Transformer Tuesday #1

Through the magic of time travel (it is 2015, after all. We all have hoverboards and phone booths now) this first edition of Transformer Tuesday comes to you on a Thursday. It may also have something to do with the fact that I only invented the idea this morning and couldn’t be fussed to wait five days to implement it.

Well, yesterday (try and keep up, dear) I got a lovely package from Mr. Postman. I had to sing that old Marvelettes song before he’d give it to me, which I think is very unprofessional and tantamount to abuse. I complied only because my parcel contained a Transformer toy that I’ve literally waited some twenty-seven years to buy. It’s…… FANGRY!

Green... with evil!

Green… with evil!

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Aid in the Shade

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“They call me Dr. Worm”

Medic! Medic!!

That’s what I found myself crying out as I entered the toy shop, and Kylie Minogue was nowhere to be found.

I was on the hunt for Combiner Wars First Aid, you see.  And what a hunt it turned out to be – for three weeks, I went back and forth between every shop that stocked Transformers. Yet I never found them there. How, in the 21st century, we end up with identical chain stores like Tesco, Asda and Toys R Us each having different products on the shelves, I don’t know. It’s absurd – some stores have them, some don’t. It’s pot luck. Continue reading

Price for our minds

When I was younger, I loved comics. My publication of choice – indeed my obsession – was Marvel’s Transformers, but I also enjoyed such fabulously British output as The Beano, Whizzer and Chips, and if I was feeling particularly charitable, The Dandy.

BECAUSE HE'S A FUNNY GIANT AMERICAN YOU SEE.

It’s funny because he’s supposed to be American.

I had boxes and boxes of comics under my bed, and would grab a handful to read each night before going to sleep. There was something quite special about British comics, especially from Marvel. They blew the American ones right out of the water.

These days, it’s different. There isn’t a comics industry in the UK anymore. Comics shriveled up and died, and so did my interest and passion for reading them. When Transformers came back in 2002 from Dreamwave, my interest was briefly piqued, but after some abysmal work by IDW a few years later, I pretty much forgot about comics altogether.

However, these feelings never truly die. One day, I was mooching around my local comic shop when I saw a book emblazoned with the My Little Pony logo. “Mufufu! How lame,” I mocked. “There’s a comic for this now?”

She looks like a peacock

Well, at least they brush their teeth. It’s the only part of them not full of holes.

I was vaguely aware of the MLP phenomenon, and viewed it with only a detached amusement. But the cover for this comic was strikingly different to what one might expect. Instead of cute, fluffy ponies, it had fanged monsters in black-and-neon livery. At their head was an emerald-eyed demon with funny peacock-like antennae (*ahem* – turns out it’s a crown). I was intrigued, so I opened the issue.

And lo, the scales fell from my eyes. And I was saved.

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You will weep for the huggy catty things.

The art inside was incredible! It was by Andy Price, who I’d never heard of at the time. I’d assumed the comic would closely mimic the cartoon show, if not screencap it outright. But what I found inside was nothing of the sort. It looked like a proper comic. The kind of which I grew up reading.

Comic illustration is an art form, and it’s a dying one. In the last decade or two we’ve seen comic art get ever more complicated, elaborate and lifelike. But it’s lost its soul. We have artwork that is technically very accomplished, and imitates life superbly, but has no life of its own.

However, Andy Price is different. The man is some kind of comic genius from another world. Opening up that My Little Pony issue was like pouring water on the rose of Jericho; I was in love with comics again.

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Ah, the ol’ coin-behind-the-ear bit. Never fails.

In stark contrast to the clean, unchanging digital artwork of the MLP cartoon, Price’s ponies are wonderfully soft and expressive. They radiate personality and emotion, and are forever twisting and gurning their faces and bodies into ever more grotesque forms. Panel after panel, he finds something different to do with the characters, working – I assume – outside of the given script.

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Popular in Finland, is Andy.

He plays with the format, too. Borders blur and merge organically together. Characters and scenery intrude between adjacent panels and pages, and even simple lettering, usually left to the digital guys, becomes part of the artwork and helps tie the stories together. Most of Andy’s comics are graced with one or more splash pages that stand out as being particularly dramatic, funny or emotional. I actually cut one out and framed it on my wall.

Andy makes reading comics fun again; each issue is filled with little jokes and asides, hidden away in the artwork. You’ll find yourself scouring each new page to seek them out. Sometimes it’s less like reading a comic and more like reading Where’s Wally (or Where’s Waldo if you’re from Americaland). Certain characters, such as the mysterious night mare Princess Luna, shine above the cartoon versions that are supposed to have inspired them and stand alone to become beloved favourites.

luna_micro_series_andy_price_clean_full_picture_by_neptunefallen-d7hxbo1

I privately mocked My Little Pony at first, but looking back I’m happy to have been proven wrong. Since then, I’ve become rather infatuated with it… I think this shows that you should never knock something until you’ve tried it, and in the right hands things that sound a bit naff can be turned into something truly great.

