James Roberts, fresh off his run on the series, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye, returns to the franchise with his latest series from IDW, Transformers: Lost Light.
Five years ago, Rodimus and a collection of traumatised, lovelorn and/or sarcastic Autobots set off on a quest to find Cyberutopia. So far, they’ve made a right hash of it. They’ve misplaced their map. They’ve lost their ship, the Lost Light, to a mutinous escapologist.
Oh, and they’re dead.
James took some time to discuss his career and the new series with FOG!
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FOG!: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What is your history with the Transformers before starting to write them?
James Roberts: My background’s pretty unglamorous: I worked for government before becoming a writer. And sadly, it wasn’t one of those covert, X-Files-y government jobs where I go round uncovering conspiracies and being a maverick. Or maybe it was and I can’t talk about.
Like every other child of the 70s/80s, I grew up with Transformers. I was a bit late to the game, though. It took the original Movie, a chance reading of a Transformers UK issue, and a couple of toys – Blitzwing and Hot Rod – to make me a fan. I can’t overstate the effect that the UK comic had on me – it’s responsible for my love of reading, of comics, of science fiction. Lead writer Simon Furman has a lot to answer for.
What can you tell us about Transformers: Lost Light?
On one level it’s a continuation of More Than Meets The Eye, one of two postwar Transformers comics (along with John Barber’s Robots In Disguise) that launched in 2012.
MTMTE is basically Jason and the Argonauts in space. A group of maladjusted Autobots and Decepticons led by the congenitally irresponsible Rodimus board a Brooklyn-sized spaceship, the Lost Light, and start quantum hopping across the galaxy in search of their ancestors, the mythical Knights of Cybertron.
They’ve been at it for five years now. Their progress has been frustrated by a series of misadventures involving spark-eating serial killers, transformation-borne viruses, parasites that feed on social status, memory carnivores, parallel universes created by unrequited love, and planets made of sitcom tropes. Midway through their quest they gained a new co-captain, Megatron – yes, that Megatron, who’s had the Transformers equivalent of a midlife crisis. He’s renounced violence and wants to make amends.
At the end of MTMTE, our heroes were victims of a mutiny and were stranded on a hollow planet used to make Cybertron. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the planet was targeted by anti-robotic peacekeepers, who detonated a bomb inside it. And that’s where the new Lost Light series picks up the ball and starts running.
Although it builds on what went before, it’s entirely possible to have not read MTMTE and jump on board with Lost Light. “A group of mismatched Autobots and Decepticons bicker while having increasingly bizarre adventures” is all you need to know.
I see by your work you plan for the long term. How long do you spend writing each issue? How much planning goes into it all?
MTMTE and Lost Light are meticulously plotted. There’s an overall ‘myth-arc’ that runs through both series; I know where everything is heading, and what the characters need to do along the way. But we also work in ‘seasons’, each running to about 25 issues, and they’re based on more self-contained, but still long-running, plots. And then within each season I try to tell as many one- and two-parters as I can, because it makes me work harder and tell better, tighter, and more varied stories.
I spend a lot of time writing each issue, but that’s not so much down to the mytharc- or season-related stuff; as I say, that’s already mapped out. No, each issues takes time because a lot happens, and there’s a lot of back-and-forth dialog, and a lot of characters, and I want everything to be perfect.
Do you have a favorite Transformer? Has that changed over time?
I think Prowl is up there. Prowl isn’t in Lost Light, though, so… Megatron? We had great fun in MTMTE ‘Season 2’ telling the story of his defection and its consequences. I’m fond of many of the core Lost Light cast: the Indiana Jones-esque adventurer, Anode; the impossible-to-remember psychiatrist Rung; the fun-phobic Ultra Magnus. I love them all.
What are the challenges when writing a licensed series?
Theoretically, writing a licensed series could be a creative straightjacket; you’d forever be running up against rules that dictate what you can and can’t do. I say ‘theoretically’, because that hasn’t been my experience with MTMTE or Lost Light at all. I can’t emphasise that enough. Hasbro has been incredibly supportive and accommodating, encouraging me to tell ambitious, envelope-pushing Transformers stories. I don’t feel restricted in any way.
How many issues make up the Lost Light storyline? What else do you have coming up?
If MTMTE and Lost Light tell the story of the quest to find the Knights of Cybertron, and that story was a TV series, we’d be halfway through by now. Seasons 1 and 2 played out over 57 issues of MTMTE, and Lost Light kickstarts Season 3 (at this point I’ll re-emphasise the fact that you can absolutely come in fresh, without having done any MTMTE homework).
The stories I want to tell take us to Lost Light #50. Whether we get there depends on all sorts of things, and whether we continue beyond issue 50 depends on all sorts of things too. We’ll see.
What are your guilty pleasures?
No pleasures should make you feel guilty. I suppose there are things I like that would make most people scratch their heads. I’m fascinated by the ephemera of my childhood – food packaging, comics, obscure toys etc – but I think most people who visit your site would get that. I don’t collect Transformers toys but I am a little obsessed with TF printed matter from the 80s: catalogs, fanzines, promotional art and the like.
Actually, yes, I do feel a little guilty about spending a lot of money on things like a German-language in-store promotional poster for Lumobots…
Transformers: Lost Light #1 is available now.