TFW2005 Interviews Transformers Comic Book Writer Simon Furman


Simon Furman is known to Transformers fans as the premier writer of Transformers fiction dating back to the original Marvel Transformers Generation 1 comic series. The only writer to have written for all publishers of Transformers comics among the years, he has worked for Marvel UK, Marvel US, Dreamwave Publishing, and most recently IDW Publishing. TFW2005 Content Contributor Spartan-117 recently had a chance to interview Mr. Furman, see what they had to say below.

TFW2005: First a fun one, if all the different Transformers continuities were to fight who would win?

Simon Furman: I’m going to have to go with ‘1-2-3 Transformers.’ Don’t be fooled by all that kid-friendly stuff. Underneath that genial playfulness, Charlie Chopper, Rescue Roy and Policeman Pete are hard b@$7@£ds!

TFW2005: What do you draw inspiration from when it comes to your writing? What do you do to “tame the muse/beast” when it comes to those moments?

Simon Furman: What I try not to do is draw too much direct inspiration from other media. If I recognise something in my work as derived from somewhere else, be it a movie or a book or whatever, I tend to re-think/re-work it. It’s nigh on impossible to avoid referencing stuff, especially when it’s ingrained into your subconscious. The number of times I write dialogue like ‘time to die’ and then have to hit ‘delete’! If I’m influenced by external stuff it’s in terms of pacing or staging or drama. For instance, ahead of writing the latest Torchwood script, I watched the first episode of Season 2, ‘Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.’ Plot holes aside, the sheer pace and relentlessness of that episode were inspirational, and some of that fed back into my subsequent script. Largely, though, I look for inspiration in character. All stories, in my opinion, begin with a character or set of characters, and how they react/respond to whatever external influences are exerted on the immediate status quo. You can have the greatest idea in the world for a story, ever, but if the characters aren’t interesting or involving or worthy of your sympathy/empathy/antipathy it’s worth next to nothing.

TFW2005: How often do you look back at your rough work and think “That doesn’t quite work the way I want it to…. let’s change it up.”?

Simon Furman: At planning stage, often. My somewhat freefall approach to storytelling is often to just take a nugget of an idea and keep on at it, propelling it onwards (even when part of my brain is telling me to bail) until it starts to resemble a working story. I find that if I just get it down on (virtual) paper, even the first draft is dire, I can then see why it’s not working or where stuff needs to be cut or revised or embellished. I come from an old-school Marvel storytelling background, where the key trio of ingredients are character, conflict and resolution. If I don’t have those things when I look at a first draft, it’s not right. When it comes to turning a story outline into a script, I’ll make further changes, but these are mostly in terms of pacing or structure. In one of Titan’s ‘Comics Creators’ books, I remember Todd McFarlane saying that in the early days of Spawn he’d draw whole scenes, then lay the pages on the floor and move them around (sequentially) until he had an overall order (page 1 through to 22) he was happy with. I do a lot of that, moving/jigsawing scenes to give (what I hope is) the best possible flow or structure to a given issue. Oh, and I revisit/revise my dialogue to fit the art (and to give it a final polish).

TFW2005: What minor or obscure characters would you like to bring into the limelight due to potential in your eyes?

Simon Furman: Not that he’s exactly obscure, but Sideswipe is high on my list of characters I want to turn the, ahem, spotlight on. I see him as this sort of permanently angry character, who’s always looking for a cause and forever rubbing everyone else up the wrong way in the process. He’s going to feature big in 08. Right now, I’m enjoying (in the Transformers UK comic) adding layers to the movie cast, some of whom were criminally underused/underdeveloped. I’d also like to do more with the (Pretender) Monsters (from Spotlight Optimus Prime). They have that whiff of (largely) blank slates onto which I can graft some diverse and interesting back stories/motivations.

TFW2005: How did the Transformers Movie 2007 differ from how you thought it would unfold?

Simon Furman: My expectation, before I read the script, was that Cybertron would somehow play a much larger, more integral part in the movie. I think it was a shame that, given how much latitude CGI allows to create whole worlds, we didn’t start there or look in there at some point, see some robots in their natural environment. Even if you follow through with the All Spark macguffin, it would have been great to see how critical the situation on Cybertron had become following the decision to launch the All Spark into the far reaches of space. It would, I think, have given more urgency and poignancy to events on Earth.

