This month saw the quiet conclusion of one of the longest-running continuities in modern comics, and arguably of the best. After 13 years and hundreds of issues, IDW Publishing's Transformers line ended with the release of Optimus Prime #25 and Transformers: Unicron #6. The line's most acclaimed title, Transformers: Lost Light, bid farewell just a week earlier with its 25th issue.
The company will relaunch the comics franchise in March with a series that centers on the origin of the war between the Autobots and Decepticon for their home world Cybertron.
It's no exaggeration to say that without the Transformers license, IDW wouldn't be the publisher it is today. The company released its first issue, Transformers: Infiltration #0, in 2005, after acquiring the comics license following the implosion of previous rights-holder Dreamwave. At the time, IDW's only bona fide success was 30 Days of Night, but the warm reviews and brisk sales of Infiltration and subsequent Transformers miniseries, ongoings and one-shots allowed IDW to continue a mutually beneficial relationship with Hasbro and rise to become one of the top comics publishers, alongside Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse.
With the line that made its publisher, as well as the fortunes and reputations of several creators (while fostering one of the tightest fanbases in comics along the way), coming to an end, we traveled to this year's TFCon in Rosemont, Illinois, to talk to several Transformers comics writers and artists about their work on the line, what they think about its end and what the legacy of the IDW line is.
From Out of the Ashes
From the beginning, the talent pool IDW recruited drew from Transformers comics history. The initial architect was Simon Furman, writer of the majority of Marvel's Transformers comics in the 1980s, who penned several miniseries for IDW introducing the new continuity: A modern-day retelling of the Generation One (1980s) premise with adult, human characters and a decompressed approach borrowed from Marvel's Ultimate line.
Several artists who had worked on Dreamwave's Transformers comics (sometimes with Furman) were also enlisted. Chief among them were colorist Josh Burcham and artist Alex Milne. Burcham had some contacts at Hasbro, and when the toymaker informed him that IDW now had the license, he reached out to Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall. Initially turned down, he later served as a fill-in colorist on Infiltration after IDW hired him to do comics based on the Transformers line Beast Wars on the recommendation of artist Don Figueroa. Trying to be "as non-Dreamwave as possible," as he put it, led to a long association with the line that continues to this day in the current Star Trek vs. Transformers miniseries.
At Dreamwave, Burcham, Milne and others had been bound to a certain house style, specifically founder Pat Lee's. But at IDW, there were no such restrictions. Milne, whose tenure as the main artist on Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye was acclaimed for his highly detailed style and expressive facial work (even on characters without mouths), described IDW as "far more permissive and open" than Dreamwave.
Similarly, Josh Perez, a colorist who, like Burcham, began working for Dreamwave and then switched to IDW, described IDW as "extremely permissive" with artistic direction, noting that "[they] let me be more open." Perez and Burcham both do their own flatting (the work of preparing the inked pencils for coloring) and described IDW as comfortable with evolutions and permutations of their style that they applied to various projects.
Burcham said he derives lighting cues and coloring ideas from both script and artwork, which led to him trying to keep it "simple" on Milne's More Than Meets the Eye artwork, so as to not cover up all that detail. For main series artist Kei Zama's energetic style on Optimus Prime, he chose a more "retro" palette. Perez, who said he enjoyed the "simpleness" of working on ROM vs. Transformers: Shining Armor (a crossover between the Transformers and ROM the Space Knight) described IDW as open and accommodating, and Hasbro as very cooperative to work with.