We have something special to share with you now, an interview with IDW Publishing’s Mark Bellomo, author of Transformers The Art of the Fall of Cybertron, now available through Amazon. Find out about what went into the creation of this excellent book and some fun stories from the creation process in this interview. Check out the full interview attached to this story or by hitting the discuss button.
The staff of TFW2005 would like to thank Mark Bellomo for taking the time out of his schedule to talk to us and share this interview.
TFW2005: Talk about us a little bit about your latest project, due out in time for the Christmas holiday. What can readers expect when they crack the binding of IDW’s hardcover video game art book, Transformers: The Art of the Fall of Cybertron?
MWB: More than any other project I’ve ever undertaken, I think The Art of the Fall of Cybertron allowed me to truly manifest my adoration for a franchise: TFTAOTFOC is my love letter to Hasbro for lavishly developing the Transformers brand for the past twenty-eight years. Although most folks currently associate me with the G.I. Joe license, and as a kid I was nowhere NEAR as passionate about the Autobots & Decepticons as I was about Cobra & G.I. Joe. As an adult I find myself being drawn to the Transformers franchise more and more often. Between the toys, animated program, and comic books, I’ve been reaffirming my fondness for the property on a daily basis.
As a child, I recall that during the autumn of 1984 I carefully saved every penny of the money I made from my various paper routes to purchase a few Transformers from the magnificent Autobot Cars assortment at my local Fay’s Drugstore (Fay’s was a chain of drugstores in the Northeast). These Autobot Cars (Ratchet, Sunstreaker, Prowl, Wheeljack, etc.) possessed intricate methods of conversion, authentic alternate modes, and die-cast metal parts—and they were QUITE expensive back in the day. The Vintage Space Toaster Palace (my primary source for all original robot toy values) shows that a Transformer from the deluxe assortment of Autobot Cars retailed for approximately $8.99—three whole dollars MORE than the original cost of a 3 ¾” figure & vehicle SET (the VAMP with Clutch, the MMS with Hawk) from the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero line (which sold for around $5.99).
Those Autobot Cars sure were worth it, though.
Furthermore, I’m constantly stunned by the brilliant back story devised for the franchise as rendered by the inimitable Jim Shooter—who concocted the original eight-page Transformers treatment that’s still followed today. Author Bob Budiansky also had his paws in the development of the franchise, since Bob helmed the G1 Marvel Comic for 60+ total issues (including mini-series). Bob also wrote 90% of the original, clever G1 tech spec biographies for Hasbro as a work-for-hire freelancer. Budiansky and Shooter don’t get NEARLY enough creative credit for the success and the endurance of the brand. I’ve spoken with Bob about this at length, and it’s one of my missions in life to convey the importance of his contribution to the Transformers brand.
TFW2005: What is included in the content of the book? What audience is IDW trying to reach?
MWB: I’ll tackle the question about audience first. Whether you’re a die-hard video gamer or a devout Transfan (a portmanteau of “Transformers + fan”) who’s been with the franchise since its inception in ‘84, this book is for YOU. If you’re a fan of gorgeous paintings and sketches with a science fiction motif, this book is for YOU. If you’re a casual fan of Transformers who’s recently come to the franchise due to the successful Michael Bay films, then this book is for YOU. If you’re a younger fan who’s a devotee of the more recent Transformers animated series (whether Transformers: Prime or Transformers: Animated), this book is for YOU. If you own Art of the Mass Effect Universe, The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Halo: The Art of Building Worlds, Awakening: The Art of Halo 4, or The Art of Gears of War 3, this book is for YOU.
The magnificent layout and page design for TAOTFOC was rendered by IDW’s Senior Graphic Artist (and sometimes writer), Chris Mowry… and leaves me breathless. Listen folks, I’ve been involved in dozens of book projects over the years with a few different companies, and I wish EVERY book company knew what IDW knows about book design: putting together and packaging a book project (and doing it RIGHT) is a very tricky procedure. Get it right and you’ve just sold 5,000 more copies of a tome; get it wrong, and book stores are sending back their unsold remainders.
