Dan Ghile is a UK Transformers fan, artist and collector who has inspired me this year. Meeting and spending time in real life with collectors like Dan, Richard Irvine-Brown, Sid Beckett, as well as oldies like Morgan Evans, Paul Hitchens and many other fine UK fans has opened my eyes to just what a wealth of passion, knowledge, history and diversity exists right on my doorstep in London and the UK. I’ve not enjoyed being a part of the TF community more than I have in the past year as a result of the company, contributions and friendship of these collectors. What this interview will demonstrate is that you don’t have to be a well known collector with a legendary collection or history of acknowledged fandom contributions to be able to offer the kind of wisdom, unbridled passion and deep factual knowledge that Dan exhibits in any conversation about Transformers, the type that is infectious and can influence others positively.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
I’m Dan Ghile, also known by the handle scubaboy31 on a few of the various message boards. My collecting focus is quite broad, but mostly centres around Transformers Animated, Masterpiece, 3rd Party, BT/Alts and a selection of other lines that take my fancy. It’s weird to no longer count G1 among the list of things I collect, as for many years it was pretty much the only thing I was interested in! Toys are only a part of my enjoyment of Transformers, and I’ve always been heavily invested in the fiction. I’m a big comics fan, with the old Marvel UK comics being a definitive part of my childhood and the Dreamwave comics playing a huge part in rekindling my love of Transformers many years ago. These days I get most of my enjoyment out of the IDW books which just keep getting better every month.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 15 years?
Wow, I get to be an old timer on this one… I got back into the Transformers scene as a fan in 1999, and as a collector in 2000. I really do find this hobby to be almost unrecognisable from things back then. I was drawn back in to things after watching Beast Machines and loving it after having no interest in Beast Wars (even then I was a fan of the unloved corners of the franchise without knowing it!) and while looking online started finding pictures of the upcoming Car Robots line. Cut to a year later when I found the RID line in stores, thought I’d buy ‘only one for old times sake’ and here I am 15 years later still buying only one more!
But things back then were so different. It’s hard to imagine now, especially with how integrated the Internet is with our hobby, that there was so little information on Transformers out there. There were few websites. No TFWiki. No DVD releases, only old VHS. Everything was word of mouth, and it really was like a collective archaeological dig into our childhoods, with everyone bringing something half remembered to the mix. I remember finding out about the Japanese G1 cartoon and being blown away! There were more Transformers episodes than when I was a kid! Episodes I’d never seen! Blurry screencaps of Blaster fighting Soundwave to the death and mysterious new characters fuelled my interest in the unknown history of the Transformers I thought I knew so well.
Contrast this with today, where you have a much bigger fandom, blockbuster films, episodes of old cartoons available in every format you could wish, pages upon pages of catalogued information on the wiki and numerous fan sites. Amazing!
One thing that has seemingly come with this though is a sense of apathy from the newer fans towards discovering the history of the brand. Look at the upcoming Masterpiece Star Saber for example. A huge amount of people simply aren’t interested because he wasn’t part of their childhood G1. Fine. But I’m always amazed by the people who seem to deny that anything outside of the years 84-86 ever existed, whilst claiming that they’ve never seen it so why should they care. It’s so easy now to see any of these shows, read any of these old comics, look at old toys that it makes me sad to see people not caring anymore. It’s lead to a really shallow fandom, and something I think is being reflected in many of the toys.
15 years ago almost every Transformer toy that came out was new character. For 15 years the toyline had been pushing forwards with new concepts and characters. But halfway through the 30 year history of the franchise we started to see old concepts and characters being touched upon, an ever-increasing trend that has come to dominate the toyline today and become the focus of the majority of fans.
I suppose part of this is the nature of the success of the brand, but it is interesting to compare how I felt when I first saw BT Smokescreen – blown away! An actual remake of a G1 character! As a real car! And then seeing MP-1 Optimus…It was indescribable. Today a new version of a classic character is par for course, with only the few MP releases really blowing minds. But even then, for many, it’s just another box ticked.
