Power Play

The second instalment of the Transformers saga sees both the Autobots and Decepticons preoccupied with finding a source of fuel that will enable them to survive on Earth. For the Autobots (who are sworn to protect Earth’s inhabitants) an alliance will be necessary, while the Decepticons are simply determined to take whatever they need. It won’t be the first or last time that the moral and ethical path chosen by the heroic forces turns out to be the harder and more fraught with danger and sacrifice.

We get a fuller introduction to the personalities in the Decepticon camp as they set about the task of securing (and stealing) the Harrison Nuclear Plant. It is to be used as a power source and raw materials for a fortress.

Ravage, the spy, is unleashed to do what he enjoys most – prowling in the shadows and uncovering enemy secrets. It’s a bit coincidental that he happens to find a foreman who is the process of recording a summary of the facility’s operations and in need of a cassette. We also get a taster of Starscream’s ambition to replace Megatron as leader and how his words of advice said in front of the troops are all calculated to further that goal. Megatron is on to him.

The attack allows the team to display their talents; Thundercracker deploys his sonic boom, Buzzsaw flies through reinforced concrete (I particularly enjoyed his assessment of the damage, ‘another masterpiece’) and Frenzy blocks human attempts to radio for help. Rumble, meanwhile, shakes the vital equipment loose from its foundations. Finally, the giants make off with huge chunks of machinery leaving the terrified workers to question whether (this being the time of the Cold War) the attack was the work of the Russians!

Elsewhere, Sparkplug Witwicky deploys his auto mechanic skills to seal Bumblebee’s wounds and prevent further loss of fuel. In a cheeky nod to Star Trek’s Bones McCoy he tells Buster, “blast it son! I’m a mechanic not a doctor”! Bumblebee transforms to express his gratitude ‘in person’ and explain the Autobots’ desperate need for fuel. Sparkplug offers to help them convert gasoline to their needs (while at the same time questioning whether he really wants to be involved). This is all a bit odd because, as good a mechanic he is, and we’re told he’s the best, it wouldn’t naturally follow that he has the requisite expertise in chemistry. The job sounds more suited to a team of scientists!

Buster hops aboard Bumblebee to go to the Ark, via town. He stops briefly to tell his friends Jessie and ‘O’ what is happening. Conveniently Ravage is lurking in an alley way at that very spot (why?) and hides in O’s stereo just long enough to learn of Sparkplug’s plan to convert Earth fuels. Bumblebee realises he hasn’t enough juice for the rest of the journey and they summon the Autobots to Sparkplug’s garage.

Human reactions and the alien nature of the Transformers are often part of the comedy moments. So we get the Witwickys’ elderly neighbours peaking through their curtains at the arriving Autobot convoy and speculating that ‘Sparky probably developed a remote control device’ to explain how the vehicles are all driverless! Optimus Prime transforms and offers ‘greetings from Cybertron’ – this is very much alien invasion, take me to your leader stuff. However, there is little time for pleasantries as they are almost immediately under Decepticon attack.

As earlier, the action is a chance to tease out more details about the characters. We have the gung-ho brothers, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, trying to outdo one another, with Sideswipe even strapping on a jet pack and taking the fight to the airborne enemy. Mirage is clearly not on the wavelength of the rest of his comrades. Not only is he sympathetic of Decepticon ways of working (taking what they need) but tries to appeal to Ravage as a ‘fellow Cybertronian’ with no success. Luckily for him Brawn in on hand to swat Ravage off. Unlike the wily Megatron, who is aware of the threat within his camp posed by Starscream, Prime would seem to be oblivious of Mirage’s divided loyalties, awarding him a place in the five who will fight the Autobots’ last stand in a later issue.


Megatron easily sweeps Bumblebee aside and steals Sparkplug, but Optimus engages him in battle and allows the human to get clear. We’re treated to an exciting first battle Prime and Megatron, who use the raw materials of the junkyard to great effect – Megatron using a car wreck for a shield, and Prime bounces an engine off his opponent’s face!

