Transcript of TFNation panel with writer Brian Ruckley, plus artists Anna Malkova, Beth McGuire-Smith and Andrew Griffith. NB: I’m not sure what the etiquette is here; if it’s poor form or frowned upon to transcribe convention panels then I apologise and will happily delete this post if requested. Questions are not transcribed word for word, and have been abbreviated for ease of typing. Creators’ responses are as accurate as I can get them given the nature of my recording (I was in the back row with an iPhone), and my ability to comprehend the panellists’ various accents. Anything in [square brackets] are my own editorial notes, rather than anything that was being said on stage. Q: How did you come to write for IDW? [sadly I got to the panel late so missed the beginning of this answer] BR: ...I produced a pitch, which was a long, drawn-out process which I won’t bore you with, but obviously it ended up with me getting the gig. Q: How much luxury do you have with regards to creative freedom? BR: So... is this panel broadcast in any way? [Nervous laughter] There’s no one answer as to much creative freedom I’ve got because it has evolved, and is continuing to evolve. The initial process was very much, “you have no limits, pitch us whatever you want, we’re willing to consider anything.” IDW had some ideas about what angles to take, and it had already been decided that it was a pre-war thing, they wanted to start in peace and move towards conflict. Since then, there has been a gradual narrowing-down and I know that, compared to previous iterations of IDW Transformers comics, Hasbro is, I think it’s fair to say, extremely involved in this one; there are a lot of notes being given and they are paying quite close attention. Which is fine - entirely how it should be, in a lot of ways... but particularly when you’re producing a comic on a twice-monthly schedule, you’re introducing some quite complex machinery into the whole process, which does require some fairly rapid thinking-on-your-feet from both writers and artists. It’s been quite an intense process, but everyone’s been trying to head in the same direction - it’s not as if everyone’s pulling in totally different directions. Q: Andrew Griffith, how were you brought back into the fold? AG: Originally they asked me to do a couple of the covers; I was happy to do that. [Hesitating] I think... I dunno what happened, like one of the artists was unable to do what they were gonna do, so they asked me to do some fill-in pages. Q: And how did you two become attached to the project? AM: I heard that the previous continuity was ending, and I thought, “maybe it’s my time!” So I wrote to them and said, “Hey, I haven’t done any comics before, but I’d seriously love to do some covers or help in any way”. BMS: I worked on the Synergy project that they did with all the female creators, and I got an email from one of the editors, saying “we’d like to use you again, if you’re interested in working on the new Transformers series”, and I was like, “Yes please!!!” However, I didn’t hear back from them for a very long time - it wasn’t until the following year that I heard that I’d got the job. Q: Asks about the slow, deliberate build. BR: The brief was very much to start off in peacetime, but the idea was there to make Cybertron - not exactly a utopia - but, you know, a quite nice place where everyone was getting on alright and everything was sort of going along swimmingly. The idea from the very start was - and this was a mixture of my pitch and also where the publishers and Hasbro wanted to come from anyway - was to kind of ramp things up, step by step, until you reach a certain point (which is now actually the not-too-distant future) where everything really comes apart and we start blowing up everything we can get our hands on! So that was always the model. I slightly probably misjudged the pace of the build-up, and some of the scheduling and negotiations going on behind-the-scenes have slightly influenced some of the structure and how it’s all played out. But in general terms, the idea has always been this ramp, starting off with everyone being nice, and reach a point where everyone’s trying to kill everyone else. Q: Was the toyetic art a Hasbro mandate? AG: I just assumed that it was? I just drew them like the toys coming out because I’d seen what the other artists had been doing. BR: I would just say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen comic art which was as toy-accurate as some of the earlier issues, quite spectacularly so. AM: It was quite hard for me, as I prefer more emotional storytelling, and do a lot with character expressions, so I had to adjust to what I could pass through the editors, with my style, and just go from there. I designed some characters where there had been no previous iterations of them... I