Greg Farshtey (Bionifigs)

Interview with Greg Farshtey, author of the BIONICLE novels

Version originale de l’article en français, à ce lien.

Greg Farshtey, the main author of BIONICLE throughout the 2000s, answered questions from for the 20-year anniversary of the franchise.

If Greg Farshtey is not the creator of BIONICLE, he became the pope of the saga of the Great Spirit Mata Nui in terms of history and lore. A prolific author, he has written 25 short novels, more than 15 short stories, published 7 guides to the universe, 2 encyclopedias as well as scripted 50 BIONICLE comic books published by DC for a decade. For the very first time for a French-language media, the 55-year-old writer answers our questions on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the franchise, launched in December 2000 in Europe and Australia.

His view of the saga today, its future, the fan community… We asked him about current events. Due to technical constraints, and contrary to our previous interview, this one was not in video format. But Greg Farshtey made a point of addressing a small word to the French community of BIONICLE fans. — Hello Greg! BIONICLE is 20 and you also celebrate your twentieth year at LEGO. How are you? Could you present your past works to our readers, and what you are currently working on?

Greg Farshtey — Hi. Well, I have had over 100 books published in my career, along with 11 New York Times best-sellers. I am probably best known for the BIONICLE comic and chapter books and the NINJAGO graphic novels. Right now, I am just working on my own stuff – I have not had any LEGO-related freelance work in several years.

BFIG — How would you introduce BIONICLE and its whole universe to a novice? What would be the details to pique their curiosity?

Greg — That’s a difficult question. Do you just give them the original concept, or do you move beyond that? Without knowing where they are going to jump into the story, it would be difficult to know how much to reveal. And then, of course, there are people who are into the sets but not the story, and vice versa. But I would say BIONICLE is a story about bio-mechanical heroes who battle evil while caught in the middle of a world-shattering mystery they are not even aware of.

BFIG — BIONICLE novels are a piece of work with almost 800.000 words, including the web series (probably 1 million words in French!). It’s the equivalent of the Bible and more than the Lord of the Rings. Don’t you think a complete edition would be nice?

Greg — Yes, but I don’t see it happening. With BIONICLE not an active toy line, there’s no real reason for Scholastic [the original publisher] to do anything with those books. An interesting side note is that BIONICLE books tended not to do well in « buy one, get one » sort of sales, because fans bought the books as soon as they came out. They usually didn’t need to go back for ones they had missed. Scholastic actually tried this ; they put out one or two hardcover collections of a few novels. They didn’t sell, because people who wanted the books bought them when they came out. Outside of ego gratification, I wouldn’t gain anything from this and as I said, it won’t happen.

BFIG — Same question for the comic books that you wrote during the whole publication with DC, that may represent more than 900 pages. Any BIONICLE Omnibus in the works by chance?

Greg — It’s pretty much the same answer. There are no active BIONICLE publishing licenses because the line is inactive. Without the marketing support that comes from having sets on the shelves, there’s no real reason for a publisher to be interested in doing anything with this. If BIONICLE ever did come back, it would not be in such a way that we would expect fans to know the story from over 10- years ago. (You could easily launch the story on Bara Magna and not even get into all that went before.) But realistically, things like this only happen when there is a movie or a TV series or something like that. Even Harry Potter only got a renewed marketing push when the Fantastic Beasts film came out. Were it up to me, I would like to see a known science fiction writer (so not me) tackle BIONICLE in a series aimed at adults.

BFIG — Between the different artists you worked with, is there a particular style you really liked? Are there other artists you would have loved to work with on BIONICLE?

Greg — No, not really. They were all very talented in their own way (and great people). I am not a very visual person – I think in words – so the art end of things was really other people’s province. Like a lot of comic readers, I am faster to notice bad art that detracts from the book than good art.

BFIG — In addition to the novels, you wrote a lot of serials between 2007 and 2010. They incredibly expand the lore of BIONICLE. How would you explain their place compared to the story in the novels to a novice?

Greg — This was so long ago that I really don’t remember what fit where. I am sure a wiser head than mine could (and probably already has) figured out the timeline for all of this. It’s beyond me at this point.