Ultimately the battle is lost, as Starscream grabs Sparkplug and takes to the air (again showing off in front his colleagues). With their mission accomplished, the other Decepticons follow suit, leaving the beleaguered Autobots too exhausted and critically low on fuel to follow!

The story is published in #2 of the Transformers US and issues #3 and #4 of the fortnightly UK comic. The latter seems to be taking on a more communal feel with competitions, a soon-to-come pen pals corner and reader letters (one of which is calling Machine Man to be dropped as the back-up strip!). There are fact files (on Hound and Gears) as well as a bizarre invitation for readers to design a robot that can play table tennis!

Previous story
Next story
Scroll down to leave a comment

Dan Reed: How being broke saved my life!

Dan Reed was a freelance artist for Marvel UK in the 1980s and worked on some iconic Transformers comics of the era, including the zombie spectacular ‘City of Fear’ – his best TF work in my opinion. This is an interview I did with Dan a few years ago about his time with Transformers.

Dan Reed2

Dan pictured in 2019.

IT WAS DECEMBER 1988 and Dan Reed, then 28, was a struggling artist living in Paris. It had been an up-and-down couple of years. He had been through a difficult divorce in his native America, and his wife had refused to let him see their daughter – eventually moving to another state without telling him. But things had picked up and Reed was enjoying life in France and the opportunities to travel around Western Europe and indulge his love of painting. He had also landed semi-regular work with Marvel Comics UK – illustrating The Transformers.

Simon Furman had given him the chance to prove himself by doing the artwork for issue 115’s strip, Burning Sky part 1. Furman was pleased and asked Reed to draw several more stories including the Legacy of Unicron, City of Fear, Deadly Games and Space Pirates in 1988. Reed was also invited to attend Marvel’s Christmas party in London and he thought it would be a great stop-over on his way back to America. When it came time to buy a ticket he was faced with the option of Pan Am 103 and a cheaper ticket on Virgin Atlantic. Reed, being an artist of limited means, chose Virgin and while in the air, heard the other plane had exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Today, in better financial circumstances he reflects sombrely that “being poor sometimes has its advantages”.

Reed was born in Massachusetts on January 26, 1960, and raised in the warmer climates of Miami. He worked for Charlton, Marvel and DC, pursuing his love of comics, while also working seriously on his painting. He attended Miami Dade Community College and discovered art history, becoming entranced with the role the French had played. Reed thought it would be great to go to France and actually live there, and some time later following his divorce and estrangement from his child, he got the chance. The college sent him to Paris and then to the south to paint. It was supposed to be a six week program but Reed thought he had more to learn by getting out there and painting than he could in the classroom and decided to stay.

Fifteen years on he is remarried and back in touch with his daughter (he recently attended her wedding reception in South Dakota). Reed lives 25 miles from New York City and regularly draws crowds to exhibitions of his paintings. He is still involved in comics however, and has ‘self published’ an eight-part series called New World Order and another book called Retro-Dead.

How did you come to be an artist on Transformers?

I was living in Paris, France and found life there very difficult in a financial sense, although I really loved living there in many other ways. Unfortunately to work there you need a special card which was almost impossible to obtain, so I picked up a couple of issues of Indiana Jones that I had done for Marvel US, and hitched a ride with an 18 wheeler over to London. I stepped into the offices of Marvel UK and spoke with Simon Furman. I showed him my comics and asked if he had any work for me. He said yes and handed me the script for Transformers #115 a couple of older issues of the book and some model sheets to go by, and let me know when he needed them by. I told him that I preferred to ink my own work and he agreed.

What was it like working for Marvel UK?

For the most part it was really great! When I turned in #115 Simon seemed to really like it and told me I could work on a regular basis if I wanted to. I told him that I would love to but I wanted to live in Paris. He asked me how I proposed to pull this off. I told him that when I was working for Marvel in the states that I actually lived in Miami and mailed my jobs to New York through Fed Ex, and saw no reason why that arrangement shouldn’t work again. Simon agreed and I went back to Paris.

