“With Transformers it’s like you sneeze and find someone doing something amazing with their skills– writing, drawing, organizing zines, sewing– there’s so much!” – Billie Montfort on the Transformers fandom.
Billie Montfort is a colour artist who began working on the Transformers TCG with Wave 4, doing colour art for a variety of battle cards including Hazardous Shield, Soldier’s Blaster, Increased Durability and more. They also write their own comics, and have been creating Transformers fan art for years.
Billie Montfort was able to take some time out to talk about the creativity of the fandom, drawing comics, creating concepts for cybertronian flora and fauna, and even tabling at TFNation last year.
Can you remember your first exposure to the Transformers, and how you felt at the time?
My first exposure to Transformers was the first Michael Bay movie! I remember leaving the theater a little disappointed, because as my first introduction to the franchise I was hoping to come away with an understanding of why Optimus Prime and Megatron were so iconic. I mean c’mon, even if you’d never seen or read Transformers, you knew who they were! I’d no idea how different the movie adaptations were from the rest of the franchise, though, and was a little underwhelmed.
What sucked you into the Transformers in the long term? Comics, toys, cartoons, movies?
It’s so hard to point to just one thing! Transformers: Prime was what initially got me to give the franchise another chance. I finished the whole series, loved it completely, and I knew I wanted more. The comics were there to give me the additional content I craved, and where I ultimately placed a lot of my interest! So even if the comics sealed the deal, I don’t think I would have given them a chance without Prime to pave the way.
Were there any particular characters that stood out to you? What made them appealing to you?
So many! I could write entire pages about characters that stood out to me, but as an abridged version I’ll just say; Whirl and Rodimus. With Whirl it was love at first witty quip and I only grew to love him more as MTMTE (More Than Meets the Eye, IDW Comic – Ed) progressed. Right off the bat he and his interactions with the crew made me laugh, and it was at a point in my life where I really needed that levity. From there, as more of his backstory and personality was revealed, I just really identified with a lot of his internal struggles. I think there’s something that’s intrinsically appealing about a character that you can see yourself in. It’s cathartic, and validating. Whirl‘s character and his story were a gift I didn’t know I needed until I had it.
My experience with Rodimus was very different from my experience with Whirl. I want to say I liked him from the beginning, but I didn’t. He was exactly the kind of character that I don’t like– the brash, self-absorbed, ego fueled, adrenaline hungry guy who shies away from self-reflection; where despite his failings things always turn out in his favor anyway. But that’s sort of the magic of MTMTE, isn’t it? How it slowly peeled back the onion layers of characters and revealed their hidden depths, giving you a different way of looking at them. Seeing his personal growth in MTMTE and learning more about him from other comics made him a character that I love dearly.
(Special honorable mention to TFP: Soundwave for having the dopest design and for being the only
one who does any work in this house reliable Decepticon.)
Do you remember your first experiences with the fandom? How engaged with the fandom are you? How does it differ from other fandoms you’ve been involved in?
I don’t recall anything specific, but I know that from the get-go it was positive! I’m not as engaged with it as I used to be, due to work and general life stuff, but I really miss it. The Transformers fandom is so creative and inspiring, and as a whole is responsible for some of my best work! I really cannot stress how creative and friendly the bulk of the fandom is– especially compared to other fandoms I’ve been in, where it always felt like you had to struggle to make a connection, or find fandom content. With Transformers it’s like you sneeze and find someone doing something amazing with their skills– writing, drawing, organizing zines, sewing– there’s so much!
Also, I feel like the Transformers fandom as a majority is LGBT+/queer in some way, and that definitely has an impact on how fandom interacts with the material and with each other. It’s a very different vibe, and one I really appreciate.
When did you first start drawing? Were Transformers among the first things you drew? What do you enjoy drawing other than Transformers?