guess, that’s what they look like now! BMS: I try to stay on model where possible, but the style thing clashes at times where I’m like, “I want to draw it like this!” But I also want to make sure that I’m accurate to the design, especially as the other artists have tried so hard to fit to that style as well. Q: On the subject of the non-Cybertronians on Cybertron. BR: Yes! The Voin! There’s a funny thing about that, which just goes to show that no idea that you have as a writer is ever necessarily wasted. When I was about 16 (which you can probably tell by looking at me was a long time ago!) I was writing a lot of sci-fi short stories, and had this idea for a story that had aliens that were basically cuttlefish in floating goldfish bowls. I never wrote that story, or got very far with it, anyway. Decades later, it turns out I can use them in a Transformers comic, which is not something I ever expected to happen! The Voin are one of several alien races that are in the book, or floating around the periphery of it. I’m never quite sure what I can say, because you never know what might happen in the approval process, but my plan at the moment would be that we’re going to see a lot more of the Voin quite soon, and that they (or one of them anyway) might have more of a role in the story than has been obvious thus far. Having a significant non-Cybertronian presence was always one of the objectives, right from the very first pitch that I submitted. There will always be that slight presence in the book, whether it’s the Voin or other kinds of aliens. I think actually issue 12 is the one where you’ll see quite a lot more of the Thrall [sp?], which we also touched on briefly in some of the earlier issues. Q: On the death of Brainstorm BR: It was always intended to be off-panel; I can’t remember it ever being discussed that it wouldn’t be, just kind of like, that final page. I would say to people who were annoyed at me for killing off Brainstorm: I have a great deal of sympathy, because if I were doing it all over again, I wouldn’t have made Brainstorm the victim at the end of that first issue, probably. I needed a scientist-type character to be the victim, and I suggested Brainstorm. The terrible truth is, although I was a big fan of the previous continuity, I hadn’t read all of it, and I didn’t know Brainstorm’s full backstory. To be honest if I had done, I’d have probably picked a different character. Not because I think anybody should be immune to potentially dying or getting into trouble in the series, but because the way it comes across, I totally understand, is a bit more pointed... it’s certainly not meant to be any sort of rejection of the themes or approaches of previous continuities, it just worked out that way. Q: On the subject of diversity BR: IDW and Hasbro are uniformly in favour of diversity in its widest sense, really. What I didn’t want to do - and what they didn’t want me to do - was to replicate the kind of approach, the kind of themes, that were so foregrounded in particularly James’s [Roberts] previous work. Let’s be honest, I couldn’t conceivably do what he did, as good as he did it, anyway! But one of the big things I wanted to do was to get the basic gender balance a bit more, just on a really basic level. And the neuro-divergent character, some of the publicity slightly got ahead of it, I think... I’ve seen some people identify Rubble as an autistic character, which isn’t really what I specified in the pitch, but I thought the principle of having - not just one, actually, there are several other characters who I’m writing as if they’re somewhat neuro-divergent - but not necessarily in ways that translate directly to our notion of neuro-divergent people. That sort of spin on that whole area of, what might it be like if Cybertronians weren’t totally homogenous in the way that their minds work? I think the way Soundwave is... he’s readable as someone who’s neuro-divergent as well. Q: Favourite contribution? AM: Well, I just like drawing femmebots without lipstick! Also using some of the architectural background I have. If you remember in issues 7 and 8 there’s a monument, and it’s pretty much based on the Brutalist architecture of Kosovo. Also in issue 10 you have Sentinel’s ship and I chose to make it a really terribly complicated design, to which I seriously apologise to Beth and anybody else who has to draw it! AG: Back when we did Robots in Disguise, Iacon was very much based on what Nick [Roche] did in “The Death of Optimus Prime”, a lot of ruined ships and decrepit buildings, so it was nice to draw it more utopian, a little bit more modern, like a thriving metropolis, so it was a nice change to draw Cybertron that way! BMS: I really enjoyed drawing the Winged Moon, that was one of my favourite parts, just the idea of a giant metal ball with