In essence, the book’s 200+ pages faithfully reproduce hundreds of pre-production paintings and sketches of Transformers characters, props, weapons, and landscapes from BOTH War for Cybertron and (mainly) Fall of Cybertron. It’s simply a coffee table book about the art of the game (e.g. cityscapes, the inner workings of the planet Cybertron), yet I also infused a good deal of information about the essence of each Transformers character as well—reaching as far back as the G1 canon for authenticity. There were instances where I transcribed entire G1 Tech Spec biographies within the tome, since many of the characters that are used in the game smack of a Generation One sensibility: Hasbro and Activision and High Moon and IDW utilized characters in FOC whose personalities have remained largely unchanged since Bob Budiansky rendered their original Tech Spec biographies at Jim Shooter’s request one fateful Thanksgiving vacation in 1983.
There’s also some tongue-in-cheek stuff, too. Allusions to Kubrick films (Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) and other indirect references and Easter eggs that allude to the many influences which helped to shape the most critically-lauded video game in the history of the Transformers franchise (such as one particularly spectacular pre-production painting of the interior of Maccadam’s Old Oil House [!]). High Moon’s team of designers and developers are truly smart dudes. And beyond the designers themselves, (thankfully), the whole project was presided over by High Moon’s resident guru-and-former-marine-biologist, Matt Tieger who was FOC’s “Game Director” (like a television “show runner”). So then, the Transformers video game franchise is in the hands of some brilliant, hard-working visionaries.
All 200 pages of the tome contain some of the most magnificent pre-production paintings, artwork, and sketches of Cybertronian characters and Cybertronian landscapes I’ve ever seen; this book (as well as the platform game itself) provides Transfans with a bevy of “fill-in-the-gap”-type information: material that helps to satisfy and satiate the curiosity of even the most devout Transformers aficionado who’s wanted to know, “How EXACTLY did the Autobot-Decepticon civil war cause the planet Cybertron to fail?” You see, the stable of designers and artists who work for High Moon Studios to create the visuals for FOC had to first render illustrations via the more traditional modes of painting and sketching… only afterward was this artwork mapped into the game itself. Due to my signing an NDA agreement with IDW, for the time period it took me to write the book (about two months), I allowed only my wife to peruse the many mind-blowingly cool pre-production photo galleys for FOC on my computer. To wit: I find it hard to believe that we’d be able to find any fan of the franchise—even a casual one like my beautiful, patient wife—who wouldn’t immediately fall in love with the collection of pre-production artwork included in TFTAOTFOC. Jim Daly (High Moon’s Lead Concept Artist), Aaron Limonick (Senior Concept Artist), Norwood Cole (Concept Artist), Eduard Marinov (Lead Storyboard Artist/Senior Concept Artist), Henry Lam (Concept Artist), Jose Flores (Senior Concept Artist), and Billy King (Senior Concept Artist) CRUSH the game’s visuals—they hit them out of the darned park.
If you don’t believe me, Google one of their names and check out some of their non-Transformers related work: you’ll be amazed at the skillful use of composition they exhibit when rendering a traditional landscape; you’ll marvel at the aesthetics they utilize when constructing a standard still life; you’ll be shocked by the manner in which they expertly capture a person’s mood within portraiture. God, good stuff.
TFW2005: So then, can we assume that Transformers toy lines inspired you while writing the book on the game? In what way were they inspirational?