I’ve enjoyed drawing since I was a little tadpole, but I don’t think I started to take it seriously or dedicating actual time to it until I reached 6th grade/middle school (in frog terms I had grown into a froglet, and in the UK it would’ve been around Year 7)
Aside from Transformers, my most favorite thing is probably just designing characters. I love designing aliens and monsters, other robots– just a little bit of everything! I feel like I’ve always got an idea or two for a character, so when I’m not working I’m scribbling something out.
And when I’m not doing that, I’m making comics!
Is drawing the only artistic endeavor you’ve pursued?
I’m not sure what really counts as an ‘endeavor’, but I’ve tried lots of different things! Sculpting (fun but messy), some glass blowing (Interesting in theory, but in practice there’s a little too much fire), screen printing (lots of fun, definitely something I want to get back to doing when I have the space.) I love learning and trying new things; there’s just something exhilarating about practicing a new skill and realizing that even if you’re not getting the hang of it right away, you’re still getting to absorb something new!
You have a bachelor’s in art; have you found your degree important for your art? Do you think getting a degree is important for any aspiring artist?
AHAHA OH BOY this is a bit of a complicated topic.
Personally I don’t think I’ve ever, not once, needed my degree for my work in the years since I graduated. All the important skills I needed for my job, I’ve learned either on my own or through the advice of my peers. It’s been like having a fancy paperweight– it looks nice on paper.
But NEEDING a degree? It really depends on what your ultimate goal is. For some jobs, like Game Design for example, getting a degree can be beneficial because you’re learning about more than the technique. Attending some kind of college or program might also be beneficial if you’re the kind of person who thrives in a structured learning environment, if you feel like you just need that kind of social atmosphere, or if you just need that dedicated time and space to practice and develop your skills.
But! There’s so much available outside of college/university/programs now. Lots of people have created tutorials and videos, there are books and online courses– so if what you’re mainly concerned with is growing your artistic skills, if you’re a person who struggles with standardized learning, if you don’t have the means, or even if you just plain don’t want to go, then you don’t have to.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a personal gripe with standardized education as a whole. I think it fails to take into account the individual needs of the student, and can be incredibly damaging mentally, physically, and socially. Extended into higher education, it can also be incredibly expensive in a way that can be adversely impactful for years. That being said, I don’t want to hand-wave the benefits and good experiences you can have by pursuing a degree!
Ultimately I just think the question aspiring artists are asking themselves shouldn’t be “do I need a degree” but rather, “is getting a degree a journey I can see benefitting me.”
What’s your main goal as a comic artist? What do you find interesting about creating comics as opposed to other media?
As a comic artist I have a lot of goals! I want to make stuff that’s fun, I want to make stuff that looks good and reads well, I want to make comics that get people to feel something; in the end though, when I really think about it, I just want to make something that can provide a little escapism. Life is hard, and if I can do what other comics have done for me, and give someone just a little sliver of time where they can relax? That’ll be what I consider a success.
Comics are so interesting because they’re both illustration and writing, but neither at the same time! It’s a unique form of storytelling expressed in a visual language, and there’s so many different ways to go about it.
When it comes to making my own comics I like it for two reasons; I love telling stories, and I don’t have to worry about how good my prose is. :’)
What’s been the hardest part about being a freelance artist and illustrator?
Oof. Time! There’s never time for anything, or at least that’s what it feels like. It’s hard to feel like there’s room to just take a break, or take a day off. Sometimes it’s even like, “can I really take a moment to clean my room, when I’ve got work to do?” (The answer is yes; you can and you should.) Unlearning that pressure to keep going is very important, and I say that as someone who’s still working on that lesson.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to put their own art out on the internet?
My biggest advice is: don’t let your art become your identity. Your art is a part of you, but how people react to it, and how much you put out there, are not reflections on you as an individual or your level of skill.
Back to Transformers, how did you get involved with the card game? Was this the first time you’ve been involved in an official Transformers project?
Yes, it is! Baby’s first official Transformers project!
I got involved through Sara Pitre-Durocher! She put out a request for portfolios on twitter– and in the words of a friend, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. So. I took the shot.
