REAL NAME: Bob Budiansky
OCCUPATION: The architect of everything you know and love. Without him, you would not exist.
PRECURSOR: The impetus for this interview was brought about since I was offered an opportunity to work with GrungeWerX on his very ambitious graphic novel prequel to the 1986 animated Transformers movie, Advent of the Sha'ar. Though I'd always wanted to talk to Bob, this project sort of kicked me in the aft and GrungeWerX prodded me to get some insight into the Transformers from official sources in relation to the Advent project. Now, we both sort of understood that Bob had little to nothing to do with the original animated series, but Bob was very cordial in replying to us (as well as some others, information coming soon) and he really made himself accessible to us, which I got the sense that he doesn't do very often. Frankly, the chance to interview who I feel is the 'Father of Transformers' was too good to pass up. Hopefully some of his remembrances of the lore will jibe with the Advent project and even if they don't, this was a great opportunity to get some more insight into the man responsible for pretty much everything we know and love about Transformers. Without him, who knows where we'd be? Unfortunately, GWX was unavailable for the interview process, but I can honestly say that without GWX attempt to involve me in the Advent project he's initiated, this interview would probably have remained an unrealized dream. Bob made himself readily available to us via telephone interview and, when time ran short, even gave us the opportunity to continue it on a later date. Bob really made time for us and went out of his way to answer all of our questions. It says a lot when someone of his stature can take an hour and a half of his personal time stretched over two days to answer a few questions from some total nerds who just happened to grow up on the stories he created. The transcription is as close as possible to the actual conversation, so there is some run-on sentences and such, but I wanted to capture the feel of the verbal exchange, so there you have it. This interview was conducted with and would not be possible without Nightshadow, who diligently made sure he had two computers recording the entire conversation (one of them actually went down at one point!) and Warrior Prime, who asked one question which may have unearthed one of the most awesomely sublime answers in recent TF history. Also, thanks to GrungeWerX, who contributed a healthy query to Bob which will hopefully help in the Advent pursuits. Thanks to Nemesis, Skywarp, Relevart and Knight for submitting questions which were used or worked into the interview. And lastly, thanks to Bob for his time, patience, and wonderful laugh whenever we asked something which made more sense to us than it did to him.
CARCASS: We're here with my friend who is recording, Nightshadow, and then we also have one of our contributors, Warrior Prime here, so hello to them.
BOB: Could you give me a little background on what exactly your project is before we get into all of this?
CARCASS: Yes, absolutely. What I'm working on with GrungeWerX, who is the artist and overall creator for the project, he is unfortunately not able to be here today, but this is something that him and I have been working on with a couple other people for… it's been talked about for a few years but it's getting started now. Basically what it is is a prequel to the animated movie of sorts, where it fills in some of the missing information between season 2 and the movie. It's being considered as a prequel to the movie rather than something that just bridges the gap between season 2 and season 3, so there's some artist and writing liberties that we may take with some of the characters. But what I wanted to bring up is that you weren't involved very much at all with the creation or the production of the cartoon series, correct?
BOB: Very true, I never watched it. In fact, I just got the boxed set, Shout Factory just sent me the box set because I did an extra for the rerelease of the complete animated series. So, I just got the box set like a couple days ago; I haven't looked at it yet. But that's as close as I've gotten to watching it, which is I have the box set sitting on the table here. So I don't know how much help I'll be! I did work on the movie adaptation in the sense that I was the editor back in the 80's at Marvel of the comic book adaptation of the movie, and then when IDW wanted to rerelease it again, redo it again a couple years ago, they asked me to be the writer. So, that's how much I know of the movie, but beyond that, I'm pretty blank on what went on in the animated series. So, I'm cautioning you.
CARCASS: I'm aware of that. Firstly, I want to thank you for granting us the luxury of interview. Again, it came about by our initially asking you to give some insight into the background of the original 80's cartoon and animated movie and characters for use in a fan-oriented graphic novel by the popular GrungeWerX. That project is called 'Advent of the Sha'ar,' but although you claimed you weren't very much involved in the creation of the animated series itself, we kind of think that your knowledge could still offer some insight into the characters and the ideas of Transformers…
CARCASS: And to be perfectly honest, since the Marvel comics series is my favourite version of the Transformers, the rare chance to ask you a few questions was simply too good to pass up, for me at least.
BOB: OK, glad you liked it. Good!
BOB: One last question, which is… so, you're doing this, do you have sanction from Hasbro, or IDW or whomever has the license these days? Not that it matters really to me, I'm not the lawyer or anything, I'm just curious.
CARCASS: Probably what I think we're doing is we're looking to probably go through a contact at IDW, something like that, or basically sell the idea; like I said, as far as it goes, if nobody picks it up it would probably just be like a fan project online or something.
BOB: All right. Good luck with it!
CARCASS: I think everybody cool knows who you are in regards to Transformers, but could you give us a brief detail of what your responsibilities were in relation to the franchise?
