Andy Schmidt, IDW Publishing’s senior editor overseeing the Transformers series, recently sat down with us to talk about the upcoming Transformers ongoing series, his history with the franchise and his work in the comics industry as a whole. He also takes some time out to address some of the concerns fans have raised about the artistic direction of the series, assuring us that other artists and styles being used on the Transformers books, and the potential benefits that the shift to an ongoing format will bring with it.
Check out the full interview below, and don’t forget to pick up the first issue of the new ongoing series when it hits comic stores this Wednesday, 18 November.
TFW: First of all, thank you for agreeing to talk to us.
Andy Schmidt: My pleasure, Simon, thanks for giving me the opportunity. You guys run a very cool site.
TFW: How does working on a property like Transformers compare to working on something like Star Trek, GI Joe or Marvel’s Annihilation event? How do you feel your work as an editor has prepared you for this gig?
AS: TRANSFORMERS is hands down the most difficult property I’ve worked on. There’s a combination of factors for this. G.I. JOE recently had the advantage that we were rebooting it when I came on board so I didn’t have 75 plus issues to read and make sense of. Oddly, it’s not as big a deal on the Marvel characters that you read everything because there’s so much of it going back for decades. But for TRANSFORMERS, it was a lot to take in and try to make sense of.
On top of that, TRANSFORMERS fans are extremely precise and passionate, which is great on the one hand, but they are also very critical. And there are two ways to react to that criticism—the first and easiest reaction is to get a huge pit in your stomach as you read how the work you’re putting into something just isn’t any good. It can be paralyzing. But the second, and the one all editors and creators have to remind themselves to do, is to take it in, analyze each criticism and determine how we can use that to make our comics better. And that’s what we’ve been doing.
Comics are an ongoing medium and so they are an ongoing process. Books can always be better, and so we’re always making adjustments and we’re always trying new things.
TFW: Is there a particular buzz involved when you see a comic you worked on out on store shelves and you think to yourself “I made this happen”?
AS: There used to be a huge buzz about that. Now, with the economy the way it is, I’m just hoping that people are reading them and liking them. For the most part, I’ve been very fortunate to work with extremely talented creators who make me look good. Ha ha.
TFW: In terms of the Transformers toy line and series, do you have a particular favourite incarnation or series?
AS: When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the original American cartoon. I still have whole episodes memorized. So, that’s kind of a default starting point for me. I also read the entire Marvel run of the comics, but I didn’t love them the way I did the cartoon itself.. I recently got the re-released original OPTIMUS PRIME and he’s a bit clunkier than I remember him—but still just so darn cool! I keep it in my office at work and whenever my two-year-old son comes to the office, that’s what he wants. He just yells, “Truck!” until I give it to him. Then he tries to change it, gets frustrated, and says, “Robot!” and I change him to robot mode. It cracks me up. I see those wheels turning in his head. He knows how cool they are. He’ll be a TRANSFORMERS fan soon, I’m sure.
TFW: Do you have a favourite Transformers character? Will you be pushing for this character to make an appearance in the ongoing if they are not there already?
AS: For no good reason—BLUESTREAK. Actually, it’s because he’s the first one I ever owned, but I can’t point to a great BLUESTREAK story and say this is why YOU should love him, too. But I do also love MEGATRON and OPTIMUS. They’re just awesome. Many others rotate in and out as favorites—at different times I’ve really enjoyed SIDESWIPE, and SUNSTREAKER, GALVATRON, SKYWARP, OMEAGA SUPREME and others…
TFW: Are there any characters you’re looking forward to working with? Any you’re dreading? Why?
AS: I like working with the characters who are under-defined because I enjoy figuring out what makes them unique and showing why they’re cool. I kind of dread working on the ones with large fan-bases for the same reason—they are so well defined in some people’s minds that nothing ever feels like its right to everyone. It often feels like a no-win scenario.
TFW: Does an ongoing series allow for more freedom with storylines and character developments? Are there any particular drawbacks with an ongoing format compared to a miniseries format?
AS: It does allow for more options. For longer character development if that’s needed and shorter stories too. It allows for more variety of storytelling than mini after mini does. We’re not as constrained by the format. So we’ve got some more-or-less stand alone issues coming up after the first arc and before we dive into the next multi-part arc. The only real downside is… well, there’s not much of a downside now that I think about it.
TFW: What can we expect from the new ongoing series that will justify the “jump” to the average comic buyer? How will it appeal to the new reader?
AS: That’s a great question. TRANSFORMERS, and this is true of almost all major comic properties, has a tendency to get wrapped up in itself and so it will at times lose relatability to what I call the casual fan. Our take on the characters is, hopefully, very relatable. We’re dealing with emotions and concerns that are more universal. As much as I enjoyed the “Dark Universe” saga, it isn’t easy to jump into for a new reader. As an editor, I have to split between my own inner fan and my professional best to reach a wider audience in addition to the core fans. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
TFW: What do you feel are the strengths of the franchise, and how do you and IDW intend to capitalize on them?
