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View Full Version : The fabled Transformers anthology comic.


Terome
2011-06-14, 11:52 PM
Over on the Allspark, talk of a possible Marvel #81 and/or a Animated Season 4 comic has mutated into that semi-perennial discussion of a Transformers anthology comic, where three or more continuities can run alongside each other in peace and harmony.

Which is all well and good, and would be a rare instance of IDW taking the advantage of the brand's strengths instead of pushing uphill to try and legitimise its weaknesses, but a quick glance at the shelves of any given comic shop tells me that anthologies are out of fashion. Is there a good reason for this or is it some dopey follow-the-leader thing? As a denizen of the small press circuit, I can't conceive of any reason why anthology comics are not both crowd-pleasing and cost-cutting.

I know that they are the meat and potatoes of the Japanese market, but are the Europeans, who approach comics like grown-ups, still keen on the idea?

And wouldn't a nice run of quick-and-dirty comics be just the think to perk this place up a bit? We could put on our Beast Wars hats, have more than three writers to talk about, let the ideas in, see a few delves into that Transformers: Prime show bible they keep banging on about, have a weird run with those wacky Power Core Combiner things, or Rescue Heroes or goddamn.

It can't be that hard, surely?

inflatable dalek
2011-06-15, 07:33 AM
I suspect the big problem is that most Transformers continuities aren't really different enough from each other to work in an anthology format, apart from the designs it would pretty much feel like a comic with three stories all about the same characters.

Terome
2011-06-15, 02:27 PM
Yes, hadn't thought of that. But surely that could be overcome by a diligent editor? Measures like not having Optimus be the focus of more than one segment at a time, shooting down pitches that are too familiar to things already published / in development and just generally keeping an eye on things should do the trick. It could also help the artists and writers to focus on what makes each continuity different rather than doing that thing where every continuity eventually becomes a weird echo of the Sunbow cartoon on a long enough timeline.

Cliffjumper
2011-06-15, 03:58 PM
I can't conceive of any reason why anthology comics are not both crowd-pleasing and cost-cutting.

I guess the logic is that it actually divides potential audiences. Take Transformers - if someone only likes G1, are they going to pay full book price for 7 pages? IDW doing different series for various continuities allows them best of both worlds while also offering relative value for money - for the same price, your G1 fan has 22 pages. If they like the Movie stuff instead or as well, there are books out there for them. So why buy the anthology?

Anything else? Just not popular enough. No-one talks about BW or RiD or UT or even Animated anymore, because they all caught the attention at the time but never really stuck.

The one way it could work is if they were able to get a heavy-hitter on one of the stories per anthology - Bryan Hitch, Jim Lee, Warren Ellis, John Cassaday etc. Someone with a rep who's only ever going to do these 6-7 pages on Transformers (now, as a pedant block), so people will buy the comic just to see their unique take on things. Give the other two sections over to up-and-coming writers.

The problem there is it's Hell to attract names like that to a tinpot toy licence comic - Marvel and DC have a hard time getting some of these people to work on flagship properties, IDW's magic bean-based budget isn't likely to swing things unless they're a secret fanboy (and we'd know about that by now).

I'd love to see an anthology, especially as something like RiD would give the right writer some real scope to go mental and shake things up, but I can see why IDW aren't interested.

Personally I think Mosaics and a lot of similar fan comics do the right sort of job.

Blackjack
2011-06-15, 04:34 PM
I don't think it would be feasible. I mean, while Animated, Beast Wars and so on have a cult following, only said cult would ever buy those series anymore. When the Movieverse craze passes, Movieverse comics would likewise not sell that well. Weren't the BW comics IDW made having worse sales compared to even the IDW-G1 comics?

The ones that would probably stick would be IDW's G1, because multiple continuities never really sell well other than maybe reprints.

Personally, while I think something like Animated Season Four would be great, it is what Fun Publications, Mosaics and its ilk are for.

I mean, I for one would like to see more Beast era stories, some stories that would tie plot holes in RID and the Unicron Trilogy, I would love to see a good Sky-Byte story. But sadly, they aren't liable to come out in a mass distribution comic.

I mean, Transformers isn't exactly the biggest franchise out there. While the movies may give it a popularity boost, I don't think IDW's main two continuities right now (G1 and Movieverse) are selling quite as well as stuff from DC and Marvel, the two biggest comic mongers right now. There's no need to confuse the general reader, nor feasible economically, to produce comics for other continuities.

