Interview with IDW Senior Editor John Barber

{mosimage} The has had the opportunity to ask Senior Editor John Barber a few questions about the upcoming Transformers comic books from IDW. More than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise will be out on comic book store shelves next month, so what kind of previews was he able to give for each? What insights could he share thanks to his new position at IDW?

Read on for the interview

Discuss it here


Allspark Interview with John Barber
IDW Senior Editor

Q: John, you're currently serving as both editor and writer for IDW's TRANSFORMERS comics. So what is your view of each role? Is it difficult to switch between them?

 A: It's a little odd. I've been editing for longer than I've been writing–professionally, I mean, I've been writing a lot longer, overall. Coming in to the office, that's where I do the editing. The writing gets done at home. That keeps things separated.

One aspect that's weird is that I was working pretty closely with James Roberts, who's writing TRANSFORMERS: More Than Meets the Eye, starting with when we co-wrote The Death of Optimus Prime one-shot. After that, we were both writing our series, but we'd email each other the scripts, and talk on Skype. And then I wound up becoming the editor on his book, so now I'm giving him notes and stuff, in the editor-to-writer mode, but still working on a writer-to-writer level as well. I think it's all working out well, though. I guess you'd have to ask James.

And Carlos Guzman, who we'd both been working with, is my editor on TRANSFORMERS: Robots in Disguise, and he hasn't been taking it easy on me, which is great.

Q: Trends in comic sales are showing a swing back to individual issues and slightly away from trade paperbacks. Yet sales numbers for IDW's titles still show a prevalence for buyers to pick up trades. With the new titles, will you attempt to put the focus back on individual issues to try to match these trends?

A: Well, I don't think any of that is quite so simple. First off, I'm really glad for everybody that's reading–single issues, trades, electronically. There isn't a right way, or a best way, to read these comics; it's really about what works for you, as the reader/buyer.

IDW has a fairly aggressive collections program, and that's not going anywhere. But I do want to have a sort of excitement where there really is that desire to get the comics as fast as you can…

I mean, I read a lot of comics in trades, or in hardcovers–but there are always a few that I just can't wait that long. I just want to read them the instant they come out. I want that kind of excitement in the TRANSFORMERS books.

And between James and I, we really both want to write individual issues that pack a punch, and that create a good reading experience on their own. There's a lot that's going to happen, very fast.

 Q: Both Marvel and, more famously, DC are undergoing reboots in their major titles. As an editor and writer, can you speak to why reboots make sense, even a soft reboot such as the one that IDW's TRANSFORMERS will take part in?

A: It's a couple things. One is that a reboot hangs a big sign on it that says "here's a place to start reading." Sometimes series become too dense to jump onboard; sometimes there's just that perception that it's impossible to come onboard. I think every issue should be a potential jumping on point–you should be able to pick up any TRANSFORMERS issue and at least be able to enjoy it, even if you maybe don't have the full scope of the gravitas that you get from knowing everything that's come before.

Another thing is that these ongoing sagas have to reinvent themselves sometimes. The Superman I grew up with in the late 80s was very different from the one somebody would have grown up in the 1950s or the 1970s. And different from what's going on in the series now. It's still the same essential qualities of the character and the concept, but wrapped in a fresh coat of paint, or a highlighting of different aspects.

You have to do this in a long-term setting, but even in the short term, sometimes you want to shift the focus, and you want to let people know you're shifting focus. With TRANSFORMERS, we've been on Earth for a long time, and now we're going to be in space. We'll see some new ideas and new conflicts emerge.

Q: Robots in Disguise, the title that you are writing, will detail a CYBERTRON after the AUTOBOT and DECEPTICON war. Very rarely throughout TRANSFORMERS fiction have both sides put down their weapons and attempted to regain peace. Can you talk about your inspirations for this story? Where did you get the idea to explore the conflict from this new angle?

A: James had written a pitch for a post-Chaos issue–this is before I was writing RID, back when I was writing the movie prequels. And James mentioned in there, the idea that the AUTOBOTS, if they won, they'd be seen as an occupying army. I loved that, and I pushed it a little further. I wanted to take away the easy answers for the AUTOBOTS, and really see how the good guys–and I do see them as the good guys–how they deal with a situation that isn't totally clear-cut, black-and-white.

Looking at the real world, looking  back to the post-WWII era was an inspiration. The Allies defeated Germany and Japan and occupied those countries and rebuilt them to become economic powers, and significant allies (with a lower-case "a"). How did that work? Just a couple decades earlier when Germany was defeated in WWI, the rebuilding was an abject disaster. What's the difference between the approaches? What choices will BUMBLEBEE and his crew make?

Q: As opposed to RODIMUS who flies of into space looking for the Knights of CYBERTRON, BUMBLEBEE decides to stay on the TRANSFORMERS homeworld. How does he make this decision? What philosophical differences does he have when compared to RODIMUS?

