This is the entire bootleg recording (and a transcript I wrote) from the G1 Comic Creators Panel at the Official Transformers Collectors Convention 2004. Please keep in mind this is an unofficial fan made transcript and as such it is subject to errors or inaccuracies. I have edited out verbal pauses, redundancies in speech, and other things for sake of easier reading. I may have misspelled some words or omitted whole sentences by accident. In short, if it's wrong it's my fault. If there were specific areas I was especially unsure about, I wrote what I thought I heard, I asterisked them, and put footnotes at the end about why I was unsure of what I wrote. Thanks to everyone at Alt.Toys.Transformers who contributed corrections and clarifications when I first posted it there, and to the guests and staff of OTFCC 2004, wherever you are. I start as the announcer has already begun with the introductions.
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Announcer: [already talking]...you already know them-Bob Budiansky, writer extraordinaire [audience applauds] we have Andrew Wildman, artist extraordinaire and of course, Simon Furman, writer extraordinaire [audience applauds]. Being that this is my first panel that I've ever done, I'll just throw it over to you and let you guys ask some questions and have some fun for the next, oh, hour.
Bob Budiansky: Actually we've decided to choreograph it a little bit here.
Announcer: I'll just leave the experts to it!
Bob Budiansky: All right. We didn't choreograph it that much.
Announceer: No problem!
Bob Budiansky: Simon suggested that since this is my very first Transformers convention and you've already heard him talk ad infinitum-he's already told you all his stories-that I should give a little introduction to the very very beginnings of Transformers as far as the publishing world. So basically what happened, assuming you're interested here..
[audience laughs, some say 'That's what we're here for!' and 'That's what we wanna hear!']
Bob Budiansky: Oh! Okay, well I could always do science stuff...Anyway, basically what happened was, sometime in the fall of 1983, when I was an editor on the staff of Marvel Comics, Jim Shooter who was editor-in-chief and Denny O'Neil who was a senior editor and long time comic book writer-I wasn't there at this point-somehow they got together with Hasbro and Hasbro decided to launch this new series called Transformers, this new toy line. They'd come to Marvel to have Marvel develop it, just like Marvel had developed G.I. Joe for them a couple of years earlier. Between the two of them they generated a treatment, which was a backstory to the Transformers world...
[at this point Andrew Wildman gets up and takes a picture of Bob talking, which makes the audience laugh. I'm told Andrew did this a lot at all the panels he was a part of]
Bob Budiansky:...and a whole bunch of character profiles and names and such. The reason that I'm not quite clear on it is that I wasn't exactly in the process yet. Once the treatment got through-Hasbro approved it eventually-once the treatment got through what the names were, the names of the characters Marvel submitted, Hasbro had a lot of difficulty with some of the names-there was a lot of names and whatever character profiles were written at that point, and Denny didn't want to continue developing it.
So Jim Shooter went around the office looking for a warm body, and several warm bodies turned him down because frankly at that time he was looking for editors who had writing experience. Either editors were too busy doing other things or the deadline was too short, or they didn't have any interest in involving themselves in a whole new toy line, or whatever. I was probably the furthest down the hall or something. I was probably like the third or fourth person Jim Shooter asked. It was right before Thanksgiving weekend-the week before Thanksgiving, I remember that. It had to be done over the weekend. I had to revise..frankly I don't remember...maybe...I think there was initially 28 toys in the first toy line or something like that? I had to revise the majority of them, and so I did. Hasbro basically was very happy with what I produced. That's how I got involved with Transformers as an editor at Marvel Comics.
Then from that we launched the four issue limited series, which came out I guess in early '84? I was the editor on that, and basically that caught us all by surprise. It was a four issue limited series because really nobody expected it to go beyond four issues. We had no sense of how popular Transformers would eventually become and that I would be here 20 years later. [audience laughs]
So after that, I guess soon into the run of Transformers the limited series, it was decided that the book would continue as a regular monthly title. We were so naive back then. You know, nowadays if you took a limited series and a publishing company continued it, they would have an issue 0 and an issue 1 and an issue 1a and a chrome cover and all these different..[audience laughs] All we did was do issue 5. [audience laughs] We were naive, we just didn't know what we were doing.
In any case it was issue 5 that I stopped editing it and I continued on the book as the writer until issue 55 with a couple of fill in issues thrown into the mix. So basically I became immersed in the Transformers world. Through Marvel, Hasbro came to me to develop all their toys from then on as far as their personality profiles and their names. So for the next five years I got involved with naming and writing profiles for probably..I really don't know how many...over a hundred? Maybe two hundred of the toys? All the packaging copy that was on the Hasbro toys during that period. Not every one, but the large majority of them. I wasn't involved with the movie characters or anything like that. But the majority of them were things that I worked on with Hasbro.
Then issue 55 was my last issue. Before I got to that I was pretty well burnt out on Transformers the last year or two because if I tried to elope...I enjoyed doing it, I enjoyed developing story lines and characters, (but) every six months or so Hasbro would slap me with another 50 characters to introduce. It became kind of a burden. I definitely wanted to move off and I was begging my editor, Don Daley at that time, to put me out of my misery but he kept begging me to stay on. Finally, here's where Simon comes in, finally I happened to take a trip to England..[turns to Simon] Had we met before? You'd come to the Marvel offices? [Simon says yes] Yeah, we had met before then. I'd taken a trip to England and I stopped by the Marvel UK offices, and you had already been working on the Marvel UK, um, whatever you called them, fill-in issues that would fill in the publication schedule in England. Simon can take it from there.
