For this month’s dedicated Transformers collector interview, we wrap up the first year of features in style with one of the most impressive and well-known collections in the community, that of popular blogger Brandon “heroic_decepticon” Yap. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the honour of interviewing some of the hobby’s most respected luminaries in the last 12 months, and I really couldn’t think of a more worthy or inspirational individual to feature at the end of such a memorable year. Sit back and enjoy this rare slice of wisdom, experience and insight, topped with the sweetest eye candy around.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
I’m commonly known as “heroic_decepticon” or “HD” online and have used this handle since 1999, on emails, on eBay and on Seibertron.com. Yes, that was a long time before the terms “Heroic Decepticons” and “Evil Autobots” were officially conceived for the Shattered Glass universe.
I was there since G1 began in 1984, watched all the cartoons up till 1989 (Transformers: Victory) and have had quite a respectable number of Transformers as a kid. In the mid 90s, almost all of my childhood Transformers were given to charity by my parents. Then in 1999, I was inspired to ‘start’ collecting again after picking up Star Saber, Overlord and Snapdragon at a university flea market.
I mainly collect USA and Japanese G1 Transformers toys (boxed) and paraphernalia. I also collect SCF figures, the Masterpiece series, Binaltech / Alternators and Henkei / Classics / United / Generations. Unknown to many I have a complete Visionaries collection MOSC / MISB, a complete MOTU (“He-Man 2002”) collection and nearly 6000 comics / graphic novels. Other than these, I don’t collect much else.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 10 years?
Not your daddy’s world
The majority of G1 collectors, especially the ‘hardcore’ ones, are those that were there for G1, who were 80s babies. In the last 10 years, these hardcore G1 collectors metamorphosized from university students (10 years ago) to people with stable jobs and a family, with more and more disposable income to spend, year on year, to reclaim their childhood. This, I see as one of the most significant changes – collectors being able to pay more (and more) for prized G1 pieces. This is not your daddy’s world. Collectors just breaking into G1 often find they don’t have the (financial) means to compete.
The Dragon has awakened
One word. China. In the last 10 years, China has gone from ‘opening its doors to the world’ to having one of the world’s highest number of billionaires (and rich people). Believe it or not, there are a large number of these people that grew up with G1 and were back then (perhaps) too impoverished to afford them (remember Chinese issue later year G1 figures?). Guess what? Now, they can afford them en masse. Day in, day out, there are Chinese hunter-gatherers sweeping and scooping up TFs from Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan and repatriating them to China for sale at two-times, three-times the price they were bought for (this also makes it more difficult for non-Asian based international collectors to get the pieces they want).
I see this as the key reason for G1 TF prices (especially for mint unused pieces) doubling, tripling and quadrupling in the last 10 years, putting G1 mint pieces further out of reach for the casual collector.
Proxies and penetration
Long time collectors would remember the time when Japan was well-nigh-impenetrable, unless one bought a plane ticket and flew there. Even for simple mail-away Japanese items, one would need a Japanese address to be eligible (same goes for Lucky Draw pieces in those early days). If one does not have a ‘friend in Japan’, Yahoo! Japan was simply inaccessible, no matter how much one salivated at the good deals to be seen there.
This all changed when proxies came about – proxies to help one bid on YHJ auctions, proxies to mail in coupons for magazine specials, etc. Suddenly, Japan was accessible. But also, suddenly the prices on YHJ, which were previously good deals, more or less equalised with the online market at large (because anybody can get an online proxy to bid for them). The result is that arbitrage is shrinking and may very well soon be completely gone.
TFs are now ‘mainstream’
Three unremarkable, uninspiring and incomprehensible movies later, TFs have become mainstream. It’s no longer compromisingly nerdy to have have an Autobot or Decepticon symbol on your personal vehicle, it’s commonly considered cool now. The surge in worldwide interest has created legions of Transformers fans and ‘fans’, which resulted in increased demand for TFs. Some of these new fans (or ‘fans’) would like to go back to where it all started – G1. With supply staying the same and demand exponentially increasing, this event creates increased competition in G1 pieces and another corresponding surge in G1 prices.
3) How do you see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
I forgot to mention above that a fourth TF movie is being made. If all the above continues, I think that the G1 collecting world will remain quite the same, except that prices will soar higher and higher.
