Transformer in focus: Blaster

Blaster was released by Hasbro in 1985 as a counterpart to the Decepticon Soundwave. While visually different the pair were conceptually very similar: both transformed into stereo systems and housed smaller ‘cassettes’ that would eject to become robots or creatures. Blaster’s cassettes would never achieve the same degree of prominence as Soundwave’s, but the character himself would become one of the stand-out characters, in the Marvel Transformers comics at least.

Hasbro were not confident that the UK market could not sustain the full range of Transformers toys, so they held back many great characters like Swoop, Shockwave, the Constructions and Predacons (and the list goes on) for the US only – and Blaster was one such character.

In 1990 an Action Master version of Blaster made it to UK stores but naturally it was a huge disappointment (a Transformer that doesn’t transform, say no more). Consequently, while the Action Master version has been largely forgotten, original Blaster toys became highly sought after in the UK. The few lucky collectors who do own him generally rate Blaster as a good sized and good quality toy; simple to transform and sturdy. To give some idea of his comparative size he roughly as big as the Powermaster Prime toy, which is to say somewhat larger than Soundwave.

Tech specs

Blaster’s motto is “When the music is rockin, I’m rollin”. His tech specs tell us that he finds all Earth music interesting but it is rock’n’roll “good, hard and loud” that really puts the spark in his circuits. Blaster’s AM/FM stereo mode in-part enables him to function as the Autobot communicator. He can transmit and receive radio signals on all frequencies up to 4,000 miles away. His weapon is an electro-scrambler gun which emits powerful waves of electromagnetic energy that can disrupt the operations of all but the most heavily shielded electrical devices, not least enemy Transformers. In theory, the gun should interfere with the minute electrical impulses of the human nervous system, but Blaster has never used the gun on a human.

Toy persona:

The Blaster character that emerges from tech specs and the cartoons seems very much based around the cassette deck altar-ego. As you might expect from someone who spends half of their time as a stereo, Blaster has developed a passion for Earthen rock music and incorporated this into his very being. Toy and cartoon Blasters are presented as hip, streetwise, and cool, while embracing of human youth culture and not taking life too seriously. We’re told Blaster would much rather be kicking-it to a searing guitar solo than fighting the scourge of the Decepticons.

All of this seems very well but is hardly realistic for a character who has endured millions of years of warfare and the horrors that come with it. Bob Budiansky to his great credit understood this and would characterise him differently in the comics – taking into account these experiences and their effects. But cartoon Blaster ignores any such considerations and stays true to the original Hasbro toy concept.

So we get an animated character that speaks in a constant hyperactive jive, almost like a DJ on acid. There are numerous examples but some that come to mind are in the Transformers Movie where he utters such lines as “cover your audio ‘ceptors Perceptor” and “what’s shakin’ other than this fortress?” For many this character may be no less endearing but to my mind the comic Blaster stands head and shoulders apart.

Comics Blaster

The first time we see Blaster is in the classic US story the Smelting Pool (UK#66-67) written by Bob Budiansky, and drawn and coloured respectively by Don Perlin and Nel Yomtov. Thanks to their efforts Blaster looks the business! He cuts the figure of a tall, imposing hero, who stands in sharp contrast to the bleak Cybertron landscape. Blaster has a cool visor and a powerful electro scrambler gun that makes him seemingly indestructible. The story shines on many levels, not least by introducing a host of great new characters, but also by giving us our first taste of life on the present day Cybertron with the twist that the Decepticons have won the war.

Blaster is undoubtedly the star of the show and personifies the struggle of good against evil as the Autobots battle to reclaim their world. The other side is embodied by the fearsome Lord Straxus (who welds an energised axe capable of cutting Transformers in two). The rivalry between both champions is evident early on and there is the sense that the two are destined to meet in battle before this mini series is out.

The Smelting Pool story was a significant departure from the issues that had gone before because it shifted focus from Earth to Cybertron. But the absence of established favourites like Prime or Megatron was adequately compensated for by the Blaster/Straxus dynamic. In the first few frames we get a grim taste of life on the Decepticon ruled Cybertron. The stench of death fills the air as a trio of mechanoids run for their miserable lives, pursued as sport, by Decepticon hunter planes. The bodies of the fallen are scooped up with casual disregard and meticulously disposed of by harvester units, which take them to the smelting pool to be melted down and recycled.

Out of the shadow of all of this steps Blaster and dispatches the remaining Decepticon bully with matchless ease and fury, saving the helpless mechanoid from a certain end. He has little patience for a show of gratitude though, and tells the quivering wreck before him that he can demonstrate his thanks best by crawling ‘back to his hole’, adding: “I’ve got better things to do than save the rusty hides of robo-wretches like you.” This scene instantly establishes the personality of the comic book Blaster. It shows us his underlying compassion for the innocent along with a tough abrasive exterior that has little patience for pleasantries. This Blaster has no doubt been forged in the fires of countless battles and is a striking departure from the trivial beat-bopping character of the toy and cartoon canons.

Blaster demonstrates his intense loyalty to his friends in this story (and indeed later during his partnership with Goldbug). On this occasion when the Autobot Scrounge goes missing, it is Blaster who stands up for him at Autobase and demands they form a search party. Group leader Perceptor thinks that Scrounge is simply unreliable and most-likely laying low to avoid being caught telling another fanciful story. He would much rather concentrate on the wider objective of planning the Autobot resistance.. but this is not Blaster’s way. Though Blaster respects Perceptor’s authority he is willing to challenge it, and more than ready to go to Scrounge’s aid alone if necessary. Here we see more evidence of Blaster’s impatience with authority and his natural ability to never lose sight of the individual, no matter how insignificant their role in the grand scheme. He displays in these early scenes the rebellious qualities that would carry him through his subsequent adventures on Earth.

