Interview - TFormers Talks with Transformers Comic Writer Andy Schmidt

In this new TFormers interview, renowned editor, writer, and all around nice guy Andy Schmidt of IDW Publishing tackles some tough questions about Transformers Continuum, the now sold out Transformers #1, and the future of the franchise at IDW. Special thanks to Mr. Schmidt for taking the time to talk to us.

Tformers: There has been a lot of criticism in online and in the forums of Transformers Continuum. How do you respond to that criticism and do you think it is valid?

Andy Schmidt: Thanks for starting with something easy. SHEESH!

Some folks have complained that the writing in it was simplistic. That’s true. That was intentional. I was writing it to be able to be read by anyone from about the fourth grade on up, so it was intentionally kept simple. There are a lot of newer and potentially younger Transformers fans out there than those who grew up with the original incarnation; we wanted this first release to be easily accessible for anyone interested in the story.

I’ve also seen a lot about how it changed continuity. It doesn’t change anything. It’s intended as a primer for people who haven’t read all the stories. It was never intended to tie-up loose ends or get every detail down on paper. The books themselves do that. So, it combines elements for simplicity sake for a new reader and it leaves things out that aren’t terribly relevant to the story moving forward. I think there is only one story - the Mirage Spotlight issue - that is not referenced at all, and only then because it just had no relevance, not because it didn’t happen or was being written out of existence. That one is a bit harder to recap since it might be a dream or what have you.

I think a lot of people wanted the book to do something it was never intended to do and a lot of people read the book not realizing for whom it was intended. It does not surprise me that it was criticized heavily on the Transformers fan sites. It’s unfortunate, but we expected that. But on other sites that talk about it and the feedback I’ve gotten from retailers is that it was very successful at getting some of our more “fringe” fans interested again—and ultimately—I think that’s better for everybody—die-hard fan and fringe fan alike!

Tformers: We won’t delve to far into the minutia of complaints from the ever vocal fan base, but one problem seems to stand out. The amalgamation of Skywatch and the Machination: How did this slip through? And as Skywatch is a major part of the Ongoing series, are you going to address this error for new readers who may be confused about what Skywatch is?

AS: I just didn’t really want to bring up the Machination in Continuum. For new readers, it’s not a problem. They’re not going to see the term Machination for quite some time. And when it does come up again, yeah, it will get clarified. Combining the two in Continuum was intentional. Not a gaff. It just seemed confusing on the first draft to have the two organizations, so I just combined them for simplicity sake.

Another one I’ve seen is that I turned Megatron into a slave from the Megatron: Origin story. Again, Continuum doesn’t over-write history, it’s just a primer. But that was another change for simplicity’s sake. Slavery is more immediate than “blue collar worker getting laid off” for any young folk reading it. Making that change in the summary issue made for an easier to follow summary. If someone reads Continuum and wants to get the full story, they can pick up the trade paperback and get the real deal.

If and when the Machination returns, it’ll be clear what’s what. And Skywatch is different in the new series than it was in its previous incarnation. I think it’s clear in issue #1 of the ongoing series what Skywatch is. Spike says it in no uncertain terms. I don’t have the direct quote in front of me, but he says referring to the organization something like, “We’re here to capture every invading alien robot on the planet.” That’s pretty straightforward.

Tformers: From having read previous interviews, I know you’re a big advocate of Transformer character driving the stories, in this time when character has never been better in G1 stories, why the continuing focus on new human cast and earth?

AS: Earth grounds the stories (no pun intended). It’s more reader friendly to have the cast on Earth and part of what makes the Transformers cool is them in contrast to humans. I think Transformers stories off Earth lose a lot of relevance to the more casual fan and the whole idea of them being in disguise goes right out the window too.

Doesn’t mean we won’t create stories set in space—several are planned, in fact. But Earth is important from a conceptual standpoint as well as a plot and character standpoint. But that will all be revealed shortly…

Tformers: Do you think the Transformers will always need a human cast to relate to? Or will they some day be “human” enough to leave the 80’s “Aliens stranded on earth.” premise behind?

AS: I think I just look at it differently than maybe you do. I don’t see it as a premise for the 80s so much as a premise for the franchise. They were designed for a story set on Earth. I just think “giant robots that can disguise themselves as everyday objects on Earth” (or in other words “More Than Meets the Eye”) is the premise—or at least, a core element to the premise.

