Wednesday, 12 August 2015

BEYOND OINK! #5: THE TRANSFORMERS


My blog has always been my own personal journey through Oink! and I've shared many memories along the way.  With the Beyond Oink! series I've applied this to the other titles I read as a child.  Last time I also added in as much information as I could track down on Wildcat as it's sadly a forgotten comic with no coverage online, however there's certainly no need to introduce these fellas:


Covers: Stephen Baskerville (left) and Andy Wildman (right)

With these two comics began an obsession which continues to this day, albeit in movie form.  It's wonderful to see something I adored as a child return so successfully, loved by those who grew up with it originally and by the kids of today.  I was quite late to The Transformers world and that's what this post is all about; my own personal memories of my time with Marvel UK's number one, top-selling success story.  It includes a period in the comic's life which can often be disregarded by some fans and I want to correct that.

BEGINNING IN THE MIDDLE

While my friends became collectors of the toys and comics straight away I was a fan of the cartoon series instead.  They didn't like it as much because it contradicted the comic but there was no doubt everyone loved the voices, the music and that sound effect.  I'd rent the videos regularly and when the movie was released on VHS it just blew all of our minds.  To me now the series doesn't really hold up while the original movie is still enjoyable as a piece of nostalgia but is lacking what I came to love about the comic - the human touch.

Nevertheless in 1987 Santa Claus brought me this, the Winter Special from the previous year:

Cover: Ralph Macchio, Don Perlin,
Ian Akin, Brian Garvey
and Nel Yomtov

That Christmas it arrived in my stocking alongside The Oink! Book 1988, the Dandy/Beano 50th Anniversary book and my first Big Comic Book.  Comics were starting to feature big in my life but I wasn't that enthralled with this, not liking the changes made to the story and as such I kept renting the videos.

But fast-forward to November another year later and I was off school for a few days, feeling very poorly and sorry for myself and while my mum was shopping she decided to buy me some reading material to cheer me up.  Bless her, she came back with this as a complete surprise:

Cover: Robin Smith

Containing three complete stories from the UK team focussing on the festive season I was completely entranced to a level the cartoon never managed, as these stories focussed on the alien robotic creatures from the perspective of us humans.  This also meant, unlike the cartoon, they actually transformed to be in disguise.  The cartoon's theme music may have contained "Robots in Disguise" but three episodes in and everyone in the world knew who they were and what they transformed into, and the human characters became more and more marginalised to the point where they did next to nothing in the movie.  This special of the comic showed me exactly how The Transformers should be handled, returning the magic and awe into the characters and storylines.

The first story contained Circuit Breaker, a young lady by the name of Josie Beller who was left crippled for life during a Decepticon attack.  A computers and robotics expert she covered her body in micro-circuitry and re-emerged as a mentally unstable woman whose sole purpose was the destruction of all Transformers, regardless of allegiance.  Buster Witwicky (recognise the surname?) also got caught in the crossfire of two warring machines while trying to help the recently-defected Jetfire (again, sound familiar?) with an identity crisis.  Finally a random human gets in the way of Starscream who has been awoken from suspended animation and is having a crisis of self-belief.  It takes this man to set him straight, although of course this results in him helping one of the most evil of all Transformers, which was a nice twist.  I was amazed at how much character there was in the humans and robots alike, and all set at my favourite time of the year.

When we had to go by bus on a shopping trip a couple of days later I asked if I could get a new comic and picked up the latest issue of the weekly, joined by an unsold copy of the previous week's which the newsagent hadn't sent back to the distributors yet.  The two issues at the top of this post were read again and again for the rest of that week and I can still clearly remember doing so very excitedly on that bus.

It was just as well I got the two issues as it meant I had a complete two-parter to enjoy.  The comic alternated between American stories which were 22-pages in length and so split over two issues, and the UK-originated ones which were still multi-issue but with each part specifically written for the 11-page format.  The Ca$h and Car-nage! story had me sold completely and only 192 issues after my friends had started reading it.

Written by Marvel US's mainstay for the series Bob Budiansky and drawn as ever by Jose Delbo it told the tale of a group of mercenary humans intent on hunting down Transformers in exchange for cash from a mysterious benefactor.  While the Autobots and Deceptions very much kept themselves hidden (albeit in plain sight) their war did still result in human fatalities at times.  As a race we were all meant to be equally terrified of them, with only a select few humans being privy to the fact there were actually good guys too.  I loved this aspect.

While some may see this story as just another in the long run it was extremely important to me and contained everything I wanted from this comic.  Here's a quick snippet:



A regular order was placed and I joined my friends in this epic tale.  At least for a while anyway, as by the time my first year of the comic was up they'd have stopped reading it, but you'll see why below.