AS: It’s so widely recognizable and such a simple concept that I think it’s attractive to a lot of people. Cars that turn into robots are cool. A war between two factions—I get it. They’re in disguise and can be anywhere? Awesome. We’re getting back to some of the simpler concepts with the franchise, but have no fear, we’re not ignoring what’s come before nor are we rewriting it. In issue #1 of the ongoing, there are references to both Simon and Shane’s work. If you know of the work, you can pick up on them.
But yeah, I want to make comics about the most popular characters like OPTIMUS PRIME and BUBMLEBEE and STARSCREAM and such. But I also, as I said above, enjoy the characters who aren’t as developed. I think that wide cast of characters can be a bonus but if we’re not careful, it can also quickly devolve into a bunch of action figures on the page—none of whom have any personality. I really want to avoid that and I think the ongoing is off to a great start.
TFW: What do you want to bring to the Transformers franchise that hasn’t been done before?
AS: In the first issue of the ongoing, we’re doing something that changes the status quo in a way that opens up many possibilities to explore these characters. I think that’s exciting. We’ve also found what, to us, makes Earth so darn important. It’s not a McGuffin, it’s something real that only Earth has. And I think that’s something new that also has limitless possibilities. Really, I just want to tell fresh stories and get fans excited again.
TFW: With the new series, how would you respond to some of the concerns that fans have raised?
AS: Give it a shot. I really hope you like it—we all do. We’ve worked hard to make it work and to give it a real launch that’s true to the core of the characters and to what’s come before, but also to bring something new. If it’s not perfect—heck, even if you flat out don’t like it—we’re all trying to make the books better and better. Again, I hope you like it as is, but if not, we’ll fix it.
I’ll say something about continuity too because I see that a lot. The first story I had any real impact on as an editor was the four issues of CODA at the end of ALL HAIL MEGATRON. Some of those stories I wanted to build to patch up some continuity issues. They’re not all fixed (and in one case I made a mistake that made things worse—ugh!) but we’re working on it. It’s important to us that the continuity works. I can’t change what’s come before, but moving forward, we’re really trying to keep it all together and be respectful of all the series and creators who have built the foundation.
TFW: How are the artists for each of the multiple Transformers series IDW publishes determined? Will we be seeing more of the fan favourite artists such as Alex Milne, Don Figueroa, and Guido Guidi?
AS: It’s pretty simple, based on the story in each of the books, we try to figure out who would be the best fit for that story or which artists like certain characters or writers. There are a lot of factors—scheduling being one of them.
Alex is currently working on the movie universe books, Don is working on the ongoing series, and Guido is currently supplying covers for the BUMBLEBEE series and working on something else down the line that he’s the interior artist for. Casey Coller will be back soon too. And I’ve been talking with a few others who are busy on other projects but would like to come back at some point. And we’ll see some new faces occasionally, as well.
I love seeing different artists work on the same characters. Right now, I’ve got three different artists working on three different stories that are all running in the ongoing. So, the art in the ongoing is sort of like the weather in St. Louis—if you don’t like it, just wait five minutes…
It’s great to see the differences each artist brings to the characters. And with Transformers, they get to interpret the body frames differently, which the artists really like doing. They’re glad they don’t have to follow one particular design. It gives them the freedom to create, and that’s what they are—creators. So I think it makes for better stories all around.
I loved those arguments with my two older brothers when we were kids (and truthfully still have) about which artist drew the best Spider-Man or Batman or whomever. (my money is on both of the Romitas for Spider-Man and on Neal Adams for Batman—they’re go to answers, but hey, there’s a reason for that!). But I think those different interpretations all add something to the characters in the long run.
TFW: Once the initial story arc wraps up, what direction would you like to take the series in?
AS: The initial story arc sets multiple events into motion. The main thing I’m concerned about from a story standpoint is that the stories come from character—that they are about unique characters and their personal decisions. I think that makes for more emotionally charged stories and more entertaining ones.
At the same time, I’m a bit of a geek myself, so I’m interested in things like what death means to a TRANSFORMER, or what effect living for thousands of years has on them, and all of that kind of stuff. There’s the really strange notion of the female TRANSFORMERS that were created—like Frankenstein monsters or something. It’s not clear, but I think there’s a cool story to tell there someplace.
TFW: How far in advance (in terms of numbers of issues) do you plan the storylines for an ongoing series?
AS: That’s a tricky one to answer. In broad strokes, we’re planned usually about a year and a half to three years out. But those can be very broad strokes. The danger of planning that far in advance is that things change, so if they’re planned too tightly, that makes working on the books more difficult. There’s a plan, I should say, for quite a ways out, but part of that plan is being flexible enough to turn the ship quickly if need be.
To give a quick example, I was working on a book that had very specific art assignments—things like one artist did scenes in one time period and another artist in a different time period. One of the artists had a personal tragedy and couldn’t work for several weeks. So instead of just handing off his pages to someone else, breaking the illusion we had created, the writer worked out an issue with a third time period with a third artist. It wound up adding a very cool and important layer to the story, and allowed the artist time to get back on his feet. It wound up making the story better.
