Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
So… notice how this particular edition has nothing to do with X of Swords? But also, did you notice what number we’re on?
Like 1984, the year the Transformers toyline debuted and kicked off a multimedia franchise that’s still going strong. So strong, in fact, that it was recently announced Hasbro’s latest Transformers Collaborative project would focus on the X-Men. That’s right, the X-Men’s iconic SR-71 Blackbird, made famous by the mutants’ equally iconic ’90s animated series, is now a Transformer by the name of Ultimate X-Spanse.
And what a name it is.
As I also happen to be a lifelong Transformers fan (check out my 2017 interviews with Transformers legend Bob Budiansky and Hasbro’s Transformers design team), you better believe I seized the opportunity to do a special edition of X-Men Monday with the artist behind the upcoming Transformer’s box art, David Nakayama! (Can’t believe it’s been 29 editions since his debut X-Men Monday appearance!)
(And before we start, can we give it up for AIPT Content and Media Manager David Brooke’s coolest X-Men Monday feature image to date? Major Transformers season 2 title vibes.)
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, David! So, how did your involvement in this particular Transformers Collaborative project come about?
David: Well, I’ve had the fortunate good luck to work with Hasbro on a bunch of projects in the last few years, which we talked about before. You know, other X-Men things like the Age of Apocalypse line and some of the New Mutants and X-Force characters appeared in the Deadpool wave that came out recently. I think maybe when the Transformers team was looking for an artist for that collaboration, maybe my name got mentioned. I’m not sure, but for a long time, my name has been associated with the ’90s X-Men cartoon and different X-Men projects over the years.
I think if you look at the box, they really went retro with it, including the old ’90s Marvel logo and everything. I love when they do that. And hey, if I’m going to be the retro guy, that’s great. I’ll do it. I love that stuff. I suspect it was simple as that–they went to the Marvel Legends line and asked.
AIPT: And about how long have you been involved and working on the artwork?
David: It’s been a while. That art’s been sitting on my phone ready to pounce for, I want to say like four or five months, something like that. So it’s been in the works for some time. It was fascinating, they did that little teaser drop with the logo and I’m like, “Oh, it’s probably coming in a week or a month.” And then boom, the next day they get you. I was not prepared, but it was such a good surprise.
AIPT: How do you go about creating the artwork for the upcoming figure? Does Hasbro provide you with a prototype or photographs?
David: They gave me some 3-D turnarounds in this case. I had a PDF that let me see what the figure looked like from every angle. I had a very good idea of what this thing was going to look like. The only thing I didn’t have was the paint. They weren’t necessarily 100% solid on the paint. And actually, if you look at the art that I released, they even changed a couple of things since. So I may go back into my own art and get it up to speed. The next time I post it’ll be totally accurate.
AIPT: I feel like there are two ways to draw Transformers characters. There’s the Generation 1 cartoon-style: very streamlined. Then there’s the more toy-accurate approach with all the kibble. How did you approach drawing Ultimate X-Spanse?
David: What I was trying to do is be very, very accurate to the actual toy, which I try to do every time I do a toy. We are bringing the toy to life with these box illustrations. So I didn’t want to miss any detail–if it was there in the design, I was going to include it in the art. But at the same time, I knew that I was being hired to do it in a line-art style, which is what makes it look a little more like the cartoon, right? You can see those internal lines. You look at my comic book cover art, for example, I don’t do that anymore. I do like a painted thing that has some lines in it, but it’s mostly painted in this case. We wanted the lines because it was meant to evoke that retro comic book vibe, in particular. So yeah, I think between the two of those, like trying to make it look like the toy, but being careful to use lines. You get a nice mix of toy-accurate and cartoon-accurate.
AIPT: And since you didn’t design the actual character, what’s your take on Ultimate X-Spanse as a fan of both X-Men and Transformers? He even has pouches. He’s a Transformer with pouches!
David: It’s so fun, isn’t it? They thought through what’s going to communicate X-Men, you know? They had the jet already, but then it’s not any particular X-Men character. There’ve been other toys in the past where it’s like, something turns into Wolverine, but this was different. This was meant to encapsulate the spirit and the vibe of X-Men as a team almost. So I liked the way they borrowed Cyclops’ visor, Wolverine’s claws and Psylocke’s psychic knife. Someone online said they thought that the wings were evocative of Archangel a little bit. I also like how his visor isn’t always like Cyclops. It can flip up, which helps it feel like its own character.
I just wanted to know, what is the lore, you know? I want to read the comic story. Where did this guy come from and how does he look like this? And you know, is it like Danger? And in the comics is he like somehow brought to life and he just borrows the look like Vision did in the movies. I don’t know, I’m fascinated.
AIPT: On Twitter, you said Transformers was “your whole world” as a kid. When did you first meet the Autobots and Decepticons?
David: Oh, wow. I must have been like 10, 11, 12–something like that. And it came on TV and I immediately was like, “What is this?” Whatever it is, it’s my favorite thing without having the language for it. And for the next five, six, seven, eight years, it was like every Christmas, every birthday, all I wanted was like the next coolest one. And you know, it was Optimus one year and then it was Metroplex at some point for Christmas, which I still think of that as the greatest gift I got as a child. What could be better? Opening the biggest Transformer ever for Christmas, you know?
