Interviews: Bob Budiansky (2/04)
Bob Budiansky Interview (February 2004)
Bob Budiansky was one of the original writers who worked on the Transformers Generation One comic book by Marvel Comics. He was part of the birth of the line that celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2004. For years, many names and personalities of Transformers were conceived by Mr. Budiansky, making him one of the "fathers" of Transformers.
Meeting with Bob Budiansky was a surreal experience. To him, Transformers was a job well over a decade ago, to the fanboy in me who grew up reading his stories month after month, it was literally a childhood dream come true. I even had him sign my "Beginnings" hard cover, so yes, I geeked out a bit.
Ok, first the basics. How did you get into the field of writing? Background, that sort of thing, whatever you're comfortable sharing.
Well, I was already working at Marvel as an editor and I was doing, at the time, I think I had done, and I think Jim Shooter was the Editor in Chief at the time. I had already written one or two premises for series that he had asked me to. They weren't like new treatments for the "Avengers" or anything like that, it was like some other kind of licensed product projects, or potential projects that we could license to a toy company.
I guess at that time, Jim Shooter was getting more and more involved with licensed properties through Hasbro and other toy companies. So I had already written a couple of things, but nothing that got published really. I plotted a couple of stories, I think at that time I had already plotted or co-plotted a couple actual stories for the "Avengers". I hadn't done that much writing really. I didn't come aboard Marvel as a writer, I came aboard as an artist. Actually I came aboard as an editorial assistant, but then eventually I moved into art and I was freelancing as an artist. I was an editorial assistant for the British department, before Marvel had a British office, we reprinted everything here in the states. And then I quit to go freelance as an artist.
I came back on staff as an assistant editor, which is a step up from an editorial assistant. Did that for a couple of years, then I quit again to be an artist again, at that time I was the regular pencil artist on "Ghost Rider" for a while. And then came back on staff as a full editor and eventually that led to working on the Transformers. I can tell you more about how I got onto Transformers.
Sure, that'd be great.
What happened was, this was around Thanksgiving 1983 or right before that. Jim Shooter had written out a treatment of a Transformers storyline, and I guess Hasbro had approved it. This is all before I got involved so I'm piecing it together. It was Jim Shooter's treatment though, in maybe like a three, four, five page typewritten page treatment explaining the Transformers world and the conflict and all that. But a lot more details had to be fleshed out. He had initially given it to Denny O'Neil who was on staff at the time as an editor.
For whatever reason, what Denny had written in fleshing out the characters wasn't met with approval by Hasbro at the time. Some if it had. I'm pretty sure he came up with the name Optimus Prime. But a lot of it had gotten rejected and so maybe there was a time problem or maybe Denny had lost interest, I don't really know. But Jim Shooter went around the editorial staff having to meet this deadline before Thanksgiving you know, coming into the Thanksgiving weekend, people are off and all that and we had to turn something in to Hasbro. So I was probably about the fourth or fifth choice, I mean he was desperate (laughs).
He needed somebody who had a little time on their hands who could write something. I was not the obvious candidate. As I said, I wasn't there as a writer as much as an illustrator, a pencil artist. So he came to me, and I came up with a bunch of names, characters and a bunch of character biographies and they liked it, they were really happy with it with very few changes as I recall to that initial two dozen or so Transformers in that lineup.
Do you remember any Transformers in particular that you came up with names and personalities for?
Megatron, whichever the first couple dozen were. Ravage. I think Bumblebee was mine. Ironhide, um who was the ambulence? Ratchet, which I got from "One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest", Nurse Ratchet you know that story. Ironhide I got from the old TV series Ironside. I pulled all these names from different things.
Megatron was "Mega" from "Megaton", you know. "Tron" was from "electronics". I can't say for sure, but my belief is that that name became one of the best known. I remember it was in Doonesbury where the son of Doonsbury is saying that the President is Megatron or something like that. I think it's the best known and regarded among a lot of the names I came up with. At the time, Hasbro actually initially rejected it, and the reasoning was "Well, it sounds too scary because Megatron makes you think of nuclear bombs." and I said "Well, he's the head of the bad guys, the whole idea is for him to be scary." They dropped their protest after that. They would reject names every so often for all sorts of reasons. Although they were really happy, I mean they were just ecstatic generally when I came up with a batch of names for them to look at.