When I finished the next job however, I thought it would be fun to travel back over to London, so this time I spent the little money I had left and bought a bus ticket. Unfortunately for me when I got to the border control they told me that I couldn’t get into England because I didn’t have enough money on me. They took me to a little room, took my artwork, strip searched me, verbally abused me, and when they returned my artwork the first page of the story was missing. I told them that they stole my art. They told me that was too bad, then they proceeded to handcuff me and throw me in the back of their police car, pushed me to the floor and started to beat me. Then they dragged me onto the ferry back to Paris.

When we got there the French border guard was sitting at his desk reading a newspaper. He asked me what happened… why was I handcuffed with a cop on either side of me. I told him that the British wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have enough money on me. He asked me what I did. I told him I was an artist. He laughed and said: “You’re an artist… of course you don’t have any money.” He asked me where I lived, I told him Paris, and he said: “hitchhike back”, then went back to reading his paper.

I called Simon when I got back and explained what had happened. I was already a little late on the story, so the pressure to get the job to him was enormous. I spent the entire night up, and managed to re-pencil and ink the first page. So if you ever see a page that looks close to the splash page of Transformers #119, but a little different you’ll know that it was stolen and the person who stole it almost cost me my job at Marvel UK!

There were several artists working on the comic so who decided who would draw which strips?

Simon was in control as far as I knew. At any rate he was the guy that I always talked to.

How long did it take to draw an issue of The Transformers?

I really don’t remember exactly, but I know I was always a little late turning in the jobs. I’m sure I caused more than a few grey hairs on Simon’s head.

Was it tricky to master the look of around 100 or so characters?

Well they gave me character sheets from the movie for each character. I was always trying to find ways to make them look more exciting and got in a little trouble because I would bend the arms and legs of the characters, and would use energy dots to show the transformation scenes. I also got a kick when I got a chance to design a building or a transformer that didn’t exist (They were like Star Trek’s red shirts… sure to die).

You have a distinctive style of drawing. Who influences your work and was there anyone at Transformers whose art you particularly admired?

Thank you very much. It’s nice to know that some people appreciate the work I was doing. Comics wise my influences are so many… C.C. Beck, Kirby, Colan, Palmer, Adams, Kubert, Infantino, Moebius, Frazetta, etc… the list reads like a who’s who of the true greats in comic history.  I really liked Geoff Senior’s work… especially the stuff he was doing for a while before I showed up. It was so graphic and clean… very good design sense.

What influence, if any, did you have over story lines as an artist?

I didn’t have much say over the story lines. However I did try to make every page as much fun as I could… after all I’m a real fan of this wonderful medium and try to make my work as cool as the work of the greats that I grew up admiring. I can only hope that I’m succeeding to some degree.

Did Hasbro have much of a say over the comic’s stories or the artwork?

Simon handled that end of it at the Marvel offices. I do know that the character had to look like those character sheets that they gave us.

Is there an issue of Transformers that you worked on that you are particularly proud of? If so, which and why?

There was something in every issue that I found exciting, that got my creative juices flowing, and Simon never really gave me too much interference. I was very free to follow my intuition. My living in Paris probably helped a lot with that aspect of things.

Were you a fan of the comic… and what do you think of the new Dreamwave Transformers titles?

I’m going to have to be honest with you, when I went over to Marvel UK I was hoping to draw the FF or Spidey or Thor… I had never even heard of the Transformers before. I didn’t even see the movie until years later when I returned the states. However it did grow on me, and I like the idea of living metal beings… kind of reminds me of the Voyager theme in the first Star Trek movie.

Did you/do you have much contact with the fans and what kind of feedback did you get about your work?

I really didn’t even know there was a fan network until I stumbled onto your website. When I was doing the book all those years ago I was working in a vacuum fan wise. I thought I was doing some really kick butt work but had no way of knowing if anyone else thought so as well.

Are you surprised how enduring the Transformers franchise has proved to be?

It did seem to me to just be a passing fad at the time…

Finally, what else have you done aside from Transformers… and what does the future hold for Dan Reed?