BOB: OK. Well, back in November of 1983, I was a staff editor at Marvel and at that time the Marvel editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, was involved with creating a backstory and characters for this new property from Hasbro: The Transformers. I wasn't involved in any of the deal behind it, so I'm kind of telling you this a bit second hand. The way I got involved was, Jim Shooter himself had written the backstory, the treatment for Transformers. And he hired Denny O'Neil, who was another staff editor and a very well-known comic book writer, to develop character names and profiles for the initial line of Transformers which was probably about, I don't know, twenty or two dozen or somewhere in that neighborhood. And Jim rejected most of what Denny wrote. For whatever reason (which again, this is not something I was directly involved with), Denny did not want to rewrite it or Jim didn't want him to rewrite it, I really don't know, but basically Denny's involvement with the Transformers ended at that point. So, the week before Thanksgiving of '83, Jim was kind of desperately running down the hallways of Marvel editorial row, looking for an editor with some writing experience who could (in a HURRY) rewrite most of this stuff that he wanted rewritten for these character profiles, come up with new names, and my involvement was I was probably about the third or fourth editor he asked. I was the first one who didn't turn him down. It had to be done over the weekend, right before Thanksgiving. Everybody was trying to hurry up and finish their editorial work and you know, go visit the family or whatever they were doing and a lot of the people just generally weren't interested in getting into comic books that were based on toys anyway since sometimes they turn into a big headache. So, I didn't have a reputation as a writing editor, I was more of an artist editor, so I was not the top of the list. But anyway, Jim came to me and I said I would do it. So over that weekend, I rewrote everything that needed to be rewritten which was, like I said, about twenty characters or so. I came up with new names for most of them. The name Optimus Prime was kept by Jim, so that name survived. The other names did not. I submitted them on Monday and Jim liked them, Hasbro liked them, and maybe there were a couple of changes here and there, maybe they needed a different name for whatever reason, but they were accepted. And from then on, for approximately the next five years, I was the man at Marvel, the Transformers guy. I was the one that Hasbro came to to come up with new names, new profiles. I wrote the copy for their packaging, for all those toys that came out. Well, I'm not sure about all of those toys, but for most of those toys that came out in that five year period from late 1983 through early 1989, I was heavily involved in developing all that material. If there was an extension of the Transformers like the Headmasters, the Targetmasters, I supplied a backstory for the various character extensions, line extensions, whatever needed to be done to kind of broaden the Transformers universe to bring in all these new characters. As far as the comic book goes, when Marvel launched its initial four-issue miniseries, I was the obvious choice to become the editor of that comic book series, as obviously I had pretty good knowledge of the Transformers up until that point. So I was the initial editor of the first four issues of the miniseries. When it became a regular series, I took over as the writer. I was no longer the editor, I became the writer. Except for one or two issues that I missed, I was the writer from issues 5 through 55. That took me through early '89 and then I bid adieu, I said, 'I'm kinda burnt out on this, I need to move on,' and then it went over to another writer, Simon Furman. That's about it!
CARCASS: Thank you for that brief history. What thought process do you have that goes into creating the original Transformers' names? Is it off the top of your head, or…
BOB: Well you know, yeah, it's off the top of my head (laughs). You're asking me about something that happened like 25 years ago, so you gotta bear that in mind; I don't remember every detail of what I wrote 25 years ago, but typically it all started with the toy. Initially they sent me the toys, but they were picking up all Japanese toys that were already made and they were just rebranding them under Hasbro and the Transformers. So, initially they sent me the toys and I see that this toy turns into a car, this one turns into a truck, this one turns into a plane or whatever. Later on, as the line expanded exponentially, they sent me model sheets so I could see before the toy was even in production that this toy was gonna turn into a submarine or a lobster or whatever it was. Anyways, just based on the visuals, I would do some word association. That's the best way I can put it. I would look at it and I would try to come up with words that evoked something of what the character was about, what it turned into, whether it was a vehicle, or a monster, or an animal or whatever. I'd come up with interesting words, you know, words that had a little bit of a zing to them, not just bland words. And then, try to give it a little bit of a twist so it wasn't just stating a word that you'd find in the dictionary necessarily, although I did use some of those words as well. That's the basic approach that I came up with to do this. Now, I can tell you the story that I repeat on many occasions (I'll tell you this one because it's a very well-known Transformer), the name Megatron. I do remember specifically how that name came about and that was one of the first names I came up with, obviously it was in the initial line of toys. Now, I knew Megatron was going to be the main bad guy, the leader of the Decepticons, so I wanted to come up with a name that evoked that sort of position in the Decepticon organization; the organizational chart. At that time, way before personal computers were popular; 'Mega' to me, meant 'Megaton' as in nuclear bombs, so it had that kind of sinister, dangerous connotation. And 'Tron' was just the obvious technological suffix, you know from electronics and so on. So I just combined 'Megaton' and 'Tron,' a little twist on the word 'Megaton,' really, and made 'Megatron.' I initially submitted that to Hasbro and they rejected it. I loved the name, I thought it was a great name, it just had a nice ring to it. So I contacted the person at Hasbro who was reviewing the material and I said, "Why did you reject it?" and she said, "Well, we thought it sounded too scary." And I said, "Well, he's the main bad guy, he should sound scary." And they thought for a moment and said, "Oh yeah, you're right." (laughs) And so 'Megatron' made it through. At that point, I guess they hadn't quite grasped what they were rolling out to the market here, you know. Like these were supposed to be good guys and bad guys and you needed names that were appropriate to both. But anyway, I had a really good working relationship over the years with Hasbro and generally they were very pleased with what I submitted to them for approval. That's kind of what went into the process, that specific example and the overall thinking that went into the thought process behind the names.
CARCASS: You actually touched on another question that I had. In the naming of characters you brought up how you came up with 'Megatron.' Were you ever aware that name was used in the Shogun Warriors series, also penciled by Herb Trimpe who would go on to do the Transformers comics?
BOB: No, I wasn't. No. And that's not unusual, like I've seen… I can't be specific, but over the years I've seen other names that I've used show up in comic books or show up somewhere else, but no, I had no clue to that. No.
CARCASS: Do you model your characters personalities off of any real people or archetypes?
BOB: Yeah, I mean, there was so many of them I think at a certain point I was just grasping at straws, you know, whatever I could come up with to give it a little bit of a different twist. But at the time when I was writing them, especially the initial couple dozen of them, I was trying to come up with personalities that were based on movie characters or celebrity personalities or whatever. I know there was one character I was thinking of Clint Eastwood when I was writing his profile and so on. So, yeah, that happened.
CARCASS: How much involvement did Hasbro have in regards to the character personalities? Did they ever say outright that they didn't like a particular character or that their disposition should be changed or altered completely?
BOB: I really don't remember them ever changing a profile significantly, or at all, I mean maybe they changed a word here and there. I do remember they rejected some names. Usually when I would come up with a name for a character, I would try to give them two or three alternatives so that they could choose whatever they thought was best. There was times when I specifically remember them rejecting a name. So, it happened, but overall we got the names done and they were very happy with them.
CARCASS: Were you responsible for the bios that were used in the Transformers Universe comics as well?
BOB: Yeah. Yeah, those are the profiles I'm talking about, yes.
CARCASS: Because the Tech Specs, the toy bios seem to be a more condensed versions of those.