Simon Furman: Well, here we were in February 1989...[Bob says 'right'.] Bob was over from the US, so being sociable as we were at Marvel UK at the time we thought, 'Well we'll take him out for lunch and generally just keep him happy. (He's) from the parent company, we've got to look after ourselves here.' So out we went to lunch, sitting in a restaurant in Covent Garden, and Bob's basically telling me what he told you-that he's kind of burnt out on Transformers and hell, the book's not gonna last more than a few more issues. [audience laughs]
Bob Budiansky: I had run it into the ground pretty much! [audience laughs]
Simon Furman: Then he says, 'Simon, you run with this!' and I thought, 'Well how could I refuse such an offer?' So of course I was immersed in it all by then, the UK side of it, and I knew Bob's work inside and out because we had to loop our stories in and out of the American continuity just because we were reprinting in the UK comic. I knew all the story lines, I knew exactly where Bob was with things, so once Bob said 'Here, take it!', throwing it at me across the table, I thought, great!
Bob Budiansky: I just wanna say I hope you picked up the tab for that lunch! [audience laughs]
Simon Furman: Marvel UK probably did. [audience laughs] So that was where I picked it up from then. I don't even know that Don was involved in the process of changing writers, really.
Bob Budiansky: Well, as an editor, Don wasn't really involved. [audience laughs] He's kind of passively watching it go across the
desk and things got published.
Simon Furman: So issue 56 I picked up and face it, to be honest I didn't think it was going to last a huge amount longer so I thought, well great, at least it's giving me some license to just go crazy with this book so the Furman beat started. I'd always been using the movie characters in the UK comic so I thought, well here we go. Let's have our apocalyptic Unicron battle in the US comic and maybe wrap it up with that, but it rolled on. It rolled on for 25 issues. I have no idea why particularly...[audience laughs] I guess there was enough there to keep it rolling for people.
In sales terms today, you look at comic books today the top comics are selling 110, 120 thousand. The original comic book, with the G1 comic, was cancelled on 70 thousand, which these days would put it in the top 20 at least. This is how things have changed in the comics industry. That was a low selling book back then. They used to clear space at Marvel for new titles just by sort of cutting off anything under 100 thousand, sometimes over 100 thousand.
Bob Budiansky: Right, I used to be the illustrator on the first Ghost Rider series which ended around 1981, and that was cancelled because sales had dropped to under 110 thousand.
Simon Furman: So at this point I was working with José Delbo on the series as the established artist. Then around about the same time we started-both Bob and I got involved in another project. It was animals in exo-suits...
Bob Budiansky: Oh, yes. [audience laughs] Brute Force.
Simon Furman: Brute Force, that's right. Yes.
Bob Budiansky: That convention will be in September, right? [audience laughs]
Simon Furman: They were trying to pull José off to that book for a while, so it left a vacuum for an artist. Now originally my first suggestion was Geoff Senior, who had done a lot of the UK work and had actually filled in for José a couple of times just for deadline crunches. Geoff, though, had other commitments at the time so we were still needing a regular artist for the book. I met with Don Daley and suggested Andrew for the book. Don had somebody else lined up that he really wanted to try for the book, so we went with Don's suggestion and that didn't really work out, so back came Andrew for issue 69. It should have been 68, but it ended up being 69. And that's where Andrew came into the whole mix.
Andrew Wildman: Yes, wait, I think what happened was Geoff Senior-when he took up the role, he was only going to do it for four issues, wasn't he?...No he wasn't. He was going to run with it regularly, then he wanted...that's right...he wanted to take a break from doing it. I wonder how many he did? [to Simon] What issue did he start on?
Simon Furman: He had to do maybe four or five issues in total, but they were scattered, they weren't...
Andrew Wildman: Yeah, so he was running with those, then he wanted to take a break off it to do the Death's Head graphic novel. So he needed a four issue break and then that's when they asked me to do it. They asked me to do a two page tryout for it, so I just needed two pages. I remember talking to Rob Tokar the editor and I'd say, 'Well, what shall I...' actually I think Don was still there, Rob was the assistant, though we didn't really hear much from Don. [audience laughs] It was always Rob. I said, 'How shall I treat this?' and he gave me a few pointers as to how I should draw it. So I handed in these two page samples. They looked at them and they just said, 'No, we're not going to give you the work.' They turned me down flat. I'm like, oh, okay, fine.
Then I think that's when they commissioned somebody to do 68 and they weren't particularly happy with it for some reason with how that had been working out. So then they came back to me and said, 'Are you interested in-are you still interested in doing it?' 'Yeah, I really am!' So they said, 'Okay, well the book's yours.' At that point I decided I would do what I wanted to do rather than what they'd asked me to do. I felt I had seen the arrogance in it. [audience laughs] Well they told me how I should draw. They told me I should draw nice clean lined robots, nice and straight, make 'em look metal and clunky and all that kind of thing. And that's not how I wanted to do it anyway.
So when they actually gave me the book that was why I then moved into doing that slightly more organic look that a lot of people either like or they don't. It seems to be the one thing that people recognize in my work for amongst some the others. I just really really ran with that. Then the whole debate about 'Transformers don't have teeth' you know, [audience laughs] Mind you, I'm going with teeth, so get used to it! [audience laughs] So where's the next page script? [audience laughs] But yeah, great, so I ran with it from...well Geoff came in to do the double sized 75th issue because he'd always I think expressed a preference to do that double sized issue.
