Hailing frequencies open

All Hail Megatron writer Shane McCarthy speaks out
January 2009


Comics writer Shane McCarthy 

When Shane McCarthy accepted the task of creating a bold new direction for IDW's Transformers comics he warned that not everybody was going to like it. And sure enough his 12-part epic All Hail Megatron, in which the Decepticons have defeated their age old enemies the Autobots, has divided opinion like no other.

There have been acrimonious exchanges on IDW's forums which have even led to some posters being barred, but love or hate it, everybody has an opinion on AHM. But what of Shane himself? What does he make of the controversy and what does he have in store for us his readers for the remaining issues and beyond?

Read on for the answers to these questions and more...

 

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Q1) Welcome Shane. Thank you for agreeing to this Q&A. For anyone who may not be familiar with you, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with comics, IDW and Transformers?

Well I live in Australia, although I think most people know that by now. This means I'm extremely far away from any of the major conventions, publishers and (as Ryall likes to joke) running water and electricity (oh and paved roads).

Getting into the industry meant that I needed to put it all on the line and fly to the States to see if I couldn't make something happen. I'd tried the pitching thing but, as any writers out there would know, it's next to impossible to get in with a cold pitch as a writer.

As luck would have it I managed to get a break and my first work was for DC on 'Legends of the Dark Knight.' It was extremely exciting to be working on Batman and then to be asked back again for another shot. (Bob) Schreck was an amazing editor to work for.

I honestly can't remember how I first came in contact with IDW. It was either through Ashley or Ben (or both). Either way I'd gotten to know the great guys there and then the opportunity came up regarding TFs.

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Q2) On your blog SMacTalk you describe Perth, where you live, as 'one of the top ten most furtherest away from everywhere places on the planet'. How tricky is it to work with other members of IDW when they are based half the world away in the States?

It can be tricky sometimes. Sometimes the communication can be hard when it gets down to the wire, they need an answer quickly and I'm asleep. That rarely happens though but I guess that's really as tricky as it gets.

We talk a LOT over email though. And I never get left to my own devices. We talk a lot about what I'd like to do, or what Hasbro is wanting or whatever.

Although, come to think of it, it is nice that when I'm working I can do so uninterrupted, haha. All the emails are there in the morning for me and once I get through those I know I'm alone (pleasantly).

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Q3) In All Hail Megatron the Decepticons have conquered Earth, yet all the destruction in the first three issues was in New York and Washington. Are we going to see any other battlefronts such as Europe or Australia, or other frontiers in the trans-galactic war (Cybertron excepted)?

We'll see a few other battlefronts but nothing that'll be explored too heavily. This is because of a mix of things actually. One is that it's not actually that sort of story in a way-- it's not simply a 'Decepticons take over all of Earth' story but more about the cost of victory. Also there were some understandable concerns from Hasbro regarding gratuitous destruction that I understand and completely agree with. This is their property and they need to be careful about how it's treated.

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Q4) AHM is now a quarter of the way through and it's clear from postings on the various message boards that readers either love the new direction or are furious about it. I can't think of any other TF book I've read recently which has had such a polarising effect.

 

Well, since I was so late getting this interview to you, it's now halfway through so I'm guessing it's even more polarised now? I don't know. I think we've definitely found our audience though which is great. Not everyone is going to like everything and I hope that never changes. I think that's the beauty of how IDW is handling the license though, there's something there for everyone. If you're not a fan of AHM, there's the Spotlights and other mini series' you can grab and vice versa.

Clearly I'm hoping people enjoy the book though and always work to make that a reality.

You've said elsewhere that you knew a change of direction for the comic would 'piss off' some fans, but have you been surprised by the level of antipathy from some quarters? How do you feel about it?

I hope when people read that comment about 'pissing fans off' they understood that it was something I *thought* might happen, not something I *wanted* to happen. There's a big difference between thought and want and I definitely never set out to upset anyone.