There are other things that come up that we need to build the flexibility in to adjust to, so are plans are well thought out, but also flexible. Sorry if I’m babbling. I find this stuff interesting because it’s my job, but I might be boring the pants off you guys.
TFW: Is there a desire to maintain long-going story arcs or will things be more episodic?
AS: There are long-term character arcs, but most story arcs will be relatively self-contained. There will be connective tissue from a plotting standpoint of course, but we’re not building one long and endless saga if that’s what you mean. The danger of doing that is that the individual issues can start to lose impact and I’m hoping that we can get something cool in every issue of the ongoing book.
TFW: Are there any juicy tidbits you can let us know about, to look forward to in upcoming issues?
AS: Mike Costa is determined to give ROLLER a time to shine. It’s been 25 years. He’s due. Ha ha. Sorry, besides that my lips are sealed for now…
TFW: Are there any plot threads / series mythology elements from past Transformers series you do not want to work on (for example, Unicron and Primus the Transformers “gods”)?
AS: I’ll admit I have a little bit of trouble with the gods thing. Doesn’t mean it’s not there, and I won’t ever tell a writer absolutely not without at least hearing him or her out first. If someone makes a great case for how that works, I can go with it. So, no, there’s nothing off limits, but there are story elements that are tougher sells than others. Do you realize you’re asking this question to part of the editorial team who approved Bucky coming back to life in Captain America? Ha ha. Nothing is absolute!
TFW: On the subject of the mythology of the series, will the proposed miniseries dealing with the first 13 Transformers ever see the light of day, given that it was reportedly on the back burner, but Hasbro has since mentioned in Q&A sessions they are planning to tell the story of the forefathers of the Transformers. Is this something IDW is involved in?
AS: That was a project that was sort of shelved before I got involved on the series (sorry, being honest) so I don’t have all the facts on that one. It’s not currently on our publishing schedule but I wouldn’t write it off completely. It could still happened. I figure that if Simon or someone really had their heart into it, they’d contact me and try to resurrect it, but no one has ever brought it up with me.
TFW: Would you like to revisit the “what-if” style concept of the Evolutions series?
AS: I would, yes. But I also don’t want to flood the market with too much TRANSFORMERS product and I think we’re getting close to that already—ha ha ha. If there’s enough time in the day, I’d love too. It’s more a matter of logistics and focusing out energy on the main line right now.
TFW: If you could edit any comic series or character out there, who would you want to work on and why?
AS: Jack Kirby’s New Gods! Because they’re the coolest! Those books were just sheer creative energy—hardly able to be contained on the comic book page. I’d love to work on them. And they have such classic characters that remind me of the Illiad, which is my favorite work of literature that I’ve ever read. Love those guys!
I would also say the big toys at DC Comics, but technically I got to work with most of them on the JLA/AVENGERS books from a few years back. Technically.
TFW: Will IDW be attempting to relaunch any other 80s properties besides TF/GI Joe?
AS: I’m focused on TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE, friend. Was there anything else from the 80s worth resurrecting? I think not.
TFW: With Transformers and GI Joe both under one roof, can we expect any crossovers in the near future?
AS: Near future? No. But hey, like I said, nothing is off limits forever…
TFW: What part of the process of creating a comic do you feel is least understood by the fans, and what should they know about it?
AS: I’m an editor, so don’t think people understand what I do. But I don’t know. As an editor, my job is not to dictate content. My job is to help writers and artists tell their story in the best possible way. That’s really what I do. That, and you know, be a traffic cop for things like scheduling and getting the work in on time. But that part kind of stinks. Editors have to wear many different hats and that’s what makes it both fun and challenging. But I do love it.
TFW: Lastly, please say a few words for the fans who visit the Transformers fan sites.
AS: Wow, what a great request. Okay. So here’s what I’ve been seeing on your forums lately. You guys are really into this. You know more details than my brain is capable of holding—but we (the creative and editorial teams and Hasbro) are all doing our best to improve the comics with each issue. We are listening.
I’ve been reading your reactions to the IRONHIDE announcement last week and I’m curious to see the response once you all can take in the whole picture. TRANSFORMERS is a big huge thing and it takes time to get things right, but that is our goal. Great and consistent characters. Continuity. Big events. Big themes. All of it.
There’s a huge world to explore here. If we’re not getting to your favorite corner of it right away, let us know and give it some time. We’ll get there. All of your feedback and criticism is appreciated. It really is. It can sting like the dickens sometimes, but there’s always something in it to learn from that can help make the comics better.
So, at the end of the day, thank you for being fans. Your passion for TRANSFORMERS gives me the opportunity to work on the best characters in the world. Thanks for the opportunity and I hope I’m able to repay you guys the favor by helping make better and better TRANSFORMERS comics.
Thanks again to Andy for taking the time to answer our questions!