Interview: Dan Abnett, part 3: IDW

In the final part of our interview with Dan Abnett, we talk about IDW’s Infestation event and Dan’s plans for the future of the Transformers comic franchise.

Rebel Rikki: Let’s move to a book that almost seems to be the opposite of [a character-driven piece], although in a good way — you’re involved with IDW’s Infestation, which is, I feel, a very bold and interesting experiment of crossing over IDW’s four licensed properties — Transformers, Ghostbusters, GI Joe and Star Trek — but not really crossing them over. It seems like a really tough challenge to write that. Did you have any problems?

Dan Abnett: Yes, it is difficult. You’ve got to take that kind of thing seriously, you’ve got to treat the components with respect because they are very very big licenses. To take inspiration from Ghostbusters, they’re streams that should never be crossed. I mean, by rights, it should not work to have a story where all these different things are involved, because they’re so mismatched. The link of continuity between them is that they’re all IDW products, and IDW wanted to celebrate that by finding some vehicle that would allow them to run side-by-side and at least respond to the same threat. They originally had a creative map of what they wanted to do when they first spoke to us about it at San Diego [Comic Con] last year and said, you know, “we’ve seen you handle these huge crossovers in Marvel Cosmic so you’ve got some experience there; do you think you could handle this for us?” I think the best thing to do is to enter into it with the spirit that it’s intended to be, which is enormous fun, but also to take it quite seriously, not to mess around and pretend it’s not a real story and it’s not really happening. Once we’d got the really really simple mechanism to link them together, we could map it out. The individual writers of the other miniseries — Ghostbusters, Star Trek, and GI Joe — wrote their own stories, but we gave them the mechanism that we needed them to run with and give back to us at the end so it links up to the overall thing.

I’ve been delighted with the response, because it seems to be just genuinely a sense of enormous fun, which is what we set out to do in the first place, and the fact that we could use the previously undefined IDW Universe as the jump-off point — you know, CVO and Zombies vs. Robots — it sort of defines IDW as a publisher, because here are the books that belong to them that can leap into the other universes, the other iterations of reality that are Star Trek or Ghostbusters.

We did have some fun sitting down trying to work out what other licenses we would want to bring in there if we’d had the opportunity. I think that would’ve been great to have, you know, Thundercats and My Little Pony. Maybe Thomas [the Tank Engine]. (laughs) It’s just one of those things where the beauty of it was you come up with a simple enough mechanism and you can make it work. The hardest thing to do was to get a mechanism that was adaptable enough to suit the tone of all the different licenses, so the Ghostbusters one could be essentially an enormous amount of fun, GI Joe’s quite serious and hardcore, Star Trek has got that sort of high-concept stuff. It needs to be a story that you can tell in four different ways, and each way would suit what it was set in. I think it’s a bold idea that they’ve tried and I hope we’ve executed it reasonably well.

RR: Absolutely. And one thing I was really impressed with — and I agree, the sense of fun does come through with the sense that it’s a serious story — but as a longtime Transformers reader I really liked that you brought that story consequence. It played off things that happened years ago in IDW’s Transformers books, in one-shots.

DA: Because we knew that we’d be handling the Transformers through-line, and also that we’d be writing one of the main Transformers stories that followed on from it, we wanted to make sure that if you were a Transformers reader or a GI Joe reader or a Ghostbusters or Star Trek reader and you were offended by the idea of this crossover because you thought it was too silly, that you could read it without considering it to be canonical. You could just go “this is a fun event, and I don’t have to believe it’s real. It won’t stain my continuity of GI Joe” or whatever. But also we wanted it to be, from the Transformers point of view, that if you did engage with it and you did think that it was a seriously good story, that it would have a lasting consequence, so that’s why we went backwards and found things that we could connect it to that would play out into the story and have some sort of sense, so that if you’re reading Transformers it actually does make sense in the bigger picture and, as you’ll see from where we go after that, it will continue to do so. There are things that happen in this story that will affect in quite large ways the continuity of what happens in Transformers from this point on.

RR: So you’re going on to write Heart of Darkness, which is a Galvatron-centric story…

DA: I love that phrase, “Galvatron-centric” (laughs).

RR: There’s a lot of lore around Galvatron, from the 1986 movie, the old comics… IDW so far has really gone against the grain with their Galvatron stories, especially inasmuch as he’s not yet been connected to Unicron. Is anything of that past coming out in Heart of Darkness, or does it continue that new path?

DA: I don’t want to give too much away, because some of the things we like to do deliberately are meant to be delightful surprises. I think, to a greater or lesser extent, that some of the things we’ve done in this either achieve a balance between those two things or at least pave the way to achieving a balance between those things. That is to say we’re not reinventing Galvatron from an IDW standpoint, yet it does allow you to appreciate Galvatron as a long-term character who’s been other things to other people at other times. In something like Transformers, like the X-Men, a hugely complicated continuity exists there that is ultimately, in places, completely irreconcilable and contradictory, but to the best of our abilities we’re trying to do it so that it makes sense no matter what your opinion of Galvatron is.

RR: So will I hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice when I read your comic?

DA: I would hope you would anyway! (laughs)

Spaceman Spiff: I think one of the things this interview has really touched on is how diverse your writing career has been; you’ve gone to a lot of different corners of the comics industry. For people not familiar with your work, what would you recommend them to pick up, or what are you most proud of so far?

DA: You tend to be very attached to things you’ve done more recently because they’re fresh in the memory. I do think our cosmic heroes run for Marvel — things like Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova — are things that I would urge people to go and look at. DC is about to republish our Legion of Superheroes run from the beginning of it, which is the first time it’s been reprinted since we did it ten or 15 years ago, and that I think is something we get a lot of positive feedback about now.

But beyond that, there’s many different bits and pieces. When I’m not writing comics with Andy I’m writing comics of my own or I’m writing novels, Warhammer in particular. That takes up an awful lot of my time, so some of those novels I am very very engaged with and hope people would go and look at.

And that brings us to the end of our three-part interview with Dan Abnett. We at Nerdy Nothings would like to again thank Mr. Abnett for his time and insight. Look for Annihilators and Transformers: Heart of Darkness now on the stands, and New Mutants beginning with #25 in May!

tags: dan abnett, idw, infestation, interview, transformers

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