Was there any anxiety about working on something official?
It felt very surreal, and like someone was going to say ‘hey we made a mistake and meant to send that email to someone else, sorry!’ Only they DIDN’T and suddenly I was coloring lines for Milne and Coller? There was a lot of internal screaming involved. And maybe a little panic.
What challenges did you have to overcome doing colours for the card game?
I would say the biggest struggle was in learning to be conscientious of the final product. Because, in the end, the art is going to be very small and it has to be visibly legible! So learning to color things in a way that made stuff stand out took time. Major props to Sara P., who was the art boss for the project and helped guide and fix things. She was very patient and explained the changes that needed to be made. I feel like I learned a lot!
Did you have much in the way of creative freedom when it came to how you went about colouring each card?
I think so! I mean, we had to follow certain guidelines of course, but within those lines there was a lot we could do!
Was there any card you were particularly proud of? What made that card particularly rewarding to work on?
I really like the way Hazardous Shield came out! I just think I hit a good groove with that one, and the end result is pretty *chefs kiss*
Since working on the cards, have you had a chance to play the game, or watch other people playing the game?
😀 nope! But maybe someday!
What about fan works, what kind of fan projects have you worked on? One of your colleagues has mentioned you’ve done a lot of world-building related to Cybertronian flora/fauna, what might she be referring to?
I love being a part of zines when I have the time, and I’ve been a part of the Transformers Fan Calendar project for the last few years! There’s also a fan comic I’m working on, but that’s going to take a bit more time before it sees the light of day ahahaha. :’D
I’m not really sure I’d consider this a fan project because there’s certainly no real organization behind it, but I mentioned earlier that I like designing things– and that’s bled over into my love of Transformers! I’ve always felt like we got to see lots of the characters, and some of the cities, but we never really get to see Cybertron as a planet. And we never really get more than off-hand comments about what kind of animals there might be! So, I like to make up hypothetical animals, and some flora too! There were some pretty solid worldbuilding notes to go along with the art, but those have been lost to time (and hard drive failure), unfortunately.
You were at TFNation this year selling your artwork. How difficult is it running an art stall at an event like TFNation?
I think once the initial nerves settle and I get into the swing of things it’s fairly easy, especially since I split my table with friends who are great company. TFN was my third convention where I tabled, so I’d had some practice. I’ve learned that it’s all about being as prepared as you can be, and the rest is being chill and friendly.
England is a long way for you to travel just for a con; what made this convention attractive enough to travel all that way for?
Well, firstly because my friends were there! I love seeing them, and conventions are really the only place all of us get a chance to come together and hang out, as we live so far apart. Getting to meet some pals I’ve only known online was an incredible gift too!
What was your favourite memory from being at TFNation this year?
Aside from the hotel breakfast, which absolutely lived up to the hype? Probably when a squad of my pals and I went to the hotel gym and had a contest on the leg press. I didn’t win, but it was hilarious.
Will you be aiming to run a stall again next year?
Absolutely! I definitely wanna come back, I had an amazing time, and I would love to see everyone again.
What do you hope to be working on in the new year?
That fan comic I mentioned is at the top of my list– I’ve had it written for ages, now I just gotta make time to get it done! Other than that I have no real set plans; I tend to let my goals shape themselves as I move along.
Are you happy to do card signings, and if so where can people find you? (conventions, etc.)
I’d be very happy to sign cards! I’m planning to be at TFN, with tentative plans for the TFCon that isn’t going to be in Orlando. If you can’t make it to either of those, I’d be happy to work something out!
Finally, is there anything else you want to add or say to the Transformers TCG community?
Be excellent to each other!
Billie Cardography (8/1/20)
Battle Cards (Colours): Decipher, Energy Transfer, Hazardous Shield, Increased Durability, Jam Signals, Medic’s Protective Field, Opportune Offensive, Pocket Processor, Soldier’s Blaster (continued updates to this list can be found here)