What makes us buy a Transformer? Maybe it’s the developed character from a comic, cartoon, movie or game. Maybe it’s the design of the toy itself or the vehicle/item it is based upon. Maybe it’s the character, a fan favourite or talismanic member of a faction. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the beautiful box art that can ultimately sell a Transformer to an uninitiated buyer.
G1 Transformers box art is now the source of great nostalgia for fans and collectors of this legendary toy line, and even though subsequent popular lines like Takara’s Masterpiece, Encore and Binaltech did not feature actual box art, Hasbro’s all-plastic Alternators had original box artwork in spades. For the next two weeks we’ll be looking not only at the artwork used on a select group of toys from the Alternators line, but also at some of the original line-art and inks created by Hasbro’s talented pool of artists.
As a massive fan and collector of both Takara’s Binaltech and Hasbro’s Alternators toys, I have been tremendously lucky to have had the opportunity to purchase a few original pieces of full-size original box artwork from the artists themselves at conventions such as BotCon and Auto Assembly. So why might one spend almost five times as much money on an ‘unfinished’ piece of artwork as opposed to using that cash to buy numerous actual toys in packaging with the final product displayed as it was meant to be enjoyed?
The first thing to note about original artwork is that often the source material is much larger than what is used on the final packaging and paperwork, and occasionally you get to see the character art and pose completely unobstructed and in its entirety. The Alternators Wheeljack Ford Mustang GT box art drawn by Marcelo Matere seen above is an excellent example of this, the original art showing the feet and left hand where the production box crops them. This exceptional piece was my first ever specimen of original box artwork, leading to quite the addiction.
Another thing that makes original artwork so appealing is just that, it’s original! It is unique, it is the source of possibly millions of boxes printed worldwide that attract people to buy a particular toy and treasure it for years. The Alternators Swerve inks you see above courtesy of Guido Guidi again offer a larger and easier to appreciate version of the well-known elusive Swerve’s artwork. Just as with Wheeljack, it also shows parts of the artwork previously unseen such as his lower legs and feet, and what was seen on the production box is no longer obscured.
When in the case of the red-boxed US Alternators the artwork occupies such a small region in the bottom right corner of the box, it is that much more important to have a well-preserved and original version of the glorious work of the artist to appreciate and understand just how much work and intricate detail has gone into producing these masterpieces. While I was never quite as impressed with the overall design of the bubble-type boxes for Alternators, at least the artwork was more prominent. The above production Tracks artwork (2nd release) is much closer to the original artwork seeing as less of it is obscured, or rather, the original artwork was apparently not drawn as a complete robot. If it was, it has clearly been cropped at an earlier stage than Marcelo Matere’s above offering.
We can see with the artwork and box for Skids that the bubble packaging artist had to take a much more formulaic approach to character artwork and as a result had a little less scope to incorporate different dynamic poses. Marcelo Matere has clearly had to work with the facial expression and position of the hands to make the artwork for Skids stand out. I certainly believe that in the case of Skids, the original artwork gives us a much better appreciation of detail. It should also be noted that the original art for these bubble box releases are much smaller than the original pieces of artwork produced for the earlier red box release Alternators.
There are a great deal more pieces of bubble-type Alternators original box art in my collection than red box art. This could be because I attended shows at a time when the bubble editions were in stores and the art was more recent, and hence more available. Another reason is that I split the purchases of the earlier red box pieces with another collector friend of mine. I am yet to have any sort of opportunity to purchase one of the first version blue box Alternators original artwork for characters like Smokescreen, Sideswipe, Hound or Dead-End.
Of all the Alternators released, Mirage was my favourite by a substantial margin, so being able to pick up his artwork from Marcelo Matere in person was a great honour and privilege. Mirage also happens to have the best vehicle and robot mode of the entire line in my opinion, and the strongest most evocative head sculpt. The artwork, in Matere’s capable hands, was always going to be spectacular. Restricted by the bubble box format, Mirage’s art is the best of the bubble box drawings. For my absolute and overall favourite piece of Alternators artwork piece, you’ll have to read next week’s follow-up.
I’ve often sold toys from my collection; rare, unique, irreplaceable toys, but I never considered selling a single piece of original box artwork. Such is my regard for the original artwork that these guys have produced and what it represents, I almost value it higher than any toy in any collection. With my first love, Joustra Diaclones, it was the artwork that got me interested and collecting them in the first place, but with the Alternators it was my initial appreciation of the toys that led to me pursuing the artwork. The character homages, the incredible automobiles used as a template, all of these factors manifest themselves beautifully in the raw and pure form of expression that is a talented artist’s interpretation of a stunning car that turns into a formidable robot warrior with a unique personality.
All the best