Simon Furman: It was a deadline issue because it was a double sized issue. It wasn't just...we were running fairly close to deadline all the way through then. So physically I just don't think Andrew could have done 75 and...carried on. [audience laughs]
Andrew Wildman: No, I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. No. Simon actually suggested he come back and do the big apocalyptic issue because he was good at that stuff. I think I very much felt from my point of view that that's what Geoff did really well-the really big stuff. And I think my-what I liked was the more subtle kind of character interplay and the subtleties of gesture and the detail and all that kind of thing. So it was quite alright that Geoff did that issue and then I picked up after it and we ran through until 80! It was meant to go on longer than that. We'd already pretty much...pretty much decided where it was going and then suddenly we had to really try to fill in the gaps because they wanted everything that Simon was going to do wrapped up in like one issue. It became a bit compact, the last issue. So yeah, there we go. Anything you want to add to that?
Simon Furman: No. If anybody wants now just to ask questions we're open for all questions. If you can keep them more G1, original G1, thanks, because I'll be there to answer Dreamwave questions this afternoon and (I'll be) around. So if you could keep it G1 specific, Marvel, (we'd appreciate it).
[audience member: This one is for to Mr. Furman. Where'd you get the idea behind the US comic number 70?]
Simon Furman: This would be the one with the sort of mushed together Megatron and Ratchet?
[audience member: That's it.]
Simon Furman: It just seemed to suggest itself from something that Bob had already set up in his run. Well, actually, no, it wasn't your run, sorry. It was the beginning of mine, where..[audience laughs]..basically, there's a bit where Ratchet throws himself at Megatron and they disappear through this portal, and it just seemed that it threw open this sort of Frankenstein's monster option for a story. At the time we had brought back Megatron already and we thought, well how do we bring back Megatron again and it's dramatic and it fits? So it made sense just to try and do it in a very different way.
Once Andrew got a hold of it and did the art, because it was fine to write this, it was absolutely wonderful to write in a script, you know, 'They're kind of right together..[audience laughs]...and there's maybe a limb sticking out here because they still have to kind of amputate the two legs.' It was fine to write and then I sort of just threw it to Andrew...[audience laughs] 'Here, you figure it out'. [audience laughs]
Andrew Wildman: I went to reference search it-there isn't any (model reference). Yes, that was a load of fun actually to do that right from the very beginning because it's really good. As with most comics you work from reference, they're all previously established characters and Transformers is very much that. You would have all the previous issues to look at for official reference, plus some of the model sheets from the animated movie, whatever. There's lots of those in reference, but to have-although they were two established characters-to right from the word 'go', to be able to put something together that was kind of mine, (it) was great to initially make a stamp on it.
And the thing that I think even Rob was surprised at was the level at which I tried to maintain the continuity on that thing. I pretty much set my own benchmark by doing that. So when the MegaRatchet character was established, and then there's some kind of fight scene isn't there? Where he slams them all against the wall, and it's like, bits are going to fall of there, aren't they? Yes, so I'll make bits fall off, [audience laughs] but I've got to remember which bits have fallen off. [audience laughs] And then you've got him shuffling down the corridor and there's more bits falling off. [audience laughs] So every time in the story I made sure that he either looked the same as he had done before, or that there was another little bit missing, another bit had fallen out or whatever because that would seem to add to the torment of the character. It did draw in some ways from a popular movie of the time.
Simon Furman: Yes, that's right! [laughs]
Andrew Wildman: Or should I not say that? [laughs]
Simon Furman: No no no. There's a line that's almost directly written off this popular movie. [audience laughs] Or a scene. The little scene at the end where the MegaRatchet creature sort of grabs the gun and puts it at its own head. Does anybody know where that scene comes from? What movie?
[audience member: The Fly? Was it The Fly?]
Simon Furman: Yes! The remake-the Kronenberg remake of The Fly is basically where I stole that scene wholesale. [audience laughs] So there you go. They're gonna toss us from the panel. [audience laughs]
[audience member: This question is for Bob. I know this was 20 years back, but could you give us an idea of what you did to look at a toy, come up with a name, come up with a backstory of that, the little tech card and whatnot? Because that's what made Transformers different than a lot of other toy lines, these robots, was that storyline that came with the toys. I was wondering where you came up with those things.]
Bob Budiansky: Well I pulled names from everywhere. I mean, I looked at...Here I brought some samples, hold on a second...[audience ooohs and aaahs as Bob reaches for his stack of notes, character models, and stuff] I thought somebody might ask a question...[audience laughs] I never throw anything out, much to the chagrin of my wife. [audience laughs] We would get...I think in the early days I don't even know if we got this, we just got the toys. We'd get model sheets from Hasbro, something like this. It would show them, the toys, very simply, what they'd look like in their various forms. So I'd get an idea of what they did and then from that I would look for some word that sort of had some connotation connecting to whether it was a car or a flying vehicle or an undersea vehicle or a dinosaur or something. I guess I just have a facility for putting some words together. So I'd come up with names that way.
As far as profiles, I was in the comic book industry for several years. Before that I read comics when I was kid. I was just able to grab out of the ether ideas of how to make somebody, have a character that somebody could build something off of I suppose. Plus the fact that this is a...One time when I was at Hasbro headquarters-I'd go there frequently to consult with them about Transformers development-one of the people I was dealing with there, I can't remember who it was, maybe one of the account executives or something. He said to me, 'Were you ever in the military?' [audience laughs] Because I used to throw all this technical, military-type jargon into the profiles. He didn't know where I got it from. I have a degree. I have a Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering, which I've never used. [audience laughs] Except for that-except for coming up with this jargon for the Transformers. So I told him that's probably where I got some of these words from, and that I'd sprinkle it throughout the various profiles I wrote and give them a certain special appeal that did the Transformers. So there you go.