I know sometimes in other years they actually used companies to come up with names. At that time I think there was some really nascent computer software to generate names, and they would do that. And they would always come back to me. For like, five years they did that.
Were you also involved in the writing of the bios that were included with the toys? And when did you stop writing them?
I wrote them. I kept writing the series through about 1988 or so, and I had wanted to get off for a year or so but either my editor or the people at Hasbro, I forget, kept saying "Just write it a little longer." I was beginning to burn out after I don't know how many, a couple hundred of these guys I had gone through? So I was ready to move on.
A lot of the character bios you wrote (Universe included) are still considered the bar which many bios since have yet to reach. You weren't just getting a toy, you were getting a toy with a personality. Many of the names you created are still in use today, and some agree were the best in the line.
I'll give you a little more background about the character bios. I remember there was a comment from one of the Hasbro people, one of the account managers or product managers, whatever, at that point he said "Were you ever in the military?" and I said "No." And he said "You come up with all of these characteristics in these bios, how do you come up with them?" I have a civil engineering degree which I never went into, but I learned a lot of words
which sounded cool when applied to the Transformers like "torque" and things like that. I wrote them in there and I guess it helps give a bit more appeal and distinction between these characters, otherwise they were just a bunch of guys who turned into robots. I think my experience working at Marvel made me realize, if you just add a couple colorful adjectives it can make one personality distinct from another one. I don't know what they're writing nowadays, but my experience at Marvel and my civil engineering background combined were uniquely appropriate for writing Transformers bios, perhaps.
It sounds like the foundation for the comic books came first, then the animation was based on that. Is that the chronology?
I wasn't there at the very beginning, but they were trying, to some degree, to follow the G.I. Joe model, where Marvel had co-developed G.I. Joe. They wanted all the basics before they went ahead and put the animation together. And I know they deviated from the comic book storyline about a year later or something. But originally, anything that I produced or Jim Shooter had produced eventually got turned around to Sunbow productions and then they'd do whatever they'd want with it.
Did you have any interactions with the cartoon writer?
I was at a couple meetings in their office in New York, but I didn't sit there and tell the writers what to do. I really was in a different world to them, literally, because again, they changed the whole storyline to something else as time went on. So they did get anything that we produced. Like every year obviously there would be more characters, more bios and then there would be more extensions to the Transformers storyline which I generally wrote those treatments like the Headmasters. Obviously the whole thing was to promote the toys. It may not have been obvious to an eight year old reading it or watching it on TV, but the more you read the book or watched the cartoon on TV, the more interested you would be in buying the toys. So everything was done in concert to promote the toys. So if a new line of toys was coming out, you'd see them in the comic book, you'd see it on TV and then everybody would move on from there.
Speaking of differences between the cartoon and comic book, the cartoon seemed to take place in a very black and white world, where good and evil were plain as day and night. You wrote a much more gray world however, where you had humans doing everything from loving the Transformers to hating them and everything inbetween. Why did you go in that direction instead of making it a black and white world?
I can't comment on the cartoon because I never watched it. I didn't feel it was necessary, especially when I know they changed the whole premise. They were out in space or on Cybertron. My feeling was, well, part of it was probably my influence working for Marvel. If you look at most of Marvel's heroes,
they're never clearly defined as heroes in the eyes of the general population. There's always doubts about Spider-Man or the X-Men, people like that create a lot of concern from a lot of people around the world and my feeling was that if a bunch of alien, 20 foot tall robots just suddenly appear on Earth, we wouldn't suddenly embrace them as our saviors, especially when half of them are going around trying to destroy everything.
And from the average person's point of view, it's really hard to distinguish an Autobot from a Decepticon. So I just took it from there. I just figured, some people would be wise to what's really going on, some people would get to know them on a more personal level. I know I wrote a bunch of stories like that where individual human characters would get to know some of the Autobots and then there would be some people with knee jerk reactions like "They're a threat to humanity, let's kill them." or destroy them. I was just coming from the sense of what would really happen if such a thing did exist, not from let's make it black and white, everybody loves the Autobots and hates the Decepticons. I don't know what rules cartoons played by, but it was not the same rules that I felt I should play by.
