by Eric Garneau. In certain sectors of the comics industry, reboots sometimes seem to happen so frequently that they barely move the needle on the scale of what gets our attention. There are those special cases, though, where a continuity reset really means something, where the “bold new direction” so many comic solicitations promise truly feels like it’s in play.
Such is the case with IDW Publishing’s new take on the evergreen story of the Transformers. If you can believe it, it’s been almost fourteen years since the comic continuity of these wonderful robots in disguise reset—and that aligned with IDW acquiring the license in the first place! This is the only time since 2005 that these characters are coming to comics with a completely clean slate. And ready to mark up that slate with beautiful words and pretty pictures are writer Brian Ruckley and artists Angel Hernandez & Ron Joseph.
Releasing next Wednesday, IDW’s Transformers #1 takes things all the way back to the beginning of the Transformers saga—before the four million year-war that has come to define most of Transformers‘ fiction. So obviously it’s all peace and quiet on the Transformers’ homeworld of Cybertron, right?
“I know how Cybertron gets from more-or-less total peace to more-or-less total war. And I know a good deal about what the opening phases of that war would look like,” Ruckley tells us. For fans of IDW’s robot comics, which have a history of epic runs by fantastic creators, that’s an especially exciting answer. Hernandez’s own enthusiasm for the project only amplifies those positive vibes: “The freedom to create a setting where characters play out an exciting story is an incredible incentive to work on this project.”
DoomRocket spoke with Brian Ruckley and Angel Hernandez about their upcoming take on these iconic characters and worlds, where they’ve struck out on their own, and the coolest thing one could transform into—I mean, Brian definitely gives the right answer, right?
DoomRocket: What most appeals to you about creating within the world of Transformers? What are you most excited to bring to the page in this new series?
Brian Ruckley: For me, the appeal is all bound up in the simple scale of this opportunity. Being invited into this universe, one that has such a history in media and pop culture, that’s had so many stories told in it with so many characters is just very, very cool. In an ideal world, what I’d like to bring to the page is a saga that eventually blends characters that feel alive with epic drama, emotion with spectacular action, and crazy science fiction with recognizable character motivations. Somewhere in the place where all those things meet is a sweet spot I’d like to hit. Which is quite a big ask, but I’ll give it a go!
Angel Hernandez: The freedom to create a setting where characters play out an exciting story is an incredible incentive to work on this project. It’s very exciting to work with some of the most iconic characters in pop culture.
2. Which character are you most looking forward to leaving your mark on in the ‘Transformers’ universe?
BR: Well… all of them, really! Characters are the foundation that this whole universe has been built on, and it’s one of the biggest and craziest casts in all of science fiction, so it’s quite a thing to get the chance to explore it. But that said, if you’re scripting a Transformers comic and don’t get a little buzz from the idea of writing Megatron… Well, I get a little buzz from it, anyway. And I confess that the more I’ve written of Chromia and Prowl, the more fun I’m finding the idea of them as law enforcement partners. Plus, I do have one or two new characters on the way—starting with Rubble, who’s pretty central right from issue #1—so inevitably I’m looking forward to introducing them to the world—both Cybertron and the world of readers!
AH: Well, in this series, there are very strong, recognized characters. It may take place in a previous time in Cybertron, before all the conflicts—but these characters are so important and so well known, that the only trace that I may leave would simply be a nuance. On the other hand, I have been given the opportunity and the privilege of shaping a new character starting from scratch, with very peculiar characteristics and personality, and it has been a personal and professional challenge that I hope readers enjoy!
3. Conversely, are there any characters or concepts that you’re nervous to tackle?
BR: I imagine in such a celebrated franchise, some elements must seem really imposing to play with. Any nervousness (and that’s not quite the right word, but it’ll do for now) doesn’t come from particular characters or concepts—it’s much more general than that. It’s to do with following in the footsteps of some seriously talented comics creators, picking up one of the higher profile franchises in pop culture. Amazing Transformers stories have been told in different media over the years, and having the job of playing in that orchestra is a big deal.
Angel, are there any characters or concepts you’re nervous to illustrate?
AH: There are many characters that I love illustrating, but in this series there are three that hold more weight in terms of history and importance: Optimus Prime, the essence of Transformers; Megatron, one of the best villains of pop culture; Bumblebee, due to the different interpretative possibilities he offers when he is integrated into the page.
4. If you can pick just one, which prior story—in any medium—would you point to as exemplary ‘Transformers’ storytelling? What are your favorites?
BR: That’s tough, because the stories have come out in so many different versions, in different media, for different audiences. It’s tough to compare them. I’ve probably got the most personal pleasure from reading IDW’s comics—especially Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets the Eye. But I’ve got a soft spot for the Transformers: Prime TV stuff too, and—in terms of format and approach, and hitting its intended audience—I think the recent Cyberverse cartoon is very smart, and a lot of fun.
AH: To prepare for this project, I revisited several previous series to maintain a visual through-line for the main characters. I’ve seen that each series maintained a consolidated atmosphere that gave cohesion to each project. From Lost Light to Unicron to Till All Are One, each series maintains its own tone. I have taken as a starting point the “Chaos” saga, because I think it has an amazing interpretation of the world of Transformers, and from there, I have tried to assimilate it and project upon it my visual point of view.
5. IDW’s coming off a run of some of the most celebrated stories ever in ‘Transformers’ fiction. Will we see any shades of the work creators like John Barber, James Roberts, and Simon Furman contributed in your take on the universe? Or is your take a 100% clean slate?