I should mention right now while these were reprints of the American comic I never saw them that way and still don't.  Getting hold of the US titles was near impossible back then and so Marvel UK released their own, printing the strips only a month or two behind the comics across the pond.  That was the whole reason for British strips in the first place, to fill the gaps between the American stories.  But they took off and today are remembered as being of even higher quality.  So I see these as the first printing of these stories, rather than 'reprints'.

EXPANDING THE BRITISH EMPIRE


One thing I found fascinating straight away was how the comic actually embraced The Transformers: The Movie in the UK.  Rather than ignoring it like they had with the TV series the UK creators (specifically long-time Transformers scribe Simon Furman) saw it as an opportunity to really develop their own storylines and other characters instead of being tied down to following the Americans.  With the film being set in the far distant time of 2005 - ahem - the comic decided to start telling stories from the future, often spinning through time to the present day and back again.

I'd known from my friends how time travel had previously featured with Galvatron and other movie characters coming back to the present day and mingling with the Transformers of our time.  It sounded like great fun, so you can imagine my delight at starting to collect the comic just before this epic began in #199:



With the characters being robotic the team had a ball with battle scenes involving torn limbs, exploding bodies and decapitation.  This particular incident resulted in a Decepticon dying before he was created (keep with me) and the universe didn't like this.  Already weakened from the to-ing and fro-ing, time itself erupted.  Now needing corrected somehow, it wasn't going to stop killing and destroying worlds until it got what it wanted.  The cartoon never did anything like this!

Time Wars coincided with the title reaching a mammoth 200 issues, a huge achievement for any comic but especially when you consider it was licensed and based on toys.  At its height it was selling a quarter-of-a-million copies every single week which is a staggering number and a total run of 332 issues isn't to be sniffed at!

As with previous special issues we were treated to a wraparound cover poster, this time drawn by Lee Sullivan.  Inside, the Action Force back-up strip was removed for one week, Transformers increased in length, there was a handy recap of all previous events for new readers and more all printed on gloriously glossy paper.  This proved to me I'd made the right choice in coming onboard - this comic was something else:



Then something changed.  For me it was for the best but not so for my friends.

TRANSFORMING THE TRANSFORMERS

The comic had been made up of two strips - one 11-page Transformers one, backed up with a 5 or 6-page Action Force strip.  Action Force had been cancelled after 50 weekly issues and folded into Transformers which before that had used a varied selection of strips from Marvel's own Iron Man, Rocket Racoon and Machine Man (none of which were available in UK comics), to licenced fare like Robotix and The Inhumanoids.  Once they even had the robotic civil war from cover-to-cover when they printed the American mini-series Transformers: Headmasters five pages at a time for sixteen weeks.

As a child I really got into Action Force but when a big change happened with the 213th issue I was elated to see Sunday morning cartoon favourite Visionaries as the new back-up, albeit only for eight issues and a reprint of a story from their own cancelled comic, but at the time I hadn't read it.  But the big change was the comic splitting the eleven pages of Transformers action in two so we'd get three stories per issue instead:

Cover: John Stokes

My friends Roger and Bruce didn't like this change.  I can understand why, after all they were used to the previous way of doing things for over 200 issues and they felt there wasn't enough to each part.  The American strips were now spread over four issues and to begin with the British ones were cut in two until the comic started producing ones specifically for the new page count.

Personally I loved the new format.  I was used to this way of story-telling and 2000AD has always told its stories this way.  Even reading back over the whole series as an adult and getting used to the longer strips first I still preferred the way these issues were put together.  It made for more variety and gave Marvel UK the chance to tell two ongoing Transformers tales side-by-side.  However they weren't finished in shaking things up.

The next change was also criticised by readers and the comic printed the letters to prove it.  Colour was removed from the middle pages where the British strip resided and this was the beginning of the period of time I mentioned at the beginning.  While I'd started before these changes, and for its last year it'd return to the previous format, this period made up the majority of my time with the comic and I loved it so I really wanted to champion it.

THE BLACK-AND-WHITE TRUTH

The comic was honest about rising production costs and how changes had to be made to ensure it carried on bringing us top quality stories week-in, week-out.  Again, readers of 2000AD would probably not see the problem here but Transformers had been full colour ever since #26 when it went weekly and some readers were aghast at this change to a winning formula.

But now the writers had grasped the shorter form of storytelling and what they produced was thrilling stuff!  Sometimes we'd get a quick two-parter with only some lasting longer but never running to epic lengths like in previous years.  They were very much now a companion piece to the 'main' American strips.  In reality Simon Furman was in his transition stage of moving permanently to write the Marvel US series, with some top British artistic talent heading off with him.  But don't be thinking this meant they were an afterthought or in any way inferior.

