Collectors with focus, aims and specific targets always have intriguing collections and a strict guideline as to how they indulge in the business of buying and collecting Transformers toys. Dave Shorter has a vision. His collection is one with a mission and purpose, one that aims to chart the journey and evolution of a single character through all the different eras and generations of Transformers, from pre-Generation 1 to the most up-to-date example of the toy. While it may have been his original remit, you will see that as with most of our collections, a little straying is inevitable…
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
My name is Dave Shorter, or David if you’re my parents. I’m an enthusiast of 80’s and 90’s culture; movies (on VHS), music (on cassette), video games (on cartridge or disk), Space Precinct (on TV, briefly) cartoons (on Saturday morning), Ellesse trainers (on my feet)…you get the picture.
I currently work for a software company in their technical support division, previously I worked in quality assurance within the computer games industry and new media. I’ve got a pet hamster called Guzzle after the Wrecker. Technically it’s mine and my girlfriend’s pet but obviously I named it. I have a selection of ‘incredibly tasteful’ tattoos including Krang from Ninja/Hero Turtles on my stomach. Oh and I also collect toys; especially – though not exclusively – Transformers. Which is the part we’re all here for.
My collecting history is a little convoluted so I will do my best to distill it down. I’ve always loved collecting, but always lacked focus, especially when it came to toys. As a kid I had right old mishmash of toy lines, I’d never get too deep into one before wanting to get a couple of bits from a something new. There was my WCW Wrestling ring where Batman would lock horns with Bucky-O-Hair, a Hero Turtles Sewer Play Set that had seen Optimus Prime do battle with Skeletor for the Sword of Omens and many more unsanctioned crossover events. That said if there was a figure I was after I would single-mindedly hunt it down. I remember as a nine year old lad walking the length of Brighton town visiting every toy outlet to find an elusive Robert Muldoon figure. Why I wanted a vague facsimile of Jurassic Parks Game Warden so badly I cannot recall. There was also the time my Mum tried to pass off a set of Micro Machines as fair purchase in place of the Action Master Bumblebee I’d allocated my saved pocket money for. An obvious ploy to cut the hunt short! Fortunately she’s not Obi Wan so I was not deterred and found the Bumblebee I was looking for. I guess you could say that I was passionate about my toys and would put in the extra effort to get the figures I wanted…or that I was an annoying little sod.
As happened to most of us when I started at ‘big school’ I was informed that I was too old for my Transformers, Hero Turtles, Thundercats et al. My childhood was taken to the nearest car boot sale and sold off at 15 pence an item. From then I pretty much parked my interest in action figures and toy lines, instead I focused on buying video games, music, Razzle and beer. Then as a student I started collecting retro gaming hardware, it seemed like a collection I could justify as I wanted to work in computer games.
When I was in my early twenties I started working for a computer games company and I had a bit of an epiphany. I was a fully grown man working in the games industry playing video games all day, how could I try and justify my maturity? C.S Lewis summed it up perfectly when he said ‘When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up’. I started a small collection of Art Toys before moving into the vintage scene.
I currently try and focus my Transformers collection on Megatrons and Galvatrons. It’s my end goal to have a time line of Megatrons/Galvatrons spanning the full duration of Transformers. My initial collection was going to be only Transformers I had a kid, but this limited me too much. I then tried to only collect Soundwave after my best mate got me the Animated figure for a Christmas present. Sadly this character option didn’t provide me with the scope I needed, as I wanted a character that had appeared in every toy line. There’s not many, so I plumped for Megatron and included Galvatron as a version of the character. As you will see from the images I’ve included my collection does include other Transformers, and isn’t exclusively Megatrons and Galvatrons. I’m terrible at keeping to rules I set for myself.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 10 years?
We’ve seen an increased interest from adult fans, me included. I remember in the mid 2000’s there was a huge resurgence in retro kid’s TV shows. The DVD format made it far more viable to distribute whole series of shows rather then the few episodes you’d have had on a VHS in the 80’s and 90’s. This sparked a lot of people’s interest in the toy lines that went with the cartoons. It was twenty years after the original release of Transformers so all the kids who’d played with the Generation 1 figures had grown up. We were ready to start revisiting our childhood again, before becoming an adult got too serious.
