In 2007, a bunch of transforming alien robots wreaked havoc on Earth, and took the world by storm.
No, not those transforming robots. We’re talking about The Incredible Change-Bots, Jeffrey Brown’s no-holds-barred parody/homage of those great cartoons and toys from the 1980s. Now, BigRig, Shootertron and the rest – along with some all-new faces – return this month in Top Shelf’s Incredible Change-Bots Two a tale of cybernetic dysfunction that promises to be a sequel about giant robots that doesn’t suck.
We took the opportunity to talk with Brown about his new book, and ask him stupid questions about 1980s cartoons and action figures, because we can.
Newsarama: Jeff, what made you want to revisit the destructive world of the Change-Bots?
Jeffrey Brown: The first book was fun, and afterward I'd done some shorts with the characters, and I liked the idea of working with them more. I had the idea of doing a story of Shootertron wandering Earth without his memory, so I started from there and of course had to find a way to bring everyone else back to, because you can't tell these stories without Balls.
Nrama: [pause] That last sentence begs to be taken out of context.
In your extensive and ever-expanding oeuvre of comics, how does The Incredible Change-Bots rank in terms of popularity and recognizability next to your other work? Would you say it's brought new people to your material?
Brown: I think Change-Bots is becoming one of my most popular works, along with autobiography and cats. It's definitely brought new people to my work. I like to think that as different as each of my books can be, they all inform and feed off each other, and I hope that people who like Change-Bots can appreciate books like Clumsy and vice versa.
Nrama: Since the first book came out, we've seen not one but two Transformers films, with a third, God help us, on the way. What did you make of them, and did you get any inspiration for the sequel off of them?
Brown: It's mostly been coincidence, and my reference has always been to the original toys, cartoons and Marvel comics. I was originally hoping to have Change-Bots Two come out last fall, but didn't finish it in time, and the only reason it's coming out closer to the release of the third Transformers film is that I kept being delayed in getting the book done.
I thought the first film was entertaining enough, despite the extra hour of unnecessary exposition. The second film was... I watched it, I think? I know it was on the TV and I was in the room, at least...
Nrama: Change-Bots Two shows us a kinder, gentler Shootertron. What made you want to get inside his psyche, or hard drive or whatever it is Change-Bots have?
Brown: There was actually an issue of Transformers where Megatron loses his memory and gets used by some criminal on his crime spree before finally remembering who he is. It got me thinking about the idea of Shootertron's personality, and how much of it would be part of who he really was, nature versus nurture and all that, as well as whether or not he would change.
I originally planned on making the whole book just explore those ideas, but then I felt like it wouldn't be interesting enough to sustain interest over a whole book.
Nrama: The first book inspired a transforming vinyl toy for Balls, which results in many Google results that I can't unsee. Any plans to do more of those?
Brown: I still hope to have the vinyl Balls (and Microwave) toys come out, so we'll see. Toys are expensive to produce, so maybe after the second book there'll be enough support to finally make those happen.
Nrama: What are your favorite new Change-Bots/redesigns for this story?
Brown: I like that Afterburnerbot is just a head now. I'd like to do more with him and his new robot form. And the mustaches that appear on Jimmy Jr. and (in a more subtle way) Stinky.
Nrama: How do you plot the book out? Do you do it more one page at a time, or do you have a more elaborate plotting process?
Brown: I start with an overall plotline about what will happen in a general sense, and about how many pages each part will take. Then I start to plan it in more detail, figuring out what will happen on a page-by-page level.
Once I've got that set, I'll start drawing, taking on five to ten pages at a time, allowing for things to change a little here and there. By not plotting out each page completely beforehand, there's also a lot of room to let things surprise me on each page.
Nrama: Also, what's different about working in color?
Brown: I color by hand, and finish each page as a complete original - drawing, color and text. So any errors are a bit harder to correct than when I'm just working in black and white line art. So with Change-Bots I do simple thumbnails for the penciling stage, and tend to be more careful about arranging compositions before I start drawing.
Nrama: What are your most favoritest obscure Transformers/GoBots? I'm quite fond of “Tux,” the GoBot renegade that turns from a Rolls-Royce limo to an evil robot with a top hat. That's the robot Diddy would have, if he had a robot.
Brown: I don't think I have any - I'm not sure I'm familiar enough with the obscure ones. If there's a GoBot with a top hat, though, that would have to be near the top of the list.
Nrama: For that matter, what are some of your favoritest weird toys/cartoons from the 1980s and why?
Brown: I'd say the Sectaurs. I never actually had the toys, but I watched the cartoon and collected the comic book. I really loved that comic book. Thundarr was another good one.
There were so many good cartoons in the 1980's, it's like the golden age of children's cartoons. How can you beat TurboTeen? They don't make them like that anymore.
Nrama: What do you feel is the fundamental appeal of transforming robots?
Brown: I think it has to do with pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon of seeing faces in things - the way the front of a car can look like a face, for example. So it makes that seem real, and there's something magical about that idea. Plus, with the toys, it's like getting two toys in one.
Nrama: And why do we keep going back to those darn cartoons and toys of the 1980s? It's been a while, but they keep getting revived as new cartoons/new toys/big-budget movies. I think we're this close to revivals of Sky Commanders or Spiral Zone.. Though Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future deserve a comeback, darn it.
Brown: I think part of it is the easy payday - a new property may be a megahit or a huge bust, but with something old being resurrected, you figure you're guaranteed to have a certain audience at least. Plus, those old cartoons were so weird - they got away with some things that seem to get watered down in today's television.
Nrama: Do you foresee a Change-Bots Three? Hey, that rhymed!
Brown: I do, but I don't know if I foresee a Change-Bots Four [also rhymed!]
[Newsarama Note: No, it doesn’t.]
Change-Bots Three will also contain my G.I. Joe satire, and will theoretically be the apocalyptic end. Of course, I'll no doubt leave room for future stories, and there's always tackling life back on Electronocybercircuitron. After Incredible Change-Bots Three, it may just depend on if I've gotten bored with the characters yet.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Brown: I'm starting to work on a couple autobiographical projects, one with stories about fatherhood and religion, and the other an expansion of my Process mini-comic that's being fed by teaching comics at The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago.
At least, I think that's what I'm going to work on, I may change my mind several times before either of those projects gets rolling.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Brown: Right now I'm also working on a bunch of large drawings of Change-Bots, to go with an art show in the spring with all of the artwork from Change-Bots Two.[Newsarama Note: Check out the exclusive image from this show at the top of this story.]
The biggest drawing will be a 15x20" battle scene, which will be the biggest drawing I've done in more than ten years and I'm pretty excited to work on.
The Incredible Change-Bots Two invades Earth comic shops in March.