Some brief examples are below, starting with the first two pages of the final Aspects of Evil strip.  This was another format they played with, telling individual stories linked by a common theme.  This particular series culminated in the ultimate form of evil; the planet devourer Unicron, originally created for the movie.  It was a character piece, as were the previous four weeks which summed up the five most evil robotic forms in the galaxy who would all form part of the biggest ever Transformers epic to come:



The shorter strips were also a good way to inject more humour.  In the recent movies we've seen some female warriors with motorcycle alt modes, however back in the 80s we only had the one female robot and she was pink and had lipstick!  We never thought this strange or stereotyping back then, in fact we saw it as a great thing.  But looking back now it is rather cringeworthy and the writers of the comic obviously thought so too, as you'll see from the first two pages of Prime's Rib:



The comic then ran up against a rather sticky problem.  It had caught up with the American strips as they couldn't pause them anymore by running long British stories.  Reducing them to five pages per issue only meant they caught up more slowly.  With purse strings tightened across the comic industry Marvel simply couldn't fund a huge full-colour British epic anymore, so there was only one answer.

Reprints.

"ANOTHER CHANCE TO READ..."

This was the final nail in the coffin for Roger and Bruce.  They were getting stories they'd read before, then a short five-page monochrome story and Action Force, which they didn't like that much.  Both of them cancelled their regular orders but I was about to enter my golden age as these classic strips had slipped me by and now I could enjoy them slowly over many, many weeks.

On the other side of the world Furman was preparing the biggest and most elaborate storyline yet which would bring back Unicorn, the time-travelling Decepticons and a vast array of backstory, including the creation of the Transformers race.  (This was something he'd covered in the British strips previously.)

So in preparation Marvel UK reprinted some of its own top epics such as Target: 2006, Wanted: Galvatron Dead or Alive and The Legacy of Unicorn.  Already lengthy they were effectively doubled due to the shorter format, so we had reprints for a long time.  The comic eventually explained why these particular stories had been chosen but by then many readers had left the comic, which was a damned shame.

But let's have a look at what I was treated to at this stage.  Below are examples all featuring the simply stunning artwork of Geoff Senior who became synonymous with The Transformers the world over.  I can remember Target: 2006 stunning me every single week and I'd run to the shop for the next instalment!  Next to that is a page from that year's annual and a new strip which brought together present and future forms of the same Decepticon which all tied in neatly with what the comic was covering, and below that again are the first two pages of the reprint of Wanted: Galvatron Dead or Alive who'd gone missing after a time jump.

This also introduces a certain Marvel fan favourite!  To those who came to love him over the following years but weren't readers of this comic I bet you didn't know he was created for The Transformers, yes?:




Death's Head went on to star in his own monthly comic and met many Marvel heroes, however comic snobbery meant some people refused to see him as a Transformers comic creation.  They didn't want a link between their superheroes and a toy-line comic and some went so far as to suggest the Death's Head in Transformers was from an alternative universe... blah blah blah.  Codswallop.

G.I. Joe fans got up in arms too when it and Transformers crossed over, even though the stories were brilliantly handled and their comic was based on Hasbro toys too!  That now reminds me of those Star Wars fans who refuse to agree Han Solo didn't fire first even though the creator and writer of the whole thing said he didn't and it was just down to bad editing in the 70s.  Passionate fans are one thing, but choosing to ignore or change what the original writers create is a tad insulting.

For those people I just had to include this strip from one of the very first American Transformers strips, written by Jim Salicrup and drawn by Frank Springer (pencils), Demulder & Esposito (inks) and Nel Tomtov (colours):


Also in the same story the place known as The Savage Land ("prehistoric domain of the present day Ka-Zar" apparently) was the place where the Dinobots roamed millions of years ago.  So yes, they were in the same comic universe.

Speaking of such things I'm not a huge fan of the Marvel movies of late.  I've only seen a few and out of those only the original Iron Man really impressed.  I'm not keen on how they've crafted their universe, with each movie feeling more like a part of something else rather than its own whole - it's all very 'marketing before movie' to me.  Even though I've never got into it Star Wars seems to be doing it right, in that it started off with a distinct series of films which crafted a lush galaxy to play in that future projects can organically grow out from.