For Charlton I did the Blue Beetle and The Question, as well as Captain Atom. For DC I did some House Of Mystery stuff, and some D&D books. For Marvel I worked on characters ranging from the Hulk to Captain America, the Punisher, Alpha Flight and others. The fanzine “Comic Book Artist” did an interview with me as well.

I self published a series called New World Order which ran for eight issues, and did another book called Retro-Dead. The basic premise behind New World Order deals with the world of the future where people who live in space stations have evolved into a new species, and look at us as an inferior life form and dominate the planet. The protagonists are a trio of artists in a world where art is banned. It’s a mature readers book and reflects some adult themes. Retro-Dead takes place after a dimensional rift has swept across the planet, physically altering people to revert into the being that lies within their souls. If someone is a blood-sucking vampire by nature, then he actually becomes that in the ‘real’ world. The idea being that the monsters that live among us can no longer hide behind the guise of being human.

Also I’ve been doing some characters that I created for Gary Carlson’s “Big Bang”, the “Great Pyramid” and the “Dimensioneer”. I’m also involved with doing some illustrations for Edgar Rice Burroughs fan magazines including one in the UK. I’ve been painting for many years and have a website you might want to check out…. www.artblazer.com

As far as the future goes, I hope continue painting and creating my own characters.

The Transformers (parts 1 & 2)

The Transformers was launched by Marvel Comics in September 1984 as a ‘four issue mini-series’. It must have done well because it continued for another seven years until issue #80! With the gift of hindsight, it is surprising that Marvel were so cautious. Perhaps it was an awareness that the Transformers toy phenomenon could turn out to be a flash in the pan, and that transforming robots represented a departure from their mainstay of superhero comics. It is telling that Spider-man was given a cameo in issue #3, no doubt to entice in readers of Marvel’s most successful title.

The production team on the first issue is Ralph Macchio (writing) and Frank Springer (pencils). In the UK the story was spread over issues #1 and #2 of a fortnightly Transformers title (published in September and October 1984) with Machine Man as the main back-up strip. The cover price was an amazingly cheap by today’s standards, 25 pence. The UK and US covers are reproduced above. The US version features an over-sized and slightly menacing Prime and human characters in prominence (again, this may reflect concerns about the appeal of a robot-led cast). The battle between Gears and Laserbeak is a nice touch. Overall the cover feels movie-like and a little cliché. The UK #1 cover is bolder and more exciting, depicting Optimus Prime and Soundwave pitched in close combat. Why Soundwave? I suspect this was based on the toy figures, with Soundwave being larger and more imposing than the other Decepticons and Megatron’s toy not available until the following year.

The story introduces us to planet Cybertron, a “vast Saturn-sized machine world” orbiting Alpha Centauri. There are biblical themes abounding in that the Autobots live in a mechanical Eden with a “serpent” in their midst in the form of Megatron. Paradise is lost when the Decepticons, seeking power and conquest, plunge the planet into war and undergo physical modifications to enable them to ‘transform’ into fighting vehicles and weapons. The Autobots follow suit and thus the Transformers are born. We’re told Optimus Prime rises up to take charge of the beleaguered Autobot army (interestingly his Cybertron mode is a canon on wheels and not his more familiar truck mode, and we don’t see what Megatron turns into). Cybertron is shaken from its orbit and sent sailing through the heavens.

Global conflict rages for centuries. It seems that unlike human wars that start and finish, flare up again and stop, the near infinite life spans of the Transformers and perhaps even a robotic programming means their conflict continues unabated. External forces are the catalyst for change as Cybertron enters an asteroid field in our solar system. The Autobots board a vast spaceship called the Ark (another biblical reference) to blast a safe passage and are ambushed by Megatron’s forces. Prime sets the ship on a collision course with the Earth hoping to end the war.

The Ark impacts into Mount St Hilary in what will become Oregon, USA. It is buried for four million years until an eruption reawakens the ship’s computer which sets about repairing and reactivating the fallen Autobots and Decepticons, giving them the ability to become the vehicles, planes and communication devices that the Ark’s probe has mistaken as the dominant life on the planet.

