It all starts with nostalgia, the quest to recapture that feeling of getting a brand new Transformers toy and opening the floodgates to one’s fondest childhood memories. Whether it’s buying back Transformers that our parents threw out years ago, or finally securing that one character that your folks never bought you (because, really, one Jumpstarter should be enough for any child), purchasing your first vintage Transformer in adulthood is a very special occasion. The box, the artwork, the imprisoned treasure inside, there’s nothing quite like it.
Then there is the paperwork that accompanied all the releases. Initially, the instant hit of joy produced by holding a red techspec decoder again or flicking through the catalogue advertising all of that year’s Transformers can rival the pleasure gained by handling a G1 Transformers toy once more after years in the teenage wilderness of adolescence. But just like the toys, if one gets into collecting seriously enough, eventually that apparently timeless glow evolves into something else, a different kind of appreciation. So is it fair to say that paperwork is only good for nostalgia? Well, it’s my duty this week to show you that’s not the case.
So what do we mean by paperwork? As far as a G1 Transformer, Diaclone or Micro Change toy is concerned, it refers to all of the non-toy peripherals that are packaged with the toy itself inside the box or card. This can include, but is not limited to, an instruction sheet or booklet, a sticker sheet, red techspec decoder, product catalogue, mail-away order form and leaflets for various promotional offers. Paperwork for non-US releases may often have different things included such as opinion forms or comic strips.
Surely that’s it though, they are just peripherals that hold our interest briefly until we refocus on the toy we’ve spent an ungodly amount of earnings on? Absolutely not. Beyond allowing us to re-live our childhoods by touching or even applying an unused set of stickers to a brand spanking new toy, or reminding us of just how many boxes we mutilated for Robot Points we never redeemed, paperwork can add significant monetary value to an already boxed toy. Further to that, certain pieces of paperwork are much much harder to find and obtain for the sake of completeness than a toy or its accessories.
This is especially true in the case of Diaclones. The pre-Transformers ‘Marlboor Wheeljack’ Lancia Stratos Turbo shown above is already a 4-figure value toy. It also contains a unique Marlboro-inspired exclusive stickersheet and a sticker placement map specifically for the Marlboor-coloured version. If someone were to own an incomplete Marlboor (and a vast number of us would jump at the chance), there is no telling what a collector would pay for the psychological comfort of knowing their specimen was totally complete.
And there really is a palpable psychological factor involved in this pursuit of completeness that feeds the obsessive compulsive tendency in many toy collectors, coupled with the seemingly growing need to have pristine unused samples of toys. The fact that AFA now regularly grade loose Transformers cannot have helped this trend much.
However, despite all of the above, the greatest appeal and value of toy paperwork is neither financial nor psychological, it is the fact that it allows us to see the past, future and alternate realities.
This image from early Takara Transformers literature in Japan shows a number of prototype toys in unfamiliar colours and configurations. Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker appear to have prototype Dirge, Thrust and Ramjet wings, Beachcomber is red, Seaspray is red and blue, Cosmos is blue and Powerglide is grey. The latter two of course were used as the inspiration for the E-Hobby minibots reissue exclusive set. There are other little oddities too but without this paperwork, we may never have had this look into the evolution of well-known characters from their inception to their final release versions.
We may have taken a slight detour from actual toy peripherals to look at Takara’s early paperwork, but the above two scans from G1 product catalogues included with actual toys reveal a few interesting prototypes. The first image from a UK catalogue shows a prototype Cyclonus with a mostly silver head and hand-painted mock-up stickers, very similar to his depiction in UK Ladybird children’s books, undoubtedly based on the same prototype.
The second image is from the 1985 Milton Bradley product catalogue included with early European Transformers. There are a number of Diaclone, Micro Change and Beetras toys in that catalogue instead of the same moulds in their actual Transformers colours. The famous (and well documented) grey Astrotrain prototype is also featured alongside conehead Decepticon jets with unreleased robot mode weapons.
A bit more widely seen, this image of a prototype Skywarp with mostly purple accessories can be found in the instruction booklet for G1 Skywarps released globally. When the G1 paperwork was being hastily prepared in advance of the release of the first 1984 Transformers, completed examples of production items were not yet available for photography. What you see in that image is a Diaclone-mould mock up of what Skywarp was planned to look like. Mexican G1 Skywarps mostly come with a purple nosecone, and it could very well be that this mock-up (or possibly one a few steps down the line) was the inspiration for that scheme. Much of what Iga produced for Mexico is thought to be based on early Hasbro and Takara paperwork.
Prototypes and mock-ups featured in paperwork are not exclusive to Transformers, but many toy lines. Diaclone is no exception and the paperwork featuring Powered Convoy shows the mock-up prototype of the toy with an unfinished trailer sculpt, holding a Fairlady Z gun, white and red striped cab stickers and different colours to the final toy. Powered Convoy’s booklet contains a great summary of the whole Diaclone story and many promotional Diaclone images, a real treat. Quite often this paperwork makes a later release Diaclone Powered Convoy that much more special (as if the chrome trailer wasn’t special enough) and lends much more immersion to an already spectacular purchase. Any insight gained into a toy’s journey from design, through prototyping to production is fascinating and rare.
It’s not all about the toys though, sometimes the stories behind the items or characters and the way each particular company chooses to present them is what really lends a sub-group of Transformers or pre-Transformers their charm:
In previous articles we’ve looked at the European Joustra Diaclones and the exclusive stories and comics contained therein. Loosely based on both Diaclone and Transformers storylines, the “Duel Sur Diaclona (War On Diaclona)” tale is a fascinating amalgamation of the aforementioned universes and the comics are pretty hard to find nowadays even with complete toys. It didn’t help that partway through the toyline in 1984/85 it was decided that they should be withdrawn due to licensing issues. The page scanned above is from comic chapter 7 where the pre-Ratchet is revealed to be female and the minibots are seen carrying out evil acts. Truly engrossing stuff, and that’s to say nothing of the terrific artwork and style of the Brizzi brothers who were responsible for the visuals and stories.
Staying with Europe and comics…
This magnificent European Transformers Milton Bradley creation shows Jetfire as the leader of the Autobots. At the time when this comic and story was circulated in the Netherlands specifically, Optimus Prime’s mould was in the hands of Ceji Joustra for their “Diaclone” line, so Milton Bradley and Hasbro had to select an alternative leader for the Autobots and Jetfire got the job. This kind of paperwork has been instrumental in discovering the link between Joustra Diaclones and Early European Transformers, and the reason for Jetfire being leader of the Autobots!
The pieces featured in this article are genuinely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how valuable and revealing certain items of paperwork can be, since we only really explored the literature that was available with the toys for the most part. For those collectors who cottoned on to the fact that within published pages of toy and company literature lay answers to age-old questions and beginnings of new mysteries, branching out into dealer catalogues, magazine publications, series bibles, rare media, assortment sheets etc has paid dividends. The secrets and surprises held within those pages of rare paperwork are yet to be widely shared with the fandom and community.
Gracious thanks to Paul Hitchens, HighPrime, Ben Munn, Jeremy W. Kaufmann, Rickie Monaghan and Heroic Decepticon for their contributions.
All the best