Jim Sorenson is a known entity, but his collection isn’t! This month we take a look at the collecting habits and treasures of a man who has brought behind the scenes treasures to the rest of us in an official capacity through his work on the Transformers Animated Allspark Almanacs, Transformers The Ark, The Art of Prime, as well as the upcoming Transformers Legacy book that will feature tonnes of seen and unseen Transformers production artwork in one amazing volume. It is always fascinating to hear the stories of a collector who never really stopped being a fan or collector of Transformers, someone who was purchasing his first Grand Maximus when I was just realising that a G1 Sharkticon toy was made…
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
I’m a writer and graphic designer (apparently, which is funny because it was never something I set out to be) and archivist, especially of production artwork related to Transformers. I was sucked into Transformers way back when I was 8 years old. I thought the Optimus Prime commercial for Marvel Comics was amazing. When I was starting to get out of the scene in 1989 or so, I got pulled back in when I discovered the excellent Simon Furman comics and my fandom has been going strong ever since.
I’ve written and designed a number of art and guide books for Transformers and G.I. Joe. For a while I was big into collecting G1 Transformers toys, but since completing that collection I’ve gradually tapered off and mostly focus on digital collecting. I try to get my hands on print-quality scans of as much TF production artwork as I can. I still get the occasional new figure if it’s very well done, and I have a soft spot in my heart for figures I can army build. I have a small collection of original Transformers comic book art, usually trying for a pair of pieces by each of my favorite artists. I’ve got some nice ones, like the 2-page spread for Marvel 75 by Geoff Senior. In terms of non-Transformers, I’ve also been into Lego space recently, and have a complete DCAU collection that I’m rather fond of.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 15 years?
The last 15 years hasn’t been as big a change as in the first 15 years! I remember back in 1996 or so when a Transformers auction meant someone would post to Alt.Toys.Transformers daily updates about what they were selling and what the high bid was, before the rise of eBay. That’s the single biggest change I think. It used to be that just about any item was, effectively, ‘rare.’ Special. There were so few places you could reliably find older toys. Now, most of that is available, if you’re willing to pay the price. It’s a mixed blessing. I find that, one of the reasons I’ve mostly transitioned to digital collecting is that this material is really, truly, astoundingly rare. I get the thrill of the hunt without having to just open my wallet. (It also takes up a lot less space!)
More recent changes include the accessibility of creators through social media. That was just starting to happen during Beast Wars, but at this point one can interact with nearly any given Transformers professional in some capacity. The internet has also turned Transformers from a hobby of rumor and myth to an evidence-based hobby. I’ll illustrate what I mean. I remember stumbling across threads in newsgroups about how cool the UK comics were, and how many cool guys were only released in Japan. Getting accurate information was difficult. Now, fans will codify and make accessible every scrap of data they can. It’s good that the information is out there, but some of the magic died too. The Codex of Transformers Legends has been replaced with The Encyclopedia of Transformers, if you will.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
It’s always difficult to prognosticate. I don’t really foresee any major changes in the trajectory of collecting in the near future on the fan side. I do love the recent trend of Hasbro mining the mythology for good characters to produce. Recent figures like the tank Bludgeon or Darkmount or the upcoming Arcee are incredibly exciting. I think this will continue, and it’s a great thing. The really potentially disruptive technology is 3D printing. How Hasbro and Mattel choose to interact with this new landscape will play a big role in determining what toys are and what toy collecting is like as we move forward.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
So, back in 1999, I was living in the Japanese countryside. I had taken the train into Okayama City, a small metropolis, for a Saturday of carousing and gallivanting. I was walking by one of the manga shops I frequent without planning to walk in when something caught my eye. I backed up a step and turned my head. Holy crud, Grand Maximus! I ran in, asked how much it cost. “Ikura desu ka?” “Shiranai,” the shopkeep replied, meaning “I don’t know.” It had just gotten in and they hadn’t priced it. Gah!
I go in the next day, a Sunday, even though this was not my habit. I wanted that toy and wanted it bad. “How much is it?” “I don’t know.” AArrrgh.
I wait, doing my duties during the weekday as an English teacher. Interminably it drags on. Finally, approximately 52 thousand years later, it’s the weekend again. I go in a third time. New person behind the counter. “How much is it?” Person looks at the box, turns it around. Sees a pricetag. “9,800 yen.” Now, that seemed ridiculously low to me, until I saw what he had done. He was looking at the original retail price tag! I slapped a bill on the counter and was out of there before they could give me my change. And that’s how I snagged Grand Maximus at retail price, some 10-odd years after his release.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
Some jerk opened up a thousand dollar Black Convoy Binaltech MISB! (Hey!) But leaving that one aside, one of my really fun and odd experiences with the brand was from back in the Beast Wars days. I had cracked the Maximal and Predacon languages and made them available to download as free true-type fonts. Every week I’d scour the new episodes for text to translate, then post the resulting translations to ATT. Some were straightforward: “shield failure” or “trash bin.” Some were more comedic, like “It’s been a long time since I’ve had sweet thistle pie.” But the one that stood out to me was one buried in an episode of Beast Machines: “If you can read this seek help.” A personal message from the animators to me, buried in the episode.
Years later I got to return the favor. In the first AllSpark Almanac book, Bill and I needed design elements for the episode guides, which were done up as in-universe reports. We settled on Cybertronian text, and decided to drop a few jokes in the background. We didn’t think anyone would notice. After all, the only person consistently translating Cybertronix text out there was me, and I wasn’t about to do it for my own book. Enter one Chris McFeely, who decided to codify every reference in the book. This caught Bill and I by surprise, so we upped our game and tried to make things even more difficult for the second Almanac. As a kind of reward, though, we named one of the background characters after Chris. But it’s amusing how I’m now on the other side of the table.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
My hard drive! Cheeky answer, I know. But the truth is, there’s no one physical object I have that’s irreplaceable. My digital collection, on the other hand, is the best in the world, better even than the archives Hasbro maintains. Plus, it’s a collection that I can curate and share with the world, which is hard to do with toys, and it’s one that I have multiple back-ups of. I’d like to see you try that with your Diaclone cars! (I don’t need to translate a made up language to know who that’s aimed at! )
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
Hmmm…. I’m not one to covet. My holy grail is whatever production art I don’t currently have… until I have it. I’d really like the model pack from Five Faces of Darkenss, though. Lots of beautiful material in there. And, while I have your attention, if you have animation models or Transformers box art and don’t mind sharing, drop me a line! (Jim’s email is [email protected]’s-books.not)
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Be sure to understand, psychologically, what need you’re trying to fulfill by collecting. Is it the thrill of the hunt? Then try to pick something rare but not too pricey. Is it a status symbol? Go for something pricey then that doesn’t take up too much room, like prototypes or Lucky Draw figures. Completing your childhood collection? Easy to do, but have clear boundaries. Making great dioramas? A community to participate in? Etc, etc. If you understand WHY you think you want to collect, you can meet that need without running out of space and/or money.
Many gracious thanks to Jim Sorenson for words and pictures. You can see Jim’s blog HERE.
All the best