BFIG — Only 16 out of the 29 BIONICLE novels were translated in French, in Canada, by Hélène Pilotto, and only 4 in France. If a translation project of the never translated novels in French would interest a French editor, would you be ok?

Greg — It wouldn’t be up to me or require my okay. The rights to the novels are owned by Scholastic, so anything done with them would have to get their permission. And again, if the toy line is not active, there’s no real reason for anyone to do this. Sorry to be a broken record, but that’s how it is. The story existed to support the sets, so if there are no more sets, that’s pretty much it.

BFIG — Have you seen Sokoda’s LEGO Ideas submission that attracted 10.000 supporters in a record time? It is the one that represents three iconic scenes of the first generation to celebrate the 20 years of BIONICLE. What would be the other scenes you would like to see in a diorama of this kind?

Greg — I did see it and I liked it very much. I don’t know – there are so many classic, iconic scenes from the years of BIONICLE. I would not want to be the person to make the selection. But if there should be only one, Matoro‘s death comes to mind.

BFIG — This tribute to the 20 years of BIONICLE did not seem to be chosen by LEGO. Do you know if some kind of a project is planned for the twentieth anniversary? What would you like to see?

Greg — If there are any official plans for something, I am not aware of them. Usually, if we do anniversaries, it’s for the company and building system as a whole or for an evergreen theme like City. We don’t normally do anything for discontinued themes. It struck me this morning that none of the kids who get LEGO Life Magazine now were even born yet when BIONICLE ended.

BFIG — Has LEGO learnt from the G2 commercial failure, regarding the future of BIONICLE? Would it not have been better to make a soft reboot, connected in a way to the G1 but with a lot of liberties?

Greg — I had no involvement with G2, so I can’t comment on it. I wasn’t on the story team and have no insight into the decision-making around the theme. I’m not sure what you are asking. At any rate, marketing strategy for the company is above my pay grade. Being an employee of the company, my personal opinion (even if I had one) isn’t something I would verbalize, since anything like this I do, I am doing as a representative of the company.

BFIG — Before all of this, you wrote a lot of role plays. Did this way of writing stories and interacting with the reader contributed to your way of writing BIONICLE?

Greg — Yes, that and decades of reading comics had a lot to do with my awareness of how to structure an adventure story or a cliffhanger. One of the things that made BIONICLE unique was the fact that it made readers have to wait for the next chapter. Even back then, it was a world where entire stories were largely spoon-fed – the idea that you had to wait a month or two months for the next issue was novel, where it wasn’t in my childhood.

BFIG — What are your references in terms of fiction and literature in general? What influenced you on BIONICLE? Currently, what are you reading or watching?

Greg — I mainly read mysteries these days. At the time I was writing BIONICLE, I was primarily reading comics and non-fiction. Certainly decades of comic reading influenced how I wrote them and the approaches I took to the characters. From the beginning, I felt the Toa should be disparate and not always on good terms, as opposed to be a more homogenized group.

BFIG — What did you feel as the big revelation about Mata Nui was approaching? From his appearance, to the nature of the Matoran Universe to everyone in 2008, with a secret kept by LEGO for almost a decade?

Greg — To be honest, the idea of doing the reveal and waking him in 2008 was not mine. It came from other people on the story team and I disagreed pretty strongly with it at first. It was the classic argument: if you solve the central mystery of a story, does it make a great jumping-on point for new fans or a great jumping-off point for current fans? By the time we got close to the revelation being made public, I already knew the theme had been cancelled, so that took some of the juice out of it for me.

BFIG — Several canonization contests were launched in 2020 on the TTV website, to give an official appearance to the characters from the G1 books. How was LEGO involved in this process and how are managed these canonizations about an officially stopped series?

Greg — To my knowledge, the LEGO Group as a whole has nothing to do with this. It’s something TTV pitched at me and I said okay. They hold the contest, send me the pic of the winner and I okay it. I haven’t heard that much from them so I don’t know how they are going. But it’s nothing the company is getting involved with, it’s purely a fan thing.

BFIG — So, we cannot exactly speak about « canonization »? It remains in the « fanon » that you personally approve?