[Audience member: Did you or Hasbro come up with the idea that they were sort of self-aware robots from an alien planet as opposed to robots that...]
Bob Budiansky: Well, funny you should say that...[Bob reads from his notes] "Civil war rages on the planet Cybertron. Destruction is catastrophic and widespread and yet no life is lost...[audience laughs]...the inhabitants of Cybertron are all machines. There is no life on Cybertron save for mechanical electronic creatures." Now I didn't write that-Jim Shooter wrote that, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. This is the actual treatment that was approved that I was handed back in 1983 to base whatever I wrote off of. I don't know what Hasbro gave Jim Shooter there in his little conversations if they said like you have to do living robots, they have to come from another planet. (I) really don't know that. I do know they put it all together in this. Basically everything that comes afterwards stems from this document here, so the armed guards are working over here right now.* [audience laughs]
[audience member: Both of you when you were writing seem to have a special love for Grimlock. Bob did a whole stint where Grimlock became leader of the Autobots, and then Simon of course, well, 'Me Grimlock bad ass.' What is it about Grimlock's character that you each find so compelling? Because it seems as writers you have a special love for that character.]
Simon Furman: Actually I've got a question for Bob on this. I want to know whether he came up with Grimlock's character. I assume so.
Bob Budiansky: Yeah, I did. I just remember kind of a vague memory but...the Dinobots were being introduced. I wanted to bring them into the book in a big way. Grimlock was definitely the leader of the Dinobots. I gave him a big role. I may have gone a little bit too far over the edge where he was so inhumane. [audience laughs] I might have been playing with that idea a little too much when I look back at those issues. I guess sometimes-I think Simon might agree with this-when you're a writer you come up with an initial story, an initial characterization in bringing a character into it. But it sort of takes a life of its own. It leads you down paths you don't expect, so perhaps in that case Grimlock probably went off and he had more presence than I initially anticipated.
Simon Furman: I think it's like that old story that nobody really created Daffy Duck. Somebody realized he was just a duck that walked on in one of the Warner Brothers cartoons at one time. He was accepted (by) writers and he became that character. They added something else, (and) they added something else, so finally you get Daffy Duck. I think that's a lot of that way with Transformers. Obviously there was a lot more put in at the outset with these Transformers characters, but once they got going in the story sometimes the characters take you in certain directions. They become the kind of driving force of the story. Certainly with Grimlock for me. It was as though every time I had him in a scene he seemed to suggest story options, he seemed to lead you in directions. Because he was just this sort of wonderfully bullheaded quality. Absolutely positive in what he believed, but there was this sort of, 'I will not stop. I have a course of action and I will not stop.' And once you've got that kind of momentum rolling in a story, the story tends to roll out of that. So I think that's why I used to like Grimlock. You could put him in any scene and you would have various options and exciting options of where it would go from there. So he was just a great character to write.
Bob Budiansky: Yeah, I noticed in recent reviewing-I had to do a cram session for this convention. I've been reviewing a whole bunch of old comics. I noticed like when things would happen where Optimus Prime or a character like that had to make a choice, he had to consider what he was going to do. If somebody suggested something, he'd go, 'No, that's not the right option because it might hurt somebody.' Grimlock never really paused. [audience laughs] You're right-he was bullheaded. He just went ahead and things were very black and white to him.
[audience member: Mr. Furman, you mentioned that things were rushed at the end of G1, that you had plans but everything got truncated and you couldn't get it in. Do you remember specifically things that you wish you could have done but didn't have the chance to? And specifically I'm curious about the Action Masters. If you had certain plans with that?]
Simon Furman: I think the ultimate plan with the Action Masters when we had to bring the Action Masters in-I personally, I'm sorry, Hasbro, I think they were the dumbest idea. [audience laughs] You know, sort of, here we had some Transformers that didn't transform. We introduced them in the story, but always my game plan was to turn them back into real Transformers afterwards. We had certain amounts of contractual obligations-bringing in characters as Action Masters. It was always like the effects of the Nucleon that turned them into Action Masters was going to be reversed at some point. I doubt I'd actually formulated how, but [audience laughs] it was certain. There was certainly going to be some revolution to that. We had set up this huge storyline with Grimlock having to make this decision to reactivate the Dinobots no matter what the cost. Just their becoming Action Masters was not going to be the end of it. There has to be more of a price for this, hence the whole 'Price of Life' storyline that we did. Unfortunately it never got into that, it just ended, really, with things like that.
Other things like the Last Autobot-(that) was going to be a prehistoric Transformers storyline that I'm kind of doing with War Within a little bit, with the Fallen and the original Transformers, and it was going to roll out into a something like that there was a previous set of Transformers that nobody really knew much about. They'd been hidden away and most of 'em were dead and so forth. So there were plans but they were largely unformulated. I had large storyline goalposts set up, but not thought how we were going to dribble the ball towards the goalpost to get there.
Andrew Wildman: Does anybody understand English football? [audience laughs]
[audience member: As you may or may not know, there's some talk about a new Transformers movie being developed. Has anybody from Dreamworks approached you or Budiansky about writing the characters, and if not, would you like the job?]
