Revealing Greatness With James Roberts

When Hasbro first introduced the Transformers franchise in the 1980s, the company always viewed the property as a toy line first, a multimedia endeavor second, and concept third. Which is understandable given that Hasbro’s primary focus was as a toy company. The television and comics side of The Transformers was crafted to advertise their new product line. Over time, though, The Transformers proved capable of transcending their original mandate. Characters like Optimus Prime, Ironhide and Ratchet proved so endearing in the popular show that children wanted to learn increasingly more about these characters and the universe in which they inhabited. Through the years, The Transformers morphed into a fully realized universe complete with continuity, philosophy and a diehard fan base that is equal to any in media. While their popularity has waned at times, they have experienced a resurgence under IDW Publishing. With comics like Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye and Transformers: Robots in Disguise, their universe  has expanded onto levels that fans have never before seen from their favorite characters. Now, following the newly created Hasbro Universe of comics, The Transformers’ legacy is developing even further with a new title called, The Transformers: The Lost Light, under the adept craftsmanship of James Roberts.

To set the scene, Rodimus has convinced many Transformers to seek out the legendary Knights of Cybertron. These include such well-known characters as Ultra Magnus, Cyclonus and even Megatron (at one point). Along the way, there is a bunch of craziness, humor, time traveling, The Decepticon Justice Division and assorted entertaining nonsense. The crew of the Lost Light is still deep in space searching, but now the crew is being led by the stoic Cyclonus.

The first question I had for Roberts was about his creative process.

Lost Light, like More Than Meets the Eye before it, is a densely-plotted book with storylines that play out over months and months – sometimes years,” he said. “So, it’s essential that I have a very clear idea what’s going to happen and when. I spend a lot of time mapping out the story arcs, and then I obsess over the structure of each issue, making sure the scenes are properly balanced and the pacing feels right. The first few drafts of the script are usually in longhand – I have a tower of notebooks full of my barely legible handwriting. I refine the dialog when typing everything up, and then edit it all again by hand – by which I mean I take a red pen to the printout. That’s the best bit; it means I’m nearly done.”

So what’s the distinction between these two series?

“After the Revolution event [which formally brought all of IDW’s Hasbro properties under one roof, continuity-wise], many titles were re-launched, some with new titles,” Roberts said. Had MTMTE continued with its old title and numbering, the stories you’re now reading in Lost Light would probably have played out in roughly the same way. …  Visually, of course, the two series look very different. Alex Milne was the principal artist on MTMTE, and Jack Lawrence has assumed that role for Lost Light. I can’t overstate the extent to which Alex’s lines defined the ‘feel’ of MTMTE – his contribution to the way the book read was massive. Jack is also supremely talented, and he’s already given Lost Light a visual language that’s all its own.”

  Anode is a new character introduced in Lost Light, an adventurer who serves as an audience surrogate.  I asked about the purpose of her character in the overall big picture of this series.

“I used to divide MTMTE into ‘seasons’, like TV shows,” Roberts explained. “It was always my intention, as MTMTE wound on, to introduce new female characters — and in so doing address a longstanding imbalance — and the plan was for Anode to show up in Season 3 of MTMTE. That became Season 1 of Lost Light. And as I say, the circumstances of her arrival altered a little, too – she was going to cross paths with the crew of the Lost Light under the mutineer Getaway’s command, as opposed to being rescued by the time-traveling Necrobot.  I was in a bit of a bind when MTMTE ended, because it ended on the mother of all cliffhangers: the main cast, and the planet on which they’d been left stranded by Getaway, had apparently blown up. So, they were dead, their ship had been stolen, they were falling behind on their quest … I had an obligation with Lost Light to pick up where I’d left off, but it was far from a neat jumping on point for new readers. Anode, being a totally new character – and someone who was unfamiliar with our regulars and their backstory – was my way of re-introducing all the series’ key concepts without it being too clunky. But Anode was and is more than just a means to an end. I wanted a driven, funny, independent, ebullient, cheeky new character, with a unique set of skills.”

One significant change that occurred, and was previously mentioned, is that Hasbro has united all its titles into one universe. That means that G.I. Joe, The Transformers and even Rom occupy the interlocking universe, among other titles of the brand. I asked Roberts how tightly tied are all these different titles.

Lost Light takes place a long way away from Earth and Cybertron, so physically the characters are far removed from the largely Earth-based casts of G I Joe, Action Man, M.A.S.K. etc.,” he said. “And the fact that the Lost Light is about a quest means that we can’t have the cast popping back to Earth every few months without the momentum being lost. All that said, the Hasbro universe is just that – a universe – and the likes of Micronauts and ROM in particular are intergalactic in nature. So, who knows – paths may cross.”

At the end of issue one, our heroes find themselves on the Cybertron of a different universe.  How will this new universe reflect their own?

