One day, should I move on from Transformers collecting, writing, hobbying and all related activities, I will have memories. Memories of my favourite figures, the best conventions and stories, and the people I met during my tenure in the fandom. People and things will stand out because they were unique, unforgettable and awesome. Jon “Napalm” Strong will be one of those people. Unconstrained by focus, bandwagons or what people think of him, Jon is an inspirational person and collector. So modest and humble was his response to being interviewed, I almost wish you could see the true Napalm!
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
My name is Jon Strong. I work in Distribution for a UK retailer and crop up under the moniker of Napalm on TFW2005 which is my way of telling you that I am a fire loving warehouse oik. I occasionally shriek invective down a mic and also write Transformer related articles for the Masterforce blog under the pseudonym Boastful Manfish. I like taking photos.
What do I collect..? Wow, right now a little pinch of everything with a commitment to none would sum up my collection, although I am definitely swayed by ‘bots with both character and ingenuity under their hood. So it’s the G2 MP-12 over the standard release any day of the week. I do apologise, so much of what I own is boxed up right now and my main display is more than a little haphazard.
And despite those toys being where it all began for me, collecting G1 is not my thing. It was the Beast Wars reinvention of the brand that pulled me back into buying and it’s been that constant reinvention since that has kept me here. Don’t get me wrong, I love the original characters, but I do enjoy progression too. That’ll be why I’m such a big fan of Animated and the AEC trilogy. Naturally, few of these toys are currently on display to back this up.
But Classics styled Transformers and a lot of the 3rd Party figures are where my heart is and I hope the pics reflect that. They homage the originals but are not restricted by being bang on accurate to the source. Give yourself a bit of freedom in the design process and you reap gems like FansProject’s Cubrar and Generations Sandstorm. You can apply that thinking to my appreciation of the IDW comics as well.
If you had to narrow down my collecting habits it would probably be updated/new takes on classic characters that I favour the most. That’s.. not really being a fan of progression is it? I do like all new characters too..
Responding to this question I’m looking around our dining room and while I know she wants to kill me for all the stuff I currently have out, I do love seeing the likes of Superlink MegaZarak and Generations Brainstorm rubbing shoulders with Masterpiece Wheeljack and Go! Budora. Nearby a Captain Shark is awaiting his moment to rain down multiple missile misery upon them all. So there really is no golden rule for me. If I like it and it is within my means to have it, then I will do my best to own and enjoy it.
And as I’ve said, so much remains boxed up. I totally need more Detolfs.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 15 years?
From my perspective and for many others, it has to be the online side of things. It drew so many people together from all across the world and created an international community who were sharing information, toys and media like never before. I was finding out about things like Breastforce and Scissor Boy when I should have been looking at porn. To be fair, with stuff like that in my browsing history it probably looked like I was.
Expanding on that, it was clear that love for the brand was still huge. I remember the success of Dreamwave comics first G1 Transformers run which reignited the nostalgia bug for a lot of people. And like a lot of people I too pretended to like those first six issues. Thankfully the second volume was a cracking story. Then came the release of MP-1 and the Binaltech/Alternators lines. Takara and Hasbro spied an untapped market with disposable income existing for the taking. That got me very excited.
And obviously there’s 2007 through to now. Transformers has gone mainstream in a manner not seen since its heyday in the mid Eighties and is now an inescapable part of modern pop culture as opposed to the niche little nostalgia trip it was pre Bay. The excitement and controversy surrounding the first live action film was infectious and I couldn’t help but get swept up in it all. The movies might not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea but it was an undeniable rush going down to Toys R Us and seeing ‘my thing’ front and centre on display, kids and adults alike going nuts for the toys again and a real sense that Transformers had returned with a vengeance.
And with that I sometimes see a huge, lumbering multi headed beast arguing with and pulling itself in so many directions that it threatens to tear itself apart. There’s new blood whose definitive Optimus Prime is a sword wielding flame painted face taker and old guard who are steadfast in their commitment to the cartoon cast of ’84 and nothing else. It’s brilliant that such differences exist even if it can get more than a little fraught out there at times. The collecting scene is large and vocal today and changes its mind more often than the weather. The current trend seems to be the war for/against the Masterpiece scaled display. As opposed to just appreciating the sheer variety of options available to the modern day collector. The human male’s obsession with size taking the fun out of things again. Who would have believed it, eh?