I happen to be Japanese and my family would go to Japan sometimes. So when we were there, that’s like going to Mecca or something. They had all the toys and my grandparents spoiled us and would get us a bunch of them. So Transformers was a really big deal. It’s really the only toy line I really cared about. I didn’t have the Turtles. I didn’t have G.I. Joe in large numbers. Transformers was it for me.
AIPT: Who was your favorite Transformers character and who was your favorite toy?
David: It was probably Optimus on both counts. He was the hero of it all–there was no bigger hero in the storyline than Optimus. He was just bigger and had more stuff to do than anybody else. So until Metroplex, there really wasn’t anything to compete with Optimus. And then after Prime died in the movie, I don’t know if Hot Rod really replaced him for me, especially since they brought Optimus back shortly after. So to me, the touchpoints in the entire series are the film and then eventually the return movie, which Marv Wolfman worked on by the way.
AIPT: Yeah, the Return of Optimus Prime. It sounds like you’re a Generation 1 guy, but do you have a favorite Transformers era?
David: Yeah, it’s Generation 1 for me. I think I was on to other things like comics by the time things like Beast Wars were out. It didn’t really do it for me. And I’ve enjoyed various moments in the movies. I was a big fan of Bumblebee, actually. But that’s probably because it embraces Generation 1 so much.
AIPT: OK, bringing it back to X-Men, when we spoke back in April, you said:
There’s some retro stuff and there’s a really, really exciting collection that no one will see coming and I cannot wait to show you–but stay tuned. The coolest Hasbro-Marvel-X-Men thing that you could possibly imagine is coming. I just can’t talk about it yet.
Has everything you teased there been revealed?
David: That’s what we’re talking about today. So maybe that answers your question about when did this thing happen. I knew it existed then and I might’ve been working on it at the time, but I knew fans would really enjoy this thing when it came out. Like you’d see it and you didn’t know you needed it, but you absolutely do.
AIPT: You also teased some retro stuff. I’m assuming those are the Rogue and Gambit figures you provided art for?
David: That’s right. I was able to snag a pre-order on Gambit, but not Rogue. So I’ll be looking for Rogue when that comes out in the stores. They have assured us that there are going to be plenty of stock in actual Target stores and exclusively at Target stores, which is where I shop anyway. So every time I go to Target now, including today, and I was checking it out, but not yet.
AIPT: And Hasbro’s been teasing the House of X and Powers of X line. Do you have any involvement with that wave?
David: Not yet, but I hope I do in the future. There is no bigger fan of the House of X era than me. I was very, very engaged in X-Men when I first got started in the Jim Lee era and Marc Silvestri before that all the way up through Madureira and a little bit beyond–that was my first just total, all-pistons-firing era of X-Men. And since then, there’ve been other runs that I’ve liked a little bit. New X-Men was up there at the same level. And then it was House of X. So yeah, I guess what I’m saying is I love it so, so much and anything I can get my hands on related to it is fun. But no toy stuff yet, but I do have some other X-related stuff coming.
AIPT: Well, that was my next question–what do you currently have cooking in the comics world?
David: There are some comic things coming for sure. I’ve got some plans with Unknown Comics. You may not be surprised to hear we’ve been doing a bunch of cool things recently–a lot of X-Men stuff.
AIPT: Right, the Cyclops-Emma, Wolverine-Jean covers that blew up my Twitter feed.
David: You know, we tried to cover all the bases, right? There’s already the famous Andy Kubert Scott and Jean cover. So that’s there for Scott and Jean fans. And then Unknown and I decided to do a cover with Emma and Scott and also Jean and Logan. So hopefully, most fans will be able to choose one of those things. And I know that people have lots of fan-fiction and other ideas as well, but fortunately, the internet has all that covered for them.
Beyond that, I mean, I don’t know if people saw, but we did a Marauders Storm cover and then a Storm and Emma as pirates cover. That was super fun. Then we did some very Marvel vs. Capcom covers featuring Psylocke and Cable for Hellions and the Cable series. And we have more coming as well. So look forward to that.
Oh–there’s a M.O.D.O.K. Head Games cover. It’s been announced but not revealed yet. I just asked for permission to share it. I don’t know when that’s going to come out, but I could not be a bigger fan of Patton Oswalt, in general. And as everyone knows, Patton and Jordan Blum are working on the Hulu show. I could not be more excited about that show coming out or the fact that they’re actually writing the comic. When does that happen? The show and the comic simultaneously are by the same people–that’s amazing. So I was really lucky to get a variant cover for issue 2. I think it came out well. So I’m excited for people to see that.
AIPT: Excited to see it and happy to hear the career’s going so well. Thanks for taking the time to catch up and giving me an excuse to talk Transformers in X-Men Monday, David!
Stay tuned for X-Men Monday #85 featuring X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White answering your X of Swords week 10 questions this afternoon!
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