I guessed it would because I knew AHM brought about a change of direction though and I've been reading comics long enough to know that change is seldom embraced easily. I mean, hell, I'm a comic fan and I've had my moments too, "Superman with long hair???"

 

Am I surprised by it? I don't know. Maybe. I don't read a lot of online stuff though so I guess I'm not fully aware of it. I do hear about it, obviously, and I occasionally drop in places online (less the busier I'm getting).

But how do I feel about it? More power to them I think. Everyone's free to speak their mind and this is the best part of being a comic fan. I used to *love* going into the comic stores first thing on a Saturday morning and spending half a day there talking about everything that was going on (yes I was a big ol' geek...actually what am I saying 'was' for?? haha).

Like anything though I think it's important that both sides hear each other out and look after each other. We all love Transformers and we're lucky to have the opportunity to talk with others that share the same passion.

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Q5) If I may I'd like to surmise some of that criticism and put it to you so you can tackle it head on. Complaints seem to be:

a) AHM bears little relation to the continuity established by Simon Furman, for example Cybertron is now habitable where previously it was toxic; the intergalactic war is now Earth and Cybertron, and there's no mention of Ore 13, the dead universe, etc.

 

Well I wouldn't say 'little resemblance' but I guess I'm biased, haha. Although Cybertron will be addressed and was always on my mind and the war (at least from what I saw in the previous IDW books) seems to have spent a lot of time on Earth already so that's no big change. Basically some things have been left to be addressed elsewhere and others are waiting patiently for the spotlight down the track.

I guess, and I could easily be wrong here (and often am) that much of the fear has stemmed from the belief that we're over looking things due to a lack of respect or a lack of knowledge? Again I could be wrong. I hope though that people understand that we really do love the characters and the universe. I read everything that had been put out by IDW and there's no disrespect of what Simon's done coming from me. I grew up reading Simon's books and still have those big format TF comics in my back room. There's no way I'm going to spit on anything that man's done.

In the end though AHM was created to be a fun jumping on point for a lot of readers and judging by the reaction and feedback we've managed to do just that.

 

b) characters were given modern redesigns by EJ Su seem to have reverted to their original 80s looks (eg Starscream and the jets and Hot Rod).

Some of them were yes. This was a combination of a few different factors but, in the end, no decision was made out of disrespect to anything that went before. We just wanted to deliver a good, fun approach with our new team and see where it took us. Hasbro, obviously, had some input; we had some input...it all meshed together. In my mind though these are characters that are able to change the way they look whenever they see fit. I don't think it's something that's necessarily easy, it can't be done in the blink of an eye or five times a day but if they want to they can. If they see something that catches their eye or something they think better suits who they are or how they're going about things at that time...zap.

c) some say 'not enough' has happened in AHM so far, and issues 1-3 could have been condensed to one issue (I believe one reader had a go at doing just that). Are any of these criticisms fair?

Well I think you could condense just about any story into something smaller. It's what Readers Digest does right?

In the end I think anything *could* be condensed down but it's the *should* that's debatable. Some people don't like the pace, some love the pace.

Either way though I'm always looking to put more into an issue and give readers more bang for their buck. If I didn't manage that in 1 - 3 for some people, hopefully that'll be different in other issues.

And as for fair? I think all criticism is fair as long as it's articulate. Everyone has the right to speak their mind.

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Q6) One of my favourite scenes in AHM so far is Frenzy's debut. You've given his abilities a new, deadly twist, and in doing so have redefined the character (for the better I think). Are there any other characters in line for a re-imagining either in AHM or future spotlights?

I think by now people have seen my new take on Perceptor, so there's one. A lot of AHM has actually been me trying to inject as much as possible into the characters as I can. I'm enjoying pushing Cliffjumper further, I'm enjoying redefining Kup some more and taking new looks at guys like Blurr and Roadbuster. Each guy should have his own flavor, his own unique taste and it's something I try to do wherever possible.