all these things happening around it. I also enjoyed drawing Codexa, she was wonderful! Just sitting in a big chair in a cave - I can relate to that, you know! [Audience laughs] I put some of myself into this character! Q: On the subject of Codexa, she appears in the cliffhanger of issue 3 but is not in issue 4... BR: I like to try the odd thing here and there! The idea was always that, one of the things that came down... “instruction” makes it sound harsh, but one of the basic ground rules that IDW were pushing was that they wanted it written in five-issue story arcs with standalone issues in between them. The standalone issues are not exactly Spotlights, but we wanted to focus on individual characters to some extent. So more or less from the start, I knew that issue 6 was going to be quite Optimus and Megatron heavy, and I thought it would be fun to frame it with a flashback to the end of issue 3. I don’t know how desperate people were to see what Codexa was up to in issue 4, but, I mean, they didn’t have to wait too long to find out, so I hope it was all right! Q: How much do you plan ahead? Do you know what the impending war will look like? BR: I do! What I would say is that, there isn’t an end point as such, there’s more like a transition into a different kind of story, and there are landmarks along that journey that I’ve got to hit at various stages, and they’re all filed away in the back of my head. We’re explicitly treating it as an open-ended series, so that there’s not some finishing line that we’re heading for, it’s more a transition into a different kind of story, and I know what sort of war we’re heading for, but obviously I can’t really talk about that just yet! Q: What’s the pressure like, working on a bi-monthly book? BMS: It tests your mettle! It proves whether you really want to do this or not. It’s a challenge, it’s... interesting. AM: I’m in a constant state of pressure anyway, it’s just how I am. I have a day job, and I told them, I can only make five pages per week on top of my day job, and IDW were like, no it’s okay, that’s perfectly fine. AG: I’ve been doing this long enough that I know how many pages I can do for how much time. It’s become a standard where I know how to go about putting a page together that I can do in the amount of time it takes to meet the deadline. Q: Will the current schedule be maintained? BR: In terms of staying bi-monthly, no. We would all have a nervous breakdown! Whatever they [the artists] are saying about it all working fine, we would all have nervous breakdowns if it stayed bi-monthly. It’s going monthly from issue 13, and I assume that the new book they’re launching, Galaxies, is going to slot in to the vacated slot, so that you’ll still have two Transformers comics per month. [At this point, questions are thrown open to the floor.] Q: On the comic’s politics. BR: My approach to writing all that kind of stuff is that, a lot of the stuff that goes on in the book is, at least to some extent, influenced by things that go on in the world nowadays. What I’m writing in the book is not directly modelled on any one world-view, for example, I’m not trying to say that Megatron is D****d T***p, as a random example, but that’s not saying that I’m not taking stuff that I see going on in the world and making it happen, in a slightly different version, in the book, but happening on all sides, you know. It’s not just Megatron’s lot that are involved in propaganda, bending the truth and all this kind of thing necessarily. I’m spreading out some of the activities across various different political factions. Q: Is it hard to write a tale of subtle political intrigue when you have characters based on toys that are named, for example, Skullcruncher? BR: They’re not toys, to me they’re characters, some of whom are more complex than characters I’ve written in novels. One of the things I’ve always liked about the Transformers universe is that, in theory, it’s one of those rare franchises where you can tell any story, do anything you want with these characters and with this universe. So you have enormous war stories, you’ve had almost soap opera relationship drama... you can do anything with them, they’re capable of holding any sort of story as any other characters in any other franchise, or any other form of fiction. Q: On the mentee/mentor relationship between Bumblebee and Rubble. BR: There’s always an element of problem-solving to all of this. I’m more comfortable if, even if it’s not on the page, at least I’ve got an idea in my head of how this society actually functions. I don’t need to necessarily bore the readers with all of that, but the mentor/mentee thing came from the idea that Transformers were being forged in these facilities on Cybertron, and they’re being forged as - not children - but they don’t really have an