BOB: Exactly. Yeah, that's true. I frankly don't remember everything about the process, but I would write them out longhand and then somebody else would type them. This is before, again, having a PC to just, you know, edit yourself as you write them. I would write them out longhand, we had somebody type them and then I guess I would condense them so they would fit; I had certain parameters about how much would fit into the boxes. And then the Tech Specs themselves, I came up with that as well. That was derived from… around that same time we were starting the Marvel Universe series which was like an encyclopedia of the Marvel characters which also had Tech Specs that Mark Gruenwald who was an editor at Marvel at the time had developed. And I was just basically… I won't say copying, but (laughs) emulating what Mark had established for the Marvel Universe. I thought it would be cool to do it for the Transformers.
CARCASS: Touching on another question. The Tech Specs, the ratings on the toys, were you responsible for those?
BOB: If it said like Speed, Intelligence, Strength?
BOB: Yes, that's what I'm talking about. Yes.
CARCASS: What research was performed in order to come up with those specific determinations?
BOB: Research (laughing). Well, you know, I went over to Ironhide and I said, "OK, let's see how much you can lift!" No, I mean, one thing I was given initially was a size chart. I don't remember how early I got it, frankly. But eventually I got a model sheet that was a size chart that showed the relative size of the initial generation of Transformers. I might have gotten that after the Tech Specs to be honest, I don't know. But I kinda looked at who they were and how big they were and what kind of vehicle they turned into and I figured, 'well, a jet is probably faster than a Volskwagen Beetle.' (laughs) So, I could kind of come up with a relative rating on their speed, based on things like that, you know. I remember I think I made all the Dinobots pretty dumb. As far as intelligence goes, kind of give them their own area of personality there. So, I wouldn't say it was arbitrary, but based on whatever I was given by Hasbro, whether it was a toy or a model sheet, knowing what the characters turned into, I was able to come up with some basis, some rationale for at least much of the Tech Specs that I came up with. Some of them, I'm sure I just pulled a number out of the air, but generally I tried to focus on what the actual toy did. I think there was a series of minibots at some point, whatever they call them. Mini-Transformers. I probably felt that those guys can't be as strong as Optimus Prime, you know, they're small. So, I probably adjusted their Tech Specs accordingly.
CARCASS: OK, I'd like to talk about the love of my life, the Marvel comics series for a little bit. You picked up the ongoing series at issue 5…
CARCASS: Later on, how acute was your awareness of Simon Furman and the concurrent Marvel UK series?
BOB: How acute? (laughs) You make it sound like he's a disease! He's a pain in my side! No, I was aware of it, but I wasn't really paying much attention to it. I knew that the Marvel UK series came out weekly. They would fill in two weeks with my story and then they would have to fill in two weeks with their story. As Simon, I'm sure has been quoted on a couple of occasions has said, he had to figure out stories that were around my storyline. So I really didn't pay much attention to what he was doing, frankly. I didn't communicate with him or consult with him or coordinate anything with him, I just did my stories the way I was doing them and he had to worry about fitting his stuff around whatever I did. Whether he did a good job about it or not, I really don't know. I know Simon's a terrific writer. I'm sure he was able to handle the situation, but it wasn't really my concern. As years went on, Simon would come to the Marvel offices and we became friends and so in February of '89, I reached the point where I really didn't want to do the Transformers anymore, I didn't want to write it anymore. I was actually on vacation in England and stopped in London and met Simon for lunch and I said, "I'm done with this, you wanna take it over?" (laughs) That's how the deal was struck, but to be honest, I had no authority as a writer to hand over the writing reigns to another writer; that's the editor's job. But my editor back in New York, Don Daley, was happy. He knew Simon also. He was happy to have Simon come aboard and replace me. So, we had this historic luncheon somewhere in London (Simon remembers it far better than I do) where he took over.
CARCASS: Could you briefly describe the working relationship you had with some of the better Marvel pencilers of the time like Don Perlin and Herb Trimpe?
BOB: I had a fine working relationship with them. The main artists I worked with, there were a couple others also, Herb Trimpe, Don Perlin, Jose Delbo, I didn't have any issues with them. I feel like that that comic book was so difficult to draw, that anybody who could follow my scripts and fit in all those characters and draw them to Hasbro's liking so that they matched the toys, you know, I give them a lot of credit. It's not something I ever wanted to draw on a regular basis. I drew a few covers and I drew part of the last issue that I wrote, but I only picked up the covers that I wanted to draw because they showed people on them (laughs). But otherwise, I got along great with the artists and I don't think there were any problems.
CARCASS: In the comics, the Dinobots were originally rather articulate. When and why was the decision made to 'dumb-down' Grimlock and why was it primarily Grimlock and not the rest of the Dinobots as well?
BOB: OK, now you're testing my memory. I thought that… you might be right and I might be wrong on this; my impression was I kept the Dinobots, at least in the comic book, at least on the issues where they were like more of the main characters, they're all pretty dumb. They all kind of talked in halting English. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe there was some issues earlier where they came across more mainstream intelligent, I don't remember, frankly. The bigger part of your question, 'why were they dumbed-down,' again, I was just playing to 'they're dinosaurs.' Why should a dinosaur robot be any dumber than another robot? They're robots, they're just programmed, whatever their neural connections are that passes for a brain, why should one be dumber than the other… that's probably one way to look at it; that's a good question, but for variety's sake I wanted to take advantage of the fact that dinosaurs had the reputation of not being the smartest animals, so they're not the smartest Autobots, either. And I wanted to show also, that within the Autobot ranks, there were differences of opinion about their relationships with the human race. There were Autobots who felt they were protective of the humans, they felt that they were inflicting upon the humans their war, they should do everything possible to consider the safety of humans as they battled the Decepticons… and then there are other less sensitive Autobots, specifically the Dinobots, who weren't so concerned about the safety of humans. So I just wanted to show that even within the ranks of the Autobots, there was some dissention. I didn't want to make it all one happy family.
CARCASS: The fandom is generally aware of why trademark and copyright issues prevented certain characters from appearing in the comics, but with all of the Jumpstarters on toy shelves back then, why were they excluded from the regular comic series when they were given the Transformers Universe treatment?
BOB: I don't remember. Frankly, I just don't remember. Jumpstarters were Transformers, but they were never in the comic book that I wrote, is that what you're saying?