To sum up – if you’re a fan of MLP, you need to read these comics. If you’re not a fan of MLP, you still need to read these comics. There isn’t space enough on the whole internet, let alone this one page, to demonstrate how good Andy Price is, so just take my word for it.

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Twins! Always bickering, they are.

Bear in mind that the series has been going for two or three years now with various artists and writers at the helm, and so the quality of each issue varies – some are things of wonder, others pretty dire – but Price’s name comes as a seal of quality. If it’s got his name on it, you won’t be disappointed. Look for The Return of Queen Chrysalis (#1 ~ #4), Reflections (#17 ~ #20)Root of the Problem (#27 ~ #28) and Princess Luna (Micro Series #10), among others.

Well, what are you waiting for…!? Bugger off and get reading!Luna_fed up

Make Beast Love, Not War

I underwent my first emotional crisis sometime in the early nineties. I was distraught – Transformers had disappeared. I went into the toy shop one day, and the pegs were empty. For the next year or so, I went in every week and asked the lady at the till if any new ones were coming in. The answer was always ‘no’, and so I gave up hope.

Transformers were dead, and a little bit of me died with them.

Yeah. Bit like this.

Yeah. Bit like this.

Then one weekend in 1996, I was in McDonalds with my mum and dad. I’d finished my Happy Meal and rather than sit down for another half hour listening to my dad grumble over a cup of coffee, I escaped out the back exit and into the adjacent Woolworths.

Browsing the toy shelves, I came across some really cool boxes. They had a wicked dinosaur-skin pattern on them, and said in neon green letters “BEAST WARS”. My curiosity was immediately piqued. They looked to be toy animals. I saw a bat and an alligator at first.

If this were made today, the box would be the size of ten elephants and it'd cost £50

If this were made today, the box would be the size of ten elephants and it’d cost £50

Looking closer, I saw the names “Optimus Primal” and “Megatron”. My heart skipped a beat. Could it be!?

At first, I figured that these toys were knock offs – imitation Transformers designed to cash in on the brand’s former popularity. They certainly didn’t look like any Transformer I had ever seen before. Optimus “Primal” may well have been a cheeky attempt at skirting the copyright, and the factions were “Heroic Maximals” and “Evil Predacons” instead of Autobots or Decepticons.

What can I say? I was naive.

I warmed to them quite quickly once I realised they were the bona fide article. Although I was certainly put off by many of the toys’ orgainic styling at first. It was almost the antithesis of Robots in Disguise – wheels and wings and cockpits were replaced by paws and tails and animal guts. Many of the early toys were quite messy, too; they had all these extraneous animal parts sticking out.reduced-bwterror

The first toys I actually bought were Terrorsaur – because of his superficial resemblance to Starscream – and Snapper, a turtle of the non-teenage but possibly still mutant variety. They cost £5 in my local Toymaster. Not £5 each, no – a fiver for the two. How times have changed.

I loved them dearly, and they were soon followed by Waspinator and Tarantulas. I had a thing for the Predacons at first, probably because they looked a lot more mechanical than the Maximals, being based primarily on insects or reptiles. One toy I steadfastly refused to buy was Rattrap. “Yuck,” I said at the time, “Who wants a robot that turns into a rat?”.

Megatron has difficulty transforming his toy and loses his temper

“Grr! One-step transformation, my ass!”

I’d eat those words, though, because in the summer of 1997 there was a Beast Wars cartoon on GMTV! It was absolutely brilliant. It was CGI, in the vein of the earlier Reboot, but it looked amazing. It says something that, twenty years on, it still stands up to viewing today. In fact, although the computer models might look a tad dated, the actual animation has yet to be bettered.

"Nighty mares!"

“Nighty mares!”

It starred a small cast of characters, about five or six Transformers on each side. This allowed much greater character development than the earlier cartoons. Optimus Primal was wise and compassionate, Megatron was calculating and snobbish. The young and impulsive Cheetor was the Hasbro-mandated kid-appeal character, but many fell in love with the insolent and obnoxious Rattrap instead.

I could write a whole other article about the Beast Wars cartoon, and maybe I will, but for now I’ll just say that it is by far the best Transformers cartoon ever made. It’s action-packed, funny and thoughtful – it can be enjoyed by adults and children alike, and makes most modern cartoons look like programming for idiots.