understanding of the word around them, they have no experiences and so on, so you’ve got to somehow bridge the gap between this newly-forged individual who’s born into this incredibly complex world, and them being a fully functional member of that society. What mechanism is there for them to cross that gap? The mentor thing just seemed like a way of doing that. It has a spin-off benefit from a storytelling point of view, in that it creates this slightly different kind of relationship, a sort of father or mother or family kind of tone to some of the relationships, which you can then use to progress things. So Orion was essentially Codexa’s mentee, so you can have these relationships that don’t stay the same, they’re rooted in that early relationship that then persists through their lives. Q: On Brainstorm’s death being the first death on the planet for years, and its relationship to previous wars. BR: It is true that there hasn’t been a deliberate Cybertronian-on-Cybertronian killing on the planet for a very very long time. It’s implied in one of the issues that there has been violence out on other planets, away from Cybertron, on some sort of scale. The war, or the immediate aftermath of the war, was the last time that any Cybertronian was deliberately killed on Cybertron. There has been a fairly uniform and complete peace; whether that peace is necessarily consensual and, sort of, as peaceful below the surface as some of the characters assume or pretend it to be, is a slightly different question. But for a long time it’s been a pacifist society, and a lot of that is to do with the nature of the war against the Threefold Spark that’s been referred to, and obviously hasn’t exactly been explained yet what that was all about. But there are elements of how that war played out, and what it was about, in the sense that it traumatised the entire Cybertronian society and caused it to go through a phase of pacifism which is now coming to an end. Q: Favourite characters to write or draw? BR: My favourite characters tend to be whoever I’ve been writing most recently. The ones who have persisted as favourites through the series are to some extent the ones that I knew were going to be favourites because they’re in there, because I really liked them already. The best example is Cyclonus, who’s really only in there because I really like him as a character, and I thought I could do something fun with him. Also, Anna [Malkova] created a female titan, and as far as I can remember, there’s nothing in the script that says... which is absolutely fine by me, as I deliberately write my scripts to leave a bit of latitude for the artists to do their thing, art being a magical thing that I barely understand. But one of the results of that is, who my favourite characters are is sometimes influenced by the art, which I eventually see not that long before a lot of you see it, given the schedules we’re operating on. Shadow Striker and Flamewar, I enjoyed writing, but they became favourite characters once I saw the art, so you’ll be seeing more of them, because I myself want to see more of them! AG: Ratchet, because he was always in the other book, you know, that I didn’t draw! It’s funny because we didn’t have a design for him, and the editor just said to me, draw him however you think he’d look like. So I based him on the Ironhide design, figured what his colours would be, and then sure enough the toy is released by Hasbro, and a lot of people assumed that the comic look was based on the Ratchet toy, but the truth is that I had to guess what he would look like, knowing the way Hasbro tends to work. BMS: Cyclonus, but specifically Cyclonus flying through a window! AM: I love all of them, but Megatron specifically, and in this book I got to draw some very fun Megatron stuff, which you’re going to see in issue 11, so I’m really looking forward to the reaction to that! Q: Are there any characters that you’ve created who you’d love to see as a toy? AM: I’d like to see a new Flamewar toy, as the only other one that I could see was a BotCon exclusive. BMS: I’d be really intrigued to see a Codexa toy, because then it’d mean we actually see her standing up! AG: I’m still waiting to see - and this goes back to the previous continuity, but, Aileron. [Many murmurs of approval from the audience] I’m still waiting for that, but, you know, we’ll see. BR: I never had a strong view on that, but I have a half-formed plan for a way we might get to see Codexa standing up in the comic, so... we’ll see. Q: What’s your involvement in the Galaxies spin-off series? BR: I don’t know what I’m allowed to say about Galaxies... I’ve had some involvement, and I know a fair bit about what’s coming, and some of it is going to spin very directly out of stuff that’s in the main series. Some of it isn’t, some of it’s going