IDW's Transformers - New Opportunities In Disguise

Take Diamond's "Publisher of the Year (Under 5% Market Share)," add one of the hottest licensed properties available, and what do you get? In all likeliness, a book that flies off the shelves when it hits your retailer. This is the situation we're looking at now that IDW Publishing has acquired the Transformers license from Hasbro.

For the uninitiated, the Transformers have been in various forms of print since the release of the toys and the first cartoon series back in the 80's. It began as a Marvel title, disappeared for many years, only to reappear as a hugely popular line from Dreamwave within the past five years. Unfortunately, Dreamwave went out of business and the property became stranded. Several publishers pitched themselves to Hasbro, and IDW came out on top. CBR News checked in with IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall to find out how this deal occurred and to hear what's in store for this piece of nostalgia.

"We'd been watching the whole Dreamwave situation, and when the chance came up for us to bid on the property, we went after it," Ryall told CBR News. "On the surface, it's very different than our usual fare, at least in the public's eye-- we realize that. But when you look closer, we've been doing more and more books based on licensed properties over the past few years and Transformers is easily at the very top of any list of appealing intellectual properties. We realize the potential of it, and had some cool ideas on how to make the property viable and vibrant again, so we went after it. "

On TV and in comic books, there have been several versions of the Transformers. So which one will IDW be showing in their books? Eventually, all of them. The first title, however, will be G1 (first generation) and will begin in a 99-cent introductory "0" issue slated for October. This will lead into the launch of the monthly Transformers series in January, which will have a cover price of $2.99.

"Other books will follow, but primarily in the form of some unique miniseries, some one-shots (a 'Beast Wars' special is planned for Spring '06, to celebrate BW's 10th anniversary), and some other special things we have planned, too," continued Ryall. "We're also planning to collect much of the previously released DW material in trades - some of those runs have never been collected, so we'd like to eventually re-present that material in nice packages for fans, too."

On the topic of the first series by IDW though, Ryall was happy to share some details with CBR News and talk about the creative team: "The first book will be called, simply, 'The Transformers.' The first arc, by writer Simon Furman (writer of 'The Transformers' for both Marvel and Dreamwave) and artist EJ Su ('Voltron,' 'Tech Jacket'), will be called 'Infiltration' and will run six issues (plus the 16-page story in the '0' issue, too).

"With the Dreamwave material still being tied up in bankruptcy court for…well, a while, at least, we made the decision to restart the continuity and tell a sort of 'Ultimate Spider-Man'-esque tale that jettisons some of the more obtuse story elements from the past few years and just focuses on telling a good, accessible TF story.

"On some TF message boards, we've seen complaints about restarting the continuity again, but it would honestly take an 'Avengers Forever'-style maxiseries to even make sense of all the current continuities. And even then, we'd never make everyone happy. I liken it to the James Bond movies-- every movie, the character and situations are essentially the same, even if certain details change. They're just focused on telling good stories (well, they used to be…). That's what we want-- to make Transformers fun and mysterious and appealing to people who might have never picked up a title before, as well as to people who've been there from the start."

In addition to being a hot toy and animation property, the Transformers may gain even wider recognition in the next couple of years as there are big plans for the big screen. The brand is slated to have its first, worldwide live-action film released in fall 2006. Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures will develop the movie, with Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer. Ryall commented on how this would impact their books.

"When we were at Hasbro, we talked about the movie and how we'd handle that when the time came. We plan to give Optimus Prime organic Energon-shooters to match up with the movie's version…no, really, our comics will stand alone, just as the movie continuity will. Movies always change and update things to fit that format, so you can expect the characters' personalities to be essentially the same, but our story is our own, as is theirs. And since we'll be in market first, we're obviously 'canon' here, not them!"

Although IDW publishes several licensed properties ("CSI," "24," "Metal Gear Solid" and "Shaun of the Dead"-- to name a few), most people associate them with "mature"- and horror-themed books. Therefore, some fans have questioned what tone this new series will take. "We're aiming for your general comic book-buying audience here (12+), which doesn't mean they won't also appeal to people younger than twelve," explained Ryall. "When I was nine or ten and reading comics, I enjoyed them as much as anyone ten or twenty years older, mostly because they were challenging and didn't talk down to me. This is our 'relaunch' title I'm talking about, but we're also looking at the possibilities of books geared to younger readers, too - if such a thing actually exists."

In talking with Ryall, IDW's passion for this property is obvious. "I think we're all just enthused about the potential this license has," said Ryall. "There are so many different directions to take things and still so many unexplored areas, even after all these years. We've settled on some great plans that are different than what's come before, which is exciting to me. However, most exciting is the chance to surprise people - I saw a lot of 'who?' comments on TF boards when the deal with us was announced. And others only think of us doing horror comics. So I love the chance to defy people's expectations, and also to return some luster to the Transformers. I don't know that I've ever seen a more passionate (and opinionated) fan base, and they've all been without Transformers comics for far too long. It'll be nice to give them something that reminds them why they fell in love with the property in the first place."

With a "0" issue in October, an ongoing comic series beginning in January, and a film in Fall 2006, the coming year is transforming dreams into reality for fans of the "robots in disguise."

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