Looking further ahead, there is every possibility that as the 80s generation of kids reach 40-ish to 50, many would actually exit the hobby and begin to sell down their collection or to sell them off completely. Having a family and kids and still collecting is one thing – but being a collector grandfather (or grandmother!) is quite another thing.
What will happen to our TFs when we die?
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
Landing that golden unicorn My Little Pony lucky draw piece that is one of 5 in the world.
That’s not it.
I see my biggest success as a collector and my greatest ever find as separate things – so, this will be a two part answer.
Finding and buying C9, very minty and 100% complete figures of Snapdragon, Star Saber, Deathsaurus and Overlord for US$3 (each) at a university charity flea market – surely, my greatest ever find.
Being able to befriend such stellar and outstanding collectors as Arkvander, Cave Collector, Curt, fatbot, HotSpot17, Hyperoptic (previously G1-Junkie), Maz, Robwin1974, tcyeric, Valkyrie_76 and VF1 – this is my greatest ever success as a collector (and then there was that second prize My Little Pony unicorn in chrome silver……).
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
This, whilst not just a story, is both surprising and outrageous to me – the woman who was selling her dead boyfriend’s 100% complete, 100% MISB / MOSC, all near C10 condition USA Transformers collection for US$1 million. It was surprising that such a collection actually existed. It is outrageous that she wanted US$1 million for it.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
My childhood G1 Grimlock MIB. This was a gift for passing my primary 5 exams from a very close uncle, without whom there would not be the ‘heroic_decepticon’ of today. This is very important to me, which I saved from being given away to charity and which will be my last Transformer piece remaining if all others must go.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
My niece’s Barbie of Swan Lake.
Oh wait, wrong topic… on the Transformers front, I don’t actually actively want (anything or) something now. So it’s hard to desire something from someone else’s collection. However, if I had to pick, I’d nominate that piece of original G1 Bluestreak box art cel from the collection of [censored] (but you know who you are).
Shameless plug – actually, bar my childhood Grimmers, there is nothing from my collection that I would not give you for that Bluestreak art (I’ll even steal my niece’s Barbie of Swan Lake for you).
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Buy G1 Megatron and shoot yourself? No, seriously, that’s what it’s going to be like if you are starting out to collect G1 today. Actually, it’d more be like continually shooting yourself, death by a thousand cuts style, but you’d still live.
Ok, if you haven’t shot yourself and are still reading, here are some ‘tips’.
The importance of this should never be underrated – before you start, sit down, do some (very deep) soul searching and figure why you are collecting and what it is (exactly) that you want to collect. Give yourself a clear, concise set of objectives that will define how you collect and stick to it (perhaps to be reviewed on a yearly basis).
Knowing what you want will prevent you from (amongst other things) trying to ‘buy em all’ (ie: you have no frigging idea nor imagination), going with what is trendy (ie: buying this and that because the next guy is also buying it), buying perceived ‘rare’ pieces just because they are considered rare (ie: chest banging), and on top of it all, will prevent you from becoming a drone.
With TF collecting it is all too easy to fall into ‘collect them all’ mentality or ‘I need to buy what the other guy is buying or I lose out mentality’. What results is a collection that is different from what you have in mind, not meaningful and a serious waste of money and time.
So, know your objectives from the onset.
One of the best things about this hobby is the quality of collectors around (but on the flip side, there are also the horrid and moron collectors to deal with). Make an effort to make friends with other collectors, learn, help each other out and have fun. Collecting does not have to be a solitary journey, unless you chose that path.
Learn to be contented
If your objective is to ‘collect ’em all’, then you might be better off collecting Pokemon. Starting out today, it is extremely ambitious to be wanting to collect the entire USA and Japanese G1 run, without having the resources (no longer your daddy’s world), contacts and time to back up that objective.
Being able to tell yourself, at some point, that what you have is enough, will go a long way (and will save you from sleepless nights). Not every single piece needs to be C9, mint, complete and near perfect. Sometimes, near enough can be good enough.
In closing…did I mention that having lots of money would help? And a time machine would do wonders too.
Okay, I’m off to get that Barbie of Swan Lake from my niece…
Many kind and gracious thanks to Brandon Yap for words and photographs. You may wish to see more of Brandon’s writing and collection at Heroic Decepticon.
All the best