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More Than Meets The Prequel

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Not many people have more experience writing comics based on the Transformers franchise than Simon Furman. Naturally, he was a shoe-in to write the script for the comic lead-in to this summer’s blockbuster movie.

Broken Frontier caught up with the writer to discuss the book, and discuss other happenings around the Transformers universe.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Can you bring our readers up to speed on your history between the Transformers universe and yourself?

SIMON FURMAN: Wow. Well, we're now into my 22nd year. I started writing Transformers back in 1985, for Marvel UK. I was actually the second writer to come onboard for the then very new title, Steve Parkhouse wrote the first UK originated story (Man of Iron). I then followed up with “The Enemy Within”, a five-part story that ran through issues #13-17. I wrote maybe a hundred or more stories for the UK comic after that, and took over on the US comic from #56. That run went through to #80, after which I did the 12-issue Transformers Generation 2 comic (1993). There followed a Transformers hiatus for me, and things kind of restarted in 1997 with first convention-exclusive Transformers comics and then an episode of the Beast Wars TV show. Since then I've written Transformers extensively for Dreamwave and (currently) IDW, written Transformers: The Ultimate Guide for DK and a few bits of prose here and there.

BF: How did your involvement with this particular title come about?

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SF: Originally, back in 1985, I was just a jobbing freelancer, and a pretty new one at that, and I was introduced to the editor of Transformers UK, Sheila Cranna, by Ian Rimmer, who I'd worked with on Scream—a junior horror comic. In terms of IDW, once they picked up the license (left in limbo after the implosion of Dreamwave) we just got talking. Twenty odd years in, I guess I've just become somewhat of the go-to guy. The trick is, I guess, to keep impressing, keep doing fresh and interesting work (and not just recycle old stories), otherwise I could quickly become the 'go-around' guy. 

BF: Where do things stand now in the Transformers universe?

SF: In the core series I'm writing for IDW, which began with Transformers: Infiltration and has evolved now into Transformers: Escalation, we've gone right back to the beginning, started the saga from scratch but in a contemporary setting, with updated designs and modern comics sensibilities. It's kind of like Marvel's Ultimate line, but for Transformers.

Where we stand right now, the Decepticons have infiltrated deep into the socio-political substructure on Earth, and are now agitating global hotspots with the intention of letting humans simply wipe themselves out, whereupon it will require little actual effort on their part to conquer the planet and strip it down for raw materials. The discovery of an ore that super-energizes Transformers has upped the ante considerably, and the Autobots are doing their best to stop the Decepticons from harvesting it.

BF: What characters are making an appearance?

SF: A whole host of classic characters, from Optimus Prime and Megatron to the likes of Starscream, Sunstreaker and Hot Rod. But, in addition to the 'ongoing' storyline, we're also introducing extra characters (all of whom will have some kind of pivotal role in the 'ongoing') in a series of Transformer Spotlights and external mini-series like Stormbringer. Ultra Magnus, Sixshot, Galvatron, Thunderwing, Bludgeon, Scorponok, etc. I could go
on and on.

BF: You’ve written the prequel to the upcoming Transformers movie. How much access did you have to the film?

SF: Well, I read the script and saw a whole bunch of designs, etc. I was working (concurrently) on a big Visual Guide for Dorling Kindersley, so between the two projects I got to see a whole lot of stuff not for general release. Other than that, I've only seen the two trailers, like the rest of the world.

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BF: What original ideas did you bring to the Transformers universe with this tale?

SF: A lot of the movie prequel storyline was dictated (to a large amount) by the movie itself. We could only really do stuff that fed into/led up to the start of the movie itself. That said, we got pretty in deep to the war on Cybertron (something that's barely more than mentioned in the movie), plus the whole history of Sector 7, the organization that's after the Transformers on Earth, and we even got to present a whole Earthbound battle that comes before the movie begins.

So, considering the limitations, I think we (that is myself and co-writer/IDW Editor in Chief Chris Ryall) managed to bring a lot of new/fresh stuff into the mix. It's the kind of depth or backstory there's just no time/space for in the movie itself.

BF: In your mind what are the strongest aspects of the Transformers mythos? And the weakest?

SF: Strongest is the core concept. Beings that, by nature, are basically chimerical. The whole idea allows for the concept to continually update and reinvent itself, which maybe explains why it's been around for all this time.

The weakest? Some of the later (original/G1) toy concepts, like Action Masters (which didn't transform!). That said, I'm trying to take a lot of the later (and progressively weaker) gimmicks, like Pretenders and Headmasters, and make them better and more relevant for the Infiltration/Escalation storyline. So, maybe there are no weak points, just occasional poor execution.

BF: Which character was the most fun to write?

SF: I always loved Grimlock, this conflicted character who trod a fine line between hero and villain. For Infiltration/Escalation and the Spotlights, I'm trying to play around a little with people's preconceived ideas of the characters, reinventing them somewhat. In the process, I'm warming to a whole new bunch of characters (like Hot Rod and Sunstreaker) that I never much real thought to before.

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BF: With so many characters available in the title, did you have any trouble juggling the ensemble cast?

SF: I've been careful not to overload Infiltration/Escalation with too many characters all at once, relying on Stormbringer and the Spotlights to widen things out. I was determined not to force the pace, to properly ground the saga. A few people didn't like that, but I've stuck pretty much to the game-plan myself and IDW worked out, and people are now really coming onboard with this new version of G1.

BF: Did you take into consideration that some of the readers may not be familiar with the Transformers universe?

SF: These days, I always do. The whole point of Infiltration/Escalation was to bring people in at the start of something, instead of midway through twenty odd years of often tangled continuity. Same with the movie prequel. Even if you've never read a Transformers comic before, you can get right into this whole new world.

BF: Because of obvious differences between the movie, the cartoon, and the series, was there anything you couldn't add do to this title since it is tied to the movie?

SF: Well, as far as the prequel goes, we can't kill off characters, which is something I've been known to do from time to time. No, wait, we already did. Oops. For Infiltration/Escalation, though, there are really no limits. No one is safe. Really.

BF: Did you add any kind of fan service for those people who are intimately familiar with the universe?

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeSF: Rest assured that the artist on the prequel, Don Figueroa, is so well versed in the many incarnations of Transformers that are bound to be some 'easter eggs' for the fans. In fact, Don's stuff is littered with tiny little homages and so forth, stuff even I don't pick up.

BF: A lot of my friends - not naming any names - remember crying during the Transformers animated movie. How much emotion did you seek to add to your story?

SF: I hope I can still provoke an emotional response with the stuff I write. People still say to me that death of Scorponok in issue #75 of the Marvel (US) Transformers comic really moved them. I've not quite equaled that, but it's nice to still have goals!

BF: Any chance of a Death's Head cameo?

SF: Not in Transformers, no. But hey, we recently did Death's Head 3.0 for Marvel, so who knows. Maybe a crossover? Joe? Chris?

Keep your eyes peeled for all the current Transformer titles by  IDW Publishing, starting with tomorrow's Transformers: The Movie Prequel #2. Then, contemplate starting a line for the film that arrives in theatres on July 4th.

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