In March, IDW Publishing is revisiting classic moments from it's most popular franchises in a series of thematic one-shots subtitled "Deviations," and for the Transformers it doesn't get any bigger than the original Transformers: The Movie. Transformers: Deviations revisits the classic G1 era to ask "what if Optimus Prime didn't die and was there to stand against Unicron?"
Transformers: Deviations is by writer Brandon Easton and veteran Transformers artist Priscilla Tramantano, and we spoke to them about this unique opportunity -- and oh yeah, we talk about that epic soundtrack as well.
Newsarama: Brandon, what is Transformers: Deviations about?
Brandon Easton: This is a spin on the extremely popular alternate universe concept seen in sci-fi stories and graphic novels for decades. The idea that we get to peek into a different continuity where events took a strange turn and a whole new reality is born is difficult to resist. In Transformers Deviations, we speculate on the one of the biggest moments in Transformers history – the death of Optimus Prime from the classic Transformers: The Movie (1986).
The story explores the events of the original Generation One Transformers timeline if Optimus Prime had not been critically injured by Megatron in their fateful battle in Autobot City. Anyone who knows the movie and the subsequent stories from the third season of the classic TV series knows that Optimus’ death was a central point in the saga and if he survives a wholly divergent and complex wall of dominoes tumble erratically. We get a universe that deviates from the original timeline in a very interesting way.
So in a nutshell, it’s “What if Optimus Prime survived?”
Nrama: Big as this story could be, Transformers: Deviations is only a one-shot. How'd you narrow down the focus and choose your battles in terms of getting it all in one issue?
Easton: Now that was the hardest part! Again, without spoiling anything, I had to look at the key moments from Transformers: The Movie and figure out which scenes would convey the character journey(s) in the story. There are a lot of cool scenes in Transformers: The Movie but a few are just eye candy while others truly advance the characters and generate dramatic tension.
I carefully selected scenes that would help to send this alternate universe in a new direction without fundamentally changing the spirit of the original movie or making it so unrecognizable that old school fans would be confused or upset. It is a dangerous tightrope to walk but I hope readers out there enjoy what we’ve come up with.
Newsarama: Priscilla, what jumped out about Transformers: Deviations that made this a project you wanted to do?
Priscilla Tramontano: First off, would be a chance to work with the classic Transformers, the G1 era, which I love so dearly! Second, I remember watching the movie as kid and being devastated by the death of Prime, it was such a shock for me to see a cartoon character die! I think I own this to my 10-year-self.
Nrama: This delves straight into the heart of classic Transformers animated continuity. You've drawn the robots in disguise before, but how much did you work to nail the specific looks from that era without being weighed down by it?
Tramontano: Drawing Transformers is always interesting because you're often exposed to a dozen styles. In Transformers: Robots In Disguise I had the liberty to focus more on expressiveness and less on details because that's the style of the show. Now, G1 is full of details and it's been a while but that's how I learn to draw Transformers. Hope I can live up to the challenge. At least is not Bayformers.
Easton: I’m a hardcore Generation One Transformers fan. As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I was fortunate enough to see the very first episode of Transformers during its initial premiere. To borrow a worn cliché, it was literally love at first sight. I’ve been a huge fan of the franchise since that morning in 1984. To be able to write some of my favorite characters of all time is a mighty privilege and I enjoyed every second of the experience.
Transformers: The Movie changed my way of thinking about animation. Up until that point, most of the cartoons I’d watched were action-packed, but sanitary and painless. For example, on G.I. Joe, when Cobra planes and tanks were struck by heavy ordinance, the pilots were still able to inexplicably escape at the last possible second. Or on He-Man, there’d be physical threats by the villains but they’d always end up in a puddle of mud or bumbling into a trap.
In Transformers: The Movie, Megatron (my favorite Transformers character) killed several beloved Autobot characters within the first few minutes of the story. In fact, he executed Ironhide at point-blank range. That scene sent shivers down by spine as a kid and it was then I realized how cool Transformers could be if you took the standards and practices shackles off and told a real war story with giant robots. To be able to play in that sandbox is an incredibly special moment in my writing career.
Nrama: Who are the characters that take center stage in this one?
Easton: Without ruining too much, I will say that Optimus, Hot Rod and Starscream get a lot of “screen time.” There’s a lot more I could say, but I’d rather have people check out the book when it hits the stores.
Tramontano: Grimlock is a favorite of mine and he plays a big part in the movie so it'll be cool to revisit that. But I'm looking forward to the Starscream coronation gag. It´s such an iconic scene, probably my favorite scene out of the 1986 movie, and I want to see how fans will react to this new spin Brandon gave to it!
Nrama: And is there anyone you wish you could have drawn but didn't?
