A Collector’s Life Part 2: Transform and Move On…

Recently we launched a new series of articles spanning all three of our websites, kicking off with the first instalment on the Infinite Frontiers site – A Collector’s Life Part 1: What Makes Us Collect Things? While I looked at what drives the passion of collectors, I only touched briefly on the diverse range of what people and collect and why.

Now it’s the turn of Transformers and my personal story from start and a rather dramatic change for the future…

Most fans my age would be about to recount memories of their childhood of when they received their first toy, their first comic (most likely the epic run from Marvel UK) or the first episode of the original G1 series that they saw on television. Those same fans could remember every detail about seeing the 1986 movie in the cinema and witnessing what would have been the heartbreaking scenes to them as a child when they witnessed Optimus Prime die for the first time.

But not me. In 1984 I was 13 and my interests lay elsewhere. I was a fairly shy kid so kept to myself and to within a small social circle but even by that age my main passions and interests had already started to reveal themselves to me. In addition to being a general sci-fi fan (with an obvious love for Star Wars having seen the original trilogy in the cinema), my first love was computing and video games.

I had my first console in the mid to late 70s. Looking back on it now it’s nothing special but back then it was an amazing thing to own – a colour Pong clone. Simplistic gameplay but it kept me enthralled for hours on end and that was it – I was hooked. Hand held machines followed including the seminal Astro Wars before getting my first computer, the Commodore Vic 20 in late 1982 and it hasn’t stopped from that point with one computer or games console after another being added to a never ending collection with an emphasis on retro systems.

But back to Transformers. Transformers burst onto the scene in 1984 and I really had no interest. The cartoon was on TV every morning but to me it seemed like every other show of its time and nothing particularly special. My only connection strangely enough was the Panini sticker album. At the time I collected all manner of these from the official football league ones (despite having no interest in football), an assortment of film and television tie-ins and Transformers. Normally these collections started off as a result of promotional giveaways when comics gave away the album and free sticker packs for a few weeks and Transformers was no exception. I picked up a couple of copies of the Marvel comic just to get the free album and stickers and as with most of my collection I completed the album.

And that’s as far as it got until one of my birthdays in the mid 1990s when fellow Infinite Frontiers team member Sven Harvey and another friend of ours Tim Smith got me a G2 toy (Blowout) as a birthday present. Knowing that my interest in Transformers was non-existent, it was bought primarily as a joke, but that became my very first toy (which I still have to this day). That was it until a few years later and then Beast Wars happened… Sven introduced me to the series, I was very quickly hooked on the show thanks to its incredible story-telling and wonderful characters and from there worked with him to bring the Auto Assembly convention to fruition, growing as a fan along the way until I started buying my own toy and comic collection.

However, as with most collectors regardless of what their passion is, my outlook on what I collect and buy has changed over the last 15-20 years or so. At one point, I had a large collection of Star Trek merchandise – toys, books, comics, action figures, board games, lavish ornaments… almost everything you could possibly imagine and when I stepped back and thought about what I had actually spent on my collection I was truly stunned. I had spent thousands of pounds on items that – for the most part – were sitting in cupboards hidden from sight and weren’t being enjoyed. I purged about 80% of my collection almost overnight and didn’t regret any of it. There were action figures that had never been opened and hadn’t seen daylight since the moment I brought them home, board games I didn’t even remember buying and toys that… well things that I really questioned why I would have ever wanted them in the first place. The reality of it all was that I had spent a fortune on buying things just for the sake of it and most gave me no real enjoyment and had just been horded away. The only things I actually gained anything from were a few ornamental pieces that I decided to keep, all of my video games, my videos and DVDs, CDs, books and comics. The rest were all sold off and being honest I don’t miss any of them.

What does that have to do with Transformers? Well, as my collection grew over the years it started to become an obsession for me. Not only did I want to collect Transformers but I wanted to collect them quickly so I set out to buy a toy every week to do just that. I reached a point very rapidly where I didn’t care what I was buying as long as I bought something. There was no real structure or plan behind my collection and even though I had my favourite show and characters, I was buying absolutely anything I could find, regardless of whether or not I liked it and within a few years I had in the region of 300-500 toys. Looking back it was madness. I was buying for the sake of it and even then I don’t think I was appreciating what I was buying. Some were being displayed, both boxed and opened, but I didn’t have space to display even a fraction of what I owned yet I still kept buying more. It was a compulsion and the only time I really paid any attention to what I owned was when they were being moved to be dusted.

