Interviews: Simon Furman (3/04)
1) Please tell us a bit about the Transformers Ultimate Guide and how you became involved with it.
The Ultimate Guide is one of Dorling Kindersley's lush, full colour hardbacks (in the style of Superman: The Ultimate Guide to the Man of Steel), focusing on the evolution of TRANSFORMERS in toy, TV and comic book incarnations. It takes us right through (chronologically) from G1 (via G2, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, RiD and Armada) to Energon. It's 144 pages, heavily illustrated, with accompanying text. My involvement started when I was contacted by UK DK editor Simon Beecroft, who asked me if I'd like to be the author. I think Joshua Izzo at Hasbro US had suggested me a likely candidate.
2) Was it a daunting task to try to boil down twenty years of Transformers history into one book?
Only after I'd signed on did I fully realize what a monumental task I'd undertaken. For a start, we couldn't cover everything, you'd need about six volumes to take in every TV episode, every comic, every character and every toy. I knew going in we weren't really going to be able to get into the Japanese incarnations of characters and toys, and series such as Beast Wars Neo. Instead, I focused on fundamentals, the groundwork of G1 and its core characters. Nearly half the book is G1-based, which I think is what fans and casual readers will be most interested in. Even so, I still had to make some hard decisions about what to include, what to expand upon, and what to (regretfully) reduce more or less to a mention. There was just so much to pack in. G1/G2, as it turned out, was the easy bit. I knew my way around those characters and events, having been heavily involved first time around and since with the Dreamwave reimagination. But once we got onto the likes of Beast Machines and RiD, and (to a lesser extent, because I had at least been involved in the TV series) Beast Wars, that was where the research really kicked in. One thing I was sure of, this book was going to be scrutinized and analyzed (by the fans) to the nth degree. I had to get this stuff right.
3) Some may see this book as just a big promotion for the current Energon line, what more can we expect from it?
Oh, lots more. To be honest, as a lot of writing was done last year, there was only so much energon we could get in. One of DK's strengths is their amazing illustrative material. While, of course, we drew on a lot of established artwork (from the toys, the TV shows, the Marvel/Dreamwave comics, etc), there's a whole lot that's been specially commissioned for the book. Some highlights: a fully rendered planetary map (well, one side) of Cybertron, which places the various regions and landmarks in geographic relation to one another. A first, I think. Then there's detailed views of Iacon and the High Council Chambers, an expanded cutaway drawing of the Ark (which will take your breath away, I promise), cutaway internal workings on both Optimus Prime and Megatron, a full Unicron cutaway and more besides. I really saw the Ultimate Guide as a chance to set in stone the many and varied facets of the Transformers and their world, so there's stuff like a full Civil War Timeline and detailed specs on the Combiners and Special Teams, plus stuff like what Optimus Primal used to transform into, and what Ironhide and others were doing before the war. My aim was to produce a definitive reference guide. As well as being about the Transformers themselves, it's also about the evolution of the concept and its various incarnations. It really takes you through the full twenty years.
4) Can we expect any original artwork in the book?
As mentioned above, there's plenty. Not just the big items like Cybertron and the Ark and Unicron, but also many spot illustrations, ones (for example) that graphically illustrate how the Combiners combine (inside) and Powermaster Prime functions. Look out for a fantastic spot illo by Guido Guidi of the interior of Maccadams Old Oil Bar. Another highlight: Don Figueroa's amazing design for robot mode Primus (featured in the tpb of The War Within vol1, but otherwise unused) is inked and coloured up and presented in giant size (in all its glory). It looks fabulous!
5) What other projects are you currently working on?
Right this moment I'm writing Transformers Energon (for Dreamwave, www.dreamwaveprod.ca) and
Transformers Universe (for the fan club/OTFCC, http://www.otfcc.com), plus a bit of editorial work for Titan Books (overseeing their Transformers line, Wallace & Gromit original graphic novels, and Comics Creators series). You can check out Titan at www.titanbooks.com.