That said, we’re already doing stories that don’t take place on Earth (Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, for example). And that’s fine, but I don’t think the Transformers should be off Earth for too long. By that same token, I also don’t think that Transformers should ignore Cybertron and the greater galactic battle for too long either.

Tformers: IDW’s female G1 cast is among the smallest in the canon, equaled only by the original Marvel run, and Energon. In an interview while expressing interest in her future you referred to IDW’s only female Transformer’s origin as being “like Frankenstein monsters or something”. You used the plural. Will we see more Female Transformers?

AS: I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t think there is currently any concrete plans to expand the female cast. I certainly am open to it.

Tformers: Once all 3 seasons have been portrayed in the Transformers: Animated Volumes, are there any future plans for content for younger fans? New Animated stories, or perhaps Robot Heroes?

AS: We did a Robot Heroes picture/comic book hybrid already. As for Animated, I’m not really sure. That’s a pretty long ways off, I think. But, yeah, I don’t see why we wouldn’t. Transformers certainly can appeal to younger readers as well as older fans.

Tformers: Are there any plans for follow up books to Robot Heroes: I am Optimus Prime?

AS: Not that I know of, but I wasn’t the editor on that book, either. Sorry, I’m not the right guy to ask on that one…

Tformers: Is there any chance of seeing other canons of Transformers history revisited? (Beast Wars/Machines, Armada, Energon, etc.)

AS: Right now, we’re focused on the G1 series and we’re publishing three of those a month. I think beyond those and one movie universe book, we’d really be glutting the market. So, not in the immediate future, but again, I’m not opposed to it in theory.

Tformers: What are you hoping fans will take away from the death of Ironhide at human hands in you first issue of the ongoing series?

AS: Well, I think the fact that humans kill him is a bit surprising. It serves several story functions, only some of which are fully revealed at this time. One is it does show quite clearly that these are not the ineffectual or unprepared humans that we saw at the beginning of All Hail Megatron. They’ve gotten their hands on Cybertronian tech and reverse-engineered it so they can compete with the Transformers themselves. That’s one thing.

It also moves Optimus Prime in some strange ways. I’ve seen the posts talking about how we’ve portrayed Optimus Prime as “Emo” Prime, but let’s be honest. The guy’s best friend just got killed. That shakes up the most hardened of heroes. And, as you’ll see by the end of the first arc, there’s more to Optimus Prime’s actions and decisions than just, "I’m sad and therefore I resign." Optimus Prime is always working at something…

Tformers: Ironhide’s death is not the only surprising moment in this book, how are you going to keep up this pace? Are there a lot of major character corpses in our future?

AS: If you like the Predacons, Protectobots, Combaticons, Omega Supreme, and pretty much any character from the third season of the American cartoon, you’re not going to be happy.

Nah, just kidding.* No more major deaths planned for, you know, issue #3 at least…

(*In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Andy’s casualty list gag totally psyched Ender out on his first reading. -ed)

Tformers: You chose to spoiler the death of Ironhide right off the bat, weeks before the issue hit shelves, what went into that decision?

AS: We’ve been publishing Transformers comics for over three years. While we’re effective at communicating to the core audience (that’s most of you guys reading this), it’s harder to grab the lapsed fan or newer fan’s attention. So, as a news story, you kind of have to hit them over the head with something to grab their attention.

. That was my call to release Ironhide’s death (with Hasbro’s blessing), but since we had the additional twist at the end of the issue, I felt like we weren’t blowing the whole issue ahead of time.

Tformers: Was it all ways the plan to release the additional preview pages, or was that a response to reactions to the first 3 page preview?

AS: We had a staggered strategy as soon as the script was done. We were really trying to build some steam so that every piece people got was bigger than the one before, culminating in a big USA Today article that was nation wide.

Tformers: The new designs seem to hearken to the Classics/Universe 2.0 series of Transformers toys, but these characters are not available at retail right now, what is the reason to shift the style in this direction?

AS: There is no mandated or even directed shift in presentation of the Transformers. Don is doing Don’s take on them. Other artists are doing their versions. The actual direction from Hasbro and me is to let the artists be artists and do what they do best—create.

