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The Transformers defined IDW for almost two decades - but originally it was too pricey for IDW's then-owners

Hasbro's Transformers transformed IDW from a horror publisher to a media giant, but it almsot didn't happen.

Revolution #1
Image credit: John Byrne (IDW Publishing)

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Although Transformers began in the world of toys and action figures, the Robots in Disguise have been a quintessential part of comic books since the '80s. Transformers was a tentpole project for Marvel for over a decade, and the same can be said for IDW in the '00s and '10s, and now with Image's Skybound Entertainment in recent months. In fact, for IDW the Transformers (and later full Hasbro license) created what we now know of as IDW over the 17 years it published Transformers comics.

But according to IDW's former president/publisher/CCO/editor-in-chief Chris Ryall, the deal for IDW to partner with Hasbro for Transformers comics back in 2005 almost didn't happen. And not because he didn't want it - but because IDW's then-owners thought it wasn't worth the financial risk.

While IDW is known now as one of the top tier comic publishers in North America, that wasn't the case in 2005 - even by Ryall's own words as written in his Substack newsletter, saying they were a "longshot" and at the time, IDW was pigeonholed as "a horror publisher".

Ryall said that he and others at IDW did a series of trips from their base in San Diego to Hasbro's corporate offices in Rhode Island, and successfully made it to be among the finalists for the license. Once they made it to the final round, Hasbro's asking price was more than IDW expected - so much so that, according to Ryall, IDW's then-owners told him "to let go."

"I didn’t do that. It felt like the kind of thing the company really needed to help establish us as a real player, and to help bring in an entirely different audience, and it was something I wanted, too," says Ryall. "So we kept talking. And ended up winning the business. Which was great. I was only on the job as the company’s EiC for about a year at that point, and developing an entirely new take on the property was an exciting time."

In 2020, Ryall left IDW, and 15 months later Hasbro decided not to renew its licensing deal with IDW for the Transformers and GI Joe titles. At the time in a report to stockholders, IDW anticipated the loss of the license to "decrease revenues by approximately $1.2 million in fiscal year 2023." Six months later, IDW's owners orchestrated a massive "reset" of the company due to plummeting revenue - and as part of the reset, it laid off 39% of its staff, including its CEO and CFO during the time of the IDW/Hasbro breakup.

Inside the IDW layoffs and "reset": How a company went from making "a shit-ton of money" to worrying about bankruptcy.

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