A few weeks ago, I took delivery of a really BIG cardboard packer with Amazon stickers all over it. Inside it was a copy of the most eargerly awaited book release (for me, anyway) of the year - namely, Jim Sorenson and Bill Forster's 'Transformers: Legacy', a visual history of box art from Transformers toys spanning the 1980s to the '90s.
Now, I'm REALLY late about doing this, but I figure it's worth talking about this book for a few reasons. The first would be that Jim and Bill are both super-nice guys, and friends of mine, and I want to give their book a mention. The second would be that the book is very special to me, the exact reasons why, I'll go into soon. The third reason, though - and arguably the BEST reason for me to talk about it, is because it's just a REALLY BIG, FAT, AWESOME BOOK.
'BUT WHY IS IT AWESOME?" you might ask. Well, because it feels so complete.
The book has a deceptively simple mandate - to collect as much of the original box art from those old toys as the guys could possibly find, and display it in one mighty tome. There's some commentary in the book itself about how big a task this proved, and inevitably, there are a few things missing... but not much. Collected within are artworks created to support the 1984 toyline that catpured an entire generation's imagination, as well as images that appeared on Generation 2 toy boxes. It goes beyond this to show us artwork from Japanese toylines, US and European exclusives, and all manner of famous sub-lines from the brand.
Basically, there are more robots in this book than the brain can properly take in on first browsing. Which is great, because it makes the book perfect for plucking off the shelf and leafing through again and again. Which is what I've done since I got it.
The artwork in this book - specifically from the early '80s toyline - is special to me for reasons that perhaps go beyond mere nostalgia. There's a lot of stuff in here that I've never seen before, but the early chapters contain much that I'm familiar with.
As a kid, I never had a lot of toys bought for me. I certainly never had Transformers in the numbers that some of my school friends did. While some of them would bring new toys in almost every week (one kid in my class actually came back from a holiday in the States with a load of toys you couldn't get in the UK at the time) I think I had maybe a half dozen at the most - maybe a couple more? And they were mostly teeny-tiny ones with simple transformations, like Bumblebee and Cosmos.
I do recall, quite vividly, that I was given Jazz and Bombshell together on my birthday one year as a special treat. And my father, who was generally disapproving of action figure style toys - actually bought me Mirage, completely on the spur of the moment one day, which made it something I treasured.
That treasuring of these toys meant that they were items I usually picked up and fiddled with, but never really PLAYED with. To be honest, I wasn't that sort of kid. My schoolmates would bring their toys to school and change them into whatever vehicles they became and run them long the walls of the school corridor, mash them into the mud during playtime battles, and frequently go home with their favourite characters chipped, dented, missing parts or minus plastic weapons. Mine stayed at home, pristine.
Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy them - because I did. They captured my imagination totally. I would look at them, change them back and forth, and imagine all kinds of adventures these robots might have. They were amazing. I perhaps spent too long as a child thinking about how Jazz, Bombshell, Cosmos, Bumblebee and Mirage would cope with situations I saw at home, or on the news on TV. And on rainy days I would stay indoors and pore over their box art.
Yes. Their box art. So enamoured was I of these make-believe robots that I kept the boxes, flattened down, sure, but pristine. I would dig them out sometimes and look over them, re-reading the character bios and looking at the amazing artwork that adorned them. It was captivating. That stuff made the preposterous, fantasy world of shape changing robots somehow convincing.
You have to understand - it was probably the first airbrush art I had ever seen. It blew my mind. So rich were the colours, and so dynamic the art itself. I had literally never clapped eyes on anything like it. I had been encouraged to draw from an early age, so even then, artwork was something I paid attention to. Part of me is perversely proud that, even then, I picked up on some of the weird proportions and off perspectives that crept into those early toy package illustrations. Part of me is also proud to say that, more than a quarter of a century later, I still don't care. It's still awesome stuff, because it evokes the feelings, the thoughts, the ideas and some of the best memories of my childhood. And 'best memories' and 'my childhood' are not words you'll often find coming out of my mouth in the same sentence.
That, for me, is the great joy of this book. I find myself leafing back to look at the images of Mirage, the one and only 'dumb' toy my dad ever bought for me, which got given away without my knowledge, and I chuckle. And I remember how much I love my dad. Because while I was upset at the time (and I told him!) he gave that toy to a kid who had NOTHING - and that was an action born of the purest goodness of the human heart - one of my dad's defining traits, I'm proud to say.
I find myself looking at other images, and they bring other memories back to me.
Looking at the luxurious spread of Constructicon artwork, for example, reminds me of the day one of the nastiest kids in my school was reduced to tears when a kid he'd bullied (mercilessly, and for MONTHS) plucked his Mixmaster from his hands and threw it as far as he could. The story ended unhappily for the Constructicon, who landed on the other side of the chain link fence which separated the school playing field from a busy main road. He bounced once, and was almost immediately thereafter obliterated under the tyres of an 18 wheeler. How we chortled!
Images in the book of Omega Supreme recall the day I was taken to a school friend's house and saw the toy on their dining room table. Amazing, as it was never officially released in the UK. Likewise, the Metroplex art in Legacy reminds me of one occasion where I was looked after by friends of my mothers, and their son had been given the huge toy as a christmas present. On both occasions, I observed these toys being played with, but didn't join in. The kid with the Metroplex, memorably, had been making a real nuisance of himself at the time. That day, I sat back and thought 'I've really been thinking badly of him... but he's into all the same stuff that I am'. A profound moment for a kid of however-old-I-was-then. We later became firm friends, until he sadly passed away in 2003.
'BUT WAIT A MINUTE!' you cry. 'We don't want to hear your mawkish childhood stories and anecdotes! We want to hear about the Transformers book!'
But what can I tell you? If you're even remotely interested in Transformers: Legacy, I suspect you'll probably be of an age to remember the same era as me. And that's why I think you should grab a copy if you don't already have one. It comes with a really AWESOME free gift. The gift of the memories it'll evoke, whether they be of the toys, your childhood, the good old days... take your pick.
Whatever you might personally get from Transformers: Legacy, it's great fun to look back and remember.
Listening to: Queen
Reading: tutorial stuff
Playing: Alien: Isolation (It's SCARY!)