London welcomes IDW's leading lights

Chris Ryall, Simon Furman, and Nick Roche at Orbital Comics in London
Saturday June 9th, 2007
report by Steve Bax

MEET AND GREET: TF artist Nick Roche, writer Simon Furman, and IDW big cheese Chris Ryall meet and greet fans at the Orbital Manga store in London.

It's not every day you meet the people behind your favourite comics. So I was thrilled to hop aboard a Tube train and travel to Leicester Square in London to meet three of them - IDW editor in chief Chris Ryall, rising star Nick Roche, and the living legend that is writer Simon Furman.

And to think I very nearly missed them. The first reports were that the trio would be signing books and meeting fans at Orbital Comics in Charing Cross Road. So we went there only to find the basement store a little quieter than expected. Apparently the signing had moved up the road to Orbital's larger premises in Upper St Martin's Lane, but since it was close to 1pm by then we feared Chris, Simon and Nick may have gone. Luckily they were still there, happily signing copies of their books, and getting acquainted with the people who buy them.

I'd gone armed with a copy of the Movie trade paperback and Movie Prequel book on a mission to get them signed and also bought a handful of TF Spotlights. The first guy I spoke to was Nick. He signed a copy of Spotlight Kup and I congratulated him on the book (which as you probably know, he illustrated AND wrote). I said I thought it had been an impressive debut story, different and original in the best possible way.

Nick was very personable and easy to talk to, and it was obvious to me that he was a man in his element - living the dream you might say. He's a fan of Transformers and has been for many years. His eyes lit up when we harked back to the old days of Marvel UK and he recalled how the comic would arrive in Ireland on a Saturday morning and he'd go and buy it. Now he gets to work with the man who wrote all those amazing stories. As Nick said, sometimes he has to pinch himself and say "that's Simon Furman".

Nick spoke a bit about how he got the gig at IDW through a friend of his. But he'd previously sent samples of work to the old TF comics licensees, Dreamwave, and never got anywhere. He drew Chris Charger (Ryall's letters page motif) for Infiltration #0, so he's been involved in the new comics right from the very beginning.

ON FORM: Nick draws Galvatron for a fan and said he'd love to write and illustrate a Rumble spotlight.

Having impressed with his distinctive art style and recently proved that he's an imaginative story teller too, the obvious question was when (rather than if) we are going to see another Nick Roche spotlight. I put the question to Nick and he's keen to do it. In fact he has even been kicking around in his mind an idea for a Rumble story.

Nick said it could tie into the Soundwave spotlight and explain why Rumble didn't show-up with Ravage and Laserbeak for the mission to Earth. He's been on the TF equivalent of a pub crawl and had the Autobot Micromaster, Stakeout, on his tail.

I think he could be onto something with the idea, but whether it sees the light of day will depend on Chris giving it the Ryall seal of approval.

Chatting to Simon Furman was another hugely enjoyable experience. It was an honour to finally meet a man whose stories have captured my imagination since 1985 (and still read as well today as they did all those years ago). I could have happily chatted to Simon for hours but I was conscious that I was probably asking him questions he's been answering for ever. Yet he still came across as genuinely delighted to meet fans and was happy to throw out a teaser or three about upcoming stories without giving the game away.

LIVING LEGEND: Simon Furman shares a laugh with fans on Saturday.

We talked Marvel UK, and he joked he'd been the Jack of all trades on TF UK, writing everything from the opening Transformation page, to one of my personal favourites the next week teaser, the letters (yes, he was the voice behind Soundwaves, Grim Grams and Dread Tidings), and of course the stories. He signed a copy of the 1988 TF annual for somebody, and revealed the editor's name in that book is in fact a made up one. Furman did the editing, but as he was also the writer it was necessary to invent a pseudonym.

I said I was amazed that even after 22 years Simon is still able to come up with fresh ideas and asked how he does it. He laughed and said he daren't think about where his inspiration comes from for fear of the well drying up! He said he lays out the 'markers' for upcoming stories (key events) but always leaves himself room to inject any ideas that come to him at a later date. And his fertile imagination is currently thinking TF Revelation and beyond - the 'fourth story arc' as he calls it.

Among the comics he brought along was a copy of the upcoming Spotlight Galvatron, and I had a flick through. It's got post-Escalation scenes in it, plus Sideswipe and Hound and flashbacks to Galvatron as a crew member on the First Ark. Galvatron has been inhabiting the 'dead universe' introduced in Spotlight Nightbeat, and is a separate character from Megatron in the IDW universe - perhaps even a rival. Simon said the door could be open to Rodimus Prime and Hot Rod co-existing.

I PREDICT A RYALL: Chris met with the BBC while in London and revealed the next Spotlight could be a character from the upcoming TF/Avengers crossover.

He said most of the Spotlight choices had been his, but Chris had specifically requested that they do an Optimus Prime one-shot to balance things up with Megatron getting centre stage in the Megatron Origin four-parter. Simon warned everyone not to look at the last page of Spotlight Galvatron because it contains "a big reveal" and said Spotlight Prime also ends on a significant note, and this one-shot will generate plot threads that last far into the series (post Revelation).

He also asked if I was fond of Ark 19 and said "don't get too attached to it", so it sounds like the Autobot HQ is set for an imminent demise in Devastation. Could it be at the hands of Sixshot, or the Machination, or maybe even a Nightbeat act of sabotage? Simon, the tease he is, wasn't saying, so we'll have to wait and see on that one.

Oh, and he also mentioned that Unicron will have a role in the second Beast Wars volume 'The Ascending', which starts in August 2007.

UNTHINKABLE?: Could Wheelie (selling at the store for �28!) get his own Spotlight? It's possible says Chris.

Big boss Chris, apart from appearing at Orbital, was also in London for talks with the BBC. I asked what he'll be doing with the Beeb but he wasn't allowed to say. Simon hinted it had something to do with a certain major upcoming event, and the Movie seemed the likely explanation. Chris told me he's really pleased with the Spotlights and revealed they've outsold the main book at times. He said he's happy to keep making them as long as the demand continues, but the challenge is to pick a character with wide enough appeal. I suggested Grimlock and Chris joked that Simon would never want to write a Grimlock story.

He said the next Spotlight could be a character who we haven't met yet, and who has been invented for the Transformers/New Avengers crossover. This will allow IDW to capitalise on all the Marvel readers who will be discovering (or rediscovering) Transformers through the crossover, and create a spotlight that fans of both franchises can get excited about. It certainly sounds like an interesting idea.

We also joked about the possibility of a Wheelie Spotlight, and Chris - in all seriousness - said he's not opposed to the idea. In fact he is excited by the prospect of taking a character who is generally ridiculed and disliked and making him cool. If it happens it would be a risk but if done right I really feel it could work.

So that was my encounter with Messrs Roche, Furman and Ryall, top blokes all three of them. It's brilliant that they take the time to meet the readers and chat to them and I for one can't wait to see what they do next.

JOB DONE: Alex and Steve Bax leave Orbital with signed comics and chuffed at meeting the good folks at IDW.