BR: I’m sure there’ll wind up being a mix of things that long-term readers find a little familiar and plenty of stuff that’s a bit new, a bit different.
Angel, various ‘Transformers’ stories in the past have had differing takes on pre-war Cybertron, from a beautiful metropolis to even organic beginnings. What are your plans for Cybertron?
AH: I have seen many previous interpretations, but I have tried to visualize a point of view that the script spoke to me, and the illustration takes shape from there. I have tried to capture an arid, but not cold, Cybertron—a technological one, but not one without life. We can find a superposition of different layers; from our first impression it may seem an empty and deserted place, but as we get closer we discover nuances that enrich it visually.
6. IDW also has a tremendous track record when it comes to giving its creators time to tell the story they want, and the pitch for your version of ‘Transformers’ is pretty epic. How far down the road have you plotted out your story? How deep does your saga go?
BR: Plot-wise, I know how Cybertron gets from more-or-less total peace to more-or-less total war. And I know a good deal about what the opening phases of that war would look like. Going backwards, I’ve actually got a lot of backstory in my head—the history, both planetary and personal, that’s taken various characters to where they are when we first meet them, and that drives them to make the choices they do. How much of that backstory ends up on the page, we’ll have to see—a bit of it will, I imagine. But the trick with epic sagas is often to have a huge amount of stuff figured out, but not necessarily to feel like you have to inflict every last bit of it on the reader.
Angel, what artistic influences have you channeled in creating the visuals for this alien world? And how fun is it to design Cybertronian vehicle modes for beloved characters?
AH: I’ve tried to approach this new project with absolute respect for the previous works, while simultaneously depicting my personal vision onto each page. As I read the descriptions on each page of the script, I visualize each space, each piece—one of the best parts of this job.
Regarding the design of the different Cybertronian vehicle modes, I have to say that it is different because you have to be clear at each moment that you follow some parameters established by the license, but still, there’s a lot of space for creative input.
7. Humans have come and gone in ‘Transformers’ stories but have fairly often become the point-of-view characters for new readers. The solicits for issue #1 tantalizingly mention “organic life”, but also that readers will be able to explore Cybertron through the eyes of “Bumblebee and his friends”. Will it be specific robots who end up acting as readers’ proxy this time around, particularly our small yellow friend? Are there maybe some humans lurking in the background, or is this a more robot-centric tale?
BR: I can tell you this much, for sure: there are no humans on Cybertron. It’s definitely going to be what you call robot-centric, although there is indeed more than one kind of organic life on the planet. Cybertron is basically a mechanical planet—but that doesn’t mean everyone and everything living on it is mechanical. Bumblebee’s certainly one of the central characters in what’s coming, but actually a bigger part of the focus as we start out on the journey is a newly-forged robot called Rubble. I don’t exactly think of him as the reader’s proxy, but there is an element of that: he’s discovering Cybertron, so if we’re looking through anyone’s eyes, I guess it’s him.
Angel, how do you divide up the art responsibilities with Ron Joseph for each issue? Are there clearly differentiated components of the overall story you each take, or is it an alternating issues kind of thing?
AH: Our respective parts of the project are defined by the script—both of us draw different moments that make up scenes of the story, resulting in each of our drawing styles being encapsulated in the overall story. This is good for the reader because the different narrative lines have a unified look, and the final result does not suffer from jarring changes.
8. Various ‘Transformers’ stories in the past have had differing takes on pre-war Cybertron, from a beautiful metropolis to even organic beginnings. What are your plans for Cybertron?
BR: Trying to stay away from spoilers, I’ll maybe stick to the general stuff that was in my head when I was thinking about all of this. I wanted to have a Cybertron that was, itself, almost a living, changing thing. I wanted it to have spectacle—as if there’s a wonder ‘round every corner if you go for a walk. I wanted the connection between the Cybertronians and the planet to be really quite profound, quite fundamental. And, in bigger picture terms, I wanted it to be somewhere that had a significant—a consequential—place in the wider universe.
9. Your take on ‘Transformers’ is set at the beginning of a millions-year long war. ‘Transformers’ has always had some allegory to real-world conflicts; are you drawing inspiration from any particular real-life events for your take on the franchise? The fact that everything kicks off with a murder in particular feels kind of World War I to me, but I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
BR: There is a sort of World War I echo there, but if I’m honest, it doesn’t go too far beyond the significance of a murder. A little bit further, maybe, but not too far. I’m trying not to take too much direct inspiration from real-world events; you can’t avoid it entirely, and I wouldn’t want to (history being such a rich source of ideas), but going beyond inspiration to specific allegory isn’t really the effect I’m after. It’s more like I’m rooting around in the real world, picking out little details or little themes from all over the place, all different times, and maybe stitching them together into a mosaic that’s its own thing. A Cybertron-specific version of how peace ends and wars start.
10. Just for fun: If you could pick an alt mode to turn into, what would it be?
BR: Any aircraft that let me fly high and fast. And very, very safely.
‘Transformers’ #1 hits stores March 13.
You can read Eric Garneau’s thorough musical retrospective on ‘Lost Light’ and ‘More Than Meets the Eye’ here.
Check out this cover ‘Transformers’ cover gallery, courtesy of IDW Publishing!
Cover A by Gabriel Rodriguez.
Cover B by Angel Hernandez.
Cover C by Casey Coller.
Cover D by Freddie Williams II.
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…