The first live action Bay movie of 2007 generated a lot more interest in the Transformers brand, and brought in a whole new generation. We’re now in the position where the 11 year olds of 2007 are now 18, and of course the same applies for all other Transformers series (Beast Wars, Beast Machines, RID, et al). We’ve now got more and more adult collectors whose first contact with Transformers isn’t G1. This adds varied opinions to the community, and that’s never a bad thing. However I do see the occasional youngsters writing G1 off as ‘rubbish’ because the animation isn’t as good as later series. I do find this sort of opinion frustrating, it’s like looking at a the first canoe and writing it off as a bad idea because it’s not as fast as a speed boat.
Internet technologies have also played a large part in collecting. Initially I used eBay, Amazon and Play to source items for my collection. Though sometimes I needed to look down less conventional avenues, I remember using one of the many bootleg DVD sites that traded out of Singapore to pick up a copy of Transformers Zone. I also remember trying to order a Beast Wars DVD from Amazon.co.jp, and finding myself unable to get it delivered outside of Japan. I had to rope in the services of a local Japanese based forwarding service to purchase then post me the DVD. Things have got a lot simpler over the years, largely down the increased usage of Social Networking. I tend to do a lot of my purchasing via Facebook these days, it’s great to have a trusted network of traders at my fingertips. There’re specialist groups for any sort of collector, and the Transformers fandom has several, these are information mines and great places to pick up bargains. I can’t talk about the Internet and not mention the healthy YouTube Transformers community. I’m not a contributor, but have enjoyed watching the community mature and grow in confidence from the early days of grainy webcams and limited video lengths. If you’ve never watched a YouTube Transformers reviewer check out Thew’s Awesome Transformers Reviews.
We’ve seen several Transformers lines come and go over the past 10 years, but one constant has been the Masterpieces. Hasbro have really kicked it up a gear in the more recent years and increased the output. Between 2003 – 2007 we saw the release of just a few unique MP figures, since 2012 alone we’ve had several new figures, new moulds, re-releases and the promise of more to come. Is this down to the success of the Movies? Or is it a reaction to the 3rd party industry? I’m not sure and reckon the answer may lie somewhere between the two. There’s no denying the impact the 3rd party industry has had. We all have that moment when we saw a 3rd party figure that made us sit up and take notice, for me it was the FP City Commander Armour.
It almost doesn’t need saying that with all the increased interest has come the increased demand, and the obvious effect on the price. When I started looking on eBay I remember doing a sharp intake of breath when I saw a complete G1 Galvatron for 15 quid, now I look back and wish I’d bought 5 of them at that price.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
I’m sure the 3rd party industry will continue to grow, when there are figures like Warden selling out so quickly it’s hard to picture it stagnating. Will it be sustainable growth? It’s hard to say; in a crowded market it becomes harder for everyone to have their slice of the pie. I’d expect to see some companies fall off the perch as time goes on. Sadly the 3rd party companies don’t have revenue from mainline toy sales to bank roll their output.
Hasbro seem to be creating a buzz about their up and coming releases for the next twelve months. They are walking a narrow tightrope between servicing the fans of the movie and the collectors of the classic Transformers. I hope they can continue to keep both parties happy, sadly if the movie does badly then the adult collectors won’t get the quality product releases (think positive thoughts Dave). I hope that we get at least one more movie in the next five years to sustain the momentum. There’s going to be another TF Prime series so that’ll come with its own toy line. Everything is sounding positive for the future.
On the flip side, I do get worried when I see increasing quantities of Transformers turning up at clearance stores. In the past year I’ve noticed a lot of TF Prime, Bot Shots, Kreos and Dark of the Moon toys ending up heavily discounted. The same thing happened to the recent Thundercats toy line, and we know where that franchise ended up. I love getting a bargain, but it wasn’t that long ago that the budget stores used to sell Road Warriors and other non-Transformers branded transforming robot toys, now they sell the real deal. Is that good for the brand? It begins to feel like Transformers is running the risk of becoming a budget brand.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
I’m going to throw a curve ball in here, as you’re probably expecting me to say a rare piece I tracked down. However I’m going to say a lose incomplete Voyager scale Energon Megatron, and if you bear with me I will explain why.