CARCASS: Correct, but they did have Transformers Universe entries in those comics.
BOB: I really don't remember the circumstances of what precluded them from getting in the comic. Maybe they came… did they show up toward the end of my run as a writer? I don't know. I remember the name Jumpstarters, I don't remember the specifics of why they didn't appear in the comic book.
CARCASS: I'd like to talk briefly about one of my favourite story arcs of yours in the Marvel series, issues 17 and 18 specifically, the return to the events on Cybertron. I was absorbed in the idea of non-toy characters being given screen-time. Those were the books that really kind of blew the lid off for me. The introduction of the Empties I've always felt was one of the coolest things in the entire mythos. I wish that concept was used more often, like kind of beggars, junkies… what was your inspiration to create characters like the Wheezel character?
BOB: Oh, gee… that's reaching back again. I do know those stories and those are among the favourite stories of mine that I wrote, especially the first one, 'The Smelting Pool?' I think that was maybe my favourite story that I wrote. I don't know what inspired me, it might have been triggered by… if I'm not mistaken, that story came out after the first 'Terminator' movie? So some of that might have been triggered by 'Terminator?' I don't know, very good chance, because the 'Terminator' showed the future and the humans running around like rats being hunted down by the Terminators, so if I had to draw from something, some inspiration from somewhere, it might have come from there. But again, it's reaching back quite a number of years, so I can't be certain of that.
CARCASS: Also in that issue 17, in the first page, really… there's a character, a 'hunter-seeker,' there's been some discussion between some of the fans; how would you pronounce the name 'Ferak?' Is it 'Fair-ACK' or 'fehr-OCK?'
BOB: (laughs) Spell it for me?
BOB: F-E-R-A-K… I would say "Fair-ACK"
CARCASS: All right! You heard it first here! Also, the character of Straxus… how did that character evolve?
BOB: Straxus was the Decepticon who was hunting down… right? He was the main Decepticon there? In that storyline?
CARCASS: He was the governor or the leader of the Decepticons on Cybertron in Megatron's absence.
BOB: Right, right, right. How did he come about… I just wanted to create disposable characters basically, that weren't part of the toyline because they were on another… You know, the toyline was on earth, in my world. Not talking about the animated world, but in the comic book world. The toyline characters were on earth. So if I'm gonna go to Cybertron and develop other characters that don't come to earth, I wanna keep them on Cybertron, so I developed I believe Wheelie? Is that one of them? And umm… Straxus and maybe a couple of others, I don't remember. And I just wanted to, you know, make it clear that these guys are over there and everybody else is either on earth or coming to earth or using the Bridge to Nowhere to travel to earth, or whatever connection it was that had to be some connection to earth if they were a character that had a name that was part of the toyline. So, that was the motivation of creating a separate character named Straxus because I knew my storyline didn't allow for him to come to earth, so I just wanted to have him out there on his own, not part of the toyline.
CARCASS: Do you know who was responsible for the designs of those kinds of characters? For example, Straxus looks like he was pretty intricately designed.
BOB: I would give Don Perlin all credit in those designs. I did get involved in designing some of the others, some of the other characters that popped up here and there, but those particular characters I had very little to do with. Nothing to do with, probably.
CARCASS: In issue 18, one of the throwaway characters, Crosscut, gets destroyed by the Spacebridge. Another obscure character, is told to clean up Crosscut's parts. Straxus refers to him THREE TIMES as 'Soldier,' as in "SOLDIER! GO on the bridge and find out what went wrong!" and "You dare question my orders, Soldier? GO!" and "Now GO, Soldier!" Is it OK that we call this character 'Soldier?'
BOB: (laughing) I guess so! I don't have any ownership over these characters, you can call him 'Frank,' I don't really care! I mean, you know, it's just some throwaway character that I developed for that particular moment in the story. Again, this story definitely happened before, but… that scene I believe evokes a scene in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, but I'm sure that movie came out after me, after that story, so… I think they copied from me, I suppose (laughs).
CARCASS: Issue 14, it was shown that several characters like Hoist, Grapple, Tracks, they had their brainwave patterns copied onto crystals on Cybertron and later those brainwave patterns were put into bodies that were made on earth. Does that mean that there are duplicates of them running around somewhere?
BOB: Gee, if I thought of it back then, about what it meant, I don't remember! (laughs) I don't think I thought it through that deeply. I mean, I will tell you this… every six months to a year, once Transformers got going and they were such a huge hit as a toyline, Hasbro would roll out another couple dozen of these guys. I would have to come up with a way to integrate them into the storyline. That was my challenge as a writer. So, what you're talking about now… they had crystals with brainwaves… I had to come up with new ways every year or six months to come up with 'why are these guys showing up now?' How come they weren't in the original Ark or the original backstory that explained why the Transformers were on earth in the first place. So, what you're touching on is probably one of those ways; probably some ways worked better than other ways, but that was probably one of the methods I came up with.
CARCASS: How and when was it decided to make the Creation Matrix and the Matrix of Leadership the same thing?
BOB: Gee, that's another good question. Did I do that? Did I make them the same thing? Is that in my storyline, or is that somewhere else…
CARCASS: You know what, that may have been Simon's doing now that we think of it.
BOB: Ah, well… call England (laughs)
CARCASS: Right, right (laughs)
BOB: Creation Matrix, I'm fairly confident the Creation Matrix was a concept that I originated. I'm not sure if I originated the Matrix of Leadership. I might have, I don't remember. The Creation Matrix was another example of trying a couple of ways to explain new Transformers, you know to try to create, invent and introduce new Transformers.
CARCASS: In issue 27, if we can try to touch on this, that's when you brought Trypticon into the comic.
CARCASS: A big dinosaur base.
CARCASS: There's a small car named 'Wipeout' that accompanied him over the spacebridge, but he never had a toy and I was wondering if you could try to give us some insight into how that character came about.
BOB: (laughs) Wipeout? I'm pretty confident that I was asked to design… I mean, I was asked to come up with a name and profile for a character named Wipeout based on some toy. Whether the toy ever came out or not, I don't know, I mean it's out of my control, but I'm pretty confident that that's the name I would have… unless… there's a small chance that there's a name I submitted and it wasn't used for some other toy and I just had that kind of in my pocket and I just pulled it out for that particular storyline, but I don't know, I mean, do you know if Wipeout's in the Transformers Universe?