You can imagine my joy when Paramount released information their Transformers movies were going to go the same way.  In the comic there was a whole galaxy of stories out there to be told (the cartoon expanded too).  Some featured human-like characters to give us that perspective, others involved them meeting aliens on far away worlds, but the balance was always there and it worked beautifully.  I can't wait to see these stories develop on the big screen, especially with the calibre of writing talent they've brought in!  Below are some examples of how the comic expanded.

THE MATRIX QUEST

With Age of Extinction the origins of their race is obviously going to be the arc over the next couple of films and fans of the original movie and series should know where it's going, but let's hope they also bring in some of the comic's story too like later TV series did.  In the comic Primus was the Transformers' own god-like being (he was their planet Cybertron, to cut a long story short) to rival Unicron, the creation Matrix was sentient with the soul of all previous Primes (which the movies used) and was the only way to defeat the planet-devouring Chaos Bringer himself (that'd be Unicron again).  When Optimus Prime was killed his body was jettisoned into space, the Matrix still inside his chest cavity, so a desperate search began with their own home planet at stake.

So began the longest and most celebrated story arc which many sum up with the title Matrix Quest, even though this was only the first handful of chapters to the story.  Even with the sheer scale of things Simon Furman kept to what I now call "the perfect Spielberg blockbuster formula", which is simple stories told with real skill, hidden depths and characters developed enough so we care about what happens to them, drawing us right in (look at Jaws, Jurassic Park, E.T., War of the Worlds etc to see what I mean).  That perfectly sums up the Transformers movies and when I read back over these climactic stories it's no wonder I'm such a fan of what Bay and Spielberg crafted - I'd grown up on it already.

I've droned on for long enough I'm sure, so I just want to run over some quick examples of what made this time of the comic so utterly special.  While budgets had been cut the comic was very clearly being put together with a lot of love and care, especially with the black-and-white stories which acted as tie-ins to the main American-originated Furman stories.

One such tie-in was this prequel strip.  Published before the Matrix Quest we didn't know what was to follow but it set up the dark side to the Matrix beautifully.  We were lucky to be getting all this additional stuff our US friends didn't have and it was an ingenious way of adding that extra hidden depth to the story.  I'd love to show you more but copyright forbids so here's just a glimpse Deathbringer:



The shorter tales were also used to add depth of character as well as story and sometimes both these ideas came together in one little burst.  In The Big Shutdown Autobot Nightbeat is hunting down Deception Thunderwing who becomes a big player later in the finale.  Even though these tie-ins weren't directly referenced later to us British readers they brought a rising in tension, which was the whole point and showed the real genius of Simon Furman.

When the Matrix Quest began the first few parts (the actual quest) took the form of pastiches of classic movie genres, such as one of the organic Transformer Pretenders hunting down a monster robotic whale-like creature on a giant boat called The Orca.  Below Nightbeat returned in an adventure which spoke to his Hollywood-inspired detective self.  A fan of our movies he may not have appeared in many stories but he was certainly one of the better developed and with the first page of The Big Shutdown and the first five of his part in the Quest I'm sure you can see why he was a favourite of mine:





I'm not going to go into any huge detail about the stories as you may have noticed, instead I just wanted to relive my time with this comic but if you're interested in reading them (and I can't recommend highly enough that you do) there's links at the bottom where you can find out more.

'COVER'ING ALL ANGLES

Just a couple of things to cover which I loved from the comic on top of the strips - covers, the letters pages, more Lew Stringer goodness (where would a post on The Oink! Blog be without that, eh?) and the Transformers A-Z.

There were literally hundreds of characters in the toy range and the comic had to feature as many as possible.  In the stories we'd our main and recurring secondary characters, then more irregular ones who'd end up as fan favourites from being so full of character but rarely seen.  Then there were those who'd simply be background robots, meeting the licensing agreements without overwhelming the story, but at least with the A-Z we got some information on them, even if they didn't do much storywise.

Slapdash below only appeared in a Christmas story and then in the background of a handful of others, but I've included him because he was my favourite toy!:

Artwork: Ian Akin and Brian Garvey

That wee dude with him was his Powermaster buddy.  In the toys he'd transform into an engine which needed to be clipped into the car to unlock the ability to transform.  It was interesting to read in the comic how these guys had to go through a horrible process to be integrated with the technology, including having all their limbs dislocated so that they could transform.  It was a bit gross but it made for a cool idea.