to be self-contained... I mean, it’s all going to be self-contained stories in a certain sense, but some of them tie very directly. For example, issue 18 of the main series will be a self-contained issue but will connect very directly to an arc of Galaxies. The first arc of Galaxies is obviously about the Constructicons, and the Constructicons are actually name-dropped in issue 6 of the main series, and the reason they were name-dropped, the reason it was pointed out that they were involved in the rebuilding of Cybertron after the war, and the reason we haven’t heard anything about them since then... you’ll find out what they’re up to in the first arc of Galaxies. So there are connections , and I’ve been somewhat involved. Everything I’ve seen about what’s coming up makes me think Galaxies is going to be rather cool and quite good fun, so I think you should all go and read it! Q: A question about economic externalities. [For the layman, an externality is something that happens to a person or group (good or bad) who did not choose to incur it. E.g. pollution from corporations that affects the general public, or when you get a vaccination it can benefit those around you. The question was essentially about how the Autobots’ self-imposed rationing of Energon was a bugbear of Megatron’s group.] BR: Wow, okay. I haven’t talked about economic externalities in a great many years! I would actually put it slightly wider than that: Megatron is an expansionist, and the Autobots are not. There is a sense in which the Autobots are trying to restrain things and to some extent are, in the broadest sense, they’re internalising the externalities [i.e. trying to reduce the negative effects, such as how a government might put a carbon tax on a polluter], that, if Megatron had his way, the rest of the universe would bear the cost, and would suffer whatever consequences there were of Cybertronian expansion. The Autobots, for whatever the reason, although it’s to do with the war as I said, have taken the decision to enforce a deliberate self-restraint, which, well, is not going to work, obviously. It’s doomed! Q: Another question about the aliens on Cybertron. BR: All the alien races, every single organic thing on Cybertron comes from somewhere else. So the Skitters [sp?], the little creepy-crawly things, skittery things, and the flying things like Prowl’s pet, they’re all alien species, they’re from other planets and have made their home on Cybertron, and that goes for all the sentient aliens as well, who all have various different reasons, like the A’ovans are there as refugees, and so on. So they all have their own home planet (except for the A’ovans, who don’t have a home planet because it’s gone), but everyone else has their own home planet and their own civilisation out there somewhere. But because Cybertron’s been such a stable, peaceful place, there have been all sorts of opportunities and reasons for other races to come and be part of Cybertronian society. Q: Amongst all these alien races, is there any chance of seeing the Quintessons? BR: Erm, I don’t know what I can say about that. Let’s say that’s the subject of negotiations. Q: Are there any characters that were created specifically for the previous continuity that you’d like to use? BR: So, I’m somewhat restricted - no, that makes it sound worse - I’m not entirely at liberty to throw every character I like from whatever iteration of the franchise into the story, because there obviously is a slight preference for an emphasis on G1 characters, but, that said, obviously I’ve been able to come up with one or two new characters, and I have brought in some characters who are derived from non-G1 sources, shall we say. The reason Cyclonus is in there is actually because I loved the interpretation of him in the previous IDW comics, but Froid is in there, partly because I really liked the character, but partly because I really liked his look. He’s a bit different from what you normally see, and again, I just thought I could do something slightly fun with him. But there’s not going to be an avalanche of non-G1 characters showing up, but I’ll keep trying to get a few of them in there where I can. Q: Are there any characters you dislike writing or drawing? BMS: I love everyone equally! Everyone’s a challenge, I guess. Codexa has so many damn wires, I was like, “why can’t I just make less wires when I’m drawing her?”, but, as I say, I like a challenge. AG: Pretty much everyone Alex [Milne] designs is hard to draw, so I’m good for a while! BR: There’s no one I dislike writing, because if there was, they just wouldn’t show up, or their life expectancy would be very limited. The one I found it hardest to write was Soundwave: figuring out how to match his individual style of speech with a personality and emotion was a little bit tricky.