I left University in 2006 and started working in the Computer Games Industry as a tester. Console gaming heritage was my big time passion, I was amassing a collection of Nintendo, Sega and Atari platforms with the odd Neo Geo or WonderSwan thrown in. Transformers were not really on my radar at that time, I had the 1986 movie on DVD but that was it. One day I saw a G1 Jetfire on a colleague’s desk, I instantly recognised it as a toy I’d once owned and knew it was a Transformer. That was the nostalgia kick that became the dawn of my Transformers collecting. Initially I looked at what had been going on with the brand in the fifteen (approx) years since I’d last paid any interest to it. A quick look on eBay showed me that I couldn’t justify collecting G1 Transformers toys and continue my retro gaming collection, so I started instead collecting the DVDs of Transformers series and comics. I became interested in the history of the toy line rather then the toy line, and when I say toy line I mean the continuation of the Transformers brand.
Over time my interest grew, but I’d still avoided collecting a single Transformers toy. That all changed one day at a car boot sale when I happened upon a mother doing exactly what had happened to me in the mid 90’s; she was selling off her child’s toys. I scanned the stall, and there on the table was a Transformer I didn’t really recognise so I bought it for a few quid. As I’m sure you can guess, that figure was a voyager sized Energon Megatron missing his horns, shoulder cannons and accessories. That chance purchase forged my interest in collecting Transformers figures again and has lead me on a journey that’s resulted in me making some top mates and having some great laughs. Ultimately it’s why I opted to focus on collecting Megatron, or attempt to at least. For all those reasons it would have to be the most successful purchase I’ve made.
Following on from the above story, the item I am most pleased to own would be my Botcon 2008 Shattered Glass Megatron. However there’s no real story behind acquiring it, I just paid the current market price for it on eBay.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
Ah now you’re asking, It’s always a shame to hear stories of the dreaded Gold Plastic Syndrome, I’m looking at you Black Zarak! Dropping serious money on a figure to have it turn to dust is going to ruin anyone’s day.
I’ve heard stories of grown men getting into fist fights in Toys R Us over the last MP-13. I find it surprising that someone would go to those lengths to own a toy. Maybe I’m just too lazy, but I’d never get physical over a toy. That wasn’t the best phrase to use, but I hope you catch my drift.
6) If you could pick?one?item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
Well luckily I have the Lil’formers Guzzle and Hard Spark I commissioned Matt to draw for me tattooed on my legs (unfinished) so I get them for free right? ;).
There’s only one item that I would never be able to replace so that would have to be the one I would save if my house was on fire or I sold everything else. When I started collecting Transformers again I kicked off with a Guzzle as he was my favourite toy as a kid. I got Guzzle no problem, they are fairly cheap and plentiful. However I was unable to track down a Hard Spark, or justify the high ticket price at any rate. So one of my best mates knocked me up me a custom Hard Spark/Dark Guzzle for my birthday one year. I have since got an official Hard Spark, but somehow it’s not the same as the one of a kind custom I was given.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be??
I’m going to have to be boring and go for my current grail. It’s a Reissue – C-69 Diaclone Ultra Magnus, I’ve promised myself I’ll get one this year. However until such time it’ll remain top of my most wanted list. My good friend, and ‘mentor’, Sid Beckett (Collector Interview 21) has one in his collection.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
The only advice I give to anyone is simply make your collection your own. There are no rules to collecting and you should never have to justify your choices. If you want to collect incomplete Transformers you find at boot sales and flea markets then do it. If you want to collect Marvel Crossovers or Star Wars Transformers do that.
The reason why I’ve been hooked on collecting for most of my life is because it’s a chance to build something with no constraints or boundaries. My Transformers sit within my larger collection of toy lines from my youth, does that make me less of Transformers collector? Perhaps in some people’s eyes, but I’m trying to sculpt a collection that spans the duration of Transformers. I want to explore the evolution of a character through 30 years of a toy line, albeit different iterations of a toy line. If you look at other toy lines you’ll see constant rebooting of the characters, but they never seem as drastic as the changes Megatron has gone through. Take Shredder from Ninja Turtles as an example, the iconography of the character is fairly consistent across all the variations and he’s instantly recognisable. Sorry I digress, put simply collecting is like every other part of your life, do whatever makes you happy…….not that though, that’s illegal.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Dave Shorter for words and images.
All the best