The Transformers comic book could have easily been about robot versus robot every issue, but you chose to introduce characters such as Robot Master, Circuit Breaker etc. You also did issues where the focus was on a human and a Transformer. Was being part of the "super hero" universe of Marvel an influence on that?
My feeling was that as long as they were here on Earth, they should interact with Earthlings. What's the point of being here and not being sort of involved with everybody's lives around here? And I felt that was made the series interesting to me actually. It wasn't just a bunch of robots versus robots, it was robots trying to achieve certain goals in an alien environment, which
As they went along, with Circuit Breaker as an example, they moved along and people reacted to them. In the case of Circuit Breaker, she was somebody who was crippled by their actions. There was some kind of fight, I believe, she was working for an industrialist and she was cripped by an explosion they caused or something like that. She was a computer genius so you know, it was a typical super hero/super character origin. She turned her technology to giving herself significant powers. And of course she was a flawed hero. She thought she was doing the right thing, but in many cases she went after the wrong robot. I just thought that was where the fun of the stories was, trying to come up with ways for the humans and Transformers to interact. Taking humans out of the equation meant the stories could happen anywhere.
Some have speculated that the fuel shortage of the 70's contributed to the storyline where Transformers were constantly looking for fuel. Is that true or is that just speculation?
I think that's speculation. I don't know if that entered my mind, it might have. I think it was perhaps in Jim Shooter's original treatment that they were looking for energy sources. But I think they were shut down for thousands of years after the crash and they needed energy and all that. And that, to me, made it somewhat interesting also. Going back to the traditional super hero premise, other than like Superman (and he had Kryptonite as a problem), a lot of hero type characters, they are limited to what they can do. A good example is Green Lantern who has to recharge his Power Ring every twenty four hours.
Iron Man has the heart condition, or at least used to. It gave it another level of interest to me that they couldn't keep going around endlessly and fight forever. They needed to figure out ways to recharge.
This is one of those particular story points that you may or may not recall. When the comic book series began, we were introduced to Buster Witwicky. Meanwhile, the cartoon introduced Spike Witwicky. Then later you brought Spike in as Buster's brother. Was that purely out of necesity because he became (a part of) the head of Fortress Maximus?
Okay, I didn't create the name Buster Witwicky. Buster goes back to Jim Shooter's original treatment. I think there were some names he threw together from somebody he knew in Pittsburg where he grew up or something like that.
I personally thought the name Buster was somehow not cool. But it was the character, so I used it. I could understand why the TV series decided to change his name. It was a name that I was kind of stuck with. If it was a character I created I would have never named him that, but Witwicky probably, but that to me was less of an issue, but I went along with it. I liked the idea of the character though. Shooter had a way of meshing a lot of things that on the surface wouldn't fit, so he made Buster the son of a mechanic so that worked really well because obviously a bunch of robotic characters could use a mechanic every so often. And I remember turning that into a storyline early on with some of the earlier issues.
Did Hasbro put a lot of pressure on you to introduce new characters into the storyline with new toys every year?
Yes. Like I said earlier, like it or not, this whole thing was to promote the toys. They'd introduce forty new toys and they'd want me to introduce forty new toys into the storyline somehow. It became a real burden. I think if you look back, you'll see some stories where I could focus on one character for maybe, two or three issues, and develop that character, and hopefully I did some interesting things with that character, and then I'd have to drop him to go in another direction because I had to introduce a whole new bunch of toys. In twelve issues, over the course of the year, I'd have to introduce an entire toyline, which could be several dozen toys. Sometimes it was like Mini-Bots or something, little planes or boats, so I'd just introduce them in a couple of panels or in the background. But sometimes you'd have to have a story more focusing on some more major toys that were introduced that year. And try to do it seamlessly so it wasn't so obvious to the fans that this was a big advertisement. Like I said earlier, I got burned out after a few years. It was just a lot to ask to just do that over and over and over again.
What was your level of involvement with the theatrical movie?
Nothing. I think in that case, all the characters that were introduced in the movie were handled (as far as information) by whoever was doing the movie. Names and so on. I think other than being the editor of the adapation of it.
What was your original intention when introducing the Creation Matrix?
