Hey Trans-fans, I recently had the chance to interview Mike S. Miller the artist behind the GI Joe / Transformers crossover which is out now at comic book stores priced $2.95 (around the £2.50 mark), its available with three different covers all by some of the best known guys in the industry.
This guy willingly took time out of his schedule to bring TheTransformers.Net an exclusive interview purely because of his love of this great Eighties property we all know and love, this guy’s a fan himself so a big hand for Mike S. Miller.
Sid Beckett: Hey Mike.
Sid: Okay, first of all how long have you been a Transformers fan?
Mike: Since childhood. When Transformers first came out, it was about the time we got our first VCR. I would tape TF religiously and watch it in slow motion. I even started designing my own transformers, taking care that they would actually work in ‘reality’.
Mike: I guess that was early 80’s, though I don’t remember exactly what year…
Sid: Nice, around the time of the movie or before?
Mike: Oh, before. I’m 31, so I watched TF first time it came around, about 1984. I even have some of those old drawings of Optimus Prime around here somewhere. If I can find them, I’ll send them to you. It’s worth a laugh.
Sid: Excellent, it would be cool to post on the site. A few fanboy questions to get going, what’s your favourite Transformers toy?
Mike: Sideswipe. I don’t know why for sure, but he’s always been my favorite TF. Probably because he’s a Lamborghini, lol. Jazz and him are my favorites.
Sid: Great choices, two of my favorites too
Mike: Great minds and all that rot.
Sid: Are they your favourite characters as well as toys?
Sid: As a child were you a bigger fan of the cartoon where you first saw them, or the comic books?
Mike: Without question, the cartoon. I didn’t like the comics at all. I wouldn’t buy them. I thought the art was completely inferior to the cartoon (no offense to those working on the comics), or at least too far away from the ‘feel’ of the cartoon for my tastes. I so much prefer the way they are being handled now, by Dreamwave et al.
Sid: Yeah, Dreamwave and Image are definitely more Art Studios, than 1980’s Marvel.
Mike: I couldn’t say much for the stories though, since I never read them. I like what Dreamwave is doing with the story, because I AM actually reading it. I guess it takes good enough art for me to start reading a comic.
Sid: Are you a fan of Beast Wars and Beast Machines?
Mike: I thought they looked pretty cool for the CG of that ‘era’. Which is funny to say since it was only a few years ago, but the technology has changed so much, I think a really cool cel shaded CG transformers cartoon would really rock now. I think they should bring G1 back, in the gap between the last episode and the movie.
Sid: I couldn’t agree more, there is a lot of groundwork to be filled before 2005 and hopefully Dreamwave are going fill that.
Mike: Hey, if anyone can do it, it’s those guys. Or me. I also wish the comics had never explained the TF origin, because I have a great fan fiction idea for that..
Sid: Well, there is no one true origin of the TF, the TV said Quintessons but that was contradicted by the UK comic origin. So there is always an opportunity for a retelling, look at Marvel and Spiderman – how may times has that changed.
Mike: The Quintessons are robots too. So they would require a creator as well.
Sid: Did you ever read the UK origin.
Mike: No I didn’t. Mine would be a completely different take. Want to hear
Sid: Definitely, give us the lowdown
Mike: Well, in my take, Cybertron is originally an organic planet populated by a human race. ‘The’ human race, actually. A highly developed technological planet, where people have ample use of robots as tools and transportation, etc. At first they are just programmed for specific chores, because AI has yet to be developed.
Mike: One man, Nuhn, develops the first AI, and it is a huge leap forward in technology. He uses a program that forces the AI to constantly devour information. He dubs this first AI robot, ‘Unicron’.
Sid: Ah! Like it…
Mike: Eventually Unicron becomes unstable, following it’s ‘hunger’ for information to it’s logical conclusion, it starts assimilating everything around it. In an effort to save the planet, Nuhn is forced to jettison Unicron into space, hopefully never to be heard from again.
Mike: Using the self-created programming he had copied from the Unicron model, Nuhn develops less aggressive AI that can be used for various purposes and we see the first generation of what he calls ‘Auto-Bots’.
Sid: Ha-ha, I like it…
Mike: These robots have a failsafe program that does not allow them to harm humans, as Unicron was doing.
Mike: They are used as servant robots, their very purpose to serve human kind, and even designed with human features, faces, hands, etc�etc� Well, as all things do, eventually this technology makes its way to the military.
The military redesigned the AI program so that the ‘do not harm humans’ element was removed, so the programming could be used in their new line of ‘Decepticon’ robots.
Sid: I see
Mike: Of course, this idea was not unique. Various countries around the planet had similar ideas, and a massive war of giant robots ensued. Each trying to take over dominion of the planet, soon the world was a mess. But eventually the Decepticons realized that all they were doing was fighting each other, their own kind, at the whim of these ‘flesh bag’ humans. So they joined together to wipe out the human cancer. This, of course, flew directly in the face of their Auto-bot counterparts.
