By Jim McDermott

Transformers (2023) #1.

In less than two weeks, writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson takes the helm of the Transformers comics franchise as part of Skybound’s new Energon Universe. The project has a tremendous amount of buzz going for it, not least because of the art that has been released, which shows Johnson’s unique style bringing a fascinating vulnerability to the characters.

I recently got the chance to email Johnson a couple of questions about how he got involved with the Transformers line and what it’s been like to draw these characters that he’s loved since childhood. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

How did this project come about?  What got you interested in telling a story about them? 

I’ve worked very closely with Sean Mackiewicz since my days at Skybound with my titles Extremity and Murder Falcon. He was a huge part of making those books happen, and we had a really great working relationship with each other. 

I was wrapping up art duties on Do a Powerbomb when Sean called me up and asked me if I would have any interest in doing Transformers. At first I was hesitant. My original plan was to work on another creator-owned project immediately after DAP, but I was having trouble honing in on any of my ideas to get started on a real script. Transformers is something that I have loved since I was in first grade, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt a change of pace would be really good and healthy for me, to give myself a break from the pressures of making my own world, my own stories, my own characters.  Also, I could hear the excitement Sean had for the possibility of us doing this book together, and of course with my love of the franchise, it all just seemed like a great move.  

I know you’ve loved the Transformers since you were a kid. Any special favorites in terms of characters or stories that have especially inspired you (and your run)?   

There’s probably three things that I would want to highlight: First would have to be the TV show. I loved it. It was my first real exposure to the characters, and there was a tactile satisfaction just looking at those blocky characters. 

I also loved comics back then, so I went looking for the old TF comics that Marvel had put out in the 80s. They gave me a reference to start drawing the Transformers, as there was no way to pause an afterschool television show to really figure out how to draw Optimus Prime. 

Lastly would have to be the animated movie that came out in 1986. I had a pretty darn good eye for detail and quality even back when I was a kid, and I could see that the animation, the design, and the overall art direction of the ‘86 movie were a cut above even the TV show that I loved so much for so many years. The series that I’m working on now for Skybound is definitely a love letter to the 1986 film.

Your art is so raw both in its capacity for violence and its sheer physicality. The exertion of your characters really leaps off the page. Bringing that style into conversation with the Transformers, who while definitely capable of great violence are also built around such a different, linear, usually shiny kind of look and physicality, it’s a wild idea. I know I’m excited to see that collaboration.  

It’s exciting isn’t it? It’s another reason why I wanted to take this gig in the first place. I love a challenge. It was a big drive for me to work on THE GHOST FLEET with Donny Cates back in the day because I knew I would have to get better at drawing trucks. And one of the main reasons that I did SPACE-MULLET when I first started out in comics was that because it was a sci-fi book, I would have to get better at perspective and backgrounds. 

In the same way, Transformers has this blocky aesthetic, one that is just part of who the characters are and what they look like. I want to celebrate that while also delivering the action and the movement that I feel my work is known for. It’s been a challenging journey for sure, but a rewarding one. I feel like I’ve really brought a special flavor to characters that people have seen before many times over. 

It is a lot of fun to have robots battling, but it’s even more fun to problem-solve how to make them battle without making them look stiff and awkward.  I have to shout out Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, who was a huge inspiration for me in figuring out how to translate that across a comic book page. 

How has it been for you? Would you say the material is asking new things from the way you approach your art? What kind of things are you discovering as a writer or artist working with these characters?  

As stated above, I definitely have had to rethink the way I approach action and line and movement with such mechanical characters. 

To expand on that a little bit: I found it when I would draw mechanical things in my previous comic book work, I would naturally tighten up my wrist, and maybe pull out my ruler more often than not. I found myself doing this a fair amount when first starting Transformers, and I found it just made things look really stiff. I had to teach myself how to loosen up intentionally, and have fun with the characters. I’ve had to learn to rely on shapes and an organic line to carry the art and to really make it sing.   

Another challenge is just learning how to write so many characters at once. The Transformers have a very large cast, and I want to make sure I’m giving each one the time that they deserve. That being said, it’s been really fun to try and get inside the head of one of my absolute favorite Transformers, Starscream.  

With the book coming out so soon everyone’s getting really excited. Can you tease anything you’re especially excited for readers to see? 

Three words: Optimus. Prime. Suplexes. 

Transformers #1 will arrive at your local comic book shop, online, and/or at your public library beginning on October 4th, 2023.


  1. I look forward to Daniel redefining Transformers for the future which will be comprised of strong and independent women and queerfolk.

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