The rumor out there is that Robert Kirkman and his Image imprint Skybound are in talks to take over the Transformers license. This concerns some because they’re mostly known for rather violent stuff like Invincible or The Walking Dead, projects not really made for kids. Consider that IDW wasn’t exactly making kid-friendly comics at all during their run. Transformers Prime had a few comics as a separate continuity but wasn’t even as light as the show, which was already the darkest kid-targeted Transformers cartoon. (I think only the Machinima and Netflix shows went darker.) Meanwhile the second Robots In Disguise, the Rescue Bots lines, and Cyberverse were all ignored by IDW, which is another reason I wonder why they did the Marvel Kids line.
On the other hand Skybound did make Super Dinosaur, an all-ages title that I think would have had more sales if they were also sold places kids would find comics outside of a comic store. They have to be introduced to comics to want to visit a store that sells them, which has been one of the problems of modern comics. Super Dinosaur did have a one season cartoon but I only learned about it recently so that wasn’t marketed very well either. This is Transformers so I would imagine the marketing would be easier. Hasbro might be smarter in pointing kids to the comics. I would hope, anyway.
So how should Skybound handle the Transformers brand? Granted I can only speak for what I would like to see them do. I’ve had an idea ever since I lost all interest in IDW’s take (which was before I lost my income) as to what I would do with a Transformers comic series, so let me run an imaginary scenario past you.
KIRKMAN: “Okay, Troy, the floor is yours. You can go ahead and run these comics any way you want and make the Transformers comic you’d want to see…and if it actually sells we’ll keep everything going the way you want to go.”
Unlikely, I know, but if you think that’s unlikely wait until I get the time to do the same thing with the DC Universe. So if I had carte blanche to do a Transformers comic run the way I’d like to we start the planning with one simple acknowledgement: Transformers is a kids toyline that adults also enjoy about living alien robots at war. “Well obviously” says you, but this will affect my story approach to the whole universe.
What I mean is that this franchise is meant to sell toys to kids. While Hasbro has smartly targeted us adult collectors with our own line we are and should not be the focus audience for the entire brand. While the toy store has all but died out thanks to online stores and really terrible decisions by the store owners (Toys R Us is a lesson as to why leveraged buyouts are bad business move) it was kids and marketing to kids that Transformers became the cultural icons they are. While I don’t want to leave adults behind I do want to bring those kids back to comics in general and Transformers comics specifically. So remember folks….
ALL AGES MEANS ALL AGES! KIDS AND ADULTS!
I shouldn’t need Captain PSA to tell you that but with so many thinking all ages equals “kiddie crap” I have to remind English speakers that words mean things or we don’t have a language. Comics and Transformers both can appeal to someone who’s 8, 28, 58, and all other points along the age range. IDW abandoned the kid audience altogether, and it always pains me that something I loved as a kid I can’t share with a kid today unless the old stuff holds up because the new stuff thinks it belongs to a generation and not an age group. Nobody demands Sesame Street be aged up but yet when I mentioned how the Michael Bay movies weren’t kid friendly some dude said “kids have enough stuff”, and I knew he wasn’t worth talking to. This is a kids line and you can make good kids stories while still entertaining adults. Marvel comics did under Bob Budiansky, the two Unicron Trilogy comics Dreamwave did were fine, and we still watch the kid-focused cartoons. All you need are…what any good story needs, just not with swearing, crap like forced sex changed and disturbing body torture (Decepticon Justice Division, that’s on you) tossed in there, or a scene when a terrorist gets squashed while taking a wizz. What, you thought I was only complaining about IDW?
As a good model for tone, maybe go with Beast Wars: Transformers. It had mature story writing without disturbing images, properly used humor but could get dark when the story demanded, wasn’t afraid to kill characters but took advantage of them being robots, and a lot of Transformers fans really like it as adults and enjoyed it as kids.
Since I stressed toyline along with kids you have to know that’s going to play a factor, and there’s an avenue I think so many of these toys ignore: toys as the source material. While the early Marvel comics and one fan comic drew the Transformers like their toys by issue #3 they chose to switch over to something resembling Floro Derry’s un-toylike designs for the cartoon, as Dery took as few resemblances to the toys as he could get away with. I wonder what Transformers today would have looked like if Bumblebee kept his face plate, Ratchet’s head was behind his windshield, and Megatron had a gun barrel on his hip? Part of me would want to go back to those designs early on (more on that in part 2) but I know it wouldn’t fly. I do want to keep certain bits of iconography intact, if only to not be a hypocrite.
However, I do have enough flexibility to go to the toys for other inspirations. While characters that didn’t get a Derry design can be a bit more toy based using the box art as a guide (I would try to find a middle ground but frankly that would be the artist’s problem in this scenario) I would try to bring more aspects of the figure itself in. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the G1 cartoon where Megatron actually moved the barrel on his back to his hip to use as a weapon. These little aspects of the toys functionality are something I’d really like to bring in. This would most be when the Armada characters get to come in because I can finally do Mini-Cons the way they always should have been, but other figures had “kibble” (the alt mode parts that hang off the figure, revealing it can transform) that could double as shields or put their headlights where they could be used…things like that. Make these things seem more useful and since they abandoned the robots having individual powers rather early in G1 (that’s what happens when you bring in superhero writers) it’s another way for each character to have something unique to them.
I would also bring in the bios, which existed in some form from early G1 to somewhere around Armada I think. Tech Specs were a great way to give the robots personalities and while certain character traits have become attached to certain characters I would try to integrate more of their Tech Spec profiles, including rank (which means unswitching Starscream and Thundercracker’s stats) and personality. This gives me a starting frame that will be familiar to the nostalgic without losing someone new, or who came in from later lines.
And yes, I would be mixing lines…eventually. This is the general mindset I would have going into the series, but tomorrow (because I don’t want this getting too long and boring readers) we’ll get into the actual presentation. We’re talking lore, publishing, and the actual writing part of this imaginary run on Transformers comics.