It would come as no surprise to my close friends and family that two of my biggest passions are Transformers and Star Wars. Truthfully, I’m barely able to hide it from people I’ve just met! But I’ve been asked many times which I like more, Transformers or Star Wars?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dodged answering this question. There’s too many criteria for a quick answer, and the layperson doesn’t want to hear the breakdown of facts at a cocktail party.
Star Wars was a huge part of my life starting in 6th grade. It provided an escape from middle school bullies and a reminder of innocence. As an artist, it showed me the basic principles of good storytelling. It showed me what Science Fiction should be. And for that, Star Wars will always have a special place in my heart/psyche/soul/whatever.
Transformers have been with me my whole life. Some of my earliest memories were seeing my cousins’ massive Transformers action figure collections. They were more than toys–hell, they’re more than action figures. Those little cars that turn into robots are puzzles in their own right. I’d compare being given a Transformer without instructions to being given a Rubik’s Cube. When imaginative role-play is done, those things are a quest. Whenever you set about transforming a Transformer, you are committing to a goal, an objective. There’s more going on than ‘playing with a toy.’ You might say there’s more than meets the eye.
Or you might not.
Along with this, Transformers have always been an aesthetic dream for me. The look of a Transformer is unmistakable, both animated and in toy form. Accept no substitutions. But the designing of these characters is what keeps me coming back for more. The thought that must have to go into the engineering of these toys is mind-blowing.
This fact alone makes a Transformer a unique experience.
When all the transforming, posing, and rolling-out is done, I still have designing and drawing my own Transformers. There’s always time to try and capture those nuances–those little things fans have noticed that tie all Transformers together–on paper.
I have endless doodles of those robots in disguise. Trust me.
But why is Transformers so important to me personally? Well, aside from them being one of my earliest memories, Transformers have been there at all the important occasions. I’m not just talking about presents at birthdays or Christmas (but of course they were there).
But they were there the first time my cousin showed me what eBay was in 7th grade. You could BUY retro Transformers online. He helped me bid on a G1 Hot Spot. I wanted that damn blue firetruck. I lost the auction in the end, but not before I sent the competing bidder a nasty email. Something about having to send a real firetruck to his house if he kept bidding.
Not my finest moment. But, you have to admit, pretty clever for a 13-year-old.
When college rolled around, I had all but suppressed my love for Transformers. I came from a small town. Nobody in my class really understood why a high school senior was into toys. So I dropped the shtick somewhat. Kept it in check. But college was a whole different story. On my dorm floor alone, there were 5 other guys into collecting Transformers. On top of that, we had new episodes of Armada to catch up on almost every day!
And a new show meant new toys. So while the rest of my peers were scrounging dollars and making booze runs, my friends and I were making what we called “Transformer Runs.” We had one of the older guys with a coveted close parking spot drive us to Toys R Us to scour the shelves for some good Transformers. Asking what they have in the back. It didn’t matter if you found one you liked or not–you weren’t coming home from a Transformer Run empty-handed. And say what you want about the quality of the Armada line, but there were always plenty to choose from.
As many of my readers know, my freshman year was also the year my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Around Christmastime that year, she was in remission. My parents hadn’t been able to work much and bills had made their budget pretty tight. But that didn’t stop my mom from giving me my favorite gift and the crown jewel of my Transformers collection: Armada Hot Shot with the Jolt Mini-con.
Sadly, it was the last Christmas gift I’d ever receive from my mother as she passed away the following summer. But it was one that would hold in high regard. Hot Shot was easily my favorite character in Armada, but he suddenly became my favorite character in all Transformers. Armada itself became a series that I struggled to get a hold of on DVD, but got it all the same. It’s now the most cherished–and rewatched–piece of my collection. If nothing more than for nostalgia and memories.
And that Hot Shot figure has survived many moves. I always make room for that piece of my collection and proudly display it. I also take it with on every major road trip for good luck.
Speaking of road trips, I purchased my first car last summer. Upon seeing my choices, I picked the one that most resembled Jolt from Revenge of the Fallen. Not that he was a real big player in that film, but none of the other options resembled Transformers. Of course within days I had slapped a chrome Autobot insignia on it.
What else? What else?
When the 2007 film hit the big screen, I was interviewed by the local newspaper as one of the biggest fans in town. I had the opportunity to bring my collection into the studio and have some pretty nice shots taken. And I was very surprised to find that the article was a 2-page, full-color spread inside a special insert!
They interviewed me and one other person. A nine-year-old. He brought in his collection too. His big soundbyte was “I like the red one.”
I didn’t say it was a major PR moment or anything for me. Sheesh.
For my 23rd birthday, the only thing I wanted was that planet-sized Primus action figure from the Cybertron line. Money was tight, so I did what every normal Transformers fan would do.
I started a Facebook group called “Operation: Ultimate Birthday Present.” I invited all my friends and explained to them that it was the only thing I wanted. That’s right, I threw myself a fundraiser. I had graphics and progress charts and a top contributor board.
And you best believe I got that Primus figure.
Speaking of Facebook and graphics, I have made some pretty stellar Transformers wall posts over the years.
For my 25th birthday, I wanted to up the ante. I wanted to throw a party. A Transformer-themed party. I was appalled at the serious lack of good Transformers party favors and decorations.
“These just won’t do,” I said.
So I made my own party from scratch. I got some adhesive wall clings of Bumblebee and slapped them on a long tabletop. Bam. “Bumblebee Beer Pong” was born.
I found some Autobot symbol Easter eggs that were on wicked clearance and made my own Transformer mistletoe stations.
I swirled black and yellow streamers across the ceiling. I took every Bumblebee action figure I had and taped them all over the walls, then used black crepe paper strips to give them tire tracks. (They were in alt-mode of course.)
I made my own slideshows and played them on my DVD player. The rest of the TVs in the apartment were commandeered for screenings of various Transformers cartoons. There were cutouts and cakes. Everybody signed the Bumblebee Board at the end.
I had created the quintessential Grown-Up Transformers Birthday Event of the Century.
I’ll admit I’m not a typical Transformers fan. I’m not so much a collector–at least not by the traditional standards of preservation. I’m poor. I can’t buy all the figures and go to all the conventions. But over the years I’ve found my way to make my mark on the Transformers community. I’ve spread the good word, so to speak. At my ice cream store gig, I used to bring in a portable DVD player and run episodes of G1. It was a real morale booster.
In my mind, I was making it cool to be a Transformers fan. Perhaps that sounds boastful to the public, but in the microcosm of where I’m from, it was quite the task.
Look, I love Star Wars. I am obsessed with what it is. I read the books, I watch the films, I play the video games. But I respect the story of Star Wars and admire it as an outsider.
Transformers allows fans a certain creativity that other franchises do not. That, coupled with what a major role those damn Cybertronians have played in my life make it no contest.
You gotta love Transformers.
At least until I write a Star Wars post…..