6) What related and non-Transformers related projects do you have in the works for the future?
Plenty of different stuff upcoming. On the Transformers front, there's the third series of The War Within, plus an Energon story for their Summer Special and another for the third Hasbro/Dreamwave in-pack mini-comic (that goes out with the toys). I'm also continuing and concluding the 'Primeval Dawn' storyline that Bob Forward began in the OTFCC Wreckers comic. And, as Wildfur (the company I run with Andrew Wildman, www.wildfur.net), I'm producing a 16-page mini-comic to go in with the UK (only so far, but that may change) release of the Atari TRANSFORMERS computer game (formerly known as Prelude to Energon). The mini-comic contains 11-pages of new strip, written by me and drawn (Dreamwave-style) by Lee Sullivan, which forms a prequel to the game itself. Lee's art is just fabulous, inked by Stephen Baskerville and coloured in-computer by Andrew. It's going to be SO collectible this item, trust me.
On the non-TF front, I've written for Legend of the Dragon, a new animated TV series script-edited by Bob Forward and produced by BKN, a new Dr. Who audio drama for Big Finish called Axis of Insanity, starring the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, and an English-language re-write on Doll, a Japanese manga series about human-style robots being published by Tokyopop (http://www.tokyopop.com/dbpage.php?propertycode=DOL&categorycode=BMG). Legend of the Dragon should arrive on TV screens later this year, the Dr. Who audio is out in April and a limited edition hardback of Doll #1 in May (with the standard paperback edition in July). It's been a busy old time, I can tell you.
7) You have written for many different types of media including comic booksand television. Are there any particular types of media that you would like to work in again? Or new forms of media you haven't tackled yet?
I'd certainly like to do more TV animation. Pre-LOTD, it was kind of quiet on that front, so I'm hoping this series will kick-start things generally. I'd still love to do live action TV or film work, of course. I had a lot of fun doing the Dr. Who audio drama, and it was a real kick to actually see it being recorded. Again, I'd like to do more if the chance arises. Or stuff along the lines of last year's OTFCC, when wrote a script performed live by voice actors Gary Chalk, Gregg Berger and David Kaye. Something about seeing my actually spoken, by actors, is very gratifying
8) How goes the work on the OTFCC exclusive comic books?
Slowly but surely. Issue #2 of Universe is being drawn (by Dan Khanna) now. It may already be finished. Issue #3 is written. As I mentioned, I'm also bringing the 'Primeval Dawn' storyline to a conclusion, work on which has slowed Dan up a bit on Universe.
9) We have heard word of a War Within 3 series, are you involved?
I am, yes. I think (hope) that TWW is really my baby. Right now we're at the stage of pulling together the high concept (talking a lot to Brad Mick and Adam Patyk in the process, to make sure it works with their plans for G1 and Micromasters), and soon I'll be sitting down to flesh out a full outline. Scripting will probably start in June/July. First issue out in October 04. James Raiz is drawing, as I think has already been reported, and I'm really looking forward to working with him. He's also drawing my Summer Special story. I've been blessed on my Dreamwave jobs with some of the very best TF artists around (Pat Lee, Guido, Don, Andrew, Joe Ng), and James kind of rounds out the set.
10) What was the most difficult part of writing this book? And inversely, what was the easiest?
The most difficult? Wrapping my head around the pre-G1 origins of the toys and who did what when (and what was the basis of what, and which toys were based on which toys). It's very confusing, with ideas/designs bouncing from West to East and East to West. The easiest? Writing the US/UK comics sections for G1 and G2. It was largely like rattling off my back catalogue. In fact, the whole of G2 was easy, as so much of it came out of the comic book (BTW, there's a section on 'Alignment', the convention fan-fiction style continuation of G2, which, in my mind at least, takes it one step closer to being canon). Until I got to the G2 toys. Tying down those Euro-exclusive toys took some considerable time and effort.
"Transformers: The Ultimate Guide" is due in April/May 2004 with a cover price of $24.99 from DK Publishing.