The packaging for a Transformer is so much more to most of us than just a container for the toy we’re after and a pretty picture or two designed to entice us. As collectors we don’t usually need the box artwork to do any talking, we already know what’s inside and have made our decision, even moreso with newer product than vintage. But Transformers artwork, those beautiful depictions of our beloved characters and toys, speak to us and capture our imagination leaving a lasting impression through the decades, a fact demonstrated clearly by Jim Sorenson’s upcoming book on vintage Transformers box artwork “Transformers Legacy“.
Last week we started this 2-piece tour of original Hasbro Alternators box artwork explaining the appeal of collecting such items and what makes them special. Things like unobstructed artistic features, full-size character portrayals not yet cropped for mass printing on boxes and the uniqueness of having the actual source of all that printed artwork and packaging were discussed. This week we conclude our tour of Alternators artwork this with a look at a few more choice bits of original packaging art and their significance…
One of the most interesting aspects of the Hasbro Alternators toy line was the fact that a number of popular characters were released twice in different packaging; first in larger red boxes and then in the slightly smaller bubble-type packaging. While this created a slight problem with uniformity of display for Alternators, it did offer collectors a chance to have two different portrayals of popular characters like Meister (Jazz), Tracks and Prowl, often by different Hasbro artists. The first release Alternators Meister seen above in the red box had its artwork produced by Alex Milne, and the later bubble box version had its artwork drawn by Marcelo Matere.
The later bubble box releases all had a very similar style to them and Matere was quite restricted in terms of pose and angle, Meister’s artwork (see first picture in article) even showing him smiling similar to Autobot Skids. Compare this with Alex Milne’s much more ‘serious’ interpretation of Meister and you can clearly see the difference in approach to the same character, a feature and contrast that is much easier to enjoy and appreciate when looking at the original artwork itself instead of the smaller packaging prints. Other things that make comparing these pieces of stunning original Alternators Meister art interesting include just how comparatively little of the full-size red box drawing is cropped (Red box Meister’s left foot being the only real casualty) as opposed to bubble box Meister’s left door-wing, left knee and right thigh all being cut, a surprise in a way since you’d expect the red box artwork to have undergone more cropping. The later addition of Autobot symbols to the final versions is also interesting.
The bubble box Alternators Sunstreaker is a special case in that it’s one of my absolute favourite pieces of original artwork. This is not specifically due to the actual drawing being what I consider to be the best of all the ones I have collected, but it’s one of the finer ones. What I like about it is that, similar to Matere’s Alternators Mirage, Sunstreaker has a fierce look about him which is greatly suited to his warrior nature. The G1 Sunstreaker mould has also always had a particularly gorgeous head sculpt which the Alternator and its associated artwork do powerful justice to.
Of note is the “A.S.” on the original artwork’s robot chest plate, which undoubtedly stands for “Autobot Symbol”, indicating the eventual location of the character’s faction symbol. Oddly enough though, unlike Meister, the final artwork used on Sunstreaker’s production bubble box still didn’t feature this Autobot symbol but the toy did. Despite my affinity for yellow sports cars and Sunstreaker generally, I feel that the artwork for this Alternator is one of the few that didn’t really benefit from being coloured, the uncoloured inks are a stronger and more striking image.
Conversely, the final production artwork for Autobot Camshaft benefits from the colours, but that’s not to say that the original inks are lacking in any way, they are in fact quite special. It’s my feeling that Camshaft’s bubble box artwork is one of the closest in style and content to the earlier blue and red-box packaging artwork that was originally drawn full-body. The pose, facial expression and general stance would have leant themselves nicely to the earlier style of packaging easily.
What I did not realise when I originally purchased this exquisite drawing from Matere was that Autobot Camshaft’s artwork is the only one of the bubble box Alternators to be shown holding his handgun. Not only that, but he is also drawn wielding his baton as well, most if not all other Alternators drawn by Matere for the later bubble boxes were not shown displaying their weapons prominently, the only other exception being Autobot Tracks who cannot help but be drawn showing his launchers or arm weapons as they integral to the robot mould. Even then, Tracks is not shown holding his gun as Camshaft is. I do wonder if Hasbro had to ask Matere to exclude weapons where possible at the request of the car manufacturers for these later editions.
