Interviews: Simon Furman (5/02)

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Interviews

If there is one name that Transformers comic book fans know, it's Simon Furman. This is a gentleman who has contributed volumes of history to the Transformers and helped give life and personality to some of the fan favorite characters. For background interview on Mr. Furman, please read this interview from 1999 when he worked on Beast Wars.

1. Please tell us about some of the projects you have been involved in since your stint on Beast Wars.
Well, on the TV animation front, I've written episodes for The Roswell Conspiracies, X-Men: Evolution and (the still to be screened) Dan Dare. I've also been involved in the development of a UK series which will, if it all goes ahead, mix live action and animation. Right now, it's at the stage of a 6-minute pilot/teaser episode and looking for a Network TV home. Can't give any more details at present. Sorry. On the comics front, there's Transformers: The War Within (and a 4pp Preview story that'll appear in a Dreamwave 'sampler' book) and a new, non-TF series for Dreamwave called Necrosis (also in the 'sampler' book and maybe starting properly Dec 2002/Jan 2003). Plus, of course, the Titan reprints of Transformers (of which there are currently four: Primal Scream, Matrix Quest, All Fall Down and End of the Road… with the first of the UK strip collections, Target: 2006 to follow in August). In between all this there was even a non-fiction companion book to a UK TV series called Extinct and, of course, The Engine: Industrial Strength/Wildfur.

2. Wildfur is a very interesting combination of your talents and those of Andrew Wildman, what was the inspiration behind it?
Wildfur was really born out of frustration. Both Andrew and I were keen to get new comics-based projects off the ground, but with the comics industry in freefall (after the speculator boom of the mid-90s), no one was really commissioning new projects (and a lot of creators were chasing too few established gigs). We put together and pitched a number of new series ideas (even a Neo-Knights series that spun out of our TF run), and even dabbled with an idea for a Superman/Elseworlds story. But nothing was getting off the launch pad, and so we decided to self-publish. But not in the established way of printed matter, with all its accompanying distribution/promotional expenses. Instead we opted to publish on the Web, and after much creative exchanging of e-mails and ideas in the summer of 1999, The Engine: Industrial Strength was born. With the inestimable help of web-designer Adam Jennings, we established a two-fold web presence: www.whorunstheengine.net - the home of The Engine itself - and www.wildfur.net - the main company site. While creating new web-strip for The Engine and a whole mess of news, offers, competitions and other general site-stickiness, we also started developing new concepts, which could be showcased on wildfur.net.

3. What are your hopes for Wildfur in the future?
In many ways we are looking at Wildfur as a shop window. The long-term aim is to sell licenses on our projects and get them into other media (games, TV, books, comics, Trading Cards and so on). And beyond that, we are looking at Wildfur as a functional company in its own right, taking and developing ideas for outside companies, packaging collections, designing Annuals and the like. We'll be exhibiting as Wildfur at this year's UK comics convention, Comics 2002 (in Bristol on June 1-2), and hoping to talk to some comics companies about possible spin-offs. It's early days yet, even though we're almost three years old, and right now the sky's the limit.

4. Were you surprised to be brought into the Dreamwave team for the new Transformers mini series? How were you approached?
Well, I guess I made the initial overtures to Dreamwave. On hearing that they were chasing the license from Hasbro, I contacted Pat Lee to offer help/advice on the property. As it turns out, they were already pretty much there, but the contact did open a line of communication and thereafter I was contacted by Adam Fortier with a view to doing a new series for Dreamwave. It possibly helped that there was a strong fan push for some new stuff penned by me, but once we actually started to work together it all began to click on its own terms. Even before I wrote a thing for Dreamwave I was involved on the Dreamwave/TF message boards, answering questions (often evasively, because nothing had been decided on the new series) and so forth (in fact, I still am).

5. Please tell us the premise of "Transformers: The War Within". Was it a premise that Dreamwave approached you with?
Nope. I pretty much had a blank slate. It just had to be Gen 1 in some way. And once it was decided that the existing comics continuity was out of bounds, it actually made my life a lot simpler. I knew what Dreamwave were doing, what I couldn't touch, and so I looked for something that could exist on its own right, hopefully not alienate existing fans and also make it as accessible as possible for new readers. So I thought, what better kind of back-to-basics story that one that goes way, way back, right to the start of it all (well, almost). Why not get right to heart of the whole matter, go back to roots of the conflict, the civil war. And of course, with it being set on Cybertron, I could go wild… it couldn't possibly impact on what Chris was doing on his Gen 1 mini, but it could underpin it with some historical background.