MWB: Okay… let me think, here. Ah-hah! When you see Optimus Prime manipulate Metroplex in the game, as well as when readers encounter the massive Autobot in Chapter Three of the book (“Metroplex Heeds the Call”), while writing the text, I simply HAD to pull my G1 Metroplex out of his box AND PLAY WITH HIM. So then, I popped Metroplex out of his squeaky Styrofoam insert, changed him into his “Autobot City” mode and attached all of his “kibble” (most Transfans know this term: “kibble” = those extraneous/ancillary accessories for a Transformers toy which make sense to attach in one mode but are detached or useless in another). I then switched him to “battle station” mode, and finally, I removed most of the kibble to ultimately convert him into his formidable robot mode—and then placed Metroplex’s companions (Scamper, Six-Gun, and Slammer) at his feet. After admiring the toy’s ingenuity, I also clipped the Aerialbots onto the limbs of Metroplex’s robot mode for good measure to construct “Super Strong Metroplex”—as detailed on his massive original instruction sheet. Then I popped out a photocopy of his Japanese instructions which delineate yet another “bonus mode”: after changing Metroplex BACK to Autobot City, the Japanese instructions directed me to add & connect Protectobot Leader Hot Spot in his “repair bay mode” and Aerialbot Commander Silverbolt in his “launching ramp base mode” to form a combined “super city” and marveled at the intricacy of this magnificent toy. I even put in the Japanese stand-alone OVA (Original Video Animation) of Transformers: Scramble City and revel in the splendor of Transformers.
And you know what? In the magnificent two-page, feature spread for Chapter Three where we see Metroplex blasting away at a group of Decepticons (who appear small in comparison), or on the next two pages, where we observe the super-robot at rest as Autobot City—complete with his telltale towers and spires, any Transfan can observe that the designers we looking DIRECTLY AT a G1 Metroplex when creating their artwork.
TFW2005: How was writing this book any different than other projects you’ve worked on?
MWB: Writing this tome was a totally unique experience for me: it’s really the first time I’ve ever been able to elaborate upon some of my favorite fictional characters from the Transformers canon—Transformers such as Jazz, Shockwave, Soundwave, the three Insecticons, Perceptor, the Combaticons, and the Dinobots, Megatron and — and I wrote about them filled with a zest I’ve rarely experienced before… without being too overly clinical. In most of the books I’ve written, I’m essentially commenting on a toy or an artifact or the individual issue of a comic series without much editorializing, or with NO editorializing AT ALL. I’m sure that some critics will find my writing a bit too “praiseworthy” in regard to the staff of designers and artists at High Moon, but I was so full of energy, imagination, and effusive praise that I couldn’t bear to pull in the reins—for bad or good.
I consider myself VERY lucky to have worked for a few stellar book companies throughout my career (specifically Krause Publications & IDW Publishing; book companies that have yet to impose their will on my writing. What I mean by this is that Justin Eisinger, the Senior Editor of IDW’s Books Division, ALWAYS points me in the right direction, gives me the basic rules for a project (page length, word count, points of thematic gravity), and lets me loose. Because—like every good editor in the civilized world—he trusts me to research my subject to the Nth degree and has faith that I’ll strictly adhere to the rules he’s provided, but beyond that, I don’t think my boss at IDW has ever edited out one bit of content in any of the projects I’ve worked on. Paul Kennedy at Krause Publications treats me much in the same way. The only problem I’ve ever created for an editor: my all-too-lengthy content. My word count often runs AMOK: my manuscripts are almost always wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-y too long. So then, they’ll ask me to cut the galleys down to the most appropriate word count.
TFW2005: So then, if your word count is usually really long, how much time did it take for you to write the text for Transformers: The Art of the Fall of Cybertron?
MWB: That’s a loaded question. I’ve been pretty steadily immersed in researching the Transformers’ canon on a weekly basis since December of 2010 when IDW asked me to write the introductions to their seven volumes of Transformers: Classics trade paperbacks—those 300-page tomes that will (eventually) reprint all eighty of Marvel Comics’ original Transformers comic books (plus a few mini-series space permitting). You see, when I’m performing research on the forewords/introductions to each of these volumes, I usually read every single issue contained within the collection about ten or fifteen times—always right before I go to bed at around 1 or 2 in the morning in order to digest the facts and narrative and chuck it into my subconscious during R.E.M. sleep. Furthermore, I always watch (and re-watched, and re-re-watch) the Marvel/Sunbow cartoons that parallel the release dates of the comics. It’s a capital mistake for me to perform too little research—I always try to perform more than I think I need.
