Many of you – probably most, certainly on my Friends list – know my Bob Budiansky story already. But I’ve never let that kind of technicality stop me before.
First of all, I’m a flaming Transformers dork. Hasbro’s marketing department did a number on me when I was seven tender years of age, and my corporately-abused imagination has been contentedly tied to their universe of 30-minute and 22-page toy commercials ever since.
So one of the key moments of my childhood was when I met Bob Budiansky, who was then the writer of the TF comics. In fact, at that point, the only time he HADN’T been the regular writer was when he was the editor for the first four issues. And suddenly he was paying a visit to an elementary school in my district.
Bear in mind that I grew up in the sticks of the Pacific Northwest, closer to the Canadian border than to any decent-sized city. This was, geographically and conceptually, a hell of a long way from New York. And the school he was visiting was even MORE removed: It was on scenic little Lummi Island, accessible only by ferry. Most of the grades were taught together in the same room with the same teacher (whom everyone called by her first name). The only reason I even knew about Budiansky’s coming was because one of my friends lived on the island.
At the time, this was surreal and exciting, but I still had no real concept of the size and scope of the world back then. As I grew up and discovered how small my world had actually been, the whole thing became even more bizarre to me. Why had he come out to the middle of freaking nowhere that day? One night, maybe a few years ago, I actually dug out my copy of Transformers #1 and checked to see that I hadn’t just imagined it all:
I resolved then that if I ever met him again, I’d first shake his hand and thank him for the Transformers (many of the characters, I’d learned, he had actually created), then I’d ask him what the HELL he was doing on Lummi Island when I was in the fifth or sixth grade.
Well, it didn’t end up going exactly like that, but it was close enough.
You see, they have these Transformers conventions every year, and in 2004, Budiansky made his first appearance at one. So off to Chicago I went last balmy July, and I attended a comic-writers-and-artists panel he participated in. He talked about how he’d been assigned to come up with characters for a bunch of toys over a Thanksgiving weekend. And thus were born the likes of Starscream and Megatron (“That sounds too much like ‘megaton’ – too scary,” he’d been told. “Well yeah, that’s the POINT.”) One of the fans asked him about his “lighter-hearted” stories, like the (seriously) “Car Wash of Doom” and “Micromaster Wrestling.” His response was that in the late 80s he was seeing the comics industry take a dark turn, and from time to time he liked to bring the mood back up in response. Sure, the stories were goofy, but they were good clean fun.
After the panel, I caught up with him in the hall. I thanked him for his work, he appreciated that, and I told him, “You know, this isn’t the first time we’ve met.”
“You came to an elementary school, maybe back in ’88 or so–” and he interrupted me:
“Were you on that island?!”
Turns out one of the other Marvel editors had family over there, and the kids kept asking HIM to come. So when Bob’s wife went to a conference in kinda-sorta-nearby Vancouver, Bob decided he’d pay a visit in lieu of his friend. He apparently had no idea what he was getting into, travel-wise, but he did think it was a beautiful place, once he got there.
So there was my explanation. The only other thing I wanted from him was another autograph – this time on the LAST issue he wrote (which was also, coincidentally, the “light-hearted” Micromaster-wrestling story he’d been defending earlier). “Hoo boy,” he said with a rueful grin when he saw it, “NOT my best work.”
I chuckled as he signed it. “Yeah,” he added, “I was basically just trying to get off the book at that point.”
And thus was a chapter of my childhood resolved. You can keep your Mel Gibsons and your Catherine Zeta-Joneses! I’ll take my burned-out, slightly-bewildered former Transformers creators, thank you kindly.