To finish off my original time with the comic I just wanted to show you a few covers.  When it entered the 300s new British stories had ceased, G.I. Joe was discontinued and the main story reverted to 11 pages with reprints of early UK strips as back-up (which again I'd missed the first time around).  But in order to make sure they didn't catch up with the American ones again the comic became fortnightly once more.  It was agony waiting that long with the stories it was telling and my trip to the newsagents every other Saturday became more of a sprint every time.  During this were some truly stunning cover images from some truly exceptional British artistic talent:

Stewart Johnson and John Burns

When The Real Ghostbusters started reprinting older stories it also seemed to churn out some beautiful covers.  Perhaps Transformers could spare more money for them now with the inside running only the Marvel US strips and reprinted British ones.  They were certainly eye-catching and while there'd already been some beautiful artwork on the covers, the last year or so saw artwork which I can only describe as spectacular on occasion, mixed up with some imaginative and memorable imagery.

Here then are some of my favourites from those later issues and the artists are credited underneath, with a certain Stewart 'Staz' Johnson being particularly prolific.  Having come to the comic with some great black-and-white art he excelled here in full blazing colour as you'll see:




There was hope of a continuance beyond the then-cancelled American comic with a monthly title but this fell away and #332 was the final issue.  Simon Furman has since criticised Marvel for canning the US comic as it was still selling around 100,000 copies per month - an impressive figure for a comic originally meant to be a four-issue mini-series and based on a toy line.  At its height in the States it had sold roughly the same each month as the British one had each week (250,000) so with that decrease Marvel cancelled it, but it was still outselling many others and today 100,000 would be seen as a blockbuster success!

Then in 2007 out came the first Michael Bay movie and I was dreading it, thinking they'd ruin it even with Spielberg onboard, but after seeing the first trailer with that sound effect I was sold.  It was the perfect live-action interpretation and on eBay I noticed these comics were going for a pretty penny.  My friend Roger had given me a load of his old comics but I'd stupidly passed on most of them to a girl I liked at college years later, so now I only had about a hundred left so I thought I'd sell them.

But of course you have to check to make sure everything is in good condition before putting it on eBay so that you can list any defects.  Next thing I knew I'd spent an entire evening reminiscing over them and reading bits and pieces instead of sorting them out.  What happened next was inevitable:


I'm missing about a dozen or so from that first year and the final annual but through the Collected Comics specials I was able to read every single story and it was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences of my life and that's no exaggeration, even if I was around 30 years of age at the time.  Everywhere I went for about six months I took a handful with me (even to Majorca) and I struggle to think of a single issue I didn't enjoy.  I even got into Action Force all over again and was gutted when it ended mid-story.

ENDING AT THE BEGINNING

Reading back over from the very start I just had to include a couple of examples of earlier issues for a bit of contrast to end on.  For example the first British strip was called Man of Iron.  Set apart from the main story as simply a space filler it's gone down as a classic in its own right and features some beautiful artwork from 2000AD stalwart John Ridgway (with Mike Collins) and gorgeous colours from Gina Hart and Josie Fermin:




These early stories featured a real innocence and readers simply had no idea of how the comic would grow and evolve into the epic classic it became.

Also from earlier issues were some brilliant strips which homed in on just one character long before the smaller strips did so later on.  This American story called Showdown from writer Bob Budiansky, artists Herb Trimbe, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey and colourist Nel Yomtov saw Autobot Skids become tired of the never-ending war and fall in love with our planet.  He left the cause and after running into a Deception and being left upended at the side of the road to rust away he befriended a human woman and a beautiful friendship developed over the two issues.

The story inevitably saw Skids face up to his role of protector of the human race and he left his new friend to rejoin his comrades, sacrificing the friendship and his happiness in order to go and fight to protect her.  Unfortunately we never saw her again and Skids only made a couple more passing appearances before being killed off, but for a couple of issues he was my very favourite:



Finally, where would a Marvel UK comic be without a bit of humour from Lew Stringer?  Over the course of the run Lew contributed two different strips to the comic which the readers adored.  Later he'd bring us Combat Colin from Action Force (and who you'll see today popping up in brand new strips in Aces Weekly) but it all began with Robo-Capers.

These strips mainly dealt with the ongoing farcical attempts by a robotic alien race and their King to take over Earth, but we'd a special full-page one-off in #74 to show the transition between the evil Soundwave and the heroic (somewhat) Grimlock as letter-answerer for the comic.  The letters pages are hilarious to read back on with a lot of sarcastic replies and mickey-taking of the young readers, who lapped up being chastised by their favourite Transformer.  Below is Lew's chronicling of how that handover took place at Marvel HQ:


I read back over these roughly six years ago and once or twice since I've thought about selling them but I've never been able to do it.  They sit proudly on my bookshelves and I don't think I'll ever let them go.  In fact writing this lengthy post has put me in the mood to read them all over again.