My original intention was really to just...in looking at the Transformers, they were all male, and I think there was a female character in the movie. Obviously they didn't reproduce as organic creatures might, yet new Transformers had to be created somehow and I guess somewhere along the line I thought it'd be cool that Optimus Prime was not just the leader of the Autobots, but I believe I made him the possessor of the Creation Matrix. He had this gift of creating new Transformers life. I never called him "God" or anything, but I guess I put Transformers on a different level than living creatures on our world. You could build a living Transformer and program it to believe. I felt the Creation Matrix was a very sophisticated program in that regard. I believe I made it an object of the storyline where the Decepticons and Autobots are competing to possess the Creation Matrix.
It seemed like it was something any Transformer could possess if they knew what they were doing as opposed to a more physical object that Simon portrayed it as.
I guess so yeah. Obviously it was a great source of power. If you can use the Creation Matrix to create new Transformers, you could put out a lot more toys. I mean, it was basically a way to introduce new toys into the storyline by saying okay, I think was it Jetfire? That was the one I used the Creation Matrix on first? See? These books by Simon come in handy (referring to the Titan reprints). I can actually look at them and review my stories and remember them (smiles). It became a good way to develop the storyline.
Going back to creating mythology, I did want to expand upon these guys as I went along. Originally they thought it out as Autobots and Decepticons from Cybertron blah, blah, blah. And then I wrote a couple stories where we returned to Cybertron and I wrote "The Bridge to Nowhere" which was another way to transport them. We got a sense of what Cybertron was like. I guess I might have been influenced by the first "Terminator" movie, because I think I gave this idea that the Autobots lived in this underground, junkyard world virtually and the Decepticons were the rulers. I gave the Autobots the sense of what the humans looked like in the futuristic scenes of "Terminator" which was out around then. Anyway, as I went along, I tried wherever I could to throw in a little more mythology of the Transformers world.
How difficult was it to collaborate with the UK?
I was unaware. I knew they had it because of the weekly publishing schedule, they had to come up with their own stories to fill in the gaps, but yeah, they were like the fly on the back of the elephant you know? Not to demean them, they were our allies! What they did was secondary to what we did in the States. We did what we had to do and they did what they had to do and we were unaware of it.
We're literally here twenty years later and so much of what you laid down as a foundation for Transformers is still being referenced today, including some in Dreamwave's current G1 title. How does that make you feel?
I'm always surprised. I'm surprised to be here at this interview! Recently I was called for a convention. I'm just surprised that it's something I did fifteen to twenty years ago that I did at the time not because I loved the Transformers but it was a job. Now, I did it to the best of my ability and I think I tried to pour whatever I could into it. But it wasn't as if I wanted to make my life achievement Transformers or whatever I wrote for. And one thing I do know,and remember I was involved with toy companies a lot back then, one thing I heard was if they introduce a toy and it lasts two years it was a big success in the toy industry. So I know that Transformers, by that standard, is a huge success. It lasted a lot longer than that in the initial run, and now it's back again.
I know it had more staying power than some other toy lines I worked on that went nowhere. So it was not a complete surprise that they're still around. I figured one day they'd come back, but I never gave it much thought. It's kind of nice that work I did for one purpose years ago, which was just put out a monthly comic book and to help Hasbro flesh out this whole universe of Transformers toys by naming their products and writing their product copy for a few years. Having done all that, it had a life beyond what I initially intended it to have.
Looking back at your run on the title, was there anything you would have done differently? Were there ever any storylines you wanted to do but couldn't because they were rejected?
I don't think any storylines were outright rejected. Maybe plot points here or there were rejected, I can't be specific about it, the only thing I would've wanted to do differently, which was impossible under the circumstances, I wish I didn't have introduce all those characters. As a writer, it was very difficult to write a compelling issue to issue storyline when so many new characters had to constantly be introduced. But I had no choice about that. It was part of the deal.
Was it a mandate by Hasbro or Marvel to do the big intros? Everytime a character was introduced, there was this huge speech balloon saying "Who I am!".
