“Don’t get too down on yourself if you don’t make it right away. If you love doing it, KEEP DOING IT.” – Casey Coller on being a drawing professionally.
Casey Coller is a comic book artist who has been drawing Transformers for IDW comics for a while, doing a variety of comic book covers that most Transformers TCG players will be familiar with whether they realise it or not. He’s drawn the interior art of several comics over his time with IDW, and last year he drew a heap of original card art for battle cards in both Siege I and II, and even some character card art as well. He is one of a select handful of artists whose work has been used in every single wave of the game so far.
Despite his incredibly busy schedule, Casey was able to answer a few questions about his work on IDW comics and the card game.
What was your first exposure to the Transformers franchise? What about it stuck with you?
1984. I was seven years old when it all began and it captured my imagination like nothing else. Toys, TV series, Marvel comic, 1986 movie… I loved it all. The colorful characters, voices, designs, lore… it all resonated deeply with me and never left.
Did Transformers influence you to start drawing, or had you been drawing before then? Is drawing something that you have done all your life?
It did, for sure. I’m not sure what was different about Transformers that made me want to draw them (as opposed to MOTU or other things I was into before TFs), but I immediately felt a pull to try to draw my Transformers toys. My first memories were of actually tracing the outline of the toy, then looking at it to try and fill in the details. As I got a bit older, the influence more clearly came from the sunbow animators and Marvel artists.
Before you started drawing Transformers officially, were you involved much with fan productions? Fanzines, etc.
Yeah, I was a contributor to the Transformers: Mosaic project, as well as Transformers: War Journal. I met some great friends through this that also made it into official IDW work such as Joana Lafuente, John-Paul Bove, Andrew Griffith, Shaun Knowler, Josh Van Reyk, Priscilla Tramontano and others I’m likely forgetting. It was a great time to be part of the creative TF Fandom. I owe my career to a lot of these people and will remain forever grateful.
When did you transition from being just a fan of Transformers, to working on official art for IDW?
My first job was a cover for All Hail Megatron #1 that was an homage to Brian Bolland’s classic cover for The Killing Joke. It came about after I somehow managed to win a cover art contest on the IDW forums. That got my work put under the nose of Chris Ryall, and when they needed an artist to jump in on this cover, I was the lucky guy to get the call (or e-mail, really).
Do you remember how you felt at the time? How do you feel about that work now?
Well that’s a long, emotional story… Better to just link to this article which tells it all: Of Tic-Tacs and Transformers
You went on to do your own mini-series based around Ironhide; how was progressing from doing cover art to doing full comics?
Well, I had a couple of spotlight issues (Blurr & Drift) and some fill in work (All Hail Megatron #5 & #15) under my belt, so it seemed like a natural progression. It was really fulfilling to have my own miniseries to visually define however I liked. I’m still very proud of the work I put in on that series, and artistically, I have to give a ton of credit to Joana Lafuente for all of her work on the miniseries. She really brought the visuals to life with her immense talents. Mike Costa was beyond great to work with as well, giving me a ton of freedom and support.
Last year you ended up doing an issue of Lost Light; how did this come about? Was there any anxiety stepping in and doing a full issue of this series, given how passionate the fandom was about the book at the time?
The passionate fanbase made it really exciting. You know people were super invested in the characters, so being able to contribute in any way to that world was a really cool thing. Any time you’re stepping into a world illustrated by regulars like Alex Milne & Jack Lawrence you’ve got some pretty massive shoes to fill (same would apply to Andrew Griffith and Kei Zama over on the John Barber titles), so even though I wouldn’t call it anxiety, I knew there were expectations to live up to.
The scene with Rodimus coming out of the flames with Getaway in his arms has become somewhat iconic; how did you approach drawing this particular scene?
It was a climactic scene for Rodimus as a character and I knew it had to resonate. I drew some parallels to the “Arise, Rodimus Prime” scene from the 1986 movie, so tried to emulate that a bit. I’ve had several people tell me how much of an impact that scene had on them, so it feels like I managed to pull it off pretty well.
Moving on to the card game, when did you first learn about it? Had you been approached to do original art for the game before you knew your IDW art was being used in the game?
I was aware of the game, though I didn’t play it. I think I knew they were using existing artwork for the cards. Shortly after I became aware of it, I was asked by one of my favorite artists, Sara Pitre-Durocher [Art Director for the project at Volta] if I’d be available to help out with illustrations for the card game, which was a huge honor for me. I was given the low-down from her on the switch from using existing art, to having custom art made, and was thrilled to be a part of it.
How did working on the cards differ from drawing covers and interior art for IDW comics?
Not a ton, really. We were told to emulate the comic art, but use the Siege toy models. So the only real difference was that it was a single illustration (equivalent to a panel on a page) instead of a full page.
Most of the art for the Siege cards is toy accurate – but some hadn’t been released at the time. How did you approach doing art for characters like Ratchet, especially as the design for the character changed from card to card?
For each and every card I was provided with reference images. So before Siege Ratchet existed, I was given a different Ratchet design to use. There was really no design work that needed to be done on my end in terms of character models.