Now, as promised last week, my absolute favourite piece(s) of original Alternators box artwork…
These utterly breathtaking pieces of original artwork for Hasbro’s Alternators Acura RSX Prowl were produced for the first release red box version of the toy by Guido Guidi. What these two incredible specimens offer is a very rare opportunity to compare an early stage of the original inks with a later shaded and slightly revised edition that was to be used on the final production packaging. The shaded artwork is the only piece that I have not purchased in person from the artist, that was instead bought on auction from TFieds.com, but from Guidi himself. I also consider this to be the most unique and beautiful of all the original Alternators artwork I have seen, not just owned. Seeing the work that has gone into the shading up close and full-size is an experience in itself, and something that makes the relative availability of these pieces of art to the community a very real treasure.
I later had the privilege of meeting Guido Guidi at Auto Assembly in 2006 where he was selling the earlier inks at his table. I think to this day he may remember me as the persistent prat who kept showing him pictures of his artwork collection and gushing about the first bit of Alternators Prowl art he bought off him and asking him to sketch a G1 Mirage! The poor man still gets tagged every time I post these articles containing his work on Facebook…
You can see from the final production version of the red box Alternators Prowl that the fantastic shading is in evidence, and thanks to the mostly black and white appearance of Prowl, the original feel of the black and white shaded Guidi artwork is upheld even in colour. Notice also that on Prowl’s doors it says “Highway Patrol”, this can be seen in the original unshaded inks, but it was removed for the later shaded artwork, then re-applied for the final production print. If you examine that area closely on both original pieces of artwork, you will spot subtle differences from the unshaded to the shaded specimen, another rare opportunity to track delicate changes made along this character’s path to final production.
Further to that, you can see that the shaded original artwork says “Prowl” on the rear licence plate positioned on the robot’s kneecaps, but this section and Prowl’s well-drawn feet were cropped for the final image. Another reminder of why original artwork is so significant and valuable.
Continuing the Alternators Prowl artwork dynasty is Marcelo Matere’s bubble box inks and the final bubble box production packaging. It is once more a source of interest to see how the style of the artwork has shifted not just from one type of packaging to the latter, but also from one artist to another. Both have captured the character’s essence in two very different poses, Guidi’s Prowl a picture of controlled strength, firepower and readiness, Matere’s Prowl an image of intense and emotive unarmed action. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whose interpretation most closely resembles that of G1 Prowl.
Looking closely at Matere’s original artwork for bubble box Prowl, the “Highway Patrol”, “Police” and Autobot symbol have all been left to the colourist/digital artist to add later. It’s also good to see how much of the original work is present on the final packaging version, almost nothing being left out. Compare the art for this bubble-box Acura RSX Prowl with that of the similarly-packaged Acura RSX Autobot Camshaft, and the difference between the latter displaying his hand-weapons so prominently and the rest of the unarmed bubble box Alternators is once again made obvious.
Why are exclusives like the G1 Japanese mail-away Ratchet and Omnibots so popular? Why do collectors love seeing pictures of Joustra Diaclones so much as opposed to other versions of common pre-Transformers? Why is there such excitement surrounding Jim Sorenson’s upcoming publication? It’s because artwork and artistic expression of robots and vehicles are so deeply important to us as appreciative collectors and originally as children having our imaginations sparked. They bring our beloved toys to life and add a dimension of displayability to packaged Transformers that will be sorely missed if the European example of toy photography-only packaging is adopted worldwide.
The official art produced for Alternators and most Transformers-related products is clearly more than just work, more than just a commission or an occupation. There’s care, passion and artistic flare evident in this work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have come into contact with a range of artists old and new who have worked professionally in association with Takara and Hasbro, and not one of them has lacked the fire in their heart when speaking about their work. These hugely talented artists continue to inspire new generations of talented people, and some of those are from within the fandom itself. I’d like to tie up this 2-part series by dedicating this article to one of these artists, someone whose talent I’ve seen grow from his first sketches for my TF-1 articles to now producing official BotCon autograph cards and art for an Auto Assembly Beast Wars comic this year. I look forward to one day telling people that I knew Paul Vromen well before he was producing original box art for future Transformers.
My deepest and most sincere thanks to Marcelo Matere (Facebook / DeviantArt), Guido Guidi (DeviantArt), Alex Milne (DeviantArt) and Paul Vromen (Twitter / DeviantArt). Thanks also to Max Rawhide (TFW2005) for the Alternators Meister bubble box image.
You can start your own collection of Alternators at TFsource.
All the best