Comic-Con 2014: ‘Transformers’ Writers Mairghread Scott & John Barber
Sadly, the Transformers movies have become synonymous with cinematic stupidity, which hurts the souls of longtime fans. However, there may be some kind of karmic balance at work, because Transformers comics are right now the best they’ve ever been, and that’s thanks in part to John Barber, writer of Transformers: Robots in Disguise with artist Andrew Griffith, as well as the TF editor at IDW, and to Mairghread Scott, a veteran of the Transformers: Prime animated series who has recently become the first woman to write an official Transformers comic with the four-issue series Windblade, alongside Sarah Stone on art. Windblade has been a breath of fresh air, a very different perspective from a separate civilization of Transformers who identify as female from a planet called Caminus. When you add in James Roberts and Alex Milne of the densely stellar Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye, you’ve got plenty to be happy about as a fan.
At San Diego Comic-Con, I caught up with Barber and Scott and talked to them about the generational differences of Transformers fans, the reintroduction of female Transformers into a continuity where they were long absent, and a lot of what’s coming up for our favorite Cybertronians.
What got each of you into Transformers for the first time when you were young?
Marighread Scott: Beast Wars. Hands down. Watched it as a kid, absolutely loved it. So, got the job on Prime and have been transforming ever since.
John Barber: I got Transformers #1 when it came out. I remember seeing the TV commercial and going to school the next day and talking to people about “who was that truck that turned into a robot? Who was that gun? Who was that guy?” I bought issue #1 when it came out. My parents and I had just moved to California right when that came out. That was the comic I got as I moved thousands of miles away from where I was before. I wore that comic out. I just read it over and over again.
So, there’s a deep ingrained passion. As a Beast Wars fan, what’s your perspective on going back and researching the G1 stuff? I know, as a G1 fan, I had some issues back then about Optimus Prime being a monkey, but I’m over that now.
Scott: Well, you were definitely aware – even though I didn’t watch anything G1, actually, until the Bay films, and Optimus had not been a truck for me until I was an adult, but you were aware that he had been a truck, in an ethereal way. The biggest thing for me is that I’m so used to thinking of them as animated characters, so trying to get used to them in toy form and other types of media, comic book forms and things like that was definitely a little bit of a transition. Everything just seemed so fluid in Beast Wars. They were always jumping into and jumping out of transformations.
Where as G1 can get pretty choppy.
Scott: Yeah, they’d just stop and transform, which is cool. It’s a very anime kind of thing.
So did it seem really cheesy when you went back, if you ever saw the G1 cartoon?
Scott: Well, I did, I had to watch the G1 cartoon a lot when I was working at Prime in production. No, it didn’t seem cheesy. Certainly, viewing it as an adult, you see the animation mistakes – like a scene where they’ve got to go rescue Bumblebee and they’re all talking together and Bumblebee is drawn in the scene. You just want somebody to go ‘found him!’ But no, it was really interesting. I think the hardest thing was Megatron turning into a gun that someone else could fire. That was the hardest thing. He was such a control freak.
To be fair, that always a hard thing for me, too.
Barber: It’s a pretty weird thing, yeah.
Scott: That, and everyone was always finding abandoned boom boxes and taking them to their secret bases. Like ‘aw, sweet, free boom box in the desert!’
Barber: You don’t understand the 80s at all! That’s exactly what it was like. That’s almost a documentary in the 80s.
Scott: I really don’t. The hardest thing for me is Soundwave. For me, Prime Soundwave, spy drone, makes sense. Cassette player does not make sense. I just never got that.
But he had, like, six dudes living in his chest!
Scott: It’s funny. I get the cassettes! But him turning into a boom box, that’s like the least effective battle form! Argh!
Barber: I remember when I first started, people would ask me ‘do you want to have the Dinobots back in,’ and I was like ‘yeah, that’d be awesome, they’re great.’ ‘But isn’t it weird that they turn into dinosaurs?’ No! If you were a giant robot who could turn into anything, and you DON’T pick a dinosaur, and you pick a tape player, you’re crazy! Why wouldn’t you be a giant tyrannosaurus? Yeah, you’re not going to be disguised, but who’s gonna mess with you?