Mike: A great civil war began, and the Decepticons began to re-shape the face of the planet in their own likeness. Every ounce of natural resource was used and recycled into a techno-organic framework. The beginnings of an artificial planet.
Sid: Ties in with Beast Machines too, they found the planet was once organic.
Mike: Really, cool.
Sid: It ends with them restoring the natural balance to Cybertron and becoming techno-organic, but I digress.
Mike: Seeing the way the tide was turning, Nuhn and those humans he could gather together created an ‘Ark’ and left to establish a life somewhere without robots. With the Human cancer gone, the Decepticons claimed victory and re-named their planet, ‘CYBERTRON’.
Mike: D’oh! I forgot to mention that the first good Auto-Bot Nuhn created was a ‘Prime’ unit, complete with Matrix. lol. Ah well, this is the shorthand version.
Sid: Yeah, sounds really cool, you don’t want to give too much away.
Mike: Well, don’t think it’s ever going to be done. Sad to say.
Sid: Very interesting. This leads me to what was going to be a later question, how does a TF fan get a job in the Comic industry?
Sid: I ask the question for the site and because I have been trying to get into the comic industry as a writer for years now, we have some very talented fan-fiction contributors as well as many talented artists who would love to get involved in the industry.
Mike: What kind of skills would this particular TF fan have that would be useful in the comic industry? Hardest job to get in comics, I think, is that of a writer. One way to go about it is to hitch on to an artist, and just publish your stuff. There’s just basic stuff really, the stuff you’d read in books about comics. There is no set formula, just keep trying to do your best, get your name out there, cross your fingers and see what happens.
Sid: Good advice, all right back to you
Sid: Your new series GI Joe and the Transformers has just shipped and its a 6 issue series, how’s it doing.
Mike: The first issue sold over 100K, and sold OUT in less than a week. Pretty cool.
Sid: Excellent stuff, very good numbers for the industry, that puts it in the top 20 if my knowledge is correct.
Mike: Maybe Top 5. I think it was highly under-ordered. People say the ‘wheels are falling off the 80’s buss, but with sell through like that, you have to be kidding me.
Sid: Available from all good comic stores now, while available.
Mike: We’re going to a second printing now, I believe, so it should be available if your local shop orders it. You could always just ask them to order you a copy or three.
Sid: New covers on the second print?
Mike: I’m not 100% certain, but I think so.
Sid: I take it all the character redesigns are by yourself?
Mike: Yes, all the character redesigns were mine. I did my best to ensure they would actually ‘work’ too. My father is an engineer, so I think I get that kind of thinking from him.
Sid: Indeed, and the hardest part looking at the designs, would be mixing the TF style, with that of pre-existing Cobra vehicles.
Mike: Yeah, it was difficult on some of them. For example, the Rattler doesn’t have enough mass to match the TF. So I had to take some liberties with the final design.
Mike: But that Optimus Prime Hiss (Hiss is a Cobra vehicle for those as unclued as me – Sid) was just a breeze to design in a working way. And I have to do this every time a new character pops up in Josh’s script.
Sid: I must say the designs work perfectly – the blend between the two is seamless. I bet the redesigns are the funnest part of the job.
Mike: It is rewarding. Like solving a puzzle that no one has ever had to think about before.
Mike: I’d love to see Hasbro make them into toys (hint hint).
Sid: Yeah, that would be great, they did a line of Expanded Universe toys with Star Wars so you never know…it could happen, and the Botcon toys carry a Transformers Expanded Universe logo.
Mike: Maybe. If enough TF fans email them, it might possibly happen. I don’t know of any plans to do so, I just think it would be cool.
Sid: Well, we’ll keep hassling them.
Mike: I can tell you there will likely be SOME kind of peripheral products from this series. Nothing set in stone though, nothing I’m at liberty to discuss.
Sid: What’s it like working with Josh Blaylock? And how do you feel about the art team in general?
Mike: Josh is cool as they come. Any time I need something or I have a question, I call him up and he’ll give me what I need. He’s a huge TF fan too, and with the way he handles the Joe’s, I think you would have been hard pressed to find a better suited writer for this project. Armando Durruthy is doing the best inks of his life, the original pages are just gorgeous! And the coloring, well, the coloring is done by the folks I hand-picked to color ‘George R. R. Martin’s: The Hedge Knight’, so you know I’m pleased to have them aboard. It’s basically the same art team, inker aside, on both books. So if you like the art on Joe v. Transformers, you should well like it in ‘The Hedge Knight’.
Sid: So what series will you be working on next, anything TF wise or onto other pastures? Whats this Hedge Knight?