TFW2005: Have you been working on anything else besides Transformers: The Art of the Fall of Cybertron and G.I. Joe: The Complete Collection (which we covered on our sister site, Hisstank.com)?
MWB: This holiday season I’m attached to four different book projects: I wrote the entire text for Transformers: The Art of the Fall of Cybertron; I wrote the foreword, long essay, and notes for the premiere hardcover volume of G.I. Joe: The Complete Collection; the foreword and bevy of notes for Transformers: Classics, volume four; and the foreword and notes for The Real Ghostbusters: Omnibus, volume one. I also contribute four chapters (Action Figures, G.I. Joe, Star Wars, and Western Toys) and am the author-of-record on another project for the “world’s best [and largest] toy guide,” Krause Publications’ annually-released Toys & Prices (specifically, their 2013 edition). I also work a full-time job as the Director of Special Programs at one of the premiere public colleges in New York State, where I administrate the university’s Tutoring Center, Writing Center, Critical Thinking Program, Financial Literacy Program, and the Office of the Specialist for Disabilities & Learning. Thankfully, I only need to sleep about four hours a night, so when I arrive home from work at about 5:30 p.m., I can work/write/research for another eight hours.
TFW2005: What do you have planned next?
MWB: First, let me reiterate that I’m one of the luckiest guys on the planet. When I come home from work, I can write about toys and super-heroes for hours and they’re printed in publications that are distributed all over the world. I NEVER in a million years would have thought that a guy who used to write composition & rhetoric textbooks would have been picked up as an action figure columnist and that those columns would have led to books about toys and super-heroes.
I understand exactly how fortunate I am.
HOWEVER, my training and first true love as a reader was in American Modernist fiction and New Criticism. I spent the first twenty-five years of my life devoted to the works of Faulkner, Andersen, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitgerald, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and Allen Tate. And Hemingway, of course… LOTS of Hemingway. I studied under one of the preeminent Hemingway scholars in the world—H.R. Stoneback—yet almost in spite of this, I’ve always considered what I accomplish with action figures to be a bit profane. I’m essentially a literary critic of toys and action figures; I write ABOUT them. The reason why I feel it’s profane (as opposed to what, sacred?) is that I’m not really contributing to the “canon,” so-to-speak. I don’t shape their lives. I’m not adding to the hallowed works of Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman and Larry Hama and Mike Costa. Those fellas are no joke… y’know? Über-talented dudes. What I do… well… I’m merely writing books ABOUT toys… not writing fiction about CHARACTERS. It’s disappointing sometimes that at this point in my debatable “writing career” that I haven’t drummed up the courage to render a 22-page comic book script and submit it to an editor.
COME ON, MARK!!! THOUSANDS of people write THOUSANDS of comic book scripts every day, and I can’t get my damned act together. Sure, I’m loaded with ideas, but when it comes to delivering the final product, I guess I’m a bit timid and scared. And heck, if I don’t try… I won’t fail. That’s cowardice, folks—through-and-through. Combine this fear with the fact that nearly all of my favorite comic writers are Eisner-Award winners (Alan Moore, Steve Englehart, Peter David, Gardner Fox, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb, Garth Ennis, Bryan Hitch, Ed Brubaker, Mark Millar, Neil Gaiman, Roger Stern, Frank Miller, Geoff Johns, Denny O’Neil, Roy Thomas, Bill Willingham, Kurt Busiek, Brian Michael Bendis, and Stan Lee) and I’m probably putting too much pressure on myself. But why write a comic if you don’t scoop the fat out of your soul and smear it onto the printed page? Sure, my collectible books sell well enough, and I’m grateful, but I feel like something’s missing, y’know?
But until I find my cojones, I’ll just re-read my favorite trades and dream about writing a comic book one day in the future.
Pre-Order Your Copy Here: http://www.amazon.com/Transformers-Fall-Cybertron-Mark-Bellomo/dp/1613774435