Absolutely! Do you think you might address at some point what it’s like for the cassettes to live inside Soundwave? Do they have a subspace apartment in there or something?
Barber: (laughs) I’ve always assumed they don’t really live in him. Man. I guess I hadn’t thought of it.
Scott: I always thought it was like a Pokemon thing, where you never want to really address it.
Yeah, what happens in that little ball?
Barber: What happens in there stays in there.
So, how do you feel, coming from an animated series like Prime to doing comic work?
Scott: Comic work is awesome, because you get to play with so many more people, and it’s much more just your voice. As long as John’s okay with it, what I write ends up on the page. I don’t have to write it, then it goes to the director, then it goes to the board artist, then it goes overseas, and then a year later, I get to see what happened. And there’s no limit, other than whenever I’m going to break Sarah’s wrist. I can say ‘there’s 50 dudes showing up and they all do a conga line!’
Has it been tricky to fit into the continuity established by James and John? You do seem to have your own corner with Windblade.
Scott: I think this is about the easiest anyone has ever had it jumping into a continuity because we have carved our own little corner. That’s kind of my specialty, because anything with Transformers – it’s such a long-lived brand that you at least have to be aware of all the continuity, which was my job beforehand.
And now you’re all in different places. James’s crew is in space, Windblade is on Cybertron and RiD is on Earth. It’s always tricky bringing the humans in and finding a way to make them cool next to giant awesome robots. When I was a kid, I thought humans were dorks and wanted to read about the robots. What’s been your approach this time, aside from the fantastic choice of making Thundercracker into an aspiring soap opera screenwriter?
Barber: Yeah, even when I was a kid, reading Transformers, when they first got to the smelting pit, that’s when it’s good. That’s so much better than what I had been reading. Not that comics were bad, but even watching the original animated series, those first five minutes when they’re on Cybertron, those are the best! I really loved it. So we made a really concentrated effort, when James and I took over, that we were going to be away from Earth. We were going to be on Cybertron or in space. But from Day 1, Andrew Griffith and I wanted to get back to Earth, and part of it was the challenge. A lot of people don’t like those stories, so can we do one that’s really good? I think we accomplished what we set out to do in Robots in Disguise on Cybertron. We told a good story, people seemed to like it, we were happy with it. Can we go back and do it on Earth? It’s also such an integral part of the mythos.
That’s true. Nothing against Earth. It’s where I keep all my stuff.
Scott: Otherwise, they don’t need to be in disguise.
Barber: Right, yeah. We really wanted to have them be in disguise and not blow that in issue three as usually happens in Transformers, where the entire world knows they’re there and Spider-Man is attacking the base. It’s awesome to set them in space, and James and Alex Milne are doing an amazing job with More Than Meets The Eye, and Windblade, I couldn’t love more. It’s great. But I love playing with the scale, and you really lose the scale when they’re all giant. I’m getting back into this idea that there are little tiny people and little tiny dogs on this world. These are giants. But we still try to maintain the characters we try to bring into it.
The biggest thing happening right now is that Megatron is now leading a bunch of Autobots. That is HUGE. Brain-meltingly huge. How did that happen? True, with James’ Chaos Theory arc that established Megatron’s early life as more of a seditious hero, part of us expected this to come around, but it’s still nuts, and you occasionally get some G1 purist getting really indignant about it. How’s the response been in general?
Barber: Sure, you’re going to get some people angry when you do something like that. Hopefully, they’ll read it and see what we’re doing and how James has handled it. It’s not something that happens lightly. It’s not like ‘issue 28, he’s a good guy, the end.’ To me, a big part of it is, on the Earth side, humans can’t forgive him. He’s the worst genocidal monster in the history of the planet. There’s no way they can think he’s a good guy now. They go ‘oh, well, if he’s on that side, they’re the bad guys.’ By the same token, I like the idea of Optimus Prime wanting to give him a chance, because they’re goals weren’t different originally, before things went bad. So far, the response has been great. People are reading the book, they’re loving it and they’re talking about it. I think it’s something that has repercussions across all three of the series. Even though it’s centered in More Than Meets the Eye, it is a big thing. I’ve read the next couple of MTMTEs, and there’s a lot more to it, and not everybody can or will get over it, and maybe they shouldn’t. I also wouldn’t make the argument that you should be okay with Megatron being a good guy. If you don’t like it, that’s a valid point of view, and there are going to be some Autobots who agree with you.
