Part 1: Personal/General Professional Questions
ASM: You started your comics career in the mid-70s with a background in engineering. Given that, who were your influences? Artistically? Writing-wise?
While I was in college in the early 70s, I was reintroduced to comics by a couple of friends. (I had stopped collecting comics years earlier.) So, at the time, the artists who really impressed me were Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema and Neal Adams. I was a big fan of Conan, and Smith and Buscema were doing incredible work on that book around that time. As I began to develop my own style, I really gravitated toward Buscema more and more. He drew in such a natural way, and his people had such grace and power. I also looked a lot at Gil Kane's work. I was a fan of his since I was a kid, and his characters moved so dynamically -- that was something I always wanted to capture in my work. And Jack Kirby -- I never wanted to draw people the way he did -- I didn't think they were all that attractive -- but you couldn't top him for sheer power and imagination. The way he laid out a panel couldn't be beat; he knew exactly the best angle, the best way to position everything so that he could get the maximum impact from every scene he drew.
ASM: How did your background as an artist affect your approach to working as a writer, if at all? Did it help you out when using the "Marvel Style" of scripting?
Good question. I always wrote with the idea of making things visually interesting. I believed the visuals carried the story as much as anything in a comic book. I often started structuring a story by coming up with what I thought was an exciting cover scene, and working out the rest of the story from there. The "Marvel Style" of scripting was all I ever knew while I worked in comics, so it's hard for me to say whether that approach was a help or not since I can't really compare it to anything. But I certainly liked doing it that way. I could just write out the plot to a story, and not get bogged down in all the dialog. Things really flowed that way. Writing a plot was almost like writing a short story.
BB: No, not really. The day it was canceled I got offers from Marvel editors for work that would keep me busy for the next six months, and then soon after that I was offered a staff position as an editor, which I took. I liked working on Ghost Rider, but I also liked the idea of trying some other things. Besides, drawing motorcycles was a bitch. Looking back, what's amusing about Ghost Rider's cancellation was why it was canceled. Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, Jim Shooter, wanted to remove some of the lower-selling titles in the Marvel publishing schedule to clear space for his new line of New Universe titles. So Ghost Rider was one of the low-selling titles that got the ax. At the time of its cancellation it was selling "only" about 110,000 copies a month. I think in today's market that would probably put it in the top five.
ASM: What other licensed properties did you do development for during your time at Marvel? Anything else for Hasbro?
BB: For Hasbro I worked on Visionaries, a toy line of magical action figures. I helped develop the treatment and some of the packaging for the toys, like writing all the magical rhymes that described each character. I also helped develop the treatment for Air Raiders, another Hasbro property, I believe. Air Raiders was like a sci-fi update of cowboys and Indians figurines. Instead of horses, they came with air-propelled vehicles. For another toy company that is now out of business -- I can't remember the name -- I developed some of the treatment for Sectaurs, a sci-fi insect-like toy line. I thought the premise for that one had the most potential of all the licensed properties I worked on, aside from the Transformers, of course. With the National Football League, I helped develop the treatment for SuperPro, a super hero football player. The less said about that one, the better. I also helped develop the short-lived Nightmare on Elm Street black-and-white magazine series, and I worked on a bunch of movie adaptations. There were probably some others, but those are the ones I remember at the moment.
ASM: After Transformers, your next headlining gig as a writer seems to have been Sleepwalker. How did this series come about? Was it your sole creation?
BB: As I've said elsewhere, I was somewhat relieved to leave Transformers when I did. One of the reasons was I wanted to have the time to create my own comic book. I'd been kicking around the Sleepwalker idea for a couple of years. No longer obligated to write Transformers, I had the time, finally, to develop Sleepwalker. At that time, Marvel was always looking for a good idea for a new book to publish. I submitted Sleepwalker, and after a couple of revisions of my treatment, I got the green light. Yes, I am the sole creator of Sleepwalker and I designed his look. I take all the credit and all the blame.
ASM: A friend of mine is fond of your work on Sleepwalker - in fact, he surprised me when he mentioned that Charlie Fong (who first appeared in your Transformer stories) made a reappearance as a scientist in the book. I noticed something similar - the names "Charlene" and "Jake" appeared a lot in your Transformers stories. Were these conscious reuses?
I had a friend in college named Chun-Wai Fong. We still keep in touch. He got me re-interested in comic books during my college days (I had dropped them when I got to high school). Charles Fong is my small way of honoring him. If I used the name twice, it was probably more coincidental...the name is not so much related to the same character but to the same real person.
ASM: With Transformers, Ghost Rider, and countless other projects to your name, what do you feel was your greatest achievement in comics?
Gosh, Do I really qualify for "countless"? I think I had my hand in "a bunch" while I was Marvel, not "countless."
ASM: What have you been up to since your days at Marvel Comics? I believe you said in a previous interview that you're the creative director at Scholastic?
BB: I'm not the creative director. Scholastic is a big company, and has many different departments with creative directors. I work in Scholastic's Book Clubs department, and have been there for over six years.
ASM: At various times in your comics career, you were an artist, a writer, and an editor. Is there anything you didn't get to do that you would have liked to?
BB: I colored a few comics, too, while you're going down the list. I think I touched all the bases I wanted to. Penciler, writer and editor are the big three, in my opinion. And, as editor, I got to do a lot more than edit just the Marvel Universe titles, so that was an extra bonus for me. If I had stuck to penciling, I suppose I would have liked to have become the regular penciler on Spider-Man some day, but I made the choice to move away from the artist path and go into writing and editorial. Penciling never came easily to me.
ASM: If you could let Transformer fans know one thing about you that they'd never expect to find out, what would it be?
BB: I never watched the TV show or saw the movie (although I was the editor on the comic book adaptation).
ASM would like to thank Bob Budiansky for taking the time to answer these
questions. We would also like to thank The Obscure Transformers Website
for their help with this interview.