The Decepticons are the first on their feet and helpfully introduce themselves to the reader with a brief summary of their abilities. It feels a little contrived but is essential as a reference to what is quite a large cast of characters. The Autobots rise and do the same (only in the US print though) and, with the Decepticons having made off, study the monitors to learn about their new world. Oddly they are completely oblivious to the presence of humanity or the natural world, only paying attention to the machines.

The pace is a little slow at this point but is perhaps to be expected from an origin story that is setting the scene. Things pick up as Prowl, Brawn, Cliffjumper, Hound and Bumblebee head to a drive-in movie (do these things still exist?) and have their first skirmish with the enemy. Chaos is unleashed as screaming humans flee in terror from the giant alien machines! It’s immediately apparent for the reader that mankind will be collateral damage in this war. The Autobots are sworn to protect innocent lives (with their own if necessary) while the Decepticons have no such concerns for the population or the planet’s resources. Though fewer in number they have the upper hand.

It’s here that the Autobots encounter 17-year-old Buster Witwicky, their long-term human friend. He is of course Spike in the TF cartoons, and here is the first of many jarring differences between the two canons. Buster is making out with his girlfriend Jessie prior to the Decepticon attack, while their gooseberry mate ‘O’ is also in the car. Slightly awkward. Bumblebee is gravely injured by the enemy and Buster drives him to his father’s garage, hoping to stem a potentially fatal loss of fuel. ‘Sparkplug’ Witwicky thinks his son has developed a sudden interest in the family auto business, only for Bumblebee to plead for their help and reveal he is “dying”!

In summary it’s a good start to the series with lots here to recommend. The Transformers tend to be drawn more closely to their toy forms at this point. We also have a lot of non-descript robots seen battling on the Ark prior to the collision, who are never seen again. But the scene is set for epic battles with humanity caught in the crossfire.

Have you got memories, positive or negative about the series opener? Please post below, I’d love to hear your comments.

Next story

Q&A with Transformers writer Bob Budiansky

Editor’s note: Bob Budiansky is a legendary name in the world of Transformers. If not for him its possible that the characters that are well known and loved today may not have come into being and have endured to this day. Bob was instrumental in naming the characters and sketching out their personalities. He also wrote the Transformers comic for Marvel US for an incredible 50 issues during the 1980s. The article below is a Q&A with Bob by a UK fan named Charles Ellis midway through the first decade of this century, which was hosted on the original OneShallStand.com and deserves to be reproduced here.

Bob Budiansky
Image credit: BWTF.com

Bob Budiansky wrote the American Transformers series from issue 5-55, in doing so turning characters like Shockwave, Ratchet, Blaster, Fortress Maximus and even hi-then-die’s like Scrounge & Straxus into major parts of the Transformer mythos. Despite all this, he’s much maligned for his later work and while Furman has been interviewed a million or so times, nobody has ever talked with Budiansky over his Transformers work.

How did you get the job editing and later writing the Transformers comic?

In 1983 Marvel had made a deal with Hasbro to develop Hasbro’s new line of toys, The Transformers, into a comic book, as Marvel had so successfully done with GI Joe just a couple of years earlier. In November 1983, then-Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter asked me if I would be interested in writing some material for it, specifically naming and developing some of the Transformers characters. Shooter had already developed a treatment and some of the characters with Denny O’Neill, but I believe they had some creative differences, so Shooter came to me. And I know he went to a few other writers before he got to me. At the time I was a staff editor, and I had pencilled a bunch of books, but I hadn’t written that much, so it was understandable why I wasn’t at the top of Shooter’s list. Nevertheless, I really appreciated the opportunity Shooter was giving me. It was a rush job- naming and writing character descriptions for about 20 characters, I think, and I had a little over a weekend to do it. Denny had written a few of them- he named and wrote the bio for Optimus Prime, for instance -but the bulk of the characters still remained to be done.

So over the next few days I named and gave personalities to the remaining Transformers, Shooter liked them, Hasbro (which had to approve everything Marvel did) liked them, and Shooter came to the conclusion that maybe I would be a good choice to edit the mini-series. So that’s how I became editor.