Andrew Wildman: I was going to write the whole thing. [audience laughs]
Bob Budiansky: I want to leave my phone number for anybody who wants me involved. [audience laughs]
Simon Furman: When this was first booted-the idea-I did get in touch with Don Murphy and spoke to Don Murphy. So I made the contact which I need to follow up, but I assume if there is any role it will be a purely advisory kind of background role. Yes, if it caught on I'd love to, I'm there! [audience laughs]
[audience member: This is for everybody, generally. I noticed that in the cartoon there was a Spike Witwicky, in the comic there was a Buster Witwicky, and then when Fortress Maximus was introduced because of the name of the toy there had to be a Spike Witwicky. Where did the idea come up first? Why was there a Buster instead of a Spike in the first place? And when Spike was introduced, where was the idea to make him a peacenik? Where did that come from? Also, gentlemen, I like the way Fortress Maximus was drawn-very well. Especially in the battle with Galvatron.][audience oohs and aahs]
Andrew Wildman: I've been praying for that. [audience laughs]
Simon Furman: Oh, yeah. I asked Bob about the Jetfire/Skyfire thing. He came up with something-
Bob Budiansky: Well actually I have some clues about Spike and Buster right here. Jim Shooter wrote this and it talks about Spike by his name and then crossed out in my handwriting (is) 'Buster'...[audience laughs]...and several times. Somebody, probably somebody at Hasbro, didn't like the name Spike and made me change it to Buster. How they communicated to me either directly or through Jim Shooter I don't know. But literally it's my handwriting crossing out the typed word 'Spike'. So I'm assuming that at some point this treatment got through to Saban or whoever without my crossouts. [audience laughs] So he became Spike in the cartoon.
[audience member: Where did the idea come from to make him a peacenik?]
Bob Budiansky: In the comic?
[audience member: When he was introduced and became the head of Fortress Maximus.]
Bob Budiansky: I totally can't believe that actually I wrote it. [laughs] I don't remember. Let's see if I remember...Thanks for coming out...wait! [audience laughs] Let me see my notes again! I don't...I don't really recall writing that.
[audience member: I know this was a job for you guys but did you find yourself enjoying the concepts or design such that you own any of these?]
Bob Budiansky: Did I ever own them?
[audience member: Yeah, did you enjoy the concept or design...did any of you guys get any of these toys? Do you own any of them?]
Bob Budiansky: Own the TOYS, oh, alright. I thought you said own THEM, like own Optimus Prime's name! [audience laughs] I'd get a nickel off of every toy sold! [audience laughs] When I was involved with the Transformers basically I got product from Hasbro...samples, but I had some of them.
[audience member: Are they in a place of prominent display at your home?][audience laughs]
Bob Budiansky: You'd probably be disappointed to know where they're being held in my home. [audience laughs] Sorry, I didn't want to destroy any illusions that you may have had.
Simon Furman: Well then you shouldn't point to me because when we worked in the Marvel UK offices, again, we had a complete set of toys, or at least if not complete we certainly had all the main characters. [sighs] Why didn't I keep those? [audience laughs] We just sort of left them in the office for people to clear out at some point. So, yeah. We got to the end of Transformers and we really thought it was the end. We didn't know...we couldn't have known that several years later it was gonna come back in a big way and that people were gonna be still here all those years later still really into it. So we just kinda let it go in more ways than one.
Andrew Wildman: I never had any. [audience laughs]
[audience member: I just wanted to say that...I think that comic book writers...I think a lot of people underestimate the amount of talent that's required to produce a comic book because as a novelist or someone who writes books, you have 800 pages to describe an intimate background and atmosphere and you guys just have these little bitty paper things and you've gotta have your art...and you only have those little bubbles and sometimes you gotta jam a really big story into a limited amount of space and I think that takes a lot of talent.]
Bob Budiansky: Thank you.
Simon Furman: Coming from a UK comics background, this was kind of drummed into us right away because we come from a sort of format where you didn't have 22 pages to tell a story. You'd have maybe three or four pages. You've gotta cram an awful lot in. You've gotta compress your story to the point where nothing is wasted, so by the time I came to write American comics for Marvel it was great. Having 22 pages was a luxury. [audience laughs]
Andrew Wildman: As an artist as well, the process of making the jump from the UK comic to the American comic was great. Given, Transformers was my first American work just to let you know. With the UK writing it was every page was described, every panel was described to say what was in there, what exactly the dialogue was because they had to be that precise about what was happening. But with 22 pages I guess you could leave enough there to do a broader overview of what was going on, and then as the artist you have the opportunity to then move back around and play with scenes and take on...I don't know...I guess it feels like you're more involved. So yes, I love working in there. Lots more you can do with the art.
Bob Budiansky: One thing that's obviously different between a novel and a comic book is a comic book has pictures. It really carries the burden. Comics are a visual medium. Also since I was an illustrator so you can believe this-the more you can let the pictures tell the story, the better the comic. No matter how good the writer is, you don't wanna get too bogged down in a long, gritty, written expositional kind of comic. You want it to move so it's interesting. I can always achieve that as a writer, but that was a little difficult.
Simon Furman: There was an interesting difference in styles when I came to Marvel US because the Marvel method was to work in what they call plot style, which was largely to drop four or five pages into one description of what's happening there. So you do a sort of overview almost of what's gonna happen on pages 6 to 10 or whatever, so it leaves much more of the emphasis on the artist to sort out the pacing, the construction of the pages, what you're going to give emphasis to on the page. With full script-which is more the UK version, although now I know it's a lot more prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic-you nail down everything. You put the dialogue in there from the start, which you don't do plot style. You may make suggestions, but largely you just leave it open for the artist to interpret. You see the pages and then you come in with the dialogue so it's a very different process for the writer. They basically present you with pages sometimes wonderfully that you look at and go, 'Wow! I never saw that coming, that's brilliant, I can do wonderful things with that!' Sometimes though, the guy's drawn a big head, a full page, and I have no room to put any dialogue. [audience laughs] It happened to me on one comic, not Transformers I'll ad, this just happened in a part where my description for two pages would be probably about six or eight panels and it came up with one big head shot and a couple of smaller panels under it, so it gets difficult at that point.