Denyer
2011-06-15, 05:22 PM
surely that could be overcome by a diligent editor?
This was meant to be the selling point of other books.

inflatable dalek
2011-06-15, 06:27 PM
An annual one off special like that Dreamwave Summer thing could be doable though, with a large enough gap between them it would be more of a special "Event".

Cliffjumper
2011-06-15, 07:07 PM
The Summer Special that sold half as much as the ongoing was at the time, despite extensive publicity, Pat Lee (make all the jokes you like, the guy was box office for the title at the time... Go back and read contemporary reviews of War & Peace) the first-ever appearance of RiD in a comic and the first Beast Wars story real people could read for seven years? IDW aren't smart from a commercial point of view, but I still can't see them doing that in a hurry. It largely proves the problems with an anthology.

There'd be no point in doing an anthology if it was annual anyway. Once a year you get 8-10 pages on some forgotten continuity - what's the point in that? The biggest problem with the DW RiD strip is that it's just there, not connecting with anything... If you didn't have working knowledge of the cartoon you'd barely have chance to adapt to the setting before the thing's over. You couldn't do an arbitrary character piece on Armada Wheeljack randomly like that as few reading the book will know who he is (I only remember because the toy was pretty tidy), let alone anything about the universe he inhabits.

You'd be better off ignoring the other continuities and just having stand-alone or Coda-style issues in the ongoing between plot arcs, or - whisper it - running a Spotlight series alongside that allowed focus on more neglected characters.

Of course, the trick is to make this Spotlight series more of a try-out for new writers and different approaches, rather than another limb to be infected by the cancer of the main book. Of course, commercial considerations meant that rather than getting Spotlight: Someone Interesting Who Hasn't Been Done to Death, we got Spotlights covering people who were major players in the main book.

tl;dr: IDW are dicks.

inflatable dalek
2011-06-15, 07:17 PM
I hadn't realised/forgot the Summer Special did that badly, goes to show really. Of course, the American comic market isn't really geared towards anthologies anyway. The UK market is still pretty much nothing else (and indeed, the original Transformers comic was effectively one, even if we don't tend to think of it as such because we now only look at it for the original UK material rather than anything from the US comic or other reprints), but you'd never get a TF book that wasn't at least two thirds reprints ala the original form of the Titan one.

The Spotlight thing is actually a neat idea, do six or so issues a year peppered out evenly with the "Big" characters (though how many are left to do?) and the more left field, obscure or other continuities choices. I think I've said before that the best way for Beast Wars to return to comics would be Spotlights, small self contained stories focusing on just the title character and one or two others within the TV show. It'd be the perfect way to avoid everything that missed the bloody point of the two previous minis (and Christ, remember how much we all loved that first issue? The downturn between the love that got and the apathy/annoyance at the last one of the second run was amazingly steep even by IDW standards).

Cliffjumper
2011-06-15, 07:41 PM
The Spotlight thing would only really work if IDW were prepared to let it be a moderate seller. The main reason it became Spotlight Big Names is (apparently) because they lost their guts after the Nightbeat sales hit. In short, it would require IDW to put their art above their finances, and they're a company which get by entirely from renting other people's ideas, so we can probably put a bullet in the back of that one's head.

I think anthology-style stories would work, but not with other continuities. Working knowledge of the whole thing would be required for them not to be disorientating for the more casual reader, and only the lunatics now have working knowledge of the whole lot.

What's the need for character studies of Beast Wars characters in a format that the era has never, ever worked well in again? Who's gaining advantage there? The G1 universe is the biggest in Transformers' history, with vast unexplored potential. You could write just as good a story on Dogfight as you could on Rhinox, with much less pages wasted on establishing the universe. I mean, what about BW needs to be expanded upon? The TV series is already full of great characters and excellent plots - do we really need to be told how noble Dinobot is through the medium of sequential art?

These dead continuities are better suited to fan/convention/club comic rubbish - shit like Timelines.

inflatable dalek
2011-06-15, 07:52 PM
The Spotlight thing would only really work if IDW were prepared to let it be a moderate seller. The main reason it became Spotlight Big Names is (apparently) because they lost their guts after the Nightbeat sales hit. In short, it would require IDW to put their art above their finances, and they're a company which get by entirely from renting other people's ideas, so we can probably put a bullet in the back of that one's head.

