Five Questions with James Roberts and Nick Roche

The first volume of The Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye is out now on IDW Publishing, collecting the first 3 issues of the series as well as the preceding one-shot, The Death of Optimus Prime. Written by James Roberts, Nick Roche provides artwork for the Death of Optimus Prime one-shot and the first issue of the series, with Alex Milne on regular art duties. We’re joined by James and Nick to tell us about the book:

Orbital – To lapsed readers, or to people who haven’t experienced The Transformers before, what makes this book such a perfect jumping on point?

Nick Roche – What doesn’t make it a good jumping-on point! The first tale in the collection – The Death of Optimus Prime – simultaneously wraps up and summarises the previous ongoing saga, while sweeping the stage clean in preparation for the new journey at hand. And from More Than Meets The Eye #1 onwards, you really don’t need to have been a reader of Transformers at all in order to latch on the the storygold being woven by James. He does such a masterful job at telling the new reader everything they need to know about the ragbag of characters preparing to set off on The Lost Light in search of The Knights of Cybertron, that you need never have read a TF comic before. Hell, you need never have read a comic before. It may help if you have read before, but Alex and I have drawn lots of pretty pictures, so you’ll have that at least.

James Roberts – I cannot top that. It is untoppable.

But yeah, Death of Optimus Prime, which was co-written with Robots In Disguise mastermind John Barber, was intended as an epic bridge between What Went Before and What Is Yet To Come. It’s told from the perspective of Optimus Prime himself as he discovers what has become of Cybertron in the aftermath of the Autobot/Decepticon war. Because that’s the big hook, you see? The civil war is over! The Autobots have won! And so, after four million years of fighting, Optimus and Bumblebee and Rodimus and Prowl have to confront one massive question: what now?

Both the new ongoings – More Than Meets The Eye and Robots In Disguise – were both designed to attract new readers as well as old. As far as I’m concerned, it’s like this: I absolutely love Transformers. And I think there are thousands and thousands of people out there – comic fans, SF fans, robot fans, whatever – who would love Transformers too if they just took the plunge. MTMTE is my attempt to make everyone else fall in love with Transformers.

Here’s the set up: a crew of misfit Autobots are forced to co-exist on a battered spaceship as they embark on a quest to find the mythical Knights of Cybertron and secure the future of their race. Along the way they encounter all manner of weird and terrifying things, from spark-eating robocarnivores to long-lost Autobots who literally cannot let go of their guns to sword-wielding predators who speak entirely in numbers. And that’s just in the first trade…

O – How different was it to work together again after your previous Transformers series, Last Stand of the Wreckers (now available in Hardcover!), given that you co-wrote that series, whereas James is now the sole writer?

NR – I personally found it a little odd – moreso on Death of Optimus Prime – because my working relationship with James has been that of scrupulous co-writer, so my natural proclivity upon receiving a script was to, well, co-write it! Making suggestions, edits, cuts, that sort of thing! And while of course James as a writer is open to suggestions from me as an artist, it was odd to curtail my automatic slice-up of the script to hand back to James for him to do vice versa. Not because anything needed ‘improving’ either, but I was conditioned over the best part of a year on Wreckers to either re-write and edit a script from James, or have him do the same. A purely Pavlovian response, which I eventually (I hope!) outgrew. I got into the groove a little more on the first part of MTMTE which I just enjoyed utterly from an artist’s point of view, and lost myself in the energy of it all. It’s possibly the most fun I’ve ever had on a strip, and I’m honoured to have been selected as the series’ midwife.

O – Given the large cast of characters available from the Transformers Universe, was there anyone in particular you wanted for the series and why? Or anyone you couldn’t use for any reason (such as John Barber taking them for Robots in Disguise)?

JR – I wanted Wheeljack, Mirage and Bluestreak. The first because – hands up – I love the guy. The second because there’s great story potential in an Autobot who is perhaps edging towards Decepticon territory, morally-speaking. The third because he’s a chatterbox, and would’ve been fun to write (MTMTE got Swerve instead). All three were needed in Robots In Disguise or elsewhere, and that’s the way it goes.

BUT! Look who IS on board the Lost Light–over 200 Autobots including Rodimus! Ratchet! Ultra Magnus! And all manner of whackos and eccentrics who rub each up the wrong way. A psychopath with only one facial expression! A obsessive compulsive who can’t pronounce the word ‘fun’! A born again New Ager! A psychiatrist who collects toys! A doctor with hands that don’t work! A weapons engineer with a briefcase forever chained to his wrist! How can you wrong?

NR – I think that’s part of the fun in working in a shared universe/continuity though; the give-and-take of available characters that forces you to write the stories specific to the Transformers you’ve been dealt with. The plots feel more organic and character-driven too, rather than imposing a story onto an unlimited cast, and seeing what fits.

O – With the way the internet works these days, how difficult has it been to keep story plots/character appearances under wraps until the actual issue ships?

NR – I think a lot of the tricks are in misdirection with the series’ solicits and early-release covers. The era of the five-plus pages of preview makes things a little tricky to plan a barnstorming opening scene that isn’t spoiled and all over the internet before release day too. And maybe James will refer to this also, but one of the maddening things is not the stuff that gets spoiled or leaked; that’s fair game once it’s in the ether. It’s when a reader correctly guesses online, through sheer amount of research and paid attention to the unfolding story, an upcoming story twist. Comics, and Transformers in particular it seems, have a singularly devoted set of followers who scrutinise and analyse the stories far more closely than the creators often do! It’s a fair cop when this happens though. James and I are like that with Hollyoaks storylines. We write fanfiction about it.

JR – Awful fanfiction, too.

But yeah, five- or seven-page previews are par for the course now, but you can’t let that force you to push the big surprises into the latter two thirds of the book. Because, you know, fans can always choose not to look at the previews if they want to avoid spoilers.

The thing about MTMTE is that (as the name suggests) there are lots of mysteries to slowly unravel, and I’m pretty obsessive about trying to control what information is released and when. Solicits and early-release covers, as Nick says, can be used to promote and excite – but also to throw people off the scent. As for readers guessing what’s to come – it’s all part of the game, isn’t it? You can’t dangle clues and not expect people to speculate, and if enough people come up with enough theories, one of them is bound to be right. That said, I haven’t seen anyone even come close to guessing what’s going to happen to Rodimus.

O – James, you’re working on More Than Meets The Eye each month, as well as putting together the Transformers Classics UK reprints, and Nick, you’re providing covers to More Than Meets The Eye and the interiors to issue #6 out this week. Any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

NR – Like to mention? Yes. Can mention? No! I’m currently writing some Transformers, and that’s all I can currently say. As I’m writing and drawing this project, it won’t see the light of day until early next year, I imagine. I’m still on covers to MTMTE though, and of course, I return to interiors on #6 in a story that’s a reunion in more ways than one. Let’s just say, there was no way I’d have let anyone else draw that issue!

JR – As for me, yes, there are other things in the offing. Things beyond MTMTE. But MTMTE is my pride and joy, so to speak, and there are a lot of stories yet to tell. A LOT.

Oh, and there’s the MTMTE animated series, debuting Fall 2013.

I made that up. But just for a second—just for a second—it felt like it was true.

Thanks to James and Nick for chatting with us! You can find Nick online at his blog Nick Roche is a Bad Man and on Eclectic Micks. James Roberts can be found online if you know where to look.

The Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye volume 1 is out now (£14.50/$19.99) and The Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #6 (£2.85/$3.99) by James and Nick is out this Wednesday 27th June, both from IDW Publishing.