Andrew Wildman: One advantage with the full script, the UK way of doing it as opposed to-although I prefer the American plot (style)-one advantage with the full script is that you have all the dialogue there because I always like to use gesture and expression and get a lot of character into it. With the full script, you have the opportunity to-it's not lip synch as such, but you can get an expression or a mouth shape that in some way expresses what's in the balloon. With the American plot way sometimes they'll give you an indication of a line, but generally you don't have all the dialogue so you end up with what a lot of people used to call the 'Alleluia chorus' where these characters are going...[makes an open mouthed expression][audience laughs]...which cuts down on some of the most essential emotion that you'd like.
[audience member: How far ahead did you plan out the story arcs you were writing and were there any characters that you enjoyed writing more than the others?]
Bob Budiansky: How far ahead did I plan out a story arc? I think it varied. Sometimes I'd be able to plan out like 6 months in advance and sometimes it was issue to issue. It really depended on a lot of things, like for instance if Hasbro was bringing in a whole new line of toys and I knew I had to get them into the comic book, so I had to start planning ahead to fit them into some storyline. It kind of varied depending on various external circumstances as well as whatever I had in mind already. What was the other?
[audience member: Just what particular characters did you enjoy writing?]
Bob Budiansky: Oh, umm...
[audience member: Other than Grimlock.][audience laughs]
Bob Budiansky: Actually I didn't care about him. [audience laughs] I think it was Blaster and Ratchet earlier on, and who else...who else did I write? [audience laughs]
[audience member: All of them! I loved them all! [audience laughs]
Bob Budiansky: Shockwave...Starscream later on. I think I had some fun with Ratbat although maybe you...[audience laughs]...he was the accountant, the old bean counter. Probably a few others, but half the cast was always guarding, so I don't know much about them.
Simon Furman: We had an interesting situation on the UK comic because we were having to tie in our stories into Bob's. We would sometimes have a peek and either we'd know lots of stuff was coming up and things that were happening so that we could plan, we could use these characters because Bob's not using them. Other times we had nothing. So we had to sort of run these stories thinking, 'Oh god I hope he's not going to bring Megatron back!' [audience laughs] So you know, sometimes we just had to take a shot in the dark but other times we did have some advance info on what Bob was doing.
[audience member: Bob, there's often been unfair talk about the G1 comic where people always focus on Micromaster Wrestling and Car Wash of Doom.] [audience laughs]
Bob Budiansky: I like Car Wash! [audience laughs]
[audience member: Can you say something in contrast about the dark story lines that you ran as well? I mean, you cut Prime's head off. Can you just talk a little about the contrast between when you wrote the light stories as opposed to the dark stories?]
Bob Budiansky: Oh, okay, well I wanted to have fun with the book. I wanted my readers to have fun. I was with Marvel for almost 20 years and it seemed like there was a trend growing where every time you'd read a comic you felt like you were just dragged in the gutter. All these horrible, awful, things were happening to people and (unintelligible)..we did something positive.
Although it's obvious Transformers was two sides involved in a war that lasted forever, pretty brutal, I didn't want it to just be about that. Also I wanted to play off the obvious things already in my book. I really wanted to play off of that. Here are a bunch of alien, giant, extremely different robots walking around the earth. Although that may call for some very serious situations, it could also create some fish out of water situations. Like you mentioned a couple of the more notorious stories I wrote about. [audience laughs] So I wanted to throw that in there to kind of just mix it up, that anybody reading Transformers didn't necessarily know what to expect from issue to issue. Even in some of the darker stories I think I always tried to sprinkle in some humorous side, some sarcasm sometimes, some wisecracks, something to sort of lighten it up, to give it a more full bodied flavor.
[audience member: Andy, regarding the style you drew the Transformers where you made them more organic looking-was that partly because you wanted to make them more expressive?]
Andrew Wildman: Well the War Within 2 graphic novel is coming up soon and they asked me to write the introduction to it. That kind of relates to what I write in that. A lot of people ask me those kind of questions. In as much as I didn't actually want to do Transformers in the first place, and I know that's not a very popular thing to say, but I didn't know anything about Transformers really. I mean, I'd done some of the UK stuff purely because I was looking for work.
One of the things the UK staff wanted to do before Transformers was Thundercats. Back then we didn't have that many titles in the UK and they were all licensed, all that toy stuff. The Thundercats was the book that everybody wanted to get onto because Thundercats was the one that was more superhero in nature. It was like drawing superheroes. We all had these great aspirations of working [in a swooning voice] for Marvel in America! [audience laughs] We wanted nothing more.
Then I did the Transformers in the UK and it was fine as paying work, so then I get the opportunity to work for Marvel US, which was fantastic, but I would rather have done a book other than Transformers. Some of that is why I took this organic approach because I wanted to draw real people. A lot of people have said that they look like real people in robot costumes. That's largely the reason for it, as you'll read in the introduction to the War Within graphic novel. I feel very differently about that now, now that I look back on it, but that's how I felt at the time. It's just because I wanted to draw real people.
[audience member: And Simon, can you talk a little about how you came up with Death's Head?]
