Schmidt on Khan, Transformers, G.I. Joe

As IDW Senior Editor, Andy Schmidt finds himself right in the middle of some of the publisher's major licensed properties, working on comic book interpretations of G.I. Joe, Star Trek, and Transformers. All three of these franchises are in the spotlight for major film releases this summer, with "Star Trek" taking in $112 million globally in its first weekend and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" due to open June 24 and August 7, respectively.

In addition to editing these various comics, though, Schmidt has also be taken up writing chores on three new projects: an adaptation of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" with artist Chee Yang Ong; a children's book titled "G.I. Joe Combat Heroes: We are G.I. Joe" with Diego Jourdan and Gaston Souto; and the "Transformers Spotlight: Metroplex" one-shot illustrated by Marcelo Matere. CBR News spoke with Schmidt about writing and editing these comics.

Balancing his duties as IDW Senior Editor with writing projects is tough, and was definitely a concern when Schmidt accepted the editorial position. "There are a couple of ways to make it work," he told CBR. "The first and most obvious is to clearly set aside different times to be an editor and a writer. While I'm at IDW during the day, I'm 100% an editor. At night, I can write up pitches and such."

Of course, Schmidt's responsibilities as an editor must come first. "I don't give myself work. That's unethical," Schmidt confirmed. "If I'm asked by the publisher to write something, and I've got the time, I'll do it. But I don't assign myself projects."

"It's a time management issue, mostly," he continued. "I edit five days a week, and write on weeknights and weekends. I've had to get very organized since I also still teach writing and art classes through Comics Experience, too."

In the wake of the J.J. Abrams-directed "Star Trek," Schmidt was given the task of adapting another major Star Trek film, 1982's "The Wrath of Khan" which is the only Trek movie that had not yet appeared in comics form. Marvel had acquired the license in connection with "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," but dropped it when that film was perceived as a failure. "When the sequel came out, no one had any faith in it whatsoever, so Paramount Pictures wasn't able to sell many licenses, including the comics license. So at the time of 'Wrath of Khan,' no comic company had the rights," Schmidt revealed. "When 'Khan' was a big hit, DC Comics immediately snatched up the rights, but since it was after the movie, they never produced an adaptation. DC held onto the license for years to come and adapted every other film in the franchise until the current movie. And I believe IDW is very happy to have the license now."

Given that "Khan" takes place in the more familiar Star Trek universe rather than the newer Abrams continuity, the existence of two distinct histories poses a challenges to IDW as a licensee. "Yes, of course it presents a lot of challenges for story telling, but I think it creates more opportunities than it challenges," Schmidt said. "The new movie really opened up a lot of doors and I think it's safe to say, Trek and non-Trek fans alike have embraced the picture."

IDW's "Star Trek: Countdown" and the just-announced "Nero" take place in the new universe, and Schmidt said there would certainly be more to come.

Adapting a popular film, especially one with such a dedicated and vocal fan base as "Wrath of Khan," might seem daunting, but Andy Schmidt said the key is finding the best way to tell the story within the medium. "I look for the heart of the piece. In this case, it's the relationship of Kirk and Spock and the theme of aging, as seen by Kirk's eyesight and his son David. The Genesis Device itself fits perfectly into the theme as well, as it essentially erases the effects of aging, but in so doing, can also kill. There's a lot going on in this movie that works on multiple levels. So I looked for those things the most and since I didn't have room to do everything from the movie, I trimmed away a bit that didn't fit perfectly.

"I also moved things around both to save space and so that the story would unfold dramatically a little differently. You can see some of this in the first issue. For example, we cut away from the famous slug-in-the-ear scene so we don't know exactly what happens to Chekov. In the movie, because they stay in that scene, the audience is perfectly aware that Chekov is being mind-controlled. But in the adaptation, the audience doesn't find that out until much later, creating a different kind of tension. Both are equally valid from a dramatic standpoint, but why not play things a little differently here?"