It was clear that a mini-purge was needed so I trimmed the collection back a bit to focus on toys I actually liked and wanted to keep. In doing so – as with Star Trek before it – I found toys I didn’t know I owned or ones in hindsight I should never have bought. Instead I concentrated on my favourite shows and characters and streamlined the collection to toys I truly wanted to own. At the same time I also dedicated time and space to the comics (all publishers), DVDs and Blu Rays, and a speciality of mine – Transformers video games.

I think there was always something gnawing at me in the back of my mind that was never satisfied with this initial purge though. I’d set myself a few collecting goals with Transformers – a complete collection of all of the Sideburn variants (repaints, remoulds etc), Cheetor variants (same again) and a complete video game collection (harder than you might think). I was doing pretty well with the Cheetor collection having managed to obtain my personal holy grail, the Lucky Draw Cheetor back in 2009 but I felt that something was missing.

Despite acquiring this, I had a nagging feeling that I was never going to be able to complete either collection, especially with the advent of the BotCon and OTFCC exclusives that were released. It almost drained my enthusiasm for something that I always felt was within reach and it made me re-evaluate my collection as a whole.

In fact the way I looked at my collection was the real turning point for me. Since I started collecting I had moved house twice but there had been a common theme throughout. Most of my collection had been hidden from view despite each move affording me an increased amount of space both for the collection itself and for display space. Most recently since the move to Wales we found ourselves in a much larger house allowing me the luxury of having my own “man cave”. As well as setting up my PC desk the room was intended to have all of my geek items hidden away from the rest of the house apart from some books and DVDs elsewhere. The Transformers collection proved to be troublesome though. Despite having a LOT of bookcases in the cave (and around the house), no matter how many Transformers I had out on display, most were hidden from view (usually behind each other with many of the collection still being sealed). What made matters worse was that about 75% of my collection was still being stored in cardboard boxes in cupboards – which is how they had been kept for the better part of five years at that point.

That really left me questioning my sanity over keeping my toys at all when most couldn’t be seen or were just stuck in a cupboard so I made the decision to sell up. I rarely took them off the shelves to transform and I certainly don’t have the sentimental attachment as many others do to the franchise so letting go wasn’t particularly difficult. In fact I found it quite liberating. Don’t get me wrong, I still love watching some of my favourite TF shows, the video games, the ’86 movie, and the Marvel comics but the toys really don’t excite me so they all had to go, even the Lucky Draw Cheetas which now has a new home in America.

The rest? Well I did a lot of soul-searching when it came to collecting in general and Transformers. As I said earlier, video games have always been my passion ever since I was a kid and while there are a lot of things that I am a fan of it’s clear that I only have a finite amount of disposable income and I have to prioritise that somehow. Even with all the best intentions in the world I can’t really maintain several major collections all at once without a) a vast amount of space and taking up every room in the house and b) incredible financial resources to back it up. So I made the decision to focus all of my collecting efforts back to my roots and on my gaming collection. The man cave has – for the most part – been converted into a games room and the sale of the Transformers collection has helped to fund the expansion of that.

It’s not the end of the line for me and Transformers and I haven’t sold everything but I have been quite brutal… I’m now down to around six toys in the collection which will be remaining. All of my non-Marvel comics were sold some time ago and my Marvel UK ones are going next. I never got a full run as I picked these up casually over the years. Instead, I’m keeping the collected volumes from Titan and I’ll add to these in time. The reality is that in all the time I’ve owned them I’ve never read a single issue of the UK comics although I have read several of the collected volumes. While the stories themselves are fantastic, logic screamed at me that it was pointless for me to keep a partial set of unread comics when I could get full stories that I would read!

Same with the DVDs and Blu Rays. These get regular use so they’re staying firmly put and as for the games… I’m sure you can guess what their fate is! It’s a decision that took me a long time to reach but one that I felt that needed to be made for my own sanity. The toys might not be a part of my life any more but as has been said countless times over the years when it comes to Transformers, it means different things to different people and appeals to each of us in different ways. For me, Transformers was never about the toys so now I feel that I am truly free to be the type of Transformers fan I was always meant to be.

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