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Issue 6 with Drift on the cover 

Q7) Much has been made of this new Autobot 'Drift' who we got to meet in AHM #6. What can you tell us about him? Why create a new character rather than say, adapt an existing Autobot?

He's a fun one is ol' Drift. Basically he's a bit of an outsider and keeps to himself to a certain degree (sometimes not by choice). He has a slightly different approach to the war to most of his fellow Autobots but all of that will be explained in his Spotlight as will the reason why I couldn't just adapt an existing Autobot.

His creation really was something that surprised us all though. He wasn't created to save the day or any such thing. I had a fun idea for a character that Hasbro took a liking too and were kind enough to let us go ahead with.

And it definitely wasn't a case of me wanting to put my own favorite guy in there above all else. My three favorites are already in AHM and, sadly, Drift isn't one of them.

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Q8) AHM #1 finished on one of the best cliffhangers I've seen in a while: Optimus Prime badly damaged and offline. Since then we've learned of a traitor in the Autobot camp who is responsible for the dramatic downturn in Autobot fortunes. Can you tell us if Prime's condition and the traitor are linked?

Oh Prime's condition and the traitor are definitely linked. Absolutely.

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Q9) When will we learn the identity of the traitor? Can you give us any hints as to who it might be?

Issue 8. And it's an Autobot. And it's not Wheelie.

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Q10) Following Spotlight Blurr, which seemed to be very well received, do you have plans to write more spotlights? If so which? If IDW left it up to you which character would you want to write a spotlight for?

Again this is a weird question because I was so late on this. Sorry. By now people know about Spotlight Drift. And yes, there's others beyond that. I love the idea of the Spotlight series. As for which character? Well IDW is very kind enough to let me choose (if they haven't already been done of course) and I already got to pick the one I was most looking forward to (which hasn't been announced yet).

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Q11) AHM is a 12-part story - what happens after for you? Will you be staying on with Transformers? Any projects on the horizon that you're able to tell us about?

I'll stay on with Transformers for as long as they'll have me. I love working with the team, I love how IDW supports the property and the books they put out. I love how the fans have treated me and the mail we've received, it's been a blast. As to what? We'll wait and see. Hasbro and IDW have both loved AHM so we'll see where that takes us.

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Q12) Lastly, a quick word about the AHM artists Guido Guidi and Trevor Hutchinson. They are doing great work on the book and you seem very proud. How much input do you have into how your story is illustrated? What are they like to work with?

They're both amazing aren't they? Incredible.

Issue 1 cover Issue 3 incentive cover 

Guido is an absolute delight to work with; he's the man. Everything he does just blows me away. As to input? Well we're all in there discussing it as it goes along. My scripts are very descriptive about what I'd like in there but the more Guido and I work together the less they need to be because we're really understanding what the other one wants. Usually how it works is I ask for something, Guido comes back with something ten times better than I could have hoped and all is right with the world. Sometimes we nut things out further but Guido really doesn't need anyone looking over his shoulder, he's great.

Trev is another brilliant member of the team. I'm very happy to have been the crazy bastard that brought Trev to IDW's attention. Trev is an old friend of mine and extremely good at what he does. I had an idea for covers that could be different to the norm and when Chris and I chatted about it he loved the idea to death (again another example of how supportive IDW have been). Trev had a distinctive look in mind and we went from there. Trev and I talk a lot about each cover before he starts work. We'll talk about themes and images and possible approaches. Sometimes Trev will create a masterpiece in a vacuum and other times there might be something specific I'll suggest. Either way he works his insane magic and creates covers I'd just kill to own as posters for my wall.

It's just a real joy to be working with people that have a real passion for what they do. I couldn't imagine anything better.

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Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Shane. It's been a real privilege.

Remember you can read more from Shane at his blog SMacTalk and the latest issues of All Hail Megatron are on sale in the OneShallStand store