I love the murky politics of all of this from so many different angles. Speaking of which, James’ writing is so dense – how tough is it to edit that?
Barber: It’s tough. It’s tough. Very. It’s all so interconnected and intricate.
It just blows my mind. Another thing I’m curious about – when is Windblade coming back now?
Scott: Early 2015.
Barber: Yeah, we haven’t quite figured that out yet. Windblade herself makes an appearance in RiD #33. The character is very around. We’re not losing her.
Is Sarah still going to be on the book?
Barber: Yeah, Sarah’s actually drawing RiD #33. I stole her for an issue. I’m really excited to get to work with her because she’s amazing. Windblade is definitely going to be a big factor in the series. We just wanted to make sure she’s active and doing stuff between her own series.
Do you know what you’ll be doing in the meantime?
Scott: I’ve been writing, but nothing that I can announce just yet.
Fair enough. The big thing that hasn’t been directly addressed yet in the books is the reintroduction of different gender pronouns among Transformers, which is fascinating. So far, the curiosity among Cybertronians has basically been dismissed by those from Caminus, and maybe that’s the only way it needs to be addressed – just accept it and move on. But I’d gotten the impression that there was a bigger explanation coming in the future. Is there something bigger behind it?
Scott: That’s definitely something I felt like I addressed more in issue #4, in the sense that there’s no reason for Windblade to explain why she’s a she any more than there would be if you walked up to a random lady on the street and said ‘how do you explain why you exist?’ But there are a lot of things to explain why Camians are the way they are, and that was something we really touched on in issue 4 and the reintroduction of the Lost Colonies – that aspect of it, and the idea of how these Titans influenced the life that grew up around them, that’s something I’m very interested in. Being he versus being she is not nearly as different as being a guy who turns into a cassette and lives in another guy and being a flying shark. So you’ve got to keep things in perspective.
So what can you tell us about what’s coming up next?
Barber: Next in RiD is 33, we’re back on Cybertron. It’s the return of Wheeljack and the explanation of what’s going on with him.
I like that he can come back after having his head exploded. I like that that’s a thing.
Barber: That was always a thing. There’s a panel description – his head gets hit but his brain does not.
Scott: You can post that on tumblr and say “just so you remember!”
Barber: I feel like I’m going to have to! Yeah, but 34 is more Galvatron the Barbarian. We learn some deep secrets of the IDW Transformers universe that we haven’t touched on, and we spend a lot more time earlier than we have before with some stuff that’s going to come back to haunt the heroes very soon.
Are Quintessons involved at all?
Barber: Not in that particular story, no. But after that, we’re going to have a story that will touch on some of the other people on Earth that we haven’t seen for a while. Meanwhile, we’ve got Primacy, the last part of the Cybertronian war trilogy that Flint Dille, Chris Metzen, and Livio Ramondelli have been doing. This is where the war really starts. Megatron’s back in charge of the Decepticons and he’s really making his attack on Cybertron. It pulls together the parts from Autocracy and Monstrosity. After that, we’ve got the return of Drift by Shane McCarthy and Guido Guidi, who first introduced him. It’s a four issue series that ties in very directly with More Than Meets the Eye, and I think Windblade will come out right after that.
Any other solo issue spotlights in the works?
Barber: Nothing in the works right now. We have a lot of Transformers comics right now.
Scott: Spotlight Injector! Just putting it out there.
I’d love a Spotlight Chromia, after the last issue of Windblade giving us a lot to think about her.
Scott: Oh yeah, I know. That’s cool. That’s pretty good.
Barber: That’s going to come back to haunt people, I think!