Simon Furman: Death's Head was an interesting one. Death's Head was going to be a launch aimed solely at Marvel UK, never to touch the pages of Transformers. It was a pitch I'd had around for several months. I drummed up the various powers that be at Marvel UK. Marvel UK at the time were gearing up to originate an American format comic book. I wanted one of those to be Death's Head.
The straight fact was I doubt anybody there thought the idea of a guy who killed people for a living was a good idea for a comic book. [audience laughs] It'd spearhead a new line. Even though he was a robot and he killed other robot beings and so forth, I just don't think that anybody thought this was a strong frontrunner. So in the end I was determined to show that this character could work, but we had limited options of where he could be. For one, he existed as a pitch and a couple of sketches from Geoff. So we had to do something with him, and the answer was, well, let's put him in Transformers.
That immediately opens up a huge problem in the fact that as soon as you put him into Transformers you run into copyright problems with Hasbro. Sometimes they make you make a specific copyright outside of that. You might have got him featured first in Transformers (so) he might be a Hasbro property. We came up with the idea of running a one page strip, just a sort of jokey, throwaway one page strip that we ran in Dragon's Claws which was the first launch in the new line. In the meantime we put him into Transformers having decided that he was now Marvel copyright. We felt free to put him into Transformers. Transformers stuff came out first. He got his own sort of personality and style in Transformers, so when it came to do the Death's Head comic finally he was sort of fully rounded and ready. It just sort of grew organically out of that.
Andrew Wildman: I think Death's Head is a metaphor for Simon Furman, really. [audience laughs] It's so obvious. He kills characters for a living. [audience laughs]
[audience member: Bob, your issue number 24, Afterdeath, where Optimus Prime dies, I find personally from a science fiction point of view and from a character point of view it was some of your greatest work. Especially given the integrity you showed in Optimus Prime. He went and sacrificed himself where anybody else in his shoes would have said, oh hey great, here's my way out. You showed the integrity of that character. Where'd you get the idea to do that, and also, did Hasbro tell you you had to kill off Optimus Prime?]
Bob Budiansky: I'm sure Hasbro didn't tell me that. My feeling about Optimus Prime and I guess Megatron, too, was I didn't want them to dominate. There's so many characters, I didn't want them to dominate the book. They're the leaders, they're in charge of everything. I wanted to move them off and (have the) status change for a while. I think what inspired Afterdeath and other stories maybe similar like that was I just wanted to find original ways, surprising ways to get the characters out of the picture for a while. Keep the fans-the fans would know it-he's still out there, how is he gonna bring 'em back? Try to keep that suspense going for a while. That's what pushed me to do a story like Afterdeath, really.
As far as the integrity he showed, that's just who he was. He had to make that awful decision to sacrifice himself.
[audience member: Thank you.]
Bob Budiansky: You're welcome.
[audience member: Simon, can you retell your April Fool's joke on Hasbro and is that treatment still around somewhere?]
Simon Furman: What I will do is steer you towards a site called ComicCulture.com. Go check out that. The third issue of comic culture, which is a magazine put out by Rob Tokar, has the definitive (story). We still don't have the actual April Fool's gag. Does everybody know about this? Is this a story I've..[audience member shouts 'Go ahead'] Okay.
Basically, when I was on the book we decided that as a gag to see how friendly Hasbro were going to be with us, how much attention they were paying to the book at that time, and how much we could get away with, we thought we'd play an April Fool's gag on them. We'd come up with the most ridiculous, atrocious, unpublishable story outline we could think of. Rob just said, 'Put anything in there you want. Anything. Anything ridiculous, no matter how ridiculous it is.
So I came up with-I think we did it as something like the overview for issue 72 to 73. Issue 72 was about four pages worth of just typewritten notes on what was going to happen in there. We had giant cigar smoking nuns duking it out with Megatron, crushing kids in prayers. [audience laughs] We had mechanical sheep on the Ark stuffed with explosives that nobody dared touch until Kup is overcome by urges. [audience laughs] We'd get carried away with it and blow up the whole Ark and all its occupants, and so on and so on. We rolled out ridiculousness after ridiculousness. The final bit was the little note for issue 73. 'And then there were Nun' we called it, the 'none' spelled as in 'n-u-n'. [audience laughs] It sort of comes out we wrote 'Oops, they're all dead!' for the story upbrief from that episode. We sent it off to Hasbro with a memo saying, 'Cheers, 4-1-(90)'. Whichever year it was. I think it was '90, something like that? So off it went to Hasbro.
We waited. Rob by now was getting just a little bit worried about this, wondering-would we just get a terrible reaction to this or would they get the joke? Anyway, days go by and nothing from Hasbro on his desk. Rob is getting more and more worried and I'm just the writer, I was just following orders, so...[audience laughs]. Finally he thinks he'd better phone Hasbro and ask them about the story pitch. So he finds the contact at Hasbro, who says, 'Yeah, yeah, I got it. Yeah, it seems good, it's pretty cool. We just have a few concerns.' [audience laughs] So Rob's thinking they got the gag. But (then they ask) 'So what happens after this? They're all dead!' [audience laughs] Rob thought this has got to stop (but) he didn't know what to say or do. They hadn't got the joke. He had to find out how to break it to him now that it's a joke. So he tried to steer them towards (the truth).
[as Rob] 'Have a look at the memo. What's the date?'
[as Hasbro] 'Yes, 4-1-90.'
[as Rob] 'Okay, and what's that?'
[as Hasbro] 'Well, it's the first of April.' [audience laughs]
[as Rob] 'Yes, but WHAT'S THAT?'
[as Hasbro] 'Well, I think it was a Sunday.' [audience laughs]
[as Rob] 'NO!'