Well, the cynical response would be they seem determined to make all their books only moderate sellers but more seriously... If it could hover around the sales for the second tier G1 books like Wreckers or Ironhide (all of which were 7000ish copies IIRC) it might be doable from their POV. Though as it's been a while since the last one it might not even be that much worth their while. I suspect the complete **** up that was the handling of the Revelation stuff (trying to be both standalone stories and a highly involved mini series wrapping up everything was doomed to fail) managed to put a lot of people off for good by moving far too far from the original remit of the Spotlights.


These dead continuities are better suited to fan/convention/club comic rubbish - shit like Timelines.

Christ, that's harsh, no continuity deserves the fan comic stuff. "Hey, lets do a comic where the Autobots are like the Decepticons and the Decepticons are like the Autobots. That won't be both crap and slightly pointless beyond "Lol, Optimus is a wanker" style reactions that will get old by the third page".

Terome
2011-06-15, 07:54 PM
In fact, didn't IDW release something like a monthly 'Transformers Magazine' with some Beast Wars and Dreamwave bits and pieces for about five minutes back when we held them in good faith? I guess the fact that such a thing was swallowed by history might be an indicator of how well it went. Though it may be safe to say that they half-arsed it.

A single-continuity anthology book should have been what the Spotlights morphed into, come to think of it. Although Spotlight: Mirage was terrible, it at least represented an attempt to do something different with some new blood. Now if it had boasted a Dogfight back-up strip...

Cliffjumper
2011-06-15, 08:29 PM
If it could hover around the sales for the second tier G1 books like Wreckers or Ironhide (all of which were 7000ish copies IIRC) it might be doable from their POV.

Which it wouldn't - Ironhide features a long-standing popular character who's well-recognised by casual fans; Last Stand featured a bunch of popular characters (the Wreckers have been a stone gathering moss since US fans started to acknowledge the UK comics 10 years ago; quasi-revivals by 3H and Dreamwave point the way) drawn by a popular artist within fandom with a cast that ensured hardcore fans went out and brought paper copies when they'd been bludgeoned into apathy by IDW's other input. The sales figures for Last Stand are a very good numerical estimate for the size of active fandom. I'm sure a percentage were casual buyers, but I'd bet my left nut we're talking a much, much smaller percentage than that which buys the ongoing. And that sales to UK buyers were abnormally high.

Last Stand's sales were, in short, one of the few things fandom can be proud of - a concerted effort of word of mouth, selfless promotion of the work, and us all playing the game rather than just waiting for it to hit Rapidshare.

All of this in a format the market understands. Anthologies are only really popular for kids and the underground - things like 2000AD survive because people realise that it's the only way it can continue, and because it's traditional for those comics (and even 2000AD has been supported by the concession of various dedicated Judge Dredd titles over the years).

In terms of a Transformers one, you're talking diminishing returns from there. Knock off any casual buyers who are confused by the format and don't have the working knowledge to pick up on the Armada continuity, or even know who Hosehead is. Knock off any Transformers fans who don't care about minor characters anyway. Knock off any not interested in the characters and/or creators announced for the first 2-3 issues ("A Sean McCarthy/Joe Ng story about Huffer? Rather not..."). Knock off anyone who doesn't want to add another TF title to their pull list and would rather stick with the titles they've been following.

A single-continuity anthology book should have been what the Spotlights morphed into, come to think of it. Although Spotlight: Mirage was terrible, it at least represented an attempt to do something different with some new blood. Now if it had boasted a Dogfight back-up strip...

Aye... I think the way forward is something like that, but slotted into the ongoing run - even if it's five pages in a short issue during an arc. The problem is the whole industry is so six-issue-TPB orientated now, especially a cash dairy operation like IDW.

Because, of course, the best way to acheive these results would be to have "Showdown" or "Funeral for a Friend"-like stories in the main run - please, let's not get sidetracked into how good these stories are, but concentrate on their ability to throw a spotlight on a character within the main run through there not being some wet-brained attempt to mimmick Ultimate Spider-Man running through the book.

Transformers in the Marvel days isn't the best example as no-one wanted to write the US book and Furman wouldn't let anyone else near the UK one, but in things like the X-Men and Avengers at the time it was quite common for an odd issue to be covered by a guest writer and/or artist, and they'd often do a story that was a bit different so as to not mess up the main writer's plans.

Sadly, Spotlight Mirage is indicative of the problems facing the anthology idea. Most of the negative reaction wasn't about the flat, unimaginative art or stupid script, but "Where does this fit in, I don't understand, help my stunted brain".

