Optimus Prime #1 - Interview With John Barber & Kei Zama On The Comic's Setting, Cast, & Looks

Aaron Long of the site Comicosity has interviewed Optimus Prime writer John Barber and Artist Kei Zama in advance of the first issue's Wednesday debut! Within, Barber talks about the supporting cast, how Prime got to this point, and who he hears in his head when he's writing Optimus... and it's not always Peter Cullen. Kei Zama discusses how she conveys emotion with a robot cast, and how her approach to drawing robots differs from the more traditional depictions in Japanese art. Keep reading for excerpts and a link to the full interview!
AL: Based on the cover I can assume Optimus won’t be alone in this series. Can you discuss who will be working with and/or against him in the series?

JB:
There’s a big supporting cast. He’s still got a team on Earth—Soundwave is at his side, and we really see what’s going on psychologically betweem them in issue 3. Optimus blackmailed Soundwave to join him back before Revolution, but Soundwave has essentially come over to Optimus’ side pretty completely. How strong the bond is, how deep the trust between Autobot and Decepticon can be, is a big question. There’s a flashback story going on through the first six issues that goes back to Pre-War Cybertron, and we see how Soundwave and Optimus (then called Orion Pax) first met… and how deep the trust and mistrust goes.

Arcee is on Optimus’ side, but she’s a little wary of what he’s doing. She’s been around a long time, and she’s seen a lot of stuff happen, and is worried about Optimus overstepping the boundaries of right and wrong; but she’s really struggling to see if there is a real boundary between those things.

From Optimus Prime #1, art by Kei Zama and Josh Burcham

Pyra Magna, who leads the team that combines into Victorion, is becoming more hostile toward Optimus—and really, with good reason. She’s a strong believer in the Primes, and in the meaning of the Matrix of Leadership, which Optimus holds but doesn’t believe is a holy object. Pyra thinks she should have the Matrix, and is disturbed by Optimus’ attitude toward it.

Plus we’ve got some other favorites, Aileron (who’s a new character we introduced in the Transformers series and who had a key role in Revolution), Jetfire, Sky Lynx, Jazz. And a new G.I. Joe team featuring some surprising characters will be on-scene in the first story. Plus, Thundercracker and his dog Buster are still out there somewhere.

One of the big new additions, though, are the Colonist Soldiers—these are Transformers from Cybertron’s colony worlds who are fiercely loyal to Optimus Prime, who see him as a True Prime, a sort of space messiah figure. They’ll follow him anywhere… and Pyra Magna, in particular, is disturbed by that.


AL: John, when you are writing dialogue for Optimus Prime, do you hear Peter Cullen’s voice?

JB:
It’s hard not to—I got to meet Peter in Shanghai this summer, which was pretty amazing. He was signing next to me, and we were in the same hotel, so Alex Milne, Sara Pitre-Durocher, James Raiz and I all got to talk to him a bit in the lobby while this adorable little kid was running around.

His voice is so iconic, for somebody my age it’s hard not to think of—I think if I can’t imagine Peter saying the line, the line isn’t right. But I sort of hear Avery Brooks a lot now, too.


AL: Can you discuss the process of giving each Transformer a visual personality? Is it a challenge at times to infuse them with emotion considering facial limitations or vehicle modes, etc.?

KZ:
I always think it’s difficult to express their emotions on their face, because head-parts or helmets often cover their features. Then I’m trying to express by gesture and lights/shadows/shadings, not only facial expressions.

I don’t think about alt-modes deeply. Instead of alt-mode, I try to add various personality on the robot mode. In Japan, a lot of robot characters are often drawn handsome or cool. I feel that’s boring, so I try to draw their appearance in various ways. For example, the colonists that entered in Optimus Prime #1 each have an individualistic design. There’s a cute boy, bad looking guy, tough girl, etc. Especially Gimlet, who’s my favorite!

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