Mike: Well, I don’t work for Dreamwave, so I don’t think we’ll be doing anything related to TF. Though I had made the suggestion to do ‘G.I.Joe: Mech Division’ as a follow up to this series. I don’t know if that will ever happen though.
Mike: I’m in the middle of issue 4 now, as soon as I finish issue 6 I’ll be jumping back on ‘George R. R. Martin’s: The Hedge Knight’.
Sid: Published by ???
Mike: Published by Image comics, produced by Roaring Studios
Sid: Available at local comic stores in August.
Mike: I put that book on hold to take on Joe/TF, because it was the chance of a lifetime. Not that working with George R. R. Martin ISN’T the chance of a lifetime, but you know what I’m talking about.
Sid: Indeed, a very high profile book like GI Joe/TF can not be turned down
Mike: Exactly, but I itch to get back on GRRM’s: The Hedge Knight as well. It’s a fantastic story, written by a guy who without doubt will come to be known as the single best writer in comics. He’s already known as one of the best, if not THE best writer in all of fantasy history, compared to and sometimes even touted more highly than J.R.R. Tolkien.
Sid: Impressive comparison, sounds like a good writer.
Mike: And that’s saying quite a bit. So if your fans like comics at all, and they care about quality writing, with decent artwork, George R. R. Martin’s: The Hedge Knight is a book to order.
Sid: I’ll add it to my pull list!
Mike: George’s best known work is his NYTimes best selling, Award winning series, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. Including, ‘A Game of Thrones’, ‘A Clash of Kings’, and ‘A Storm of Swords’, he is currently working on the fourth phone-book sized novel, ‘A Feast for Crows’.
Sid: So where does ‘The Hedge Knight’ fit in with ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’?
Mike: ‘The Hedge Knight’ is a prequel novella that ties directly into ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. There are some 6 million copies in print to date in ‘Legends’, edited by Robert Silverberg, who also writes the forward in our adaptation. It’s a Six issue limited series that will be followed directly with our adapting ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ as a series that will likely take me the rest of my career to draw.
Sid: Haha, as long as Cerebus? (300 issues)
Mike: Each novel is going to take probably 40 issues or so.
Sid: Wow, so a huge epic
Mike: Yes. Actually, I could be wrong, it could take more than that. Just check out Amazon.com for people’s reviews. You’ll see what I mean, if it does even a small percentage of it’s potential, I’ll do well with it. I did a recent online poll, asking over 500 Martin fans if they would buy The Hedge Knight adaptation, and of those who responded, over 60% said they would buy it if it was decent at all. Almost 90% would at least give it a try. Given the size of his audience, this indeed could be a blockbuster book.
Sid: Would you recommend a new artist or writer submit to Image?
Mike: Image is a great place for people to get their book noticed. As a beginner studio, you might get 2 or 3 thousand books sold through the back of ‘Previews’, but if you get it into the Image section, you could sell over 10K or more, even as an unknown. That’s pretty good for exposure, and they have all the ‘hook-ups’ that take all the headaches away from self-publishing. You also retain copyrights for your product with Image.
Sid: Some comic creators seem to have a problem with the eighties comics popularity, any ideas why?
Mike: Good question. I think perhaps people see it as a ‘fad’, just the next flash in the pan, and they don’t want to be associated with what they view as a giant ‘gimmick’. But if you look at the numbers, G.I.Joe has had a consistant following since it’s woefully underordered first issue. TF rode that wave and because so many retailers UNDER ordered Joe, they OVER ordered TF, but it still sold like hotcakes. Of course it’s going to plateau, but what a lot of people in my industry don’t realize is that TF isn’t just selling to comics fans, it’s selling to your audience, the TF fans. Just like Joe is selling to the Joe fans. And they’re not going anywhere. So it might feel like a fad to industry people, retailers, what and not, but to the fans who have been chomping at the bit for 15 or 20 years for a good yarn about their favorite transforming robots and battling Americans, it’s an addiction. Of course, the industry people tried to ride that wave with less popular 80’s titles and haven’t been as successful, but I don’t think there were any more popular properties in the 80’s than G.I.Joe and Transformers.
Sid: Well put, so you think there’s a long shelf life for the Transformers revival?
Mike: I think so. As long as the quality of the product remains high, and they don’t annoy the fans by doing anything particularly stupid, I think fans will be fans. And those fans will keep these books competing with the top sellers in the industry.
Sid: Well Mike, thanks very much for your time, good luck with The Hedge Knight and I look forward to the conclusion of GI Joe / Transformers.
Mike: Thanks to all the fans for the support, later.
For more information about Mike S. Millers future work check out the following
websites. www.georgerrmartin.com www.roaringstudios.com www.theartoficeandfire.com