(Now, I criticised it for being disconnected from the main continuity, but mainly in the context that it was a waste of 22 pages which could have been used for tidying up the problems of the main book, but had the Spotlight series not been used as an extension of the main book until it really needed it, when we suddenly got shit like Mirage and Wheelie thrown out.)

You could say that the mistake was not promoting it as being out of continuity, but then would IDW have to do this every time in the anthology? What sort of impact would "This doesn't matter in relation to the comics you're buying" have on sales (which is why IDW didn't announce it)? DC and Marvel can only get away with that stuff by making these concepts really appealing, often with either big universe-changing events (which usually see normal stories suspended, leaving buyers with little choice) or big names, or just plain smart choices - for every Marvel Zombies or Ultimate X-Men, there's an M2 or 2099.

inflatable dalek
2011-06-16, 06:19 AM
Sadly, Spotlight Mirage is indicative of the problems facing the anthology idea. Most of the negative reaction wasn't about the flat, unimaginative art or stupid script, but "Where does this fit in, I don't understand, help my stunted brain".


To tangent for a moment, I think I've repressed a lot of the contemporary feedback, but were people really hugely confused about that? The bulk of the issue is blatantly not in continuity, it's only if it's a dream or an alternate Universe thingey that's confusingly unexplained. With the framing device using the regular IDW designs it never even occurred to me at the time it wasn't set in the future of the IDW stuff after Mirage had come to Earth. No idea how that fits in with what we've had since but that's the least of a generally terrible comics problems.

Skyquake87
2011-06-16, 08:41 AM
Surely something similar to Marvel Comics Presents would work? That had a fantastic run, starting monthly and then fortnightly (unusual for a US title). It managed a good balance between familiar and second (and even third) tier characters (only spoilt when Marvel gave the entire book over to the unfamiliar - Vengeance, ClanDestine and er, Slapstick). i think that format - if just focused on G1 would be good.Hell,if folk don't know who hosehead is - shove his universe profile in there (er, before the strip).

As for Europe, well the anthology is still how we get our comics, by and large so its a successful (or at least expected) format for comics over here. i did like how Titan had their comic split between Movie, G1 and Beast Wars (although what made them pick Megatron : Origin is beyond me. what a heap of sh*t that was and it looks even worse blown up to UK format).

Cliffjumper
2011-06-16, 02:26 PM
MCP worked because of the strength of depth of the Marvel roster - Wolverine headlined it 90% of the time, and often obscure characters were people like Colossus or Beast, with sales coming from X-Men buyers who wanted to see their favourite characters in solo stories. Transformers has about four characters most people are interested in.

inflatable dalek
2011-06-16, 07:46 PM
As for Europe, well the anthology is still how we get our comics, by and large so its a successful (or at least expected) format for comics over here. i did like how Titan had their comic split between Movie, G1 and Beast Wars (although what made them pick Megatron : Origin is beyond me. what a heap of sh*t that was and it looks even worse blown up to UK format).

I assume that because Beast Wars went down well and they were finding it hard to tie in with the IDW Movie comics to the point they decided not to reprint any after the Prequel despite them being the obvious filler, that they thought something from G1 would do equally well. As they'd have wanted something the same length as The Ascending so that both could start and finish at the same time and M:O was pretty much the only four issue G1 mini at the time (and had the advantage of being relatively standalone) it pretty much picked itself.

I wonder if something like the old (and possibly still going?) Dark Horse Presents comic might work better? In that you'd get a combination of Bond, Aliens Predator and Star Wars stories (plus some of their own characters), and Infestation suggests at least four of IDW's titles that aren't averse to being linked together. Something with Trek, Ghostbusters, GI Joe and Transformers could be a goer. And it'd have the advantage that most fans of one of them would be almost certain to be interested in at least one of the others.

Cliffjumper
2011-06-16, 07:57 PM
Hardly the place to find radical character pieces on semi-forgotten TFs, though.

Dreadwing
2011-07-12, 05:39 AM
the one way it could work is if they were able to get a heavy-hitter on one of the stories per anthology - Bryan Hitch, Jim Lee, Warren Ellis, John Cassaday etc. Someone with a rep who's only ever going to do these 6-7 pages on Transformers (now, as a pedant block), so people will buy the comic just to see their unique take on things.

Wasnt that what EVOLUTIONS was promised as?