Then finally they give him some hell. They called up and they stayed there silent on the phone. [audience laughs] That was a little doozy. For a minute it's sort of Rob hell. They submit him to the worst. And then finally, Rob's thinking of clearing out his desk already, [audience laughs] and then finally the guy just breaks out laughing and he says. 'You guys! You got us! Oh, I gotta do this on some other guy at Hasbro!' [audience laughs] So there you go. It kind of told us two things. They were pretty good guys, they could take a joke. And they really weren't looking at what we were doing. [audience laughs]
Andrew Wildman: They did right after that. [audience laughs]
Simon Furman: So Rob tells this whole story and about some other cover problems they had with Hasbro when they had to reattach heads to bodies, even though he had Headmasters which lift off completely from the shoulders. If you go to ComicCulture.com, check out issue 3 of the ComicCulture magazine that's coming out because Rob did a whole piece on that which is just fabulous. He remembers it far, far better than me, the actual detail of went on in the storyline.
[audience member: This is for Andrew. I want you to know that I felt your art was my favorite of the original.]
Andrew Wildman: Thank you.
[audience member: Are there any issues that stand out to you, representative of what you thought were your best issues, including the UK stuff?]
Andrew Wildman: Erhm, I don't remember much about the UK stuff. I don't know why I don't. [audience laughs] Um, 70 I think is the first one, just that whole beginning stuff and the whole flying scenario that say something-that was really good. The kind of work that I was...all artists do this...they look at other work, other artists. They never rip it off, but I mean you're influenced by things or you see things that other people do that you think, 'That's a really appropriate way of expressing a certain scene or whatever'. You draw on those things. There was a particular artist whose work-I won't tell you who it is, by the way-that I was looking at at the time seemed so relevant to how I wanted to portray that. So I worked really hard on that issue and probably the one after because I wanted to make an impression because I really wanted to tell the story well. I felt very very satisfied with that.
Simon was right, at a point it did become a rush towards the end. I liked all that stuff with...Simon was saying the way that some of the story lines were probably gonna carry on with the Nucleon thing. The planet where Grimlock went to and there's that little character, and all the foliage was made out of metal-I can't even remember what that was all about. [audience laughs] I was looking forward to doing more of that, having a planet filled with organic but metal as well. It was great. It just gave me more opportunities to put those ridiculous, like posters and tape drives and vacuum cleaners in the background, [audience laughs] all that English stuff going on. So that was fun.
[OTFCC staff: One more question.]
Simon Furman: Yes, one more question.
[audience member: This is for Bob. I know you're an artist also. I was wondering if you designed any of the original characters you wrote in the comic like Straxus or Scrounge or anyone like that.]
Bob Budiansky: I don't believe I designed either one of them. I think I gave a more detailed description of Scrounge. I did design some of the characters, not the Transformers themselves obviously-they came from Hasbro. But I designed Circuit Breaker, the original character sketch for that. I remember I think initially getting pages back from Don Perlin when I did the issues about the Scraplets. It wasn't what I perceived, so I sent back some sketches to that. I also had to draw the cover to that one (issue 29) to really show this is what I wanted them to look like-mischievous kind of a devil.
Then there were several characters scattered throughout there that are based on people at the Marvel offices. There was the Robot Master character was based on a Marvel former editor/writer, there was a character named the Mechanic that was based on a Marvel editor. [audience laughs] He looked like that, he actually was very heavy. There was probably another bunch of characters that were named after people, like a lot of my relatives were in there. [audience laughs] I just threw in names of people I knew here and there.
Simon Furman: I just want to add a blatant plug. That sketch for Circuit Breaker is featured in the upcoming Titan collection, Maximum Force. We've also got some of Bob's original cover sketches in upcoming Titan collections. So we're working hard to put some extra bonuses here in these collections. Like I said, we've got a lot of Bob's original art from Transformers. I think Andrew has one more thing to say before we wrap up here.
Andrew Wildman: Oh, me, yes. Something that I would have like to have seen when I was trying to get into comics, and something that I never really had the opportunity to see, was original penciled artwork. You'd usually get inked up, colored, printed, and there you go, see the finished art in stores. If you're lucky, occasionally you'll see pages of finished, inked artwork. Since I would have liked to seen that when I was trying to get into comics, we've put together a whole series of packs based on the War Within 2 series. You can order these off of the Wildfur website. Each pack contains an issue of whichever issue it is signed by myself and Simon. Then what we've also put together are booklets that have got a copy of Simon's original script so you can see how the script is all put together, then copies of all the penciled artwork before it got inked and covered. So if anyone is interested in that kind of thing and how it was put together, come talk to us, we'll show you these. You can have a see what they're like and you can pick it up and hang on to it.
Simon Furman: We will just say there are a very limited number at one of the dealer tables today, over at Paul's stand, which is the one with the UK flags on it. [audience laughs] You'll know it. We have got one of each, they're very limited because we just couldn't lug a lot of stuff over. If people really want to go and look at what these are, they're on Paul's table. But you can order one besides.
Bob Budiansky: I will say on my behalf, with this coming to an end, if people see me wandering around and if your questions haven't been answered, feel free to walk up and ask, okay?
Andrew Wildman: I've also got, if anybody is interested in buying original artwork, I've brought with me the only remaining pages of the original Marvel stuff that I've got. So I'm going to be there if anybody's interested in buying or just having a look at some of that!
Simon Furman: Okay, thank you very much! [audience applauds][end of panel]
* 'working over here right now'-might be wrong due to audience laughter interfering