CARCASS: No, he wasn't. There's a little car that came with the Trypticon toy named 'Full-Tilt,' but the character of Wipeout that you put in the story was a completely different design, different name, everything. I was just curious as to if you could remember why--
BOB: My suspicion, and I can't say this with 100% certainty, is that at some point I was asked to come up with a profile and name for this toy character that I guess was a car, because 'Wipeout' sounds like a name that I submitted for approval. So maybe Hasbro changed their production plans and didn't come out with it. But I'm pretty certain it was a name I submitted to Hasbro and they approved it.
CARCASS: One of my favourite characters has always been Circuit Breaker…
CARCASS: Circuit Breaker is a character that you wholly created, am I right?
BOB: Yes, yes. I created it and designed it.
CARCASS: The circumstances of her appearing in the Marvel Secret Wars issue…
BOB: Oh, very good question, speaking of copyright. The reason for that was because I created it… anything that shows up in a Transformers comic book that's not already copyrighted is owned by Hasbro. So I went to the editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, and I said you know, I came up with this character and I think she may have potential beyond the Transformers and what can we do to protect her copyright for Marvel? That's why she appeared in Secret Wars. She showed up there before she was in Transformers.
CARCASS: As one of your creations, what's your opinion of the direction that Simon Furman took Circuit Breaker in later; she pretty much ended up in a catatonic state at the series' end.
BOB: (laughs) No comment. I haven't read those stories.
CARCASS: Ratbat. I've always felt he was one of the most productive and effective leaders of the Decepticons that you wrote into the Marvel comics. How did the decision come about to make that character a boss?
BOB: I think that was at a time when Megatron was out of commission for whatever reason, I forget. Ratbat was more of like a bean counter, like an accountant?
CARCASS: Yes, absolutely.
BOB: Yeah. Again, pulling things out of the ether, the news media at the time, just the idea that I guess, I don't remember a specific story, but there were probably stories about like Hollywood being run by accountants, you know, and things like that… I don't remember exactly, but just the idea of applying that to Decepticons I thought might be a cool idea to… take away this vicious, super-strong, almost classic, almost cliché kind of a leader in Megatron and replacing him with a guy who was really worried about how much energon do we have in the tank today before we go out on our next mission? I just thought that would be a nice contrast in styles. You know, one thing I tried to do with Transformers when I wrote it, to greater or lesser degrees of success perhaps, is I tried to shake things up. There was Optimus Prime who was the epitome of the noble, self-sacrificing hero; there was Megatron who was the epitome of the power-hungry, ruthless villain… I pushed those guys aside for a while and replaced them with other guys to shake things up so that it wasn't always the same routine, the same stories repeating themselves in different ways. But the Transformers had such a wide variety of characters; I felt I could mix different characters in. And looking back, I might say, 'maybe I went too far with this guy' and 'I didn't do enough with that guy,' but that was what was behind putting a character like Ratbat in that position for a while. And I knew when I put Ratbat in as leader, he wasn't gonna stay that way forever, but for a couple of stories I thought it might be a nice little twist.
CARCASS: What was your inspiration for the Mecannibals and how were they evolved as a plot device?
BOB: OK, you know, I think that was one of those cases where I just liked the word, 'Mecannibal.' (laughs) Somehow I hit upon that word, I might have been sitting on it for you know, several months or a year or something. If you know all the names I came up with for Transformers, you know I like to play with words and come up with what I think at least are cool sounding names, and 'Mecannibals' just sounded good. In fact, I think that was a little extreme for Hasbro initially, and we had to pull back a little bit on the story that I pitched, that I submitted. But, that was it, I mean, I think the word 'Mecannibal' suggested the story, and it probably was also suggested by a Twilight Zone episode, 'To Serve Man?' Probably had something to do with that too, but I'm reaching back 20 or 30 years here, so it's been a while since I had that particular thought process that went into that story.
CARCASS: In writing the comics, some of the earlier issues you scripted had a darker, almost more serious tone and then as it went on, there were some elements of camp and kind of goofier issues that you came up with. Can you describe some of the reasons for the directions those stories took or how they came about?
BOB: Well, I think I had elements of camp right from the beginning. But… in any case, whatever, I was enjoying the idea of… when writing Transformers, when I first took over, I was overwhelmed by the idea of having to, like, show… twenty or thirty robots in every issue. As I got more into it, I was able to kind of focus more on particular characters, push aside all these other guys at least for a moment, and try to give a little more focus to each story line. And then, what really pulled me into Transformers… you're familiar with the comic book. The first 4-issue limited series, in my opinion, was kind of messy. You had three different writers, nobody could handle it, there was just characters running all over the place, it was a mess. The reason I took over was because once it became a regular monthly issue, it went to a different editor, but I was a special projects editor and I wasn't supposed to be editing regular monthly issues of anything. So it went over to a different editor and he asked my opinion and I said, "my opinion is you should fire the writer who I hired and hire ME because I'm telling him what to put in the stories!" And that's what he did. And just as a sidenote, I'm friends with that writer who was fired. Still in communication with, he was thankful that he was fired, it was like a mercy killing. Cuz it was so painful for all those writers to try to get their brains around this concept to fit all these characters…
CARCASS: That was Jim, wasn't it?
BOB: Jim Salicrup
BOB: Yeah, so we're still friends. I tell that story to people with him standing next to me. Nothing that either one of us are ashamed of. So, once I got more into writing it and kind of hit my stride, I realized what really attracted me to writing Transformers was the idea of if you had… it was basically a fish out of water story. That's why I was never interested once the animated series went into like, outer space or Cybertron or wherever it went… I was never interested in that direction very much because what made it interesting for me was to have Transformers interacting with everyday humans. So I came up with what you'd call 'campy' stories, you know, whether it was a car wash or a rock concert or a used car lot, or you know, you can go down the list. I tried to find places where the Transformers would… it would illuminate the differences between us and them to the nth degree. To try to find those kind of situations. So, I had some fun, I tried to make it not so gloomy and dreary and heavy-duty, but here are these guys trying to navigate through our world. Whether they're the good guys or the bad guys, they were trying to find their place and sometimes there was some humour in it, hopefully… and sometimes it was much more serious when Optimus Prime dies or whatever, and that's what was behind all that.