I have to say though that one of the most wonderful things to see over the past few years has been the contribution of fans in an official capacity the franchise. My love of the comics is reflected in the passion of those creating them today. People who grew up with the toys, comics and cartoon and have been inspired and lucky enough to add their own small part to the history of the franchise. This is probably where my deep infatuation with the Transformers Animated corner of the franchise. Never before has every single facet of a line been so representative of the creators’ sheer love of Transformers. The cartoon is a love letter to G1 (with hefty nods to pretty much every other TF line since) and the toys each have so much love poured into them and it shows. Animated has also allowed me to rekindle the voyage of discovery and sense of community I felt in those early days. It’s been an absolute pleasure to share what I now about the line with others and partake in their discovery of something I love. I’ve been something of enabler towards the UK collecting community with the cartoon and toys recently, but it’s been a joy to actually find the opportunity to positively discuss a topic I’m passionate about with friends, rather than partake in the regular bouts of shouting at each other about how right one’s opinion is that the general Internet fandom seems to consist of these days.
Overall though, it’s a fantastic time to be a fan. We really are catered to on so many fronts and things really are the best they’ve ever been. We have a deep history to draw from as well as a wealth of toys available to suit a wide range of demographics. It’s absolutely brilliant and I look forward to what lies ahead.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
What I see happening is the Transformers toyline scaling back massively at retail. Despite being a huge franchise, the market trend is ever shifting towards kids moving away from toys. So I think, as we’ve seen with the AoE toyline, we’ll move towards a token presence at retail at best. Online however, I think as we’ve been seeing with Generations and Masterpiece, the future is in the collectors. I can also see there being a strong 3rd party presence continuing in the future, but hopefully one not so beholden to the official toylines. Less fake Masterpieces and more original expressions of the Transformers concept.
With the news of Hasbro working with Shapeways it will be hugely interesting to see what role 3D printing plays in the future of the scene. I’d like the creative side of the fandom to really find a voice again in this hobby (I miss the glory days of custom Alternators) and to let individuals really shine creatively.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
This is a tough one for me. I suppose this is normally where I should talk about a rare find, or something to impress, but really the one that stands out to me is from way back when I started collecting. Of all things it was when I owned a G1 Hot Rod for the first time since childhood. I may not seem much now, but back then (around 2000) G1 Hot Rod was not an easy, or cheap find. As my favourite toy from childhood it was essential to own one again. It’s amazing how that purchase of a piece that meant so much to me is probably the reason I’m still in this hobby, and why I care so much about it. It remains the one piece I’d never sell and, for me, stands as the perfect Transformer. I’ve owned bigger, and more expensive but that toy is part of my soul. Nice to be able to say that.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
Being part of this fandom long enough, you get to hear a few crazy stories (many of them through Maz) but I suppose that recent sale of the G2 Stunticon set really blew me away. I’m always amazed by how much members of this fandom are willing to invest into their hobby but this really stuck out to me. The guy had just really wanted to own this set for years and seemed to really care about owning it. Not just to tick a box but to actually realise a dream, a personal goal he had set himself. I find that remarkable and it goes to show how lazy I was in buying my own Stunticon grail, the Animated convention set which took me over 2 years to face up to buying!
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
As I mentioned before it would be my G1 Hot Rod, just for how much that toy means to me, but for arguments sake, and to give a better answer, if Hot Rod were struck down by a mysterious bullet I’d have to pick my childhood Bumblebee. The little guy has been part of my life since 1985 and is one of the oldest things I own.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
Right now it would be the elusive Animated Voyager Thundercracker. He’s probably the nearest thing to a holy grail for me these days, and I’m still kicking myself for not getting one from China back in the day. How naïve I was to think that Animated was popular enough to get all solicited toys out!
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Don’t pay attention to people on the internet!
But really, I’d tell anyone starting out to not worry about competing with others, and definitely don’t bankrupt yourself to do so. More than anything, make sure you have fun. These are toys at the end of the day and they should bring us pleasure. Other than that, I’d say try and find a way to connect with the hobby outside of a computer screen. One of the greatest joys of the past year has been meeting up with a group of like minded fans in the real world to talk robots and enjoy a drink. It renewed my enthusiasm for the hobby and made toy collecting a shared, social experience rather than an insular one.
Oh, and despite what people say, scale doesn’t matter. It’s how good the toys are.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Dan Ghile for words and pictures.
All the best