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Interview: Mike Collins

Written by Darren 'Starscream' Jamieson on September 29, 2001 | Features,Interviews |

TheTransformers.Net managed to catch up with veteran Transformers comic artist Mike Collins. Mike also worked on some of the Transformers ladybird books with Mark Farmer and has recently created a piece of artwork for a deck of charity comic based playing cards – the subject matter? Transformers of course.

You can check out what Mike is up to by visiting his website at www.freakhousegraphics.co.uk

Mike, could you start by introducing yourself and your involvement with Transformers?

I had just broken in to comics (which makes it sound like a criminal act.. and some would say..) and was working regularily for Marvel UK. My art-parter at the time was Mark Farmer, now best known for his inking on pretty much all the top American comic heroes. At the time, Mark was wending a course between comics and illustration. Ladybird Books had approached Sheila Crenna at Marvel UK, looking for an artist to draw their new range of books based on the Transformers toys. Sheila remembered Mark’s painting abilities and asked him if he wanted the gig– he kindly offered that we did it between us: he was happy with doing the finishes, but drew the line at actually having to draw the things. He figured I’d enjoy that!

After that, when John Ridgway was unable to continue on the strip, Sheila and Ian Rimmer remembered that I’d been working on the books and could hit the ground running on the strip, so I got the job ….ironically, without Mark inking! I was keeping him busy on the Ladybird work.

How did you get into the comic industry?

Sheer bloody-mindedness! I always wanted to work in comics, and did all I could -work in fanzines, getting to meet editors, showing my work at conventions, sending in samples… Eventually, my work caught the eye of Alan Moore, who got me work at Marvel UK.

What was the first Transformer you ever drew, and who is your favourite Transformer to draw?

Optimus Prime! And….Optimus Prime!

What Transformers related art, or strip, are you most proud of and why?

Crisis Of Command! With co-writer James Hill, we produced a tale that filled a gap in the American continuity, shortly after Optimus had lost his head (literally) and had it restored. It was an exploration of power, and what it means to those who command… oh, and we blew up a whole lot of stuff! Great art by John Stokes and Geoff Senior and of course, starring Optimus!

What kind of things were you into as a child, and did you ever read comics?

Comics, and Gerry Anderson– and Gerry Anderson comics! TV21 was a weekly transport to a world of outsized ships, planes and spacecraft. Working on Transformers wasn’t too much of a leap after that!

How do you rate the new Transformers Beast Wars, Generation 2 and Car Robots’ compared to the originals: as cartoons and to draw from an artists point of view?

Beat Wars I though was great– haven’t seen Car Robots… isn’t that the one were they’ve basically just slapped a ‘Transformers’ logo over a wholly different show?

How was your relationship with the other Transformers artists and writers, and do you still keep in contact with any of them now?

We used to get on really well- still do when we meet up– it’s one of those things– working in comics, you’re scattered around the country. Certainly when I started on the comic I was living in London so went out drinking with the others on a reasonably regular basis!

How do you rate the story lines in the Transformers comic, as opposed to say, Judge Dredd or Doctor Who?

At the beginning there was a certain amount of filling in the gaps to the US material– but when Simon hit his stride I think he was producing some kicking action… wholesale smash and crash. Of course, when he took over the US comic there was no stopping him!

What would be the process for drawing a single issue of The Transformers? i.e. the time it takes, where you start, rough sketches. From when you received the script to the final art.

Generally, Simon’d write the script, I’d draw it… if new toys were involved, a trip to London was in order for me to pick up the reference… and maybe a few pints too. Very nice way of working! When I wrote a few stories, it’d be a trip in to knock out the ideas with the editor and co-writer, and then -in the case of Crisis- refer to a bit of animation film that we could ‘re-write’ as a scene from our story. The idea being, Marvel could run an ad on TV showing the clip saying “Read the rest of the story in the weekly Transformers Comic!” Don’t think they ever ran the ads though…

How do you relax when you’re not working on comic books?

Uh, I draw. When on holiday, I’ll take a pad with me- it’s a great release just drawing anything, not necessarily in relation to work.

What comics do you prefer to work on, and are there any characters that you dislike drawing?

I love Super-Hero comics, I love science fiction… I particularly like Star Trek and have now drawn strips -and written some- based on every incarnation of the show… hmmm, wonder if they need an artist for Enterprise…Who don’t I like drawing? Well, on Transformer’s it’d have to be the Insecticons…too fiddly!

Lee Sullivan would try to work the Marvel offices into all of his backgrounds. Do you make any subtle ‘in jokes’ in your work such as this?

Well, I always have, and still do, include the Rotunda from Birmingham City Centre in backgrounds. It’s been in Mega-City One, it’s been on Vulcan, Trill and New York. Everywhere. Go look!

What are you working on now?

Harry Potter RPG cards, a graphic novel based on the Phantom, covers (and currently a story) for the regular Star Trek e-books that you can download.

What do you think are the chances of The Transformers comic returning, and would you like to work on them again?

If there was a Transformers comic around again and they wanted me, I’d love a shot at it… it was glorious fun– it’s what comics are all about big improbable action, big robots and high drama.

How difficult was it to draw a Transformers ‘mid Transformation’ as opposed to drawing a human form moving? Are there any similarities?

When the strip went over to the animation models rather than looking like the toys it got a lot easier! They had pretty much human proportions… trying to have Mirage lumbering around was a major feat of logistics and engineering theory…

Have you any advice for anyone wanting to become a comic artist?

The same old dull advice, I’m afraid… draw REAL things… don’t copy another artist’s style…a ‘style’ is just where they’ve made a mistake (to badly quote Neal Adams). Find your own voice. Draw friends, pets, spanners…get a sense of different textures, lighting conditions, learn to draw metal so that it doesn’t look like wood or cloth. Sounds dumb, but think that way and you’ve got half the puzzle solved.

Use reference- everything should feel credible, particularly here in a strip where you’ve got to suspend disbelief. A handy tip… even today, when I draw cars, I still look at my Transformer toys!

We’d like to thank Mike for spending time talking to us about Transformers, and wish hime the best of luck in the future. Remember to check out his website at www.freakhousegraphics.co.uk