Tramontano: Well, I love Galvatron but sadly he won't be in this.
Nrama: Brandon, what did you look to for research materials, and what were your conversations like with your editor for this project?
Easton: The only research I needed was already locked in my brain. I’m not kidding about being a big Transformers fan. I have an encyclopedia’s worth of Transformers trivia in the back of my head at all times, ready to be brandished at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, I don’t get a chance to geek out with many Transformers fans so the opportunity to actually use my knowledge for a good cause feels wonderful. [laughs]
I’ve watched Transformers: the Movie maybe a thousand times between 1986 and now. I know every scene, every line of dialogue, all the alternate animation takes, all the color tests, all the script changes and just about any bit of arcane foolishness regarding the film. It was as simple as me sitting down and writing the script without notes or having to watch the movie again. It all came flowing out of my brain directly onto the page without visual reference.
To his massive credit, IDW editor John Barber gave me considerable space to develop the story and he was extremely supportive from the outline to the final script. I can’t thank him enough for letting me mix up the Transformers universe a bit.
Nrama: Truth time -- are you going to be listening to the movie soundtrack when drawing this?
Tramontano: [Laughs] I listen to this soundtrack every time I have to get inspired, so yes, obviously!
Easton: [Laughs] Nope. I didn’t. Although I did listen to Vince DiCola’s score a week before I got the gig so the music was rattling around in my skull while putting the story together.
Nrama: This is an interesting concept -- the idea of an alternate history. What does this offer for you two as a writer and artist respectively, and do you see potential for doing it more with Transformers?
Tramontano: As a fan, it's very common for us to play within established universe, drawing fan art, writing fanfics and so on. Imagining what could have been if something had happened differently is part of the fun. I like this idea a great deal. Now, as an artist, things get more complicated because you're dealing with something that people love with all their hearts and you have to be able to tell them you're not trying to replace the original material but just add a new version. I sincerely hope people are open-minded about this book and like the result. Reading Brandon's script, I know I did (as an artist and as a fan).
Easton: Alternate history stories are a sub-genre of speculative fiction and they’re great ways to explore socio-political concepts without alienating readers. I would point to the works of Harry Turtledove or Bryce Zabel to see some compelling takes on how different the world would be if a critical moment in history went in another direction.
Personally, as a writer of speculative fiction and a former U.S. History teacher, I adore alternate histories because they allow us to engage in a different kind of world-building exercise that forces us to work within grounded constraints while still pushing the boundaries of what is/was possible.
With the Transformers franchise, there are already multiple canonized universes in play. From Generation One to Beast Wars to Robots in Disguise to Transformers: Prime to all the Japanese series like Headmasters, Masterforce, Scramble City and Transformers: Victory that continued way after the original American run ended. Not to mention the various comic books from North America, United Kingdom and Japan.
Tramontano: And if this should became a thing? Totally. I can think of at least 10 Transformers moments where things could take a different path and I'd love to see the results.
Easton: I believe that there’s tremendous potential to explore more Generation One alternate universe stories because the first two seasons of the classic TV show had so many crazy concepts that were tied up in under twenty-two minutes. I’d love to mess around with Deviations versions of major episodes and pivotal battles that all Transformers fans fondly remember.
Nrama: And big picture, what are the themes and what are the feelings you want to evoke with people who read this book?
Tramontano: I want older people to remember that feeling when they first saw Transformers: The Movie. A good dose of nostalgia but also a pinch of surprise for where the story is going. And for the younger people, I want them to feel what was like to see that movie for the first time. I want them to imagine “Dare (To Be Stupid)” playing as they read through the pages. I guess that's it.
Easton: Her work is fantastic. Period.
I know she’s going to do wonders with my script and I’m waiting with bated breath to see what the final product will look like. Priscilla has the right combination of vehicle design, character weight, action sequencing and flowing line work that resembles animation that will perfectly compliment an alternate Transformers: The Movie story.
I’d like all Transformers fans to check this out because it doesn’t matter when you became a fan, Transformers: The Movie is one of the most important stories in the entire franchise. However, I want all the lucky Generation One folks who got to see the film on the big screen in 1986 to return to that magical moment from our childhoods. I don’t believe in living in nostalgia and pining for a world that is long gone, but there’s something to getting the chance to revisit warm feelings and times when our biggest concerns revolved around which breakfast cereal to purchase for the weekend.
In terms of themes, I’ll only say it has to deal with faith in the face of absolute destruction. Holding onto what you believe is right no matter the cost. There’s a line in “The Touch” by Stan Bush that goes: “You never get hit/when you’re back’s to the wall/Gonna fight to the end/and you’re taking it all…”
That’s the core principle of the story. ‘Til All Are One!