I remember that for the writers of the mini-series- I believe Bill Mantlo, Ralph Macchio and Jim Salicrup all had a hand in it -it was a challenge. Introducing all these new characters and their back story all at once, trying to give at least some of them interesting characterizations, fashioning a coherent storyline that could run over four issues- just trying to tell them apart, all of this was a struggle for the writers. Normally a four-issue mini-series would have one writer. The fact that Transformers had three speaks for itself.

At the end of the fourth issue, when we knew the Transformers would continue as a regular series, Jim Salicrup was just about begging me to find someone to replace him as writer (I don’t think Jim would disagree with that characterization, but I apologize to him if I’m overstating his desire to leave the book). So I went to Shooter and volunteered to take over the writing chores. Since I was developing the characters already, I seemed like a natural fit to Shooter for the job, so he agreed. The rule at Marvel at that time was that you couldn’t edit what you wrote, so with issue #5, I ceased editing Transformers and began writing it.

How much interaction did you have with the Transformers cartoon makers Sunbow regarding stories and characterisation?

I remember going to some meetings early in the development of the series with Sunbow people present. I think a couple of the later additions to the back story, specifically when new lines of characters were being introduced by Hasbro, may have been generated by Sunbow. I know all the characters and story ideas for the Transformers movie came from Sunbow (I don’t know how much of it was developed in-house by Sunbow). Otherwise, once the comic book series got rolling, I generated almost all the names, personalities, and additions to the Transformers back story for the next several years. After a season or two on TV, the Transformers were relocated off of Earth. At that point, there was very little connection between the comic book I was writing and the TV show Sunbow was producing, other than the fact that I was still generating the names and personalities of new characters, and that material was passed on by Hasbro to Sunbow to use as Sunbow saw fit.

Who were the people at Marvel who created the tech specs for the Transformers toys? Most sources say you did most or all of them, but others say that other people at Marvel, i.e. Jim Shooter, did the original ones and no one is sure who did the later ones.

Although it’s possible that Jim Shooter had something to do with it at the beginning, I believe I created most if not all of those tech specs for about the first five or six years worth of characters. I modelled mine after the specs that fellow Marvel Editor Mark Gruenwald had created for his Marvel Universe series for Marvel characters. I also wrote just about all of the packaging copy for the Transformers toys that Hasbro put out during those years. All that material was eventually reprinted in the Transformers Universe comic book mini-series.

After the deaths of Optimus and Megatron, you took a slightly controversial approach in making Ratbat the fuel auditor leader of the Decepticons and Grimlock into a tyrannical leader of the Autobots. What was the inspiration for this?

Remembering precisely what inspired me almost twenty years ago is a challenge, but I’ll give it a try. I think the main thing was I wanted to shake things up, and defy readers’ expectations. I didn’t want to focus on the same two characters every issue. I couldn’t. I was always under pressure from Hasbro to introduce new characters, particularly the characters based on the new toys Hasbro was releasing every year. For example, the Dinobots were a big deal, perhaps the first new set of Transformers after the initial couple of dozen. So I highlighted them for a while and gave Grimlock a big role in the storyline. I liked playing around with the idea that not every Autobot was equally sensitive to humans. Whereas Optimus Prime was the idealized leader of the heroes- brave, protective, noble, self-sacrificing -Grimlock and his gang of Dinobots had personalities not quite as multi-faceted. They were mainly concerned about being in charge and kicking some Decepticon butt.

You devoted a lot of time and character development to the characters Blaster and Shockwave. What drew you to these characters?

This kind of goes back to my last answer. I just wanted to develop other characters and not always focus on Optimus Prime and Megatron. I think in the earlier issues that I wrote I was able to more successfully do that. As the series developed, I was introducing so many new characters that it became a real challenge to focus on anyone for more than an issue or two. As for why specifically Blaster and Shockwave- I dunno. The toys probably just looked cool to me, so I chose them. It could have just as easily been two other characters.

A criticism often thrown at the comic is that Starscream was hardly used. Was this due to lack of time & space, or did you just not find the character appealing?