Schmidt said he'd read a review of his first issue that criticized it for being a word-for-word adaptation, which he found "both funny and very complimentary," because he doesn't agree it's a word-for-word adaptation. "I did try to hold on to the parts of dialogue that I think stick with people. A lot of that has to do with the nuances of how it's delivered in the film. But I move quite a bit of the dialogue around and change much of it slightly too," Schmidt explained. "So it's not at all what he thought, but that's what made it a compliment -- it felt to that reviewer like he was seeing the movie again and that was awesome to read. It means, at least for him, Chee and I managed to capture the heart of that movie. That was really cool despite the fact it was couched in such a way as to read like a negative."

"The real trick is nipping and tucking until it fits into a good comic book story. Pacing is different in comics. I had to end issue #1 on a cliffhanger that doesn't exist in the movie. I just altered the dialogue and changed the camera angles around for one of Kirk's speeches and got an effective cliffhanger without breaking something in the film."

IDW"s "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" is the hardest thing Andy Schmidt's ever written. "Adapting is no joke. I'm very proud of this one and I think the third issue in particular is outstanding. Chee really knocked that one out of the park."

A very different project, the "G.I. Joe Combat Heroes: We Are G.I. Joe" picture book, is a bit unusual for IDW. The book introduces the heroic Joes and villains of Cobra to young readers, much as "Transformers: I am Optimus Prime" did for the Autobots and Decepticons. "[Writing 'We Are G.I. Joe'] was a lot of fun. I hope that kids and parents alike enjoy it," Schmidt said. "And no, there are no rifles or pistols in the whole thing. Swords, throwing stars, crossbows, and tanks, yes, but no pistols or rifles. Look closely and you may see a couple of very intimidating Super-Soakers though!"

"Transformers Spotlight: Metroplex" provided Schmidt with another interesting challenge, as the one-shot takes place almost exclusively in wide-screen presentation, whereby all but the first and last pages are double-pages spreads. "I felt that a story about a transforming city should feel big and I jokingly said I was going to do all spreads in the issue," the writer said. "And then Chris Ryall, the Editor-in-Chief, called me out on it. Said I couldn't do it. And let me be honest, it was hard to do!

"Normally, you shoot for around five panels to a page, on average, but spreads are different and they have different rules so that the reader will read them properly. The canvas had changed. It was really tough, but what I'm finding is that every time I have an obstacle to overcome (especially since I'm still a fairly young comics writer) that it just makes me step my game up. It was a challenge, and figuring it out I think led to a better book.

"That all said, the real star of this issue is Marcelo, the artist. Holy crap, he hit this one out of the park! It's killer work and just stunning! He hit every spread perfectly. I could always read the spreads perfectly, my eye was never drawn down instead of across the spread. He's just amazing and really proved his ability with this one."

Also notable about the Metroplex spotlight is that, despite the title, Goldbug is the point-of-view character, with Metroplex making a major though somewhat enigmatic appearance and hinting that he is at the center of some secret Autobot intrigue. "There are plans for Metroplex," Schmidt confirmed. "There is very clearly something more going on that is seen on the surface. And yes, that will be picked up on later, but I can't say more..."

Though he edits comics associated with three of this summer's major cinematic releases, Schmidt insists he has not had an advance look at either "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" or "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," which have yet to be released. "Along with a bunch of other people at this year's BotCon (the Transformers convention), I got to see about ten minutes of footage from 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.' It was mostly action, but from what I saw, the action is going to be even better in this movie than it was in the first one. I worked on both movie adaptations, but I have not seen any more footage than that and what's in the trailers.

"And honestly, I don't want to see more footage. I want to go to the movies and enjoy the movies as movies instead of as research."

"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" #2 is in stores this week. "Transformers Spotlight: Metroplex" and "G.I. Joe Combat Heroes: We Are G.I. Joe" arrive July 1 from IDW Publishing.

Batman of Zur-En-Arrh feature
Batman of Zur-En-Arrh: DC’s Craziest Dark Knight, Explained

More in Comics