A truly superlative comic series, a magnificent achievement both in success and in the amazing quality of storytelling and artwork, the heart and soul of these live on today for me on the big screen, but there's a few different varieties for all tastes out there in ongoing comics and cartoons too.  Long live The Transformers - 'til all are one:


First and final covers by: Jerry Paris and Andy Widman respectively

NEXT TIME


Wait.  Hang on.  Am I not repeating myself here after part three?  Find out in a fortnight.


 

- - -

Interested in reading this epic for yourself?  Then click right here to be taken to Titan Books' Transformers page and all their collected volumes of the American and British strips that made up one of the greatest comic runs of all time.  Of course there's nothing quite like reading the original comics though and you'll always find plenty on eBay too, so much so that they're even mentioned on eBay's introductory notes on buying and selling.  Happy reading!

UPDATE: The Transformers G1 Collection is a partwork of graphic novel collections from Hachette, collecting together all of the original run and all iterations of this generation of The Transformers ever since.  Click here to find out more!

14 comments:

Peter Gray said...

Funny that!

look forward to that review..I was soooo excited getting that comic and reread it so many times...

benpeter johnson said...

I have to hand it to Marvel, they treated the franchise with a great deal of respect when they took on optimus and his pals. The stories were good, the artwork was good, and they didn't feel like merchandise, they had thier own atraction. Plus, I don't remember anyone reading american comics when we were kids (apart from a few Batman, Helblazer and Freak Brothers plucked from older brothers sock draws) so, this was often the first time you would have read a Marvel comic, it was an audition for them and i think they were aware of that.

Phil Boyce said...

Now how did you work out my code Peter? Haha!

Benpeter I don't see it as an audition but I do see your point, kind of like an entry-level into Marvek Comics. For fans though it was so much more. I for one was never taken with superhero comics (Spider-Man in later life but that was it) but Transformers did print some of the Marvel strips as back-ups but the robots were always the stars. It was Marvel UK's #1 title so I don't think the makers saw it as an entry level either ;) we just liked our licensed titles here in the UK I guess, back when they were full of good quality content of course.

benpeter johnson said...

Is that starscream dressing the christmas tree? What a wonderfully insane charecter he was! The bitter sweet aspect of this blog is to think, how good were comics in the 80's? Blimey! Even stuff like Shiver and Shake, remember that! Andwhere have those wonderful, bonkers pages of utter anarchy gone? What planet did they abscond to? Leaving our kids to read the sort of glossy
toilet paper you buy in tescos because it comes with a free toy. My kids by passed kids comics altogether and went straight on to Scott Pilgrim, adventure time, 2000ad and Love and Rockets, grown up stuff. Why? Because they are well written and entertaining. But there is absolutly no reason that kids comics cannot be. As this blog shows. Yet modern kids comics are made with comtempt and I just dont know why.

Phil Boyce said...

Starscream was a wonderful character and I have to say when he grovelled in the first movie and this was followed by Megatron telling him, "You've failed me yet again Starscream" a little shiver went up my spine!

While I agree there's a lot of bagged rubbish on the shelves these day I certainly wouldn't write off the British comics scene, it's just not readily available in the supermarkets anymore. Lew Stringer did a wonderful piece on this very topic on his Blimey! comics blog: http://lewstringer.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/who-says-british-comics-are-dead.html

There's also some quality licensed titles still out there, though they are fewer and farther between than we had back in the 80s and 90s. The current Transformers title on British shelves which ties in with the movie series may have a lot more filler content then we were used to but the strip itself has been excellent whenever I've read it.

John Pitt said...

Really enjoying this series, Phil, and looking forward to following the rest.
( And to think that I used to wonder what you would do when you had finished all of the Oinks! No worries there! )

Phil Boyce said...

Thanks very much John, I have to say I'm enjoying it too. It's only a temporary series though while Oink! is in its monthly state so I won't be changing to a general comics blog when the comic's issues run out completely, but I do have a few things up my sleeve for the new year...

John Pitt said...

Good to hear it and look forward to finding out what. But whatever you do, please leave this entire blog on the net, as it is a complete work of reference!

Phil Boyce said...

My initial idea was to stop the blog at the end of the year, leaving it up as the story of Oink! from the perspective of a fan. I was going to cover the second annual at Christmas and then the specials which appeared over the next year or so, wrapping the blog up on 31st December. But that's no longer the case, so stay tuned!

Steven Flanagan said...

Due to the comment character count limit, I have had to split this comment into two parts. This is part 1:

Alright, where do I start? Phil and I shared some spookily parallel experiences during our 80s childhoods. We were both fans of the 8-bit Commodore 64 computer and it's magazines. That alone is not unusual (there must have been hundreds of thousands of us in the UK alone), but Phil and I were also into the C64 game creation program "The 3D Construction Kit", and both created games with the utility. As far I know, the number of people in the world who share these credentials can be counted on one hand.