A: Basically, BUMBLEBEE's attitude has been so affected by the war–this war has lasted much, much, much longer than humans have existed as a species, remember. He's been through so much, and seen so much hate and betrayal that he doesn't believe that CYBERTRON was ever any good. All he sees is the corruption and the endless fighting–but he's still hopeful. He still believes Cybertronians CAN be better than that. So he can only look to the future. This time they can build things right.

RODIMUS, meanwhile, still believes that old Cybertronian culture has values and an importance that shouldn't be discarded. So he's off in search of that original goodness that existed before it was corrupted by war and…well, corruption.

Q: During the conference call, you had hinted that RODIMUS'S team may or may not believe in his quest. So what of BUMBLEBEE's team? Do they share the same beliefs as BUMBLEBEE? Even someone like PROWL?

A: That's a good question. Some agree with Bee, but others…well, it's hard to tell how much somebody like PROWL agrees and how much of his staying is due to him not wanting to give up CYBERTRON. Not wanting to lose anything to anybody. That's definitely something that will be explored. IRONHIDE has a fairly surprising… thing going on. Everybody close to BUMBLEBEE is in agreement about forging a new CYBERTRON, but they don't necessarily agree with Bee's basic premise.

Q: What about the DECEPTICON "prisoners"? Or the returning civilians?

A: They all have their own agendas. The returning Cybertronians especially–this isn't another faction, they don't have a single ideology. It's just… it's everybody else. There are as many philosophies as there are 'bots.

Q: You had mentioned STARSCREAM would play a role as well. Through the eyes of the brand's most infamously cunning traitor and back-stabber, how does the landscape of this new CYBERTRON look?

A: Like an opportunity.

Q: Also mentioned briefly was METALHAWK. Is he in your Robots in Disguise or Roberts' More Than Meets The Eye? What role will he play?

A: James suggested him, but he's a big player in RID.

Q: All of this happens after OPTIMUS PRIME dies. Again. Although it predates your stay, IDW has found multiple ways to incapacitate or otherwise set OPTIMUS PRIME on the sidelines while focusing on other AUTOBOTS. Is this because OPTIMUS PRIME as a character difficult to write? Does he simply overshadow his followers? Being involved in this latest death of OPTIMUS PRIME, why do you think it's beneficial to avoid such a key character to the TRANSFORMERS brand?

A: I don't necessarily think avoiding PRIME is beneficial per se. It's always interesting to put your characters through the wringer, though.

Q: At SDCC, IDW announced the continuation of TRANSFORMERS stories originally told through Marvel comics in the '80s. The worked with Simon Furman in spreading word of his petition for this "Issue #81". Ultimately, how influential was the petition in the decision to go ahead with the title?

A: Oh, man–this actually predates me being at IDW, but I'm pretty excited to get to be a part of this. It’s always great to see fans getting passionate and hearing them say "we want this, we will support this" about something we’re doing. Ultimately there are a lot factors that go in to our decisions but we like knowing what the fans are in to.

Q: Prior to the announcement, the Allspark conducted a pair of interviews with the writer. In both interviews, Simon Furman excitedly shared ideas that he had for the continuation. Has his level of excitement changed since the announcement?

A: You'd have to ask Simon, but he seems very very excited.

Q: It's too early to get into any details about this story, I imagine?

A: It picks up after issue 80. Beyond that…

 Q: IDW will also be going back to the Hearts of Steel universe next year. Only this time instead of just DECEPTICONS and American folk and historical figures, the AUTOBOTS will be fighting interdimensional Lovecraftian monsters as well. How exactly do the two mix?

A: Oh, there are DECEPTICONS and American folk and historical figures, as well. It's a pretty crazy mix, but the story's set in pretty crazy times. It's a good era for that sort of story, because there was so much scientific advancement–and cultural advancement going on–but still so many literal frontiers and unexplored areas of the Earth.

I mean, not that we have all the answers today or anything, but we've all got access to Google Earth on our phones, and we're connected in a way that was unimaginable in the Hearts of Steel era. There was a sense of mystery and the very real possibility that horrors–both scientific and supernatural–could still be out there, in a way that seems far-fetched or fantastical today.

Q: During the conference call, you had mentioned that the majority of IDW's focus will be on the two ongoing titles, and leave little room for side titles. Where does that leave one-off issues such as the Spotlights and issues like "The Death of Optimus Prime"?

A: Well, right now we'll be seeing issues of the ongoings focusing on specific characters, and something like The Death of Optimus Prime would be folded into the main books. We'll have to see how things look as the year progresses, though. Or, er, after the year starts, I guess.

Q: Speaking of one-off issues, at BotCon 2011 Fun Publications mentioned that they would be interested in working with IDW to create a comic book for their Shattered Glass Drift exclusive figure. Have you put any thought into such a book? How do you feel about it?

A: We've been looking into it. That's all I can say at the moment.


We would again like to thank Mr. Barber for taking the opportunity to answer a few of our questions!


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