Blaster’s example also adheres him (unintentionally) to the other Autobots who instinctively want to follow him. But he is by nature a loner who prefers to remain out of the inner-circle, and we must assume he is oblivious to the qualities he inspires in others. Nevertheless it is this independent spirit and determination to stay true to his principals, that makes Blaster a natural alternative leader to Grimlock, when the Earth-bound Autobots would later be oppressed by the Dinobot’s tyrannical rule.

Horay for Bob

Bob Budiansky gets a lot of stick for some of his sillier Marvel Transformers tales (Carwash of Doom and the wrestling contest for example), but he definitely has the edge over the generally praised Simon Furman where Blaster is concerned. I’m not sure why Simon never properly got to grips with Blaster, maybe he just didn’t get him? In the few Furman stories where Blaster appears, he is never more than a regular Autobot and is not singled out in any way. It could be that Furman is not too interested in him, or perhaps that he realises that Budiansky does Blaster best, and it’s better for him to concentrate on his own favourites like Galvatron, Nightbeat etc. But whatever the reason Bob deserves praise for taking a toy blueprint and dumping the gimmicks to create a gritty, battle hardened hero in its place.

Blaster’s qualities are those of the classic maverick loner with little time for politics and leaders, and yet he is intensely loyal to his friends and the cause. In The Cure (UK#127) he would much rather slagged by acid than have Decepticons survive because of him. Comics Blaster is a product of the countless battles he has fought, and the harrowing losses he has sustained. He emerges as a more realistic character than the toy concept – after all how many of us would be happily preoccupied by rock music if we’d endured years civil warfare?

While Budiansky makes the odd overture to Blaster’s musical tastes, it is not this character’s overriding concern, in contrast to the toy and cartoon depictions. Finally Blaster’s tough exterior belies a soft centre and deep concern for the people of Earth, who have been unwittingly caught up in the Transformers’ war.

Blaster the rebel

Blaster really came into his own in the issues that dealt with his defection from the Autobot army under Grimlock. The storyline played beautifully to his strengths as a rebel and loner who prefers to fight the Decepticon menace on his own terms. Furthermore his double-act with Goldbug helped to accentuate the characteristics of both. We see from their early conversation with G.B. Blackrock that Blaster is the hothead of the outfit, and Goldbug is undoubtedly the diplomat and measured voice of reason. Brawn and brains if you like.

The two compliment each other more so in that Goldbug provides the transport and Blaster packs the brute strength. Blaster’s fiery temper and underlying loyalty are revealed when Goldbug questions him over the death of Scrounge. “You watched a fellow Autobot die Blaster? And did nothing?” he says. Blaster responds that war sometimes makes you do things you’ll hate yourself for forever, and bellows: “If you think I’ll abandon you to die too why don’t you run back to Grimlock?” The scene for me also reveals Blaster’s protectiveness to his new companion – he will not allow harm to come to him – and this may be his way of making up the death of Scrounge.

The Scraplets story provides a new twist in the partnership. Blaster becomes infected by the parasites and Goldbug appears to abandon him. Blaster is incensed by the betrayal (his penchant for action won’t allow him to consider that Goldbug is seeking to resolve the situation some other way) but their bond is strengthened further when Goldbug returns with a cure. The story also introduces the Throttlebots, who join them, but in subsequent adventures it would be Goldbug who’d act as the guide and ‘leader’ of the convoy. Blaster is content stay in the wings and only emerge at the forefront when action is needed.

Blaster’s life on the run comes to an end when Grimlock sends the Protectobots to capture him. Though even here he puts the greater good before his own interest, revealing himself and joining the fight against the Combaticons, at the risk of his arrest. He comes full circle when he battles Grimlock for supremacy on the moon – but the two must put aside their differences to combat a Decepticon ambush. The result is that Blaster is welcomed back to the fold.

Blaster for leader?

One of the great missed opportunities of the comics (in my view anyway) was when the writers passed up the chance to make Blaster the Autobot leader. The prospect was raised in issue 144 when Blaster returns to the Ark and is implored to take the job by Grimlock’s weary followers. Instead he chooses to surrender himself to safeguard a group of human children from the Dinobots.

But what kind of leader might Blaster have made? There are many fascinating possibilities. On the one hand it could have been disastrous because Blaster is more of an outsider than an establishment figure. His instincts to rush-to-action might have led the Autobots into trouble. On the other hand he inspires by example and his instinctive compassion for the victims of war (Autobot or human) are qualities he shares with the best of Autobot leaders. When the threat of extinction arrived in the form of Unicron, Optimus Prime was able to set aside the past and make peace with the Decepticons – could Blaster have done the same? His hatred of the Decepticons may have been too great. If not it would have been a great soul searching moment for him that surely would have been worth a tale. One thing is certain, he couldn’t have been worse as leader than Grimlock.

Do you have a view of Blaster? Why not post a comment below, or suggest another Transformer to be the subject of an upcoming focus.

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….

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

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 and deserves to be reproduced here.

Bob Budiansky
Image credit:

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.