I don’t think I had anything specifically against Starscream. I just chose other directions to go in creatively. He did play a major role in the early issues of the series and in the Underbase storyline though.

What were your experiences with Hasbro?

I had a great time working with Hasbro. We didn’t always agree 100% of the time, but more often than not we did. I worked with some excellent people there who were very supportive of and receptive to my work. I think the first time I went on a business trip to the Hasbro headquarters, I got some razzing because I was wearing a jacket and tie. They were expecting a Marvel creative type to look a bit less formal. After that, whenever I visited I dressed down.

In the story ‘Return to Cybertron’, you had the Decepticons melting Transformers in the vast Smelting Pools. What was the inspiration behind the Smelting Pools?

Again asking about specifics from almost twenty years ago! I do remember that that two-parter was among my favourite Transformers stories that I wrote. I’m pretty sure the final scene in Terminator (where Arnold meets his melter), which was in the theatres around then, was at least part of the inspiration for the smelting pools- the idea that a robot would be destroyed in that manner. And I’m sure there were other inspirations. I think I had a Clint Eastwood-type character in mind when I was scripting Blaster in those stories. But it’s been a while- maybe I was thinking of Woody Allen.

What were your thoughts on the later Transformers figures- the Headmasters, Targetmasters, Pretenders etc?

I don’t have any real feelings for these characters, at least none that I can recall now. By this point in the series’ development, when it seemed like every other month Hasbro was rolling out new action figures and I had to figure out ways to add them to the comic book’s storyline, these new characters often seemed to be just clogging up the works. Enough already! I already have more than enough characters to feature in the book. Those were at least some of my thoughts, maybe all of them, about those characters.

Did you have problems with having to introduce new characters in with such frequency?

See my previous answer. You bet! Just when I was developing a storyline and some characters in some direction that I though was interesting, BOOM!- I have to suddenly find room for another dozen. It was like having endless waves of uninvited boat people wash up on your shore. For me, at least, it made writing the book ever more challenging as my tenure on it lengthened. I think sometimes I dealt with bringing new characters into the book better than others. But don’t ask me which were the ones I did well and which ones I didn’t- I don’t remember!

One of the defining traits of your stories was that you would bring in a human character to interact with the various Transformers. Why did you use human characters so often?

The Transformers were on Earth! Why shouldn’t they interact with humans? I think I had the most fun having the two very different species cross paths in various ways. If the Transformers weren’t going to deal with humans, why have them wind up on a planet full of them? What would be the point of that? I guess the people at Sunbow asked themselves the same question at some point and decided they didn’t like the answer, because they eventually took the Transformers off of Earth in the animated show, right? (I confess, I didn’t watch the animated show, so I could be wrong.) I really felt that was what made the idea of writing a Transformers comic book interesting to me- the idea that these two species that are so different would suddenly find themselves in the same world and would have to figure out ways to deal with it.

What was the idea behind the infamous Carwash of Doom story?

Again, the years have done a pretty good job covering that trail in my memory, but I suspect it was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was a parody of that movie. I believe we even had the letterer letter the story title in a similar style to the movie title.

What were your feelings towards the title near the end of your run?

Relief at the prospect of leaving! After 50 issues or so, I was running on fumes. Toward the end of my run, the book’s editor, Don Daley, persuaded me to stay on for a couple of more issues than I wanted to, even got me to pencil some of the last issue that I wrote. But I was ready to jump ship. I wanted to move on to other projects. All the time I was writing the Transformers I was also a full-time Marvel editor, so I didn’t have a lot of time to do much else creatively.

In the final of the Underbase storyline, you killed off a vast amount of the older characters. Was this due to a mandate of Hasbro or did you just want to clean house?

First of all, what exactly is death to the Transformers? Can’t they just be rebuilt? So whether they were permanently dead or not is debatable. At least that’s the way I looked at it. Aside from that, I’m not sure exactly what went into who died or why. It’s been a while. I suspect I was thinking the following:

1) I’ve built up to this big Underbase saga.
2) I want to have real important things happen in it to justify the magnitude of the storyline.
3) I have way too many characters floating around this series.
4) Hasbro won’t mind if I ‘kill’ off a bunch of them, especially some of the ones they’re not producing as toys any more, because a way can always be found to bring them back.