So imagine my surprise when I learn that Phil was also into the Transformers, and owned (and still owns) pretty much the entire Marvel UK comic run. I had friends at the time who were into the Transformers and it's comic, but they lost interest very quickly, not because they matured, but because they were so mind-meltingly shallow (Red Dwarf quote) that they moved on to whatever new was being advertised. Behavior I never understood; unlike them, *I* decided what I liked and I would stick with what I liked regardless of whether it was no longer being pushed, rather than just following what I was being told to like by whatever was being advertised. I am guessing that Phil and I are alike in this vein.

On to Transformers and your Transformers comic blogs. I believe I'm a few years older than you so I started with Transformers at an earlier year, in fact I was there at the very beginning of Transformers in 1984, so my Transformers comic experience was more like those of your friends (Roger and Bruce) who started earlier in the comic run. I found it very interesting to read about your perspective of starting the Transformers comic a few years into the run.

In 1984 when I was eight years old I remember seeing the first adverts for the Transformer toys on TV in the before the toys were even available in the shops and I knew I wanted them. I already liked robots, but these Transformers toys were something else. Their toys were mysteriously complex, and they were all uniquely different. Seeing the toys in the shops was amazing and I would study the box art and the toy (displayed always in vehicle mode) to try to work out how on earth it might transform in to a robot! I just loved the engineering brilliance of them. I did not have much money so had to wait for Birthdays and Christmas presents to get the main characters, and they did not disappoint. And so the Transformers dominated my Birthdays and Christmas presents lists for many years. I still remember to this day which family member gave me which toys, in the order that they were gifted. The 1984 Christmas unwrapping of Optimus Prime made my life!

Several months after the toys appeared in the shops, the Transformers comic was advertised on TV and one glance at my Mum after the advert indicated how much I desired it. A few days later Mum returned from the shops with issue 1. The best thing about the Transformers toys that they all had unique transformations, and because I only owned a handful of the toys, I would study the catalogue photos and comic transformation images, trying to work out how all the toys transform.

The comics were fortnightly for the first year or so, and at the age of 8 a fortnight between these wonderful comics were like an age. It seemed like the Earth-bound Transformers would never hear from Cybertron again, let alone return to it or fly the Ark again. I didn't realise that the comic became fortnightly again towards the end of the run.

Steven Flanagan said...

Due to the comment character count limit, I have had to split this comment into two parts. This is part 2:

I absolutely loved the comic and collected it exclusively. No other comic or toy range (besides electronic games) interested me from this point onwards. I loved the way that the transformers comic took itself seriously. It was more Sci-fi than fantasy, and the letters section was hosted by Transformers characters who made out like the comic was depicting events that really happened in the real world.

Roughly every two years, Hasbro released a replacement set of Transformer toys. Unfortunately they created new characters instead of reselling the same characters. What were they thinking? I always remained more attached to the original characters and I fealt robbed when the comic wasted all of its pages introducing an entire set of new characters, e.g. the Headmasters issue(130 I think). But the story would always return to original characters (Shockwave, Soundwave etc), keeping me happy.

But as you say in your blog, the Transformers comic transformed and my reaction was similar to those of your friends - I fealt short-changed paying for reprinted stories, and I found the three-story content confusing and unsatisfyingly short. Worse still, I really didn't like the usage of alien monsters, giant humans, monster pretenders in the comic. I saw them as childish. Seeing fleshy aliens beat up on metal living robots just seemed silly to me. The comic was becoming more humorous but I mistook this for silliness. I didn't realise at the time that those stories were classics. I know better now, and I recently did a read though of the entire run, and I enjoyed the later stories just as much as the earlier ones.

Predictably, I naively canceled my subscription to the comic around issue 295 back in the day, missing out on those amazing covers and the wonderfully wrapped up ending. I really do appreciate it when a long-running series has a decent actual ending - The final episode of the 80s Ulysses 31 TV cartoon (remember that?) springs to mind - wonderful closure!

Highlights of the Marvel UK Transformers comic run for me were of course Simon Furman's epic stories such as Target 2006, but my heart remains with the very first story where they emerge from the Ark into an alien world (Earth) and Prowl discovers at a drive-in-movie that the life of this world in organic and not metallic, which was a bizarre concept for them. Another early favourite of mine is the story Crisis of Command. I even liked earlier oddly different stories such as "Enemy Within", which still feel raw and fresh to me to this day.

