Interviews: Simon Furman (10/02)

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Interviews

Calling Simon Furman a legend in the Transformers world is a bit of an understatement. He is perhaps, the only writer to ever have worked on Transformers across generations, and few people have written the volumes of material he has that many fans take as their "canon". With his new series "The War Within" out in stores now, Simon took time for more interview questions prepared by Jenni 'Trixter' Ulm, thanks Jenni!

JU: Did you ever expect to see Transformers as a whole get this popular again?
SF: No, but then I keep being surprised by TF, the durability of the brand and its ability to reinvent itself for new generations. When I proposed the collected edition series to Titan, I only had moderate expectations, but it really has gone sky high. Dreamwave, it has to be said, have done a great job of freshening up the brand, and Armada seems to be a solid series. One thing I keep forgetting, and I really should know better by now, is just how dedicated and patient TF fans are.

JU: What's it like to be following up on a record-breaking series like Dreamwave's "Transformers: Generation 1"?
SF: Scary, but then I want The War Within to succeed or fail on its own merits. I don't expect to do the numbers of Gen 1 #1, but as long as #1 does reasonably well (and people come back for more) I'll be happy. If people don't come back for more, then I haven't done my job properly.

JU: Do you feel the comic industry as a whole is giving you a lot of attention because that series was such a success? Do you feel any extra pressure because of it?
SF: I'm happy to have the extra attention, but strangely I feel no pressure from that direction. I'd been out of comics (and into the animation side of things) for the best part of six years, so coming back in just felt like coming home, strangley comforting. And I learned a lot scripting for TV, which somehow made the comics scripting seem easier.

JU: Was it a different exprience working on series and character development with an artist who was already a Transformers fan?
SF: It certainly made my life easy. Don is fantastic. All I had to say was, we need this character or that character, and moments later this completely wonderful sketch would turn up, perfect (far better than I could have described). Don's knowledge of the characters and backstory has meant that I can strip my scripts down to storytelling essentials. I don't need to think, does he know what this character used to look like. In fact, I started off making suggestions to Don, but just stopped. He was way ahead of me.

JU: Since many fans are still very much stuck on the cartoon series, did you find any concepts or characters from that to fit into this series?
SF: Not really, but then I didn't take from the original comic either (other than to have Grimlock established on Cybertron, in a pre-Earth mode). I was glad just to clear the board and start more or less from scratch. Inevitably, though, bits of my comic heritage will creep in. There's a mention of Sentinel Prime and there's an Emirate Xeon...

JU: Are there characters in addition to Optimus Prime whose personalities are going to be a lot different in the earlier days when "The War Within" takes place?
SF: Not really. There are four main players in TWW: Prime, Grimlock, Megatron and Starscream, so while characters like Prowl, Jazz and Shockwave are featured, they aren't so much in the spotlight. Prowl is a lot more direct and confident in TWW than in previous comic versions, but otherwise I saw no reason (in the space I had) to stray from what had already been established, character-wise.

JU: Which characters did you enjoy delving into the development of the most?
SF: Grimlock, probably, but I suppose that's no great surprise to a lot of people. But I also liked starting Prime from scratch and showing there's a lot more to Megatron than conquest, conquest, conquest.

JU: Grimlock and Prowl seem to be fairly major characters in this story. Will we see the same Grimlock/Prowl rivalry we saw in the original comic series, or will their relationship be different?
SF: Grimlock is a sort of official loose-cannon in TWW, while Prowl is much more by the book, but they don't clash. If anything, they derstand/respect each other... even though they're very different in approach.

JU: Already you've introduced some characters to the story who were killed shortly after showing up, which is a bit of a trademark of your storytelling. Do you put much work into creating these characters? For instance, do you have names for the Decepticon assassins who were unnamed in the dialogue?
SF: One of the assassins is actually named in #1, Darklight. The other two (for the record) are Umbra and Backbite. The problem I faced with TWW, was
that we're in a middle of huge war and no one in the main cast could die. But if I couldn't kill off a primary character, I could at least (and felt I had to) show the cost of war in terms of other lives lost (it's what prompts Prime's controvertial decision). So, characters had to be created in order to die. I didn't want these to be a nameless mass, so I tried at least give them names and some thought about the who and what. I just always cross my fingers and hope I haven't picked a name that's already out there in TF Universe.

JU: At BotCon it was announced that you and Pat Lee would be collaborating on a short storyline for Dreamwave's "Transformers: Armada" comic. Are there any teasers you can give us for that yet?
SF: It's issues #6 & 7 of the series, and it centres on the Air Defense Team and their combined form of the Star Saber. Megatron gets it, and turns it on the Autobots (and that's all I'm giving away). As it turns out, I'll be continuing on Armada (with a new artist) straight after this story.

JU: Did Dreamwave approach you to do an Armada story, or were you inspired to write one on your own?
SF: Dreamwave approached me. Up to that point, all I'd seen (and not been hugely impressed with) was the rough cut of the first TV episode (that was screened at Botcon 2002). So I had to get into Armada fast. It's been a lot of fun.

JU: What is it like to write a story about characters who in some cases are alternate versions of the ones you're used to, in a completely and unquestionably different universe?
SF: Not a problem as it turned out, though I do write some characters as I would their Gen 1 equivalents. Starscream for one.

JU: There's also been announcment of a non-Transformers project you're working with Pat Lee on for Dreamwave. Is there anything new you can tell
us about that?

SF: Well, the first script is written, and we're just waiting on a confirmation of title (the original we had was already taken). It's about the invasion (into our universe) of Dark Matter energy, personified by a creature known as Darcona, and the response to that... which is to send in human soldiers in living Graft Suits that will protect them. Or so they think. Basically, the five central characters are being set up... to be dead. And from that point, the series really kicks in.

JU: Is there anything else you want to let your die-hard fans know about these or any other current projects of yours?
SF: Beyond Armada, TWW and (Title TBC), I'm also writing the UK version of Armada (for a monthly comic being published by Panini UK). It's 14pp of new strip per issue, and issues 1 & 2 (out Jan/Feb 2003, I think) re-tell/re-work the set-up/origin. We then go into all new stories, a continuing strand and Mini-Con Tales. Simon Furman, October 2003

Thanks to Simon Furman for taking the time out for this interview.