SDCC ’20: Talking TRANSFORMERS/BACK TO THE FUTURE #1 with creators and scientists

IDW's TRANSFORMERS/BACK TO THE FUTURE creative team talk science fiction with real scientists and engineers during their [email protected] panel.

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Thirty-five years ago, nobody would have thought Back to the Future comics would have lasted long enough to witness a crossover with Transformers. IDW Publishing brought Cavan Scott (Star Wars, Doctor Who and Power Rangers) and Juan Samu (Marvel Action: Black Panther, M.A.S.K and Transformers) together to create a four-issue Transformers/Back to the Future miniseries for an October release. The team discussed inspiration for the series and ideas with real scientists during SDCC’s third day. 

Like most sci-fi series, Back to the Future heavily relies on real science to build a story arc. Scott (Isn’t it exciting his name is a part of “Great Scott”?) used to be a science journalist before entirely diving into comics. When writing adventure stories with an element of time travel and advanced technology, a writer can easily lose track and fall into a rabbit hole of real theories, so the big challenge is the takeaways. “Science fantasy is based on science but it doesn’t follow the rules,” he said. It is crucial to focus on the story arc rather than the working principles. “You get fascinated by real science, you don’t want [the comics] to become a lecture.”

While people like Scott transitioned from real science to its fictional aspect, others like Dr. Lisa Will took the opposite route. This Fleet Science Center resident astronomer and professor of physics and astronomy at the San Diego City College was such a big Trekkie, she actually tried to look up Vulcan in a space encyclopedia at a young age. Seeing scientists portrayed in fiction is her favorite, but above all, seeing positive portrayals of them makes her happy. “Particularly now when suspicion of science has major impacts on all our lives,” she said, mentioning the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Having scientists that kids can grow up reading about and be comforted is actually important.”

transformers/back to the future

Saura Naderi, outreach director at the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute, was another geek who wanted to conjure the closest thing to magic and found solace in robotics. Upon revealing Samu’s artwork for Transformers/Back to the Future, Naderi shared both excitement and disappointment: excited for the crossover, disappointed that robots are not yet as fluid as they’re portrayed in live-action. 

From L-R (top): Andrea Decker, Cavan Scott, John Barber; (bottom): Dr. Lisa Will, Juan Samu, Saura Naderi

In IDW’s crossover series, Doc’s DeLorean becomes an autobot called Gigawatt which looks pretty human for a Transformer. Samu grew up drawing a lot of machines and figures around pop culture so this project came to him naturally. He said the key to making science fiction work is to have good storytelling. Scott’s only fear is that reality might take over his imagination soon, leaving him more groundwork to bring new ideas to life.

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