Tom Scioli, the Pittsburgh-based comic book creator, can’t seem to get enough of robots from the 1980s. Even after spending in excess of two years putting together his genre-bending, often unsettling exercise in graphic psychedelia, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, he found he had more to say on the subject. Beginning this fall, he’ll explore the other transforming robot property from the eighties: Go-Bots.
Why Go-Bots? The toy line was smaller than Transformers. The cartoon, produced by Hanna-Barbera, wasn’t quite as good. “My brain just kept coming back to Go-Bots. I’m not sure why. It just had this fascination for me. It stuck with me. I kept getting these story ideas for Go-Bots,” Scioli says in an interview with the Pittsburgh Current.
He pitched his idea to IDW Publishing — which published Transformers vs. G.I. Joe and has also published comics based on other properties made famous in the 80s, like Jem, My Little Pony, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future — but didn’t hold out much hope, expecting to be late to the party. Reboots of well-known properties are de rigueur as recognizability can often provide a good return on investment in a fickle market.
Scioli was delighted to learn that IDW had no plans for Go-Bots. More than that, he realized that he’d stumbled upon a rarity in property-based comics: a clean slate on which to write his world, as the world of Go-Bots has been largely untouched over the years. As far as the second-string status of Go-Bots, he sees that as a positive, too.
“It worked out kind of cool. I found an 80s property that nobody’s done anything with and had no plans of doing anything with and that they’ve really done nothing with since the 80s. I like that idea. I like having something all to myself,” Scioli says. “Working on Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, I had it in my mind that this stuff is really important to a lot of people. I was aiming for a larger audience. I wanted to talk to people who maybe didn’t know anything about Transformers and G.I. Joe, but I did have it in my head that there were lots of people who this was very important to, so I need to pay attention and maybe see what are the things that fans of this material really respond to and try to include those elements.
“With Go-Bots, I don’t get that sense at all.”
In Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, Scioli was praised by critics for his confident reimagining of two well-known worlds. This confidence was rooted in his exhaustive research of the subject matter, pulling what he liked from the cartoons, comics, and toys that comprised the vast canon. “It makes whatever world you’re going to be talking about that much more real. I feel like to tell a story you need to have a comfort with the world,” Scioli says.
In researching his current project, Scioli posted Go-Bots art by the recently deceased Steve Ditko, who is best known as the co-creator of Spider-Man. It was just one example of Scioli’s propensity to highlight the contributions of generations previous, when the work-for-hire nature of the business meant that influential creators could toil in relative obscurity.
Along these lines, Scioli’s ongoing strip, Kirby, is a biography of comics legend Jack Kirby, co-creator of, among others, Captain America and the Fantastic Four and arguably one of the most visionary minds to grace the medium. Kirby merges Scioli’s penchant for research-based storytelling and his proclivity for touting the work of Jack Kirby, whom Scioli has studied closely (and drawn from extensively) since the beginning of his career. In examining Kirby’s life, Scioli sees qualities that are imminently relatable and ambitions to which he aspires in his own career. Eventually, the Kirby strips will be collected and published in book form.
“You could honestly say I’m obsessed with the work of Jack Kirby. It’s something that’s very personal to me it’s one of my personal obsessions, but I think it’s universal. Even just the portion of the story that I’ve told so far, it really speaks to people,” he says. “It’s got that aspect of somebody coming from humble circumstances and making good.”