(Laughs). I remember it was really embarrasing in the first issue of the mini series. "Hi! I'm so and so!" It was sort of a mandate. I mean, Shooter had, he had good reasons, he had a reason: when you introduce the character you make it clear to the reader who the character is. For Transformers, it was especially important. They do kind of blend together, especially in their robotic humanoid form. I remember in that first issue when they introduce
themselves, we did kind of stretch the point to absurdity where they were in a one or two page panel spread talking about who they are like they don't know it like they're in some senior's home and have to remind themselves or something. So, I don't know how it played out as issues went on. I think I tried to make it a bit more integrated and organic to the storyline. It got a little bit easier as time went on, we'd have twenty characters to write. But generally
good comic book writing, not just for Transformers, but for anything involves introducing who the characters are to the reader.
Nowadays with comics, there's a tendency to shroud things in mystery and reveal everything later. I would imagine that's just a stylistic change over time.
I'm sure it is. I was just reading an online interview, I don't know how long ago it was done, with Howard Mackie, who wrote the second Ghost Rider. He mentioned that apparantly they had to graft some origin story onto the Ghost Rider storyline. When I worked on Ghost Rider, we had an origin which came like, seven years before I got involved and then we added the origin when I was involved. And Howard said, we would have probably never have gotten around to writing out the origin if it wasn't like, a mandate because that Ghost Rider became a part of the line of the Midnight Suns. So he said if I hadn't been around, he would have kept the mystery a secret. And I know, having worked with Howard, and having been up at Marvel as an editor at that point, I know that was completely the influence of the X-Men at the time. It was so popular and successful, it was like one mystery would open up to another mystery, nothing was ever quite explained and I guess that permeated into the Transformers and all that.
I felt at the time that the audience was probably on the younger side, and it was very unfair to take an audience, especially with such a concept that was already somewhat convoluted, robots on our world, they're carrying out their war on our world and there's so many of them, I felt it would be unfair to make things so serious and potentially confusing.
What have you worked on since Transformers? I know you worked on Spider-Man for a while
Right. I'm not in comics anymore. Transformers was twenty years ago. I left comics eight years ago, and so subsequent to Transformers, I developed a new series of my own called "Sleepwalker" which I wrote, which just came back for one issue after being out of commission for ten or twelve years. I wrote that for about two and a half years and at Marvel I was still on the editorial staff so I was working on movie adaptations and their trading card line. This goes back to the early 90's. Eventually I became the editor of the Spider-Man line and then I wasn't there anymore.
Are you still in publishing?
Yes, I work for Scholastic, the book publisher. It's completely different. What I do there is completely different from what I did at Marvel. It's rewarding in the sense that I get paid. But working at Marvel allwoed me to express myself creatively in all different ways, as an editor, a writer as a collaborator, an illustrator. What I do at Scholastic I consider "work".
Have you seen any of the new comic books that have been published?
Just barely in passing. I was at a comic book store last week to check out that new issue, an Epic Anthology which included a Sleepwalker issue but I rarely walk into a comic book store.
Bob discusses the early days of the Transformers comic.
Way back when, a couple things were going on. First you had the four issue mini series, which Jim Shooter asked me to edit because I was already developing the characters. So I was very familiar, obviously. I didn't have a reputation as a writer so it made sense for me to edit the book. And if you notice, there were several writers the first few issues. And the reason was, nobody could pull the thing together. It was this monster. All these characters running around, you mentioned Spider-Man earlier, Jim Salicrup was the editor for Spider-Man books and thought "Gee, wouldn't it be a great idea to put Spider-Man in there to attract attention!". It was a typical comic book ploy to use a popular character as a guest star in other books to attract attention. So, really, it was going all over the place. It was a mess, trying to get a writer to get a handle on this for the first four issues.
Then when the sales figures started coming in and we realized what a big success it was, Jim Shooter came over and said "Hey, we want to continue this." and we were so naive back then, we went with issue #5, we didn't start over with issue 0 or issue 1. We thought we would just do the correct thing and continue what we started. Anyway, then I became the writer as long as we got someone else to edit it. The editor at the time, Jim Owsley, fairly new editor, I was a fairly new writer, I think the combination was not good. Owsley actually chopped my first story in half without telling me. Issues 5 and 6 were
essentially one story, on issue. So if you look at it again, it just ends kind of flat.
You know, that makes sense. The issue does end kind of suddenly.