The characters have not been redesigned. But they are being interpreted differently. I sometimes feel like folks are looking for a conspiracy when none exists. This topic in particular has been one of those times. The knee-jerk reaction to anything fans don’t like is that it is IDW or Hasbro clearly stepping in as though we hate creativity. I support Don’s work and think it’s amazing and groundbreaking. He’s a dynamo. That said, the second major story arc looks much more traditional.

Now, I think it’s likely that we’ll get criticism because the second arc doesn’t follow the look of the first arc, but that’s what we’ve asked for—different artists to do what they want with the characters and that’s really cool, I think. And it’s not unprecedented. As I recall (and it has been a while since I read these issues) but I think Marvel had Andrew Wildman and Geoff Senior alternating on the book back in the early 90s. And they were extremely stylistically different and I thought that was cool then. I think it’s just as cool now.

Tformers: Has there been any discussion of altering the style of Transformer faces in the ongoing series after fan reaction?

AS: Not really, no. The reality is that the boards that have gotten lit up with complaints are a passionate segment of the Transformers readership. A lot of times there is an assumption that everyone who reads the books is posting online and that isn’t the case. The feedback we’re getting now from retailers and from a wider cross-section of the fans is that the faces and Don’s style are being well received by the majority of the readership. If you only read the message boards, you wouldn’t think that possible, but it’s true.

And even if that weren’t the case and everyone disliked the faces, and I’m not denying that some fans do, that’s okay. Don’s still tweaking things as he’s going. I was looking at issue four of Transformers today and I can still see where he’s changing things up.

So, I’m still waiting. The issue isn’t settled, but I’m not just going to jump to conclusions based on message boards. Message boards are a great resource for me, they can be indicators of potential problems and I’m not going to lie, we’ve talked about the faces and I’ve spoken with major retailers specifically about how the art is being viewed by their customers, so the boards did a great job at throwing up the red flag, but I am not yet convinced that I should ask Don to change something he’s passionate about.

Tformers: Why was the fifth Spotlight Collection renamed All Hail Megatron Vol. 3 even though most of it’s content didn’t pertain to All Hail Megatron?

AS: Because All Hail Megatron was a great success and the stories do relate to All Hail Megatron. Each one, if not tying in directly, tied in thematically and shed light on characters not just in All Hail Megatron, but who were important in All Hail Megatron. It was a fair naming device. They fit in much better with All Hail Megatron than they did with Revalation which really seemed to be the conclusion of ongoing Spotlight stories.

Tformers: Drift, overall, seems to be working out. Are there plans to add more new characters to the G1 universe?

AS: Not brand new, no. But over in Last Stand of the Wreckers we’re seeing some European characters for the first time in US comics.

Tformers: There hasn’t been a full scale look into the history of IDW’s Transformers since Megatron: Origin. Are there any plans to delve further into the past, and if not what part of Transformer history would you like to explore?

AS: I’m dying to do a “Great War” book, but frankly, I think we should get our present straight before we start mucking with the past. Ha ha. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of readers who would agree with me on that!

Tformers: Spotlight: Metroplex and Rebirth, were awesome! When can we expect to see the explanations/ramifications of the events of them?

AS: First, thank you. That’s very nice of you to say and I hope you mean it!* The mystery surrounding Metroplex will be revealed (I’m at home so I don’t have the publishing schedule in front of me) I think in June or July of 2010.

And the follow up on Rebirth will be huge but it’s further off. But it will be HUGE. Galvatron is not a ‘bot to be messed with. He’s going away for a while, but Rebirth was meant to tease. Meant to cause people (and Cyclonus) to be a little confused by what Galvatron is doing, but it’s big. But yeah, you’re probably looking at 2011 for the big pay off on that one (and late 2011, at that). Yes, we’re planned out that far in many ways…

(*I do! -ed)

Tformers: I really enjoyed how you got the Galvatron, Cyclonus (a personal favorite) and Scourge/Sweeps band back together.

AS: Thanks. They all have alternate modes that seemed to work stylistically together and that is why we put them back together. It’s one of those things that feels right. Glad that worked for you.

Tformers: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us!

AS: Thanks for talking with me.

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