TFW2005: Anything you would have added or altered?

Simon Furman: I’d have given the likes of Jazz, Ironhide, Ratchet and Starscream extra stuff to do, and more layers to their characters. It felt like whatever they (potentially) had to give got maybe squeezed/drowned out in all the explosions and noise. If only they’d ditched the whole Maggie Madsen/Glen Whitman computer expert/geek storyline (which went nowhere in my opinion), taken the foot off the gas occasionally, and given us some moments of introspection (hopes, fears, ambitions etc) from the robots.

TFW2005: What direction do you want or not want to see the sequel go in?

Simon Furman: I hope it will introduce more of a sense of space-opera to what they’ve done so far. These robots are extraterrestrial, and yet that doesn’t seem to really come across in the first movie. If it’s just set on Earth, with a whole set of characters in Earth alt. modes, it could easily come across as just ‘more of the same.’ They need to up the ante.

TFW2005: Has there been any thought given to writing any more stories that are short stories or novels (kind of like Alignment)? Do you think that Transformers could work in a text based expanded universe like Star Wars does or does it need visuals to survive?

Simon Furman: I actually think Transformers would work well as novels. I can’t quite understand why nobody’s doing ‘em (outside of the likes of The Ghosts of Yesterday). Maybe young adult novels would be the way to go. I’d actually like to do more prose, but right now it’s finding the time.

TFW2005: (Further along the expanded universe angle) Are there any possibilities to seeing any stories from Transformers past or Transformers future that would have all new characters we have never seen before (no Optimus, no Megatron, no G1 homages, etc)?

Simon Furman: There’s always that potential I suppose, and we are going right back in time for The Thirteen, which features a (largely) new cast of characters we’ll be building from the ground up. Not sure about the future. I don’t really want to do an animated TF movie thing and scrap everything in favour of a new cast. There’s so much potential in the present day cast still to explore in new and different ways. That’s where my creative energies are focused right now.

TFW2005: All of the stories (main arcs & spotlights) seems to have common threads running through them (ie, Primes near death experience leading to his spotlight) Was that the initial plan or did it just happen that way? And if it was the initial plan how far does it stretch?

Simon Furman: I did have a pretty clear idea of where I was going with this new IDW/TF-verse, and much of what’s happened has done so as I originally envisaged. But the saga has definitely evolved in the doing as it were. Often, the Spotlights will suggest new layers and directions and I’ll run with those, weaving them into what’s already in progress. But overall there have been about four or five strong story through-lines that I’ve been pushing upwards and onwards since we started out, and a lot of those will tie up (to an extent) in 08.

TFW2005: Grimlock seems to be a fairly prevalent character in many of your stories (he was very visible in G2 and War Within for example), what is it in particular you enjoy writing about him?

Simon Furman: There’s an edginess to the character. You never quite know when or how he’ll jump and what the consequences will be. Grimlock tends to do first and think later, which automatically opens the door to all sorts of subsequent conflict (there’s that word again) and recrimination. Stuff happens when Grimlock’s around. He’s just too big a character for whatever world or situation he finds himself in, and so stuff inevitable gets broken. He’s a force of nature, and walks (none too steadily) that fine line between hero and villain.

TFW2005: Is there anything you’ve wanted to do with the Transformers that for whatever reason you haven’t been able to do, be it technical reasons, time constraints or orders from above? If so, could you give us an idea what some of these ideas where?

Simon Furman: So far, I’ve been pretty lucky. Sure, I’ve had my share of stories I wish I’d had more time and space to run through as originally conceived (the post-Unicron Marvel G1 storyline, the second chunk of G2, the Dreamwave books), but largely I haven’t faced a situation where what I’ve wanted to do has just been turned down flat. I’ve been particularly lucky with IDW to be able to bring essentially ‘my’ vision of G1 to comics and steer its course from the ground up. I hope what we’ve got thus far is the basis upon which others can build, telling new/different stories within the overall framework that’s been established.