I was a fan of the DC series Metal Men in the 60s. Those guys got trashed and rebuilt almost every issue. I figured this is the 80s, the technology is better. Rebuilding a mangled Transformer should be no prob. But I wasn’t even planning on bringing any back at that point (or myself, for that matter, since at that time I was thinking of leaving the series). Truthfully, with so many Transformers still in the series and new ones always being added, who would miss the ones that were ‘killed’? More importantly, if they were still alive, when would I have time to give them any significant space in the series? So, yeah, maybe I whacked a few fan faves, but I think in most cases they were characters that had faded from the spotlight or had barely been used in the series and I had no plans to use them again. So they were already just about dead.

Is there a story or character you wish you’d had time to pursue?

If there was, I don’t remember. It’s been a while.

Finally, what have been your experiences with Transformers fandom and would you write for the characters again if you had the chance?

While I worked on the series, my experiences with the fans were overall extremely positive. The bulk of the fan mail we received was generally complimentary and showed a great interest in the characters and storylines. Stan Lee even wrote us a glowing fan letter after he read issue #23, Decepticon Graffitti! No higher praise than that, in my book. When I met fans at comic book conventions, they seemed enthusiastic about what I was doing in the book. Since I left Transformers, I haven’t really dealt with Transformers fandom. I get the impression there is still a high level of interest in the Transformers, especially on the Internet. But other than responding to an occasional interview like this, don’t interface with the Transformer fans any more.

As for writing the Transformers again, I never say yes or no to an offer until after someone makes it. So I suppose I’m open to the idea of writing the Transformers- at least until someone actually asks me to do it.


Thoughts from Transformers fans:

Charles Ellis: My personal feeling about Bob is that he gets dumped on a lot by Transformers fans. His Shockwave is one of the key things in the comic mythos and made it stand out from the cartoon, but people still try to ignore him. I think he was a good writer who was held back by crappy art and the need to keep bringing in new characters; with these constraints, it’s amazing he actually developed characters as much as he did!

Graham Thomson: I agree for the most part. Like all writers, when he was on form, Budiansky was very good. Shame, like you said, that he had to introduce so many characters. It’s actually the one thing I think the cartoon was better at. At least they waited 20 years before introducing the next “generation” of characters. Bob’s mistake was to introduce the Headmasters and Pretenders, etc. in the present day. And for the Pretenders, the Japanese got it right… actual human sized shells!! Why Bob chose TF sized ones I’ll never fathom. TFs already had size-changing abilities at that point, so it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to have human-sized Pretenders in the comic.

Ralph Burns: Ah, Uncle Bob whom I shall defend unto death. He did some great stuff, he did some awful stuff but he was OK. As good/bad as Furman in my opinion. If only for Smelting Pool/Bridge to Nowhere which are my favourite tf comics…ever! I really liked the whole Blaster/Grimlock plotline too, and the idea of the Autobots being ruled by someone who was essentially a despot! Now, *that’s* a good idea.

Martin McVay: Bob had more talent than Furman in my opinion, because most of the time he tried to write intelligently and thoughtfully, rather than just spectacularly. I disagree with Charles putting the Headmasters mini-series in the stupid age though. Unless you’re one of those who thinks TF stories are only good when told from the TF point of view, it had good characterisation and handled some tough moral issues. To me, some the most important elements of Transformers was the way they interacted with humans, the way they saw humans and the way humans saw them. We only really got this from Bob. Plus, he gave us Shockwave, Ratchet, Blaster, Straxus, Skids, Fortress Maximus and the Creation Matrix. The US art wasn’t really inferior to the UK. It was more realistic when it came to humans and scenery. But it wasn’t spectacular, and had the dull dot-colouring. Plus Bob’s work had far, far more dialogue, which makes it less exciting for teenaged boys. And of course as Graham points out, the constant influx of new toys killed his work off dead. I’d have stopped trying too in that situation.