Greg — Actually, since the company is not doing anything with BIONICLE, I believe it is considered canon if I okay it. Obviously, that could change if LEGO Group got back into the BIONICLE business, since the company owns it, not me. And other people who might want to do something with the line, like Christian [Christian Faber, co-creator of BIONICLE], are certainly not bound by anything I say. But for now, I am the only one still addressing the theme, so I am as close to being able to canonize things are you’re going to get.

BFIG — Were you called by Christian Faber about his own project to revive BIONICLE? Have you planned to work again on BIONICLE someday? Do you want to?

Greg — No, I haven’t spoken with Christian since BIONICLE ended. I had been hoping to work on G2, but that didn’t happen, and I have no reason to expect there will be any BIONICLE to work on in the future. You know, I would like to see BIONICLE come back again someday for the fans. For me, personally, well, when I didn’t get the chance to work on G2, one of my co-workers said, « You already did this one and were successful at it. You don’t need to do it again. » So while it would be very tempting to work on it again, living in the past is maybe not the healthiest thing for a creative person to do.

BFIG — Are there some things you would have done differently after all these years? More generally, what does BIONICLE represent to you and what would be your expectations in a perfect world?

Greg — Yes. I would have found some way to make clear that we were flashing back 1000 years in 2004, because that confused a lot of fans. I also would not have had Vakama go bad in 2005, as that never made sense to me from a character standpoint. For me personally, BIONICLE was the most successful thing I have ever worked on, was enormously gratifying creatively and financially lucrative. Few days go by that I do not miss it.

BFIG — Do you have some BIONICLE figures at home or other products?

Greg — I still have some BIONICLE sets around, but at the time I was involved with the theme, I was living in a smaller place and didn’t have room for a lot of models. So I got them here and there and never had anything close to a full set. I know there is a Gadunka downstairs. I think there are some Toa canisters too, but have not looked at them in years so don’t know what they are.

BFIG — Two years ago, Nathan Furst, compositor of the music’s first three movies (who had released a remastered album of it), alluded to a project of a cinema screening with live music for BIONICLE. What do you think of this idea and of these movies, 15 years after BIONICLE 3?

Greg — Well, as you know, BIONICLE #4 was the only one I worked on. This is the first I am hearing about any plans for a cinema screening or anything like that. The movies certainly added a lot of buzz to the theme, even if they sometimes made my job more difficult (having to come up with a non-movie storyline for the first half of the year, and then not giving away movie storyline in the comics, etc.)

BFIG — You wrote the story of the fourth film: BIONICLE: The Legend Reborn, in 2009. This movie tells the story of only one short novel out of thirty or so (published from 2001 to 2010). What other novels you wrote would you have loved to see in a movie?

Greg — My favorite novel was Time Trap, though I do not know if it would have made a good film because you really had to know the story to understand it, I think. The Darkness Below might have made a good movie.

BFIG — How do you follow the BIONICLE community and the different existing projects? (such as BioMedia Project, Red Star Games, the video game made by the fans Quest for Mata Nui, the 810NICLE Day or others)

Greg — Not really familiar with any of it enough to comment on it. Outside of occasional visits to TTV, I don’t really have any contact with the fan community anymore. I still get questions on the story, but a lot of them are so detailed that I really can’t answer them after so many years. I’m not really waiting for anything, I am just glad they still exist.  

BFIG — Pop Mhan recently stated that he would love to drink a beer with you. Would you accept?           

Greg — That’s very kind of him, so yes. The only person involved with the comics I was in touch with over the years was DC editor Marty Pasko, who sadly passed away not long ago. But the comic was a wonderful, joyful experience for me and probably not something I will ever see again in my life. I am happy if other people who worked on it feel the same.

BFIG — Thank you very much Greg! We loved to discuss with you. May we have the pleasure to see you in France one day?

Greg — I was actually last in Paris in 1984 and have long wanted to go back as well as see other places in the country. I’m hoping I can go with my daughter someday. I think she would enjoy it. It’s a beautiful place.

Interview conducted on November 19, 2020 for
Questions by Exo-6, translation and editing by Sonic and Toa~Katsuhono.

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À propos de l'auteur : Fondateur du futur Bionifigs en 2006, ayant initié de multiples projets tels que l'encyclopédie en français BIONICLE Nuvapedia, les conventions nationales de fans en France ou encore plusieurs concours avec la marque. Rare version d'Exo-Toa avec des genoux.
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