CARCASS: A couple questions left here and we'll let you get back to answering queries for AutoAssembly. What projects are you working on currently?
BOB: Well, comic book related projects… I really haven't been involved with comics on a regular basis for many, many years. So the only thing I do that's comic book-related is I do an occasional art commission, which I try to fit into my work schedule when I can, but I don't do that many of them. A couple months ago, I finished an illustration of a recreation of a cover that I did many, many years ago… Wolverine and Hulk, a What If? story, a cover, what if Wolverine killed the Hulk I think it was? Things like that. I don't really have much to do witih the comic book industry on a regular basis at all these days.
CARCASS: Do you follow any of the current IDW Transformers comics and if so, what are your thoughts on their direction?
BOB: I'd have to say no. (laughs)
CARCASS: Would you return as a writer for either the Transformers comic or possible new cartoon series?
BOB: Well, I think a new cartoon series would be quite a jump because I've never worked in animation and don't think they'd automatically reach… it would be highly improbable that they would all of a sudden reach out to me since I don't have that track record. As far as doing a Transformers comic book, I've spoken to IDW in the past about that possibility of writing some new Transformers work and we've kind of left it as an open question, so I'm open to it. I think probably the burden is more on me to make a pitch to them than for them to like, ask me; they kind of left the door open, but… it's probably the fact that I've really been out of the Transformers loop for a couple decades now. I'm aware things are really booming in that world and maybe there's something I can do to contribute to it, but I guess I've been also preoccupied with a lot of other things that have developed over the last 10-20 years (laughs) so that's not where my focus is.
CARCASS: Were you contacted at all as far as anyone asking you about contributing input to the Michael Bay movies?
BOB: I've never been contacted by the movie people, is that what you're asking?
BOB: They've never come to me or asked me about anything. It'd be interesting if they had, but then, nah… I guess they've gotten whatever sources they require. I will say that I haven't seen the second movie, I saw the first movie and I thought the first movie was a lot of fun. The story came across to me as a really good issue of the kind of stories I was trying to do back I the '80's. I'm not trying to downplay it, it was a lot of fun and they brought in a lot of the elements I would be doing except they brought it in on a $200 million dollar budget. (laughs) Over two hours, so they did a really good job, I thought. To me it was clear that somebody had looked at those early issues or the early treatment if nothing else of the Transformers and gravitated toward that approach to the Transformers.
CARCASS: OK, you sort of answered another question we had there, so that's good…
BOB: What was the other question specifically, I'm just curious?
CARCASS: Skywarp asked if you had seen the live action movies and if you saw any of your work in it?
BOB: Well, specifically, they did quote one line that I wrote in the first movie, I don't know about the second movie. But in the first move I think they picked up verbatim, like a motto I gave Optimus Prime. Freedom is the right of all sentient creatures or something like that.
CARCASS: Well, that's a big one!
BOB: Something like that. My Thomas Jefferson approach to Optimus Prime or something.
CARCASS: Given, you've been out of the loop as you've said, but is there a direction that you'd like to see the Transformers mythology taken that you haven't seen already?
BOB: Well, you know, given that I have been out of the loop, I really don't have much to comment on that. I frankly don't know the directions that have been taken for the last couple of decades. I've heard of Beast Wars, but not that I could tell you one thing about them. I've heard there have been different directions, but I don't really read the books so I don't know what that means. No, I don't really have anything to really contribute in that regard.
CARCASS: Do you have a favourite Transformers character?
BOB: Do I have a favourite (grumbles)…
BOB: You know, I think at the time when I was writing it, I wrote a few stories that featured, I believe it was Blaster? And he was a lot of fun to write, and I like those stories. But as you're probably aware, the 50-odd issues that I was involved in with Transformers, so many characters got rolled into that book. It was really hard to stay on one character for too long. So, as much as I might have liked this particular character for these 3 or 4 issues that he was featured in, I couldn't stay with him. I remember liking that character, there was probably a few others, but beyond that I don't know. I don't really have much more to add.
CARCASS: When you created the Transformers stories, did you approach them from a scientific standpoint or more of a spiritual standpoint as in the Primus concept? Or neither? Or both?
BOB: Gee, well… that's a very heavy question. (laughs) You know, I just try to come up with good stories. I think most of my stories, I don't think I have any one rule. Most of my stories (as I said in an earlier part of this interview) came about with me thinking of the 'fish-out-of-water' concept. You have these two species, humans and Transformers inhabiting the same space: the earth. How are they interacting? Obviously the fish-out-of-water are the Transformers. Some of them are getting along, some of them don't trust each other, some of them are trying to subjugate or destroy the others. And that was the source of most of the conflict I brought into the stories. Most of the conflict, most of the exotic settings if you call it, exotic meaning putting a Transformer in a used car lot to me is exotic because he's pretending to be a car when he's actually this robot. So, there was that with the initial direction that guided a lot of my stories, but not all of them. You mentioned on the spiritual; as I wrote more and more Transformers stories, I tried to broaden the Transformer mythology, so I added elements about their world, about how they are created, and so I don't know if you want to call that the more spiritual aspect of who they were, but I did try to get away from just having this Autobot fight that Decepticon. I did try to give a lot more depth to their entire existence by adding those elements to it. That was a lot of fun, but I also didn't want to overdo it because first of all, there's only so many ideas kicking around in my head at any one time and second of all, that's not exactly what the whole series was all about. It was about this struggle between good and evil, Autobots and Decepticons on the planet earth, so I had to keep going back to that as well.
CARCASS: The Advent of the Sha'ar project that GrungeWerX is working on; I've shown you a little bit of, and GrungeWerX had question in relation to that. His idea treads some new ground in the Transformers mythology and some might agree that in a sense it rewrites a bit of the canon. Do you consider deviating from what has been done before to be a strength or weakness when dealing with a well-established fan base?