“We’ve visited this universe before, briefly, in the prologue to the Elegant Chaos storyline, and it’s a universe that our heroes created,” Roberts said. “It’s a universe where Megatron died at birth, so to speak, and without him to create the Decepticons, the Functionist Council took over. The Functionists believe that ‘you are your alt mode’: what you turn into – what Primus, the Cybertronians’ ‘god’, intended you to be – defines your life choices and your life expectancy. Your job is an extension of your alt mode. Your place in society is dictated by the ubiquity of your alt mode. And when society no longer has a need for what you turn into – when you’re redundant – you’re disposed of. So, the universe that our heroes find themselves stranded in is a hellish place – a theocratic, totalitarian crapstorm, in Rodimus’ words.”


So, what readers look forward to in upcoming issues of IDW’s Transformers: The Lost Light?

“After the Dissolution arc we’re following a smaller group of characters to a place we’ve mentioned more than once but never actually visited,” according to Roberts. “After that, we catch up with Getaway and his fellow mutineers – the titular Lost Light finally makes an appearance. Then we’re into Year 2, and I won’t say anything about what’s going to happen then. But I will say that Lost Light is going to be revisiting and resolving more and more MTMTE-era mysteries. I like posing questions, but I like giving answers, too. And as will become apparent as the series continues, there’s something on the horizon, getting gradually closer – and that’s the grand finale itself.”

3 comments on “Revealing Greatness With James Roberts”
  1. John Smith

    Just curious as to how fans of IDW Transformers think that the Transformers are suddenly on “equal footing” with other media brands? IDW has completely destroyed the Tranformer’s mythos in the eyes of a majority of the fan base. This is not opinion this is simply fact.

    Marvel cancelled the original Transformers issues after nearly 5 years of sale ranging between 95-125 thousand issues sold monthly dipped to the 70 thousand range for over a year. Both of IDWs “Flagship” titles sell less than 13 thousand COMBINED.

    Dreamwave’s Transformers main G1 titles were amongst the top 10 selling books for ANY company -including Marvel and DC. IDWs Transformers isn’t even their own best selling book, and IDW is lucky when one of their titles makes the top 180 – Transformers usually is around the 220-230 rank.

    James Roberts is actually a talented writer, which cannot be said for the other hack who writes their other title who seems more concerned with fighting her fans on twitter than learning how to write something that doesn’t come off as fan fiction. However, neither of them write a “Transformers” book, but rather someone trying to emulate a CW drama rather than a fantasy epic about machines.

    Instead of an interview where these writers and interviewers sit and toot IDWs nonexistent accomplishments, why not ask them why a book that used to sell in the hundreds of thousands and/or place in the top ten with other companies cannot break 9,000 monthly sales even if the company’s life depended on it. This isn’t some little indie title, this is a media backed by a billion dollar corporation and a movie franchise that is one of the highest grossing properties..ever.

    • Orion_FAQS

      Perhaps this interview’s focus being what it is acts as a better indicator of what at least some people want to know about: like any topic, there are those who like to focus on what’s good, and there are those who like to talk about what needs to improve. You say this should be about why IDW’s run on the franchise isn’t raking in money like it should? I suppose that’s something to talk about, though if your comments regarding Mairghread Scott are any indication, your bias on the subject is already deep-rooted enough that no discussion seems likely to appease you.

      On the flip side of things, as an author, I’m always quite interested in hearing from the source themselves about their own creative process, so this was an insightful tidbit to digest. I hope to see Lost Light continue to surpass my expectations for the series, and the franchise, as a whole.

    • Yorick

      The realities of comic book publishing in the 20-teens vs. the 1980s would be the main reason why IDW sells relatively few copies. A hit book in the early to mid 80’s when Transformers started would probably sell, I’m ballparking here, 350,000 copies. During the speculator boom of the early 90’s, a few million was likely, but that’s an anomaly driven by variant covers and hype from things like Wizard magazine. Also remember that Dreamwave’s Transformers hit was during a period of high and sustained interest in 80’s properties — and the company went bankrupt.
      These days a book that sells 100K copies would be a runaway hit. I don’t have sources in front of me but would estimate top selling books are around 30 to 50 thousand copies. There are many, many more comics publishers now than in the 80’s and so very many options. 7.5K ain’t bad in that environment for a publisher that isn’t Marvel or DC (both of which are backed by gigantic multinational corporations). IDW’s Transformers is doing well enough in the current market that they currently feel three monthlies are sustainable — when Marvel did the book there was one title and a couple miniseries, AND they had a related daily cartoon that every kid was watching to help push the comic.

      I don’t see where you get the idea that IDW has “completely destroyed the Tranformer’s mythos in the eyes of a majority of the fan base”. Transformers is a very malleable concept with multiple mythos (Marvel G1, Sunbow G1, Beast Wars, RiD, Bayverse, the Unicron trilogy, etc). I wouldn’t say every IDW issue has been gold, but neither are Marvel’s or Dreamwave’s. If you can’t accept change, why would you read Transformers?

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