Sunday, October 26, 2014

Big Bot Books: The Total Package in Transformers Legacy!

WHEN the Transformers Generation 1 toys first came out from Hasbro in 1984, I fell in love with the idea of toys that turned into another toy.

There was just something about the ingenuity of action figures that turned into vehicles or other machines that sparked interest with the coherent themes of subterfuge and duality. But as the years went on, I came to a stunning conclusion: As much as I loved the toys, what I really loved was the packaging!

The packaging for the G1 TF line was just perfect. The boxes or cardback were coded red for heroic Autobots and purple for evil Decepticons, with that splashy and iconic Transformers logo.

On the front was this amazing depiction of the robot poised to attack, on the back was a sweeping battle scene with so many TFs transforming to face their counterparts, the tech specs (which could “only” be decoded by the provided red plastic strip, and, of course, the bio complete with motto, function and personality (provided by, among others, Marvel comics writer Bud Budiansky).

As these examples of package art came out before the “Transformers” animated TV show, these were not only the first images we had of the various TF characters, but also the most attractive. These are toy-accurate—complete with the quirky faces and eye—but looked like they were springing into action. It made the toy—which was next to it on the box front visible through a transparent plastic window in alt mode—look alive.

When the “Transformers” TV show became a hit, many fans would come to accept the heavily revised and simplified animated designs as the iconic looks. But I disagree—the packaging art will always be my favorite TF memory. This probably explains why, in all of my years of collecting G1 toys, I always try to buy the toy together with its original packages, especially in the recent years (and post Micheal Bay-movie era) when the stratospheric prices of MISB G1 toys make it unreasonable to do collect them. But the prices of opened MIB G1 toys can still offer a window for collectors if they’re patient.

There have been several books collecting TF art over the years; a good example would be 2003’s “Genesis: The Art of Transformers” from Image, but there has never been a comprehensive, focused collection of TF G1 package art—until now.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I felt that IDW Publishing’s “Transformers Legacy: The Art of Transformers Packaging” was targeted just at me. I know this isn’t true but it feels like it, because rarely have I encountered TF merchandise that made me feel like IDW hired Mindwipe to read my mind (The other examples will be mentioned below).

Simply put, “Transformers Legacy” gathers the vast majority of the art that appeared on TF packages during the G1 and G2 runs. Take note, I didn’t say just the Hasbro art, because this hardcover also includes examples of the Japanese pre-TF Diaclone art, the art from the Japan-exclusive Takara items, and a few aptly-named oddities. There is so much more here, haha, than meets the eye.

The first thing that strikes a reader is the sheer heft of the book, which features 300 pages of full-color, glossy paper, and is hardbound, just a little over 9” x 12” and weighs in at an impressive four pounds. This coffee-table book is meant to take a pounding and keep on transforming.

The book is written by the team of Jim Sorenson and Bill Forster, the same guys who brought you the popular animation-focused “GI Joe: Field Manual” and “Transformers: The Ark” volumes.” Now there isn’t a whole lot of text in “Transformers Legacy,” but that’s just fine because it’s the gathering and curating of the art that stands out here. What Sorenson and Forster did isn’t easy.

You see, they couldn’t scan the art from the old packages. They had to hunt down original art pieces for the packaging and catalogs, sourcing them from their own collection, Hasbro and Takara archives, and other collectors’ secret stashes. Here, the restored individual pieces of airbrushed art shine. “There’s something truly magical about the package art of Generation 1 Transformers,” the writers say. “The artistic style remained essentially unchanged for more than a decade.”

Check out that glorious cover, with the toy-accurate Optimus Prime and the original Autobots. The book is divided in four chapters, with the first chapter representing what most of us know as definitive G1, the original Ark-era characters and the toys from 1986’s “The Transformers: The Movie” line. This is the stuff that the hardcore G1 fans want, Optimus Prime and Megatron, Ultra Magnus and Galvatron. These are the toys and characters we expect and are most familiar with, so what we notice are how uniquely different these original package art is, as well as how beautiful the pieces are on their own.

The second chapter features the quirkier later part of G1 line, from the Scramble City combiners (presented in both gestalt form and individual team members) to the line-ending Action Masters. It’s amazing when one notices how many individual art pieces there are (remember, every Micromaster had their own art) and how long Hasbro stuck with the original art style. It's more than just nostalgia: these are true works of art.

The third chapter starts the glorious goofiness, featuring art from the Japan-exclusive Takara line, including the material from lines like “Transformers Zone” and “Transformers Masterforce,” among others. Here you’ll be struck by just how original the exclusive characters like Star Saber, Metalhawk and Overlord are and how different they are from the American toys. It’s also interesting to see how the American toy art was rejiggered to represent the new Japanese-only molds such as Doubleclouder (from Doubledealer).

The craziness reaches maximum volume in the fourth chapter, which features art from Generation 2, the exclusive stuff like e-Hobby and European releases and, perhaps the most notoriously difficult part, the unused art from unreleased items. Just oddball and random majesty all around. This is the best behind-the-scenes aspect of the TF line, the stuff that the collectors really had no idea about until reading “Transformers Legacy.”

The book is magnificent, with the art clear and striking. Take note of those battle scenes on the backs of the packages, now blown up in all their glory. Check off the art for the toys you own—and the ones you’ve always wanted to own. Sorenson and Forster acknowledge this isn’t strictly a complete edition, as some art has fallen between the cracks and they were unable to recover them in a good enough condition for “Transformers Legacy.” You will hardly notice the gaps, except for one obvious one. The art for Jetfire is missing, though whether this is from a lack of good art or licensing issues, one can’t be sure.

But that’s really a very, very minor quibble. This is a must-read for the dedicated TF G1 collector. The best thing about it is that it gives you the feeling that you own all the toys because you now have all the package art. For me, it represents the collection of my favorite part of the line.

There are two other Transformers books which you should own. There’s the Dreamwave “Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye” G1 guidebooks for the best comic-style art representation and the wonderfully detailed bios (though really it is two paperback volumes and were reprinted by IDW later) and Krause Publication’s “Transformers: Identification and Price Guide” by Mark Bellomo, which is the best TF collecting guide in my opinion.

Then, there’s “Transformers Legacy: The Art of Transformers Packaging.” I waited all year for this book—and it did not disappoint. Go get it.

“Transformers Legacy: The Art of Transformers Packaging” is available at Filbar’s for PhP 2,500.00 pesos.

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