BOB: (laughs) Well, gee… this sounds like I'm running for office almost with this question! You know, like,'You said in your campaign you would promise this and now you're changing…' (laughs) I don't own Transformers. So, I wrote those stories back in the 80's. They worked for the time that they were written for and if other writers and other publishers and other animators or whomever feel the need to change it, it's hard for me to say, "Don't do it" because again, I was just kind of passing through the scene. Granted, I might have been passing through the scene at a very key moment in the genesis of the Transformers mythology since it was early on, but it's hard for me to say "don't touch it." I mean, I worked at Marvel Comics for almost 20 years and constantly you saw new writers coming aboard, well established characters and killing of this character and killing off that character and changing this guy's background story. It was sometimes disturbing, but it happened and you know, I'm sure if I was really focused on the Transformers and somebody came in and rewrote something that contradicted something I established, I might find it disturbing, but it's part of the creative genesis of a long-lived property like the Transformers. Those things are going to happen. So yeah, I wouldn't advocate rewriting it so that my stories are no longer valid, but if it happened, what could I do about it?
CARCASS: One of the things I liked a lot about the Marvel series, it focused a lot on the fact that these characters were, though living, they were actually ROBOTS and there were reasons for their existence and how they came about. This is the ONE part of the Transformers continuity where they don't have (not without a good explanation) "female" Transformers. What are your thoughts on female Transformers and do you think there's room to explore that dichotomy in the Transformers mythology?
BOB: Well, I remember bringing up that question early on with Hasbro, "are any of these female?" And then I think Hasbro's attitude was, 'this is a boy toy. We don't wanna have, you know, girl robots.' So, I said, "OK, just want to clarify that." Then of course, I think it was in 1986 they came out with the movie, and they had the token female character. Don't ask me to explain it. (laughs) I don't understand it. I think what I came up with was Creation Matrix, however that worked out explaining their existence, their 'livingness' was asexual. There was no female, there was no male, there was no need for them having different sexes. So, I just left it at that and what other people have done beyond that, I don't know. I was just… you know, like I said, I early on brought this question up and I was given a certain direction by the Hasbro executives I was dealing with and I went with it. It's their toy, so if that's what they want, that's fine with me. Now, if somebody wants to change their mind and says, 'oh yeah, there should be a whole other bunch of female Transformers,' then again, it's not my toy, they can do that.
CARCASS: What achievement that you have accomplished do you feel you are the most proud of?
BOB: You mean relating to Transformers, I guess?
CARCASS: Overall. Your body of work.
BOB: My body of work? Well! (laughs) Gee! OK, actually Transformers is one of my proudest achievements, without a doubt, because I created a body of material which is still valid and relevant today. It's still being drawn on, it's still a vital property and at the time I was doing it I had no idea, back 20-25 years ago, that this would still be kicking around today and that you'd be calling me on the phone asking about it. So, I'm very proud of the fact that something I contributed to still has currency in today's environment. That would be number one. Number two was when I worked at Marvel I also created my own series after I left Transformers called 'Sleepwalker' and it was a moderate success for a couple of years. Just getting a brand new character published by Marvel is always a challenge. I was very proud of the fact that I was able to invent this character and present it to people making those decisions on publishing and get it approved. So there was that. When I was also at Marvel, I was the initial editor on our Marvel trading cards. I think under my tenure, we put out 11 sets of trading cards and wound up acquiring two trading card companies because our cards were so successful. I was essentially the creative director on those cards, so I felt I had a lot to do with their success and Marvel acquiring (much to their regret) (laughs) these other two trading card companies. I had nothing to do with that decision so I take no blame or credit for that. But it was a lot of fun and it was like whole new territory for us to do that, to do like, quality trading cards and actually bring Marvel characters to a whole new audience out there. I dunno, there's probably some other things, but those are three standout things. Transformers, Sleepwalker, trading cards.
CARCASS: You mentioned before that there was a level of burnout that you felt when you talked to Simon about taking over for the Marvel Transformers series. Did you have any leftover plots and that you would have used had you been forced to stay on the book?
BOB: (laughing) People who read my last several issues of Transformers would probably say that even the last few plots weren't leftover plots, they shouldn't have been in there! (laughs) I mean, I was really running on fumes for, I don't know, several months before I finally left the book. So no, I don't have any leftover plots. I was struggling at the end to come up with what I did come up with.
CARCASS: And with that, was it your idea or editorial mandate to kill off pretty much everybody in the 50th issue?
BOB: I think it was my idea. (laughs) I'm sure I discussed it with my editor and we discussed it with Hasbro, I don't remember the details, but I did want to bring a big event to the 50th issue and that's what we talked about and that's what we decided on. And I believe I focused on those characters that were just no longer being produced by Hasbro, no longer in the current toyline, so it was real easy to just knock off a whole bunch of those guys.
CARCASS: Did you make Danny Fingeroth into a series character because you liked or disliked Danny Fingeroth?
BOB: (laughing) Danny and I went to high school together and I got him his job at Marvel. When I quit my first job at Marvel, he replaced me. So, I was poking fun at him at the time. I dunno, maybe he felt a little too poked, but it was just all in good fun, so we were friends back then.
WARRIOR PRIME: You talked about when you were brought on board that they got rid of all the names except for Optimus Prime…
BOB: I want to qualify that, I think they did. There might be another one or two names that were also kept, but I'm sure Optimus Prime was Denny O'Neil's. I think most of the others or all of the others were mine. I dunno… it's been a while.
WARRIOR PRIME: I was just wondering what the old names were like if you could remember any of them?
BOB: (laughs) Well, the thing about the old names was, umm… you know, hold on a second. Believe it or not, within arm's reach, I have the original treatment here…
CARCASS: Wow, I'd like to see that! (laughs)
BOB: Let me pull it out of its folder here. Might have a few of the old names… OK, here's the old treatment. So, it probably has a few of the old names in here, let's see…
(we await with baited breath)
CARCASS: This is exciting!
BOB: OK, Starscream's first name was 'Ulchtar.'