Pictured: Hasbro's pitch for the 2015 Transformers cartoon

Pictured: Hasbro’s pitch for the 2015 Transformers cartoon

Proving that we’re all of us malleable tools of the media, my interest in the toys exploded after watching the cartoon, and my collection grew to include pretty much all the characters in the show and a few extras that took my fancy. New toys started appearing on the shelves shortly before season two aired. They were called “Fuzors” and “Transmetals”.

The former were two beasts melded into one. An interesting idea, but most of the toys looked pretty naff. Silverbolt the wolf/eagle was the best, but ended up looking less like two animals monstrously blended together and more like a regular (if there is such a thing) griffon. My mum bought me a toy called Torca (wait…), which I didn’t really care for at the time. It was only years later that I appreciated the kooky hideousness of the elephant/orca hybrid.

# And the elephant goes toot.... #

# And the elephant goes toot…. #

The Transmetals were an attempt to win over the stubborn fans who refused to embrace the new organic designs. It threw the Beast Wars concept on its head; the toys were very shiny and very robotic-looking in beast mode, yet maintained gooey insides for their robot modes. Soft on the inside, hard on the outside – ARMADILLOS! (Readers from foreign lands: resign yourselves to not getting the joke)

Pictured: A Westcountry person. Uh, like me.

Pictured: A Westcountry person. Uh, like me.

Like many of my hobbies, Beast Wars was enjoyed in clandestine secrecy, lest I be mercilessly mocked by my peers. We were too old for toys, my friends said. My next door neighbour caved and bought one, but only “because he looks cool on the shelf. I don’t play with him or anything”.

Looking back, I should have done what all teenagers do and just told them all to go and fuck themselves. If your friends are willing to disown you because you like a cartoon, they aren’t your friends to lose in the first place.

Times have changed – Transformers are a pop culture mainstay, and people are generally more accepting of ‘geek’ culture. You can go into Primark and buy t-shirts with Bart Simpson or Adventure Time or Big Bird on them, and wear them with pride. Years ago, you had to get these things from specialists or just make them yourself.

Free ticket for an ass kicking.

Free ticket for an ass kicking.

Beast Wars brought me many happy times. I loved the cartoon, I played with the toys, and it ultimately contributed a great deal to my childhood and adolescence. It was quality stuff, and it fuelled my imagination just as the classic Transformers had done.

Were it not for Beast Wars, then I’m certain Transformers would never have returned in such a big way, and we wouldn’t have all this great merchandise to rekindle fond memories – and make new ones. It’s worth noting that there was a short comic series made by IDW in 2006 (it still seems brand new to me, despite being nearly ten years old now!). The art is astounding, and it ties in nicely with the cartoon with a script by British National Treasure Simon Furman. Pick it up from your local dealer today. Uh, your comic dealer you understand. Not the shady guy who hangs around outside the nightclub.

“Love with the insolent”

Comic Review: Jem and The Holograms #1

JemModernIDW (2015)

I must admit to being glad to see this comic on the shelves. There’s something about Jem’s clean-cut glam rock styling that appeals to me. It’s like KISS but for kids. The comic itself is very stylish, coming in about twelve different variants. I got the ‘group’ cover, showing the new Holograms in their entirety. Others show the classic characters or more abstract images. As far as I can figure, all of the covers have a sparkly holographic logo. Pretty sweet!

The artwork inside is passable. The characters themselves are snazzy and ostentatious; their makeup and clothing really screams “80s” while managing to look modern. Full marks for design, at least. However, there’s very little flair or style in the art itself – a shocking amount of panels are against plain white backgrounds, and there’s only so many times you can see a close-up of a girl’s face before it gets a bit samey. Continue reading

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye

It’s funny how a popular, worldwide, decade-spanning franchise can mean something different to so many people. Take Transformers, for example. We all had the same toys, saw the same cartoons and comics, but each person tends to latch on to a specific medium that for them represents the “real” Transformers. Everything else is compared to it and carefully cross-referenced with a personal canon that only exists in the imagination.

It’s almost the exact opposite to something like Star Trek. Some people love the original series, others devoutly followed The Next Generation, but they all represent the same thing; different parts of the same whole. Then again, I have a cousin who refuses to believe that DS9 ever happened. Whereas for me, it all ended with Voyager and I consider the entirety of Star Trek: Enterprise to be a feature-length episode of Quantum Leap. So maybe there’s no escaping it.

Also, for those playing along at home, make sure to clearly stamp your Star Trek Bingo cards.

"Al!? Where are ya, Al...!?"

“Al and Ziggy will be here aaaaaany minute….”

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