Phil, I'm particularly impressed that your Transformers comic collection has the annual inserted at the appropriate positions in the run - I don't image that was a particularly easy thing to do. Thanks for creating this particular blog, which is on a subject close to my heart, hence the length of this comment.

Phil Boyce said...

Hi Stephen, sorry it took me so long to publish your posts, things have been a bit crazy recently (only getting around to sharing the latest C64 post after it published automatically last week!) but finally they’re up. Thanks for these lengthy comments!

Yeah, I’m not too sure how many people could share all of those things you listed. My friends definitely stuck with The Transformers for a good while, but the strips being cut down in size to fit three in had one cancelling his order and when the reprints started the other was off too. Neither of these things I minded, in fact I enjoyed having three strips every issue, in particular when the UK strips started being written specifically for the format. Plus it made the later Matrix Quest epic so much grander in scale to me as it went on for an age.

My friends and I were the same age, so you and I may be too. They started with TF at the same time as you, I just didn’t get into them (comics-wise anyway, I loved the TV show) until a few years later with the Christmas special I mention in the post.

Yeah the return to fortnightly was out of necessity at the end since Marvel UK weren’t forking out for original UK strips anymore so they had to make sure they didn’t catch up with the monthly American strips. Still some of my favourite issues though as by that time I really enjoyed the return to the main-and-back-up strip format.

Not sure if I 100% agree that it took itself seriously though. The letters and editorial pages were always very funny and in the strips themselves there was plenty of humour and right from the very beginning too. There’s some brilliant laugh-out-loud moments in those early stories. Reading it as an adult I got the feeling that while the characters and stories were far more fully-fledged and developed than the cartoon series, there were still a lot of lovely tongue-in-cheek moments. After all, we’re dealing with robotic aliens. To treat it completely seriously would end up looking ridiculous, so there was plenty of fun within the epic storylines and personally I’d say this was easily a huge factor in its success. It was like a blockbuster movie every week, which is why I’m such a fan of the new movies I think, as they’re very similar is design and feel.

The Pretenders I never really enjoyed, as giant humans weren’t much of a disguise (definitely improved in the second Bay movie), but I enjoyed the visits to other alien worlds, especially in the Matrix Quest. While the comic went with the Primus/Unicron-as-gods in the creation story it looks like the movies are heading down the Quintessons route from the cartoon series and movie when the TFs were created as slave drones originally, so expect more metallic/fleshy aliens there.

Haha yes thanks for noticing the annuals. Each one is placed just after each year’s Christmas issue. Yes, they were advertised in the summer and available from then, but we all got them from Santa Claus and the comic never ruined any annual story as they knew this too. I’ve even got the Collected Comics (the ones I own anyway) in their correct spot release date-wise. Oh dear.

Thanks for all the lovely feedback Stephen and I’m so glad you enjoyed this post so much!

Steven Flanagan said...

Hi mate,
I hope you picked up the bargain £1.99 Transformers G1 graphic novel issue 1 that is out at the moment. It contains target 2006 as well as other stories, in full colour. I think the reproduction is a little overblown, losing detail in the highlights. Perhaps some overzelous bean counter decided to increase the print brightness to decrease the costs of ink!

Also, there's a Star Trek graphic novel issue 1, also at the bargain price of £1.99, that manages to explain the first reboot movie entirely. The Star Trek issue avoided the bean counter, and has plenty of gloriously deep black ink.
Don't miss out on these bargains. I'm not intending to get any more issues, since I already have them. The usual price is £9.99 I think.

Phil Boyce said...

Hi again Steven, how have you been?

Yeah I bought the first issue and was very disappointed. The colour on the US strips has been completely redone with what looks like a cheap Photoshop effort, and I compared it to the originals. Would've much preferred the spot colours. Plus there's cliched criticism of the Bay movies, making it out as if the writers' opinion is fact, that no one really likes them, despite their phenomenal popularity. Plus the so-called exclusive features are all mainly reprints from the original run too.

I have the original run as you know, but this will only make up the first 20 volumes! After that it'll be the Dreamwave and IDW titles right up to the present day. However the lack of any details on what form that'll take is worrying, especially when I see them boasting that the original black and white UK strips will be recoloured for the first time. This sounds great BUT the "examples" they use in the marketing are of the original COLOUR UK strips! So with the horrible recolouring of the US ones and not showing real examples, but pretending they are, is another concern of potentially not-very-honest marketing.

I had a choice between this and the Build the Back to the Future DeLorean partwork. As I previously loved building the 007 Aston Martin car partwork I was probably going to edge towards that one anyway but the concerns above made my mind up for me, even though it'll be almost twice as much every month.

Phil