(hilarious laughter erupts from everyone)
BOB: (spells it) U-L-C-H-T-A-R. I bet nobody in the world knows that! U-L-C-H-T-A-R. It looks like Denny may have invented the name 'Prowl,' because that appears in this original treatment, and definitely Optimus Prime. It mentions three characters, Optimus Prime, Prowl and Ulchtar. So I guess… and Prowl's a good name. I guess I did not invent Prowl, if that's the case. Or, it might have incorporated… I don't know exactly when this version of the treatment was written, it might have been written after I came up with some of my names. There's no date on it. But anyway, the issue with the names that Denny came up with, they were named like Ulchtar, they were names that didn't relate to anything that an average reader could understand as far as meaning. They had no connection to the actual toy, just a cool-sounding, exotic, alien name. Once Optimus Prime was established as a name, we continued to use names that had that kind of roman grandeur to it, kind of based on latin, so Optimus Prime and Fortress Maximus and Ultra Magnus, I think, and so there were a few names and whenever we came up with a really big character, Hasbro said, 'give me a name like Optimus Prime,' so I would come up with, I think I came up with Fortress Maximus. Omega Supreme I think was another one. So we kind of used that formula for those kind of bigger-than-normal Transformers characters.
WARRIOR PRIME: If they hadn't kept 'Optimus,' what would you have named Optimus?
BOB: (laughs) I don't know, I never thought of it! I never had to. You know, I was never asked to think of that, so it was never an issue. If I had to think of it now, I'd have to charge you for it!
BOB: That's how I got paid from Hasbro! I came up with a name, they paid me money!
CARCASS: I might pay for that!
BOB: I never had to think of it, which was a relief. It was one less name I had to come up with.
WARRIOR PRIME: Why did you decide to integrate the Transformers into the main Marvel universe rather than keeping them separate?
BOB: You mean issue 3? The Spider-Man issue and where else was it integrated?
WARRIOR PRIME: Savage Land?
BOB: But I didn't… was that in the Transformers comic book itself?
WARRIOR PRIME: Yes, Ratchet actually goes and finds the Dinobots in the Savage Land.
BOB: Oh, OK. That was me, I forgot that. Well, two things, I can tell you about the Spider-Man story. At the time, Jim Salicrup was writing that. He was the Spider-Man editor. So he thought it would be really cool… remember, Transformers back then was a virtually unknown property. He thought it would be to the advantage of Transformers to introduce Spider-Man into the book to attract new readers, which is a long-time way of attracting readers to a new book, you bring in a guest star that's well-known. So initially, Hasbro rejected the idea and we couldn't understand it. We thought we were doing them this great favour of putting Spider-Man in the book and the reason they rejected it was because a different toy company had the toy license for Spider-Man action figures and they thought that by doing that, we'd be promoting the other company's action figures. Which was completely like putting the whole idea, like standing it on its head… like, who cares about the action figures? We're giving you SPIDER-MAN! (laughs) We're helping to sell your toys with Spider-Man, what's wrong with that? So we compromised. At the time, Spider-Man had started using the black and white costume, the alien costume. So instead of showing Spider-Man in his red and blue costume, we showed him in the alien costume which was not a toy action figure at that time. And that's how Spider-Man got into the Transformers. Again, the reason was that we were using Spider-Man to help promote the Transformers comic book. So that's number 1. And the Savage Land… now that you're reminding me of it, I forgot that the Dinobots started there. I think I was just trying to come up with a way to explain why these alien robots happened to transform into dinosaurs. Again, every time Hasbro brought out a new line of toys, I had to figure out some way of integrating them into the storyline and explaining their existence and I think that was probably behind the Dinobots. I think, you know, like, they landed over there and they woke up and they saw these dinosaurs and they took their forms and… you know, something like that, but I think that was the only reason the Savage Land was brought in specifically for the Dinobots because of the dinosaur connection.
WARRIOR PRIME: With the Headmasters and the Powermasters, in Japan, they're actually little robots rather than humans. Why did you decide to make them humans? I always thought it was just sort of horrible how the humans were stuck in the head or chest of this robot or…
BOB: (laughs) I don't remember. I mean, I probably at the time when I was working with Hasbro on introducing these characters, I probably got the impression from Hasbro that the humans should be human-sized, meaning that they had to fit into the heads, that they would have to be robots that could accommodate that, but I'm guessing. I don't think I decided, 'OK, I'm gonna do this, I don't care what Hasbro is doing with the rest of the world.' I was either unaware of their Japanese cousins or probably more likely, I discussed it with Hasbro and this is what we came up with, that they should be human-sized.
WARRIOR PRIME: Do you feel that when you first started with the Transformers that they were maybe a little too powerful? Like, with Cliffjumper, he had the glass gas gun? I always thought that that could kill anything.
BOB: (laughs) I don't remember. Too powerful? The impression I got from them, was that you have these big, hulking robots that are definitely more powerful than the average non-superhero human being and you know, they had accoutrements that showed how powerful they were. In this case, this gun that you mentioned, I don't remember the specifics about the gun, it was probably just something I rattled off the top of my head at the time I wrote it. So, I don't have any… you know, I can't be more specific than that, it was too vague and far distantly in the past.
WARRIOR PRIME: That was all I had, thank you so much!
BOB: OK! You're welcome!
CARCASS: Bob, I had one more question for you, last one.
CARCASS: When you were writing the Marvel comic, Shockwave's character was so true to the bio that you wrote for the toy and the series bible, but the cartoon one was such a departure from it. You basically established Shockwave to be a much spookier character than Megatron was to the point where you had him beating the crap out of Megatron on several occasions. Was there any input from Hasbro on that, to make the main bad guy almost less of a threat than the Shockwave character?
BOB: Nothing that I recall. Now, Shockwave was the one-eyed character that turned into a gun?
BOB: Right, and he was very… uhh…
CARCASS & BOB: Logical
BOB: Yeah, I think that was my attempt to take Spock from Star Trek and make him into a Decepticon. So, I think that was what was behind my thinking of him. As far as, was I giving him certain… what was it, allowing him to dominate Megatron with Hasbro's blessing? I don't remember ever having that discussion with Hasbro, you know. I just rolled out stories to Hasbro and I would say 98% of what I sent Hasbro in terms of stories they approved. Maybe a little question here or there but there was never any major criticism where I had to change a big storyline because Hasbro didn't like it.
CARCASS: OK Bob, I think that's it. Thank you very much for allowing us to call you back and finish up this interview.
BOB: OK, nice talking to you guys! Good luck with your project!
((we may post some sound files later of the pronunciation of Ferak and Ulchtar... maybe))