2015-05-01 / Front Page

'Transformers' writer discusses free comic book

Ben Meiklejohn

SOUTH PORTLAND – Newbury Comics, located at the Maine Mall, is bracing itself for a busy day for the 14th annual Free Comic Book Day, held on Saturday, May 2 this year. Manager Sean Carroll said in addition to giving away free comics, the store will have other promotional events and even a costume contest.

The day originated in 2002, with independent retailers giving away free copies of certain comic books as a way to attract new readers and celebrate the comic art form. Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest comic book distributor in the nation, typically coordinates supplying retailers with copies of issues from a variety of major publishers. Free Comic Book Day also usually coincides each year within a day of the release of a major superhero blockbuster film – this year, Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron," being released on May 1.

Carroll said in addition to giving away free select comic books, the store will be selling all graphic novels and comics at a 25 percent discount, will have food and refreshments in the morning and will be giving away tote bags branded with “Free Comic Book Day” and containing other miscellaneous free items.

“Unfortunately, I don't know what these will contain until they come in later this week,” Carroll said.

A cosplay, or “costume play,” contest will be held with prizes awarded. Details of the contest will be released on the store's Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/newburycomicsportlandme.

“Supplies are limited for the Free Comic Book Day titles and free stuff, so people should definitely get here early,” Carroll added.

Garrett Melendez, a retailer at Newbury Comics, said Free Comic Book Day is always a festive occasion in comic book stores.

“It's big, and it's a good way to get interested in comics,” Melendez said.

For the second year in a row, the Sentry caught up with John Barber, co-writer of “Transformers: Robots in Disguise #0,” – one of the books being given away on Saturday – to discuss his experience from inside the comic industry and the world of Transformers. Barber, has been writing and drawing comics since junior high school. After a six-year stint as an editor at Marvel Comics, Barber has been a senior editor and writer at IDW Publishing since 2011. 

Barber wrote an earlier ongoing Transformers series, also called “Transformers: Robots in Disguise,” but the issue being released on Free Comic Book Day is unrelated and takes place in a different universe.

That series, which began in 2012, was changed to be titled simply, “Transformers,” in November of last year to avoid confusion with the Cartoon Network animated series, also titled “Transformers: Robots in Disguise,” which debuted in March.

“The (2012 comic book and 2015 animated series) have nothing to do with each other, it's just a key phrase in Transformers mythology,” Barber said. “This new (comic book) has nothing to do with (the 2012-to-2014 comic series). That gets to be the problem when you have a pretty popular brand.”

The 2012-to-2014 series, “Transformers: Robots in Disguise,” takes place on Cybertron, the Transformers' home world, after their war ended. In a previous interview, Barber said the series is an example of real-life metaphors playing out in comics. 

“I try to keep some kind of link to reality in the work, no matter how far-out things get,” he said last year. “Writing about space-machine life forms like the Transformers might seem pretty removed from the world we live in, but even if they’re metal, they’re still people, and they still have to interact like people do. Their wars are our conflicts – just larger and grander. Not be pretentious, I hope, but they can be metaphors for us, and for our lives.”

Unlike the previous comic book series of the same name, “Transformers: Robots in Disguise #0” is a crossover comic book that is set in the universe  of the Cartoon Network animated series. 

“It's a great jumping up point from the cartoon to comics (or vice versa),” Barber said. “Either way, if you've never heard of Transformers before, the comic book is a good jumping point.”

The storyline of both “Transformers: Robots in Disguise #0” and the animated series is that a spaceship carrying Decepticon prisoners crashes on Earth and Bumblebee and other Autobots try to track them down to prevent them from wreaking further havoc. 

In the comic release, the Autobots find Flamefeather, a notoriously violent Decepticon in an amusement park.

“It's a lot of fun, a lot of action, comedy, a lot of bouncy scenes,” said Barber, adding that it will be a good issue for young children who may be just starting to discover comics.

“There's a great two-page spread of the amusement park that has all the fun of animated series, but that can only be done in comics,” said Barber. “This one is great for kids. Some comics get a little dark, but this one is for kids. It's one that doesn't talk down to kids.”

Unlike other animated series/comic book crossovers, Barber said this book will be more than just a comic based on screen shots taken from the cartoon.

Barber said there will be some new characters in the comic that have not yet appeared in the cartoon series, as well as some familiar characters that  also haven't been seen on the series.

“It's an all-star appearance,” Barber said. “There are some characters we haven't seen for a while in the Transformers animated series, an updated version of a new character … and Flamefeather – we haven't seen Flamefeather in this universe.”

Barber added, “on the last page of the comic, there is one secret I don't want to reveal – some characters you may be seeing.”

Priscilla Tramontano will make her debut as a comic book interior page illustrator for the book. 

“This is first comic she's actually drawn, she usually colors,” Barber said. “People are going to be blown away with her art. She takes the animated series and makes it uniquely comic.”

Barber said “Transformers” was the first comic book series he followed from the beginning, having bought issue #1 off of a news stand at a 7-11 store in 1984. The issue was released on his birthday, he added.

Barber said Free Comic Book Day is a chance for people to try out new comics, and to introduce anybody, especially children, to the medium.

“In the really good (comics), there is going to be something for everyone,” he said. 

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Associated Dates: 
Thu, 2015-04-30

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