Numerous cards have been described as telling ‘mini narratives’ across multiple cards. Were they described to you as such when you were given the concepts to draw? Are there any narratives that happen in the cards that you find particularly interesting?
There were some threads running through multiple cards, but most really stood individually in my experience. I did enjoy working on the Trypticon cards, which were all related in narrative and visuals.
One of my favourite cards that you drew was Heat of Battle, which shows an all out battle between the Autobots and Decepticons. Could you explain your thought process behind the card, which characters you gave cameos in it, and why?
Oof, that was a doozy. Funny thing is that the images when printed are so small, but I wanted to get as many figures in there as I could! This was one of the only cards where I was given freedom to insert characters as I saw fit. None of them should be considered “canon” appearances, just lookalikes (in case it doesn’t jive with a narrative down the line). But I just tried to toss in as many of my favorites as I could (Blaster, Arcee, Kup, Goldbug, Scattershot) along with some generics.
How detailed was the description of the card ‘Toolbox’ when you were assigned it? How did you feel being assigned a card that was literally just a box of tools?
Ha! I can’t remember, specifically. It was pretty basic, as was the illustration! I had no problem with it. Any time an “easy” one comes along I’m grateful for it.
Were there any other cards that you felt were particularly interesting to draw for the card game? Are there any characters that you wish you could have drawn but didn’t get to?
The Siege Decepticons were a joy to draw. It’s always fun to see the toys coming down the pipeline before they are revealed, and Siege Shockwave, Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave are beauties!
As mentioned above, Blaster is one of my favorite characters, so despite loving the chance to draw Soundwave and his cassettes, I was a bit envious over not being assigned the Blaster cards in the Blaster vs. Soundwave set.
Have you managed to get to play the game at all, especially now that there are so many cards with your art on?
I haven’t picked up enough cards to play the game. There were a couple of IDW issues that included a pack of Series 1 cards, so when I received my copies of Transformers #8 from IDW, I opened a couple of the packs that came with it. There have also been a couple of generous TFTCG players/collectors out there who gifted me a few spare cards when I signed some for them at conventions. Other than that, I haven’t actually seen most of the cards that have my art on them.
More recently you’ve been doing art for non-Transformers comics… in particular you’ve been drawing for My Little Pony. How has the shift from drawing one ’80s pop culture icon to another been?
Comic book storytelling is similar no matter what property you’re working on, but in terms of the actual character drawings & settings it’s VERY different in many ways. My Little Pony is a total fantasy world, not a lot of straight-edge work required, which has been refreshing. It’s a lot more cute & playful, which is a fun change. But in the end it’s all about trying to put out the best work I can with the time that I have.
What other projects have you been involved in outside of Transformers?
Not much, other than covers. I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to draw at least a cover for TMNT, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Micronauts, GI Joe, Jem & the Holograms and of course the above-mentioned My Little Pony.
What advice would you have for anyone wanting to get into drawing professionally?
Be ready to work. A lot. Stay up late, wake up early. Continually work on your craft. MEET DEADLINES. Take constructive criticism. Don’t get too down on yourself if you don’t make it right away. If you love doing it, KEEP DOING IT. To get paid for it you need a combination of skill & luck (right place, right time). So if you really want it, keep working at it and don’t give up.
Are you happy to do card signings, and if so where can people find you? (conventions, etc.)
I’m always happy to sign cards or comics for people. Typically this happens at conventions, but I have done some through mail (if the person in question covers the cost of shipping both ways). I haven’t missed a US TFCon yet, so it’s a safe bet you’ll find me there if you’re planning to attend one!
Finally, is there anything else you want to add or say to the Transformers TCG community?
I hope everyone is enjoying the artwork on the cards. It’s a labor of love!
Casey Coller Cardography (26/1/20)
Battle Cards (Lines): Combat Training, Static Laser of Ironhide
Battle Cards (Lines): Bolt of Lightning, Field Communicator, Inferno Breath, Leap of Faith, Stunticon Swagger, Tech Research
Battle Cards (Lines): Battlefield Report, Battlefield Scan, Brainstorm, Callous Leadership, Covert Armor, Dampening Field, Defensive Formation, Device Virus, Diagnosis, Dismantle, EMP Wave, Force Field, Heat of Battle, Heroic Team-Up, Hiding Spot, Infiltrate, Micro Capacitor, Pep Talk, Pop a Wheelie, Quartermaster, Reactive Armor, Reflex Circuits, Repurpose, Rock Toss, Scavenge the Battlefield, Special Ops Mission, Steady Shot, Take Cover, Two-Pronged Attack
Blaster vs Soundwave
Battle Cards (Lines): Buzzsaw, Ravage, Frenzy Attack!, Inner Groove, Intercept communications, Recover Cassette
Battle Cards (Lines): Battlefield Incursion, Conversion Engine, Decipher, Defensive Configuration, Energy Transfer, Erratic Cannon, Jam Signals, Opportune Offensive, Overheat, Pincer Movement, Relentless Invasion, Reprocess, Showing Off, Stable Cover, Step Forward, Toolbox
Character Cards (Lines): Full Tilt