6. How much of the visual changes to the original characters have you had a say in? Did you specifically write that character X used to transform into Y alternate form?
I found out pretty early on in the process, that Pat (Lee) had an instinctive grasp on what was needed for the retro-retools of the characters. He did some early sketches of Optimus and Megatron that seemed perfect. Then, when Don Allan Figuerosa signed up for the series, he immediately set to retro-fitting as many characters as I could throw at him (and some that I didn't), and this was before I'd written a word of issue #1. Don's stuff was fantastic, no other word for it, and he seemed to be able to think in transforming 3-dimensions. Robot and alt. modes spilled forth. He was way ahead of me, and I was so grateful. I think the main character I offered ideas for was Grimlock. This was interesting. He still had to look like the Earth Grimlock, but obviously he didn't transform into a T-Rex. So I gave some vague indications this way and that way, but I have to admit I mostly just sat back and waited for Don to wave his magic wand. Sure enough, there was Grimlock in all his glory. Wait'll you see what he came up with… it's so cool.

7. Do you believe that you were chosen to write "War Within", in part because of the enormous contributions to Transformers history that you have already made?
Sure. I think Dreamwave were well aware of what I'd done and where I was in regard to Transfandom. But they were also aware that not everyone in Transfandom liked my stuff, so we had to box clever. Whatever I/we did had to be broad, not tie completely into one continuity or another. I think Dreamwave have been pleasantly surprised, even based on my previous TF credentials, at how well the news of TWW has been received, both by fans and the fan press. To be honest, I've been pretty gob-smacked myself.

8. How does it feel to get to add to the background of the Transformers mythos yet again?
Great. But even more so now than before, there's a sense of being in at the real beginning, laying down foundations on which Chris, I and no doubt others will build upon. Dreamwave have fresh ideas, a fresh approach, and it's challenging me to make my stuff fresh as well. There's a chance here to really build something strong, cohesive and enduring, and hopefully assure TF is around for another 18 years (at least).

9. Many of your past story arcs have been grand in scale. Is War Within also meant to be another epic in the Transformers universe?
I've never quite understood how you can write anything but an epic TF story. It's such a huge, big idea, that by its very nature is epic. I've never approached a TF story in any other way, even if it's a focused, character-based one-part story. It's all part of a much bigger picture with TF, and I always bear that in mind. But in its simplest terms, yeah, TWW will rock your world… and theirs (really!).

10. During your run on the Marvel Transformers title, your stories were usually grand arcs. However, at the same time you offered up an enormous amount of characterisation. This made some characters more than just robots in the background whose sole purpose was to sell toys. How difficult is it to maintain that type of a balance in your writing?
Really no problem at all. Not to contradict what I've just said, but if the grand arc was all, I would not able to write TF (or anything else for that matter). What makes the story is the characters. TF could have been the best idea in the world, but it would have floundered if the characters were not well-realised, involving and 'human'. So in and among the big events, what really drives the stories and grips the reader are the way the characters react to those events. When I first started writing TF, what inspired me was this amazing set of characters (with all their strengths, weaknesses, etc), and it still does. Why anyone wouldn't just want to get into the heads of these characters is beyond me.

11. Of the major story arcs in the Marvel title, which would you say is your favorite?
It's still the Unicron saga, particularly TF US #69-80. That's when it all came together for me, and reading it again in the collections, All Fall Down and End of the Road, I'm delighted to find it still holds up (in my eyes at least, and I'm my toughest critic). But, that said, I'm working hard to make TWW my new favourite story arc. If we're talking non-TF, then the whole run of Death's Head remains my personal favourite.

12. If there was one issue from your Marvel days that you could rewrite, which would it be?
Well, there's some Alpha Flight stuff that I think could have been better, and I'm not sure I did all I could with Robocop, but there's very little I'd change TF-wise. If anything, and apologies to Dwayne Turner, I'd change issue #68 (US) art-wise, the bulk of which is still a little wince-worthy. I don't think Dwayne's heart was in it, and having seen some of the amazing stuff he's done since I think that bears out. When I think that could have been Andrew's first issue, I still get a little rueful!

13. You have attended several Botcon conventions. What is your impression of the fan base? Is the scale of Transformers fan dedication surprising?
Always surprising, and sometimes a little intimidating. I really have to be on my toes, because the plain fact is the fans know my stuff way better than I do. But, I have to say (a few rabid cartoon-only cases aside) my experience has been pretty good. There's a genuine love for the concept and characters that pervades TF fandom, and even the negative stuff is at least well-intentioned. The fact is, I love being at Botcon, Transforce at al. It's always a great experience, and TF and its fans have been good to me almost throughout my career.

14. What current comic book series/character would you love to have the opportunity to write for?
What I really want to see happen is for some the Wildfur characters to take off in comics (or elsewhere) and for me to flex my writing muscles on them in a different way. The Web, for all its amazing opportunities, is still limiting in the breadth of what you can or can't do. The two mediums are very different, and though I wouldn't trade one for the other (I love both), it would be nice to see, say, The Engine or Ms Matador in comic form. Other than that... Death's Head, Death's Head, and, oh, Death's Head.

15. What would you say is the most important factor for anyone (amateur or professional) to grow as a writer?
Don't follow trends. Write what you want to write, not what you think is current, cool or whatever. If it fires you, then that will translate itself to the finished product and the reader. Remember, by the time you've finished catering to what you think is your market, they're all into something else.

Thanks to Simon Furman for taking the time out for this interview.