Yeah, because he just chopped the story in half! (laughs). I would have been happy as a writer to get my plot back from him saying "This is too long, wrap it up, wrap something up in issue five and we'll continue in issue six." but he never even told me. So, this was not a good thing. Then around issue 8 or 9, Jim Halsley decided to fire everybody working for him who had any experience. Not just me, but the editor of the Spider-Man line. He fired Tom DeFalco etc. He fired all these people because he wanted to bring in his own untried, unproven talent. Actually, he brought in Peter David and gave Peter David his first shot,
I don't believe his Spider-Man run at the time was classic but he got him started. Maybe he had some good instincts.
In any case, I was very upset because I was working on the Transformers, it was my baby and I didn't feel that I had done anything to justify having it taken away from me. But anyway, it did create somewhat of a chaotic situation for some of the first few issues. For regular a writer, a regular artist. Alan Kupperberg was on as the artist and I don't think Alan had a really good grasp initially for the Transformers so they had to get the right artist for it. In any case, I went to Owsley and said "Do you care about this book?" and he said "No." So I asked "What if I went to Jim Shooter and got the ok to shop it around to another editor?" and he said "Ok." So as long as we weren't working together, he was fine with it. So I found Mike Carlin at the time to be the editor of Transformers. And once he got on board, he was much more comfortable handling such a property and working with me. I don't think I was much of a prima dona or anything, I just didn't know why Owsley went in the direction he wanted to go or tried to go.
But, in any case, when he came on board around issue 9 or 10, things got much smoother. I was able to talk to Carlin and say "Here's some ideas I'm coming up with for future storylines." and he'd give feedback. He wouldn't just look at a plot, chop it in half. He would work like an editor should work. So, if this is a knock on Owsley, it's a knock on Owsley, but things went much more smoothly after he was no longer editing the book.
I went to Jim Salicrup after the first four and I said "The book is going to continue and my recommendation to Jim Owsley, the new editor, is that he fire you." My recollection was that he was relieved. It was such a burden to write the book for him. Salicrup agreed because I was feeding him so much of the storyline that it was like navigating through all these different personalities. There was Jim Shooter, Hasbro, he was trying to fit all these toys in there, it was a real burden. It wasn't much fun for the writer. Ralph Macchio, Bill Mantlo...everyone was abandoning ship.
Since you mentioned Spider-Man, was that part of the reason there were some cross overs with the Marvel "Universe"? Dazzler was mentioned in one issue, Circuit Breaker appeared in the Secret Wars etc.
That I know (smiles). I'll give you the Spider-Man story first.
Jim Salicrup has wanted to feature Spider-Man. Initially Hasbro rejected the idea. You'd think they would love the idea of featuring Marvel's main, primary, most recognizable character. The reason they rejected the idea was that at the time, it was either Mattel or Kenner, had the toy action figure license. They looked at it as promoting their competitor's toyline. We looked at it as "We're doing you a great favor of putting Spider-Man in this book for a bunch of toys." So we compromised. The license was only for the red and blue costume, so we featured Spider-Man in the black and white costume.
So Hasbro was okay with that.
As far as Circuit Breaker appearing in "Secret Wars", one of the indicias of the Transformers book was that everything was copyright of Hasbro. And I felt like Circuit Breaker had enough potential that maybe she could be spun off into something one day and I didn't want Hasbro to own her. She had nothing to do with the toys, she was a human character and so I spoke to Jim Shooter about it and he agreed to feature her briefly in "Secret Wars" before she was printed in Transformers. So that was to keep the copyright under Marvel, not Hasbro.
You mentioned you started as an artist, did you work very closely with the artists and direct the artwork?
I generally laid out the covers. I did some of the covers too. But as far as the interior of the story, I pretty much left it to them. As time went on,
not under Owsley, I don't remember under Carlin, but definitely under Don Daley I think I laid out every cover.
I think, for a very long time, people thought very negatively of your run on the book. They remember "Car Wash of Doom", but they don't remember the dozens of other great issues you wrote. Do you have any feelings or comments on that?