Ironically, in spite of the griping (and I do so myself, as will become apparent) I can’t actually believe just how well fans are catered for. There’s thirty years worth of television, comics, video games, movies and of course, such a huge diversity of toys both official and unofficial to choose from. In 2015 it should pretty much be about people sitting back and enjoying the ride as it’s a great time to be a fan regardless of what you collect and when you came in. When you’re getting Diaclone and Armada homages in Generations and 3P Masterpiece styled Headmasters it’s pretty difficult to say you’re hard done to.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
If you asked me this last June I would have said I can see the end being nigh for the more collector oriented figures being readily available at retail. The Age Of Extinction toyline had a horrible ring of truth to its name. But today you can walk into a UK Toys R Us or supermarket and come out clutching G1 homaging Aerialbots and Stunticons, Insecticons and Minibots. So maybe not. Seems like there’s life in the old girl yet, she’s still capable of surprising us and I reckon it’s going to take a live action film utterly bombing at the box office for things to change sharply.
3P needs a good crash. Despite my glowing praise for where we’re at collector wise, that scene is too big, too busy and too crowded. Right now a lot of them are just stepping all over each other making variations on the same theme. I’m all for choice – I really am – but seriously, how many sets of (insert subgroup here) do we need? And how big is the market to continually accommodate these arguments over scale/arguments over fifty shades of gunmetal/arguments over ankle tilts/yeah, gonna have a drink now and just shut off? Sort it out fellas as something surely has to give.
Oh, and I’d like MMC to get back on the steampunk trip. That’s a pipe dream. And for someone to start making background characters from the comics. Just random Genericons, Neutrals, NAILS.. interchangeable body types. They could be fodder, the future, or whatever your imagination lets them be. More original characters, yeah? Not everybody has to be a somebody. That’d be nice.
That last bit has properly fired me up. Originality. Genuine originality. NEW characters please. *wanders off to check out the RID 2015 roll call, eats words*
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
I don’t own any rarities as far as I’m aware. I don’t think you’re going to struggle finding 99% of what I own if you have a little rummage through sales threads or ebay.
My biggest success is how accommodating my partner has been and how involved she gets even though I do take the piss at times. Despite our modestly sized house I am able to have plenty on display and out for play and she just gets it, which is great. She quotes lines from Beast Wars at me in fights, man. How the hell do you counter that?
And my daughter is well and truly on board with the whole thing. She loves it when a new arrival pops up and I love getting to do voices and bring them to life for her. Toywise off the top of my head she has her own Masterpiece Prime, various Bumblebees, recently stole my RM Star Saber and now wants an Underbite.
Last night we all spent an hour watching RiD’s first three episodes back to back. My girl really likes Sideswipe being cheeky and a bit of a bad lad and the missus is loving Strongarm’s impetuous youthful nature clashing with her by the book front. That was just an awesome night to me, all of us chatting about the new show. Me? I love the Decepticons. Underbite kissing his guns? Dude’s a legend already.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
There’s always that G2 Stunticon eBay thing to fall back on but right now what is keeping me entertained is this Florida Toy Mafia stopping people buying figures from Wal*Mart and the surprisingly huge amount of 7ft tall bear wrestling granite hard Transformer collectors who could potentially form a superhero team to defeat this new evil menace/save the world.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
I’ve mused over this question probably a lot longer than any of the others. Er.. just one?
There are two that spring to mind and both have a special place in my heart, but to avoid dragging this out we will go with Galaxy Force Galaxy Convoy, a toy that naturally I haven’t had on display for about six months now.
I remember pre ordering the entire first wave of Galaxy Force toys from the now defunct Ellis Models. I still lived with my parents at the time and didn’t quite realise the volume of stuff I had on this one order until I came home and asked my Dad why he’d bought a new fridge. It did say Zanussi on the box. That was one hell of a haul. But out of all of those toys, it was Galaxy Convoy that stood out and continues to do so. I was knocked out by him. All of his modes are awesome chunky fun, they even rack in a flying fire engine mode as a legit form. It’s an utterly gorgeous beast of a ‘bot and probably my favourite representation of Prime/Convoy in plastic form. Plus there is that look on my Dad’s face too. Obviously it’s in a box right now.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
Hmm. Tricky. Does anyone own that BW Neo Unicron prototype? If so, I’ll have that. I spent hours and hours gazing at that thing back in the day. In hindsight it’s probably the worst piece of shellforming ever but it still has that unreachable, unattainable sense of otherworldliness that all good things you can’t have tend to do. Plus he looks less of a universe destroying goliath and more like a cheeky old scamp who enjoys drinking in the park.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Don’t be swayed by trends or fads. Take your time. Buy what makes you happy and above all else enjoy yourself doing it. It’s your collection, not the Internet’s.
Many kind thanks to Jon Strong for photos and words.
All the best