then, largely, I look for whatever it is in that character that interests or intrigues me, or seems to open the door to some kind of dramatic conflict (and if it’s not there, then I’ll start to rethink or flesh out the character more) and subsequent resolution (to a degree). With the Spotlights in particular I look for a way to give the reader an almost instant insight into what makes the character tick, and why we should care about or empathise with them. Good guy or bad guy, it’s necessary that the reader become involved with the character quickly. So if there’s nothing much there in terms of tech specs or previous appearances to start with, I’ll introduce something to lift the character out of a kind of template role. Taking Sixshot as an example, having divined that he’s this ‘living weapon,’ I thought, so what does that mean? (Both to us and to him.) Why should we care? How does he view himself? Is he happy being a living weapon? Might he, if given a way out, take it? And so forth. When addressing any character, I’m continually asking myself questions about them. First job really is to get myself interested. Once I am, it’s that much easier to get other people interested. Sometimes I actually prefer it when there’s little or nothing already there in black and white and I can just build the character from the ground up.
20) In Spotlight: Shockwave, did Shockwave beat the Dynobots or did he just destroy their organic covering forcing them into stasis lock? Any chance of a rematch?
SF) I think the answer to the first part of this question is that Shockwave beat the Dynobots by destroying their organic covering, at which point they went into stasis lock. Did he beat them? Yes. Would he, if they too had been resistant to the high levels of energon? Hard to say. Maybe, maybe not. Grimlock, clearly, had foreseen the possibility of losing and planned an appropriate no-win scenario before ever setting foot on the planet. So maybe he won. Either which way, we do have something of another grudge match in the offing. Only this time it’s the Dynobots versus… ah, but that’d be telling. Whatever the case, stuff is set in motion in Spotlight Grimlock that will have huge repercussions. Will Shockwave figure in any of this? Maybe. Are the Dynobots coming back in 08? Definitely.
Beast Wars The Ascending #3 is out, unleashed. The issue hits stores this week (12th Dec in the US, 13th here in the UK). And if you thought things were looking dire for the Maximals (and Predacons) at the end of issue #2, wait’ll you see what #3’s got in store for them (and you). With armageddon (of the Unicron variety) looming for Cybertron, all remaining hopes lie with Razorbeast and his timelost Maximals. But no sooner do Lio Convoy and the Pack arrive back on prehistoric Earth than Razorbeast is infected by Rartorata with Angolmois ‘rage,’ more or less scuppering any last hope. Desperate alliances are formed, tragedies unfold, evil gets the upper hand, time gets all bent out of shape and Shokaract is finally unleashed (much to Big Convoy’s dismay). Their darkest hour… just keeps getting darker. Story is by me, art by Don Figueroa (his last, it seems, for the time being… sniff). Check out Don’s nifty cover art for the issue by clicking on the thumbnail below.
Further to my previous post about the upcoming Q&A session, split between here on my blog and the IDW forums, the many questions received (again, both here and on the IDW forums) have been whittled down to a manageable 20, and I’m hoping to have the answers done and dusted by early to mid next week (commencing 10 Dec). Thanks to all those who took the time to post, and apologies to anyone whose question didn’t make the final cut (it was a really tough, there were just so many good, well thought out questions this go-around). Questions/answers #1-15 will appear exclusively on the IDW forums and #16-20 (also exclusively) right here!
Definitely on the better late than never scale, here’s my post-script discourse on Transformers (UK) #8 (or at least the original strip bit of it). Another ‘squeezed into a bit of dead space in the movie’ story, this one concerns the fate of Scorponok, last seen burrowing underground in an almightly hurry after the aerial barrage in Qatar. He’s been laying low since then, but when Ironhide and a Special Forces team (new characters, developed especially for the UK storyline) go looking they get a whole LOT more than they bargained for (and realise some things are better left buried). As with the previous Starscream story, this one gives a little more in the way of action/resolution to the movie itself, and provides Ironhide with a real workout (though not necessarily in the way you might think). Scorponok proves to be a much tougher character than his bio and onscreen appearance maybe suggests, and ties up something of loose end. Editor Steve White played his part (above and beyond the call of duty) with this one, taking my half-hearted suggestions for US military hardware and coming up with the real goodies (he’s something of an expert!). Art is by Staz Johnson, another name those of you TF fans with long memories will remember as having worked on the Marvel UK Transformers strip towards the end of its originated life, oh and the art cover is by Gary Erskine. What’s next? Something VERY different. Still new movie-based, but quite epic (taking us right up to issue #13) in its scale and reach. More on this when I do my Script (W)rap for issue #9 (soon, honest!).