I really don't care. I've moved on, my life doesn't depend on what people think of me and Transformers. I got paid for it, I got royalties from it, I got paid by Hasbro for writing product copy and coming up with names. Transformers has been very, very good to me. So, years ago when the internet started blossoming and I did a search for my name, it came up with all these Transformers web sites. I looked and I thought "They hate me out there...wow! Who knew?!"I had no clue. You know, I wrote Transformers for a bunch of kids. Now there were adults who had these real strong opinions about me and frankly my feeling was "Get a life! I wrote this for kids! I wrote these for 8-10 year old boys back when I was writing them. You're not my audience." So, I'm sorry, but I don't really care. I don't really care how I come across to anybody, I don't mind talking about it. I'm not ashamed. I feel proud that I stuck it out for fifty issues or so, but it was a job.
In fact, last year I did an interview for some Transformers web site. I'm not sure if it's around anymore. I answered a lot of the same kind of questions you've asked and all that and saw a board for people to fire back and comment, and all these people were writing back saying "Wow, Bob's a really nice guy!" and it resurrected my reputation. It wasn't like I said anything prior to that, in a positive or negative light. I just wrote the book and people formed
their own opinions. So all of a sudden I went from somebody who was being disparaged (at least, among this small minority that read this interview) to like "Hey, he's not so bad, he's so honest, I didn't know that..." I just put it out there and people can react however they feel as long as they don't stalk me on the street and try to kill me or something because they didn't like "Car Wash of Doom" or whatever (smiles).
When you killed Optimus Prime, was it because of the events in the movie and having to match them up somehow?
No, it had nothing to do with the movie. I just wanted to do something dramatic and move Prime off center stage because he was too dominant and there were too many other characters coming onboard. By moving him away for a while, I created a conflict and it gave me the chance to bring in some new characters and personalities.
I think I actually went to far with that, and that got some negative reaction back then. I brought in the Dinobots, and they were really nasty and all. You know, I just went too far. It's possible that subconscioiusly I was already burning out of the Transformers in making it nasty and unlikeable. It gave me a chance to bring him back in a big way.
Choosing Grimlock for the new Autobot leader at the time was a brilliant move because it was so unexpected. Why such an unconventional choice?
Well, I don't remember exactly, but I think it was that he was strong and dominant. He was one of those "Alpha Male" types and because he wasn't the average, nice Autobot. Turned out he was a bad choice as a leader, but those things happen when you're in that bad kind of situation. You basically have this military group and some people are able to rise up to the challenge of leading where they're able to balance their military goals with their humanitarian instincts and some people aren't. I'm sure a lot of it was for the shock value.
Did you ever want to write a story where you were going to kill of XY and Z and Hasbro or Marvel just said "You can't do that."
I did knock off Optimus Prime, but I'm sure at the time I assured them he'd come back. They might of had questions about it, but I don't remember them having a problem with me knocking off characters. Especially in the Marvel universe, and especially in the Transformers universe, they could easily come back, they could get rebuilt.
One of the comparisons people often make between your run on the title and Simon Furman's is his tendency to bump off characters. I've always thought that it was easier for him to do that, especially with characters who were no longer being produced as toys.
I had the same going on in my mind. I believe, can't say for sure but, if the toys weren't in production, they could get knocked off. I knew why these characters were being introduced in the book, because they're currently in production. It wouldn't make any sense to bring them in and knock them off. I might forget about them for a few issues you know, a lot of times I wanted to bring back a character and by the time I got around to wanting to bring them back, there was a whole new line of characters in the book so I may have never gone back to those characters.
Did Hasbro ever give you any of the toys to work with and help visualize your stories?
Yeah. I still have them in boxes in my garage. Not all of them, but a bunch of them.
Almost everyone I've ever talked to, voice actors, writers, artists etc. all say "It was just a job.", but still the line has grown and thrived as one can see by all the licensing going on right now. Did you ever think back in the day that this would go the distance? Or did you think "That's it, the comics are over, it's all over."?
At the time I was doing it, I didn't know that twenty years later I'd be sitting here talking to you about it. It's very gratifying to know that something I created for one reason has taken on life way beyond anything I could have imagined at the time I was doing it. It's just gratifying. A lot of things that people do, especially in that realm, that arena of comics and toys and all that is completely forgotten the moment you finish doing it. Obviously Transformers has a lot more going for it.
BWTF.com extends its most sincere thanks to Mr. Budiansky for taking the time out to do this interview. You can check out reprints of Mr. Budiansky's Transformers issues in the current Titan graphic novels reprinting the Marvel Generation One titles.