I would like to think that all of us can point to at least one example of how the Transformers toy line, shows or comics have improved our lives. Whether it has been through the happiness of meeting like-minded enthusiasts or the ownership of excellent toys, the enjoyment of well-written comics or admiration of tremendous artwork, surely we can all point to some aspect of the brand and hobby which brings us happiness. I would like to think if you’re reading this, it’s because of a choice you have made to give part of your time to the hobby.
I think it’s fair to say that over the course of the last 5 years, most of the above has been discussed either by myself or by our contributors, and the joy of Transformers is not an uncommon topic on forums or social media either. I myself have made reference to the wonderful UK pub gatherings that came to be about 3 years ago and have brought a valuable extra dimension of enjoyment to the hobby for me. My enthusiasm for the toys and the brand generally should be evidenced in many years of online articles and participation in the Transformers fan community. I certainly cannot count myself as unique when it comes to the great friends I have made as a result of the hobby, either, so what’s this article all about, then?
This week I want to move beyond all of the nostalgic and mushy stuff, and talk about how my involvement and love of Transformers have benefited me professionally, directly and indirectly. One way or another, my activity in the community and willingness to try new things in order to express either creativity, research or enthusiasm for certain aspects of the hobby over the last 14 years helped me to land my first proper full time job after a year of aimless bumming around post-university. It has also helped set me on the path to a new professional adventure that I will embark on with my family later this year.
In 2001, I had finished my degree at a good university, with zero intentions of following that path into employment within my field of study. It was in the year of unemployment and directionless time wasting that followed where Transformers first allowed me to get into meaningful employment. I met a US Transformers seller on eBay while trying to piece together my first G1 Predaking (I know, buying toys while unemployed, how irresponsible), back in the days where you could actually meet people on eBay and were forced to conclude deals by way of communication, not checkouts. Having returned to this seller repeatedly for accessories and figures over the course of the following months, we struck up a friendship that eventually led to the creation of a resource website not unlike what you see on TFU.info today. I did the research and as much photography as possible, and my friend would periodically update the site. It was a very exciting project.
I did get impatient though, as I had a lot of content I wanted to work on, but I had to wait until he was available to update the site. As a result, he sat up all night with me on MSN Messenger (remember that?!) explaining how to use Adobe Dreamweaver, and from that time on the site updating was done by the both of us, and I could post at will and really let loose on the site content. This is something I never would have looked into had there not been incentive. Sadly, my friend lost interest in the hobby and I started hearing back less and less from him, until I didn’t have any communication with him at all, and the domain for the website – registered in his name – expired. I’ve never stopped thinking about Legends Of Cybertron, or been able to adequately express my gratitude for the door my friend opened for me. Less than a year later, I was employed to teach an evening Introduction To Dreamweaver course at a further education college in London. This role led very quickly to a full time job as a maths teacher, and then a teacher trainer, something I have done now for 14 years. It’s the job I grew up in.
After 14 years of teaching and training, without going into the management sphere, it’s fair to say I’ve reached the ceiling of what my current role can offer – both to me as a person and financially. Writing Transformers articles for websites such as Masterforce.org, Fred’s Variant Page, TFSource and eventually my own TF-1 and TFSquareone websites has allowed me to develop those skills to the point where they have been attractive to employers. Occasionally. Being part of the TF community, I have been drawn to forums for over a decade, and more recently social media platforms. This enormous increase in connectivity since 2007, as well as the development of my role as TFSource Blog writer, has allowed me to become far more proficient in the use of the internet as a communication and promotional tool. I’ve been forced to embrace all the many ways I could reach more readers, collectors and enthusiasts – for the purposes of uncovering Transformers and Diaclone history, for the purposes of expanding my own collection of rarities (or selling them as is more often the case now) and for getting my work further out there.
As a result of those combined skills, I was able to work my way into the games industry, doing journalistic and events work for the Sony PlayStation flagship brand Gran Turismo. After being a UK competition finalist, I started writing features and carrying out interviews for the official Gran Turismo website as well as working for the public relations team behind GT Academy for a few years on and off. I had important roles within the fan community that allowed me to augment my usefulness to the PR team and GT Academy as a whole. It lead to wonderful opportunities such as travelling to Austria and the Red Bull Ring where I helped run the Mercedes Benz Challenge, meeting many ex-racing drivers in the process. This continued back in the UK with GT Academy that grew larger each year, and became more of a global entity.
That work eventually reduced as I stopped having time to play Gran Turismo due to raising a family, so my only extra-curricular source of professional development came from the article writing. I started to notice around 2012 just how much better photography could add to my work and its appeal, and there was no shortage of superb toy photographers raising the bar to seemingly unreachable levels in the hobby. Nowadays, you can’t go far on the Internet or social media without stumbling over another superb Transformers photographer. I wanted to take better photos, I owed it to the toys I would write about and the articles I wanted people to notice. It also helped out TFSource to have a blog where the photography was as much of a draw as the content.
My wife bought me my first light tent setup in Christmas 2012, and my first Digital SLR camera for my birthday in 2015, knowing how much joy it would bring me in my Transformers hobby. I embraced both and set about trying to learn how best to use the equipment to improve my toy photography. It reached the point where my toy photos would get similar amounts of praise to my writing (whether this means my photos improved or my writing got worse, I don’t know). It also allowed me to put myself in a position where 3rd party companies felt I could offer them something as more than just ‘that Diaclone guy’. I could relate their products to the history of the brand, I could make them look good in photography and use my reputation in the fan community and platform as TFSource Blog writer to get the reviews good exposure, while all the time maintaining a level of integrity I have always insisted upon in every bit of work I have ever undertaken.
Sure, this has occasionally lead to some 3rd party companies shying away from the honest approach where everything is put on display and analysed in technicolour both photographically and verbally, but at the same time it allowed me to get certain photos printed on toy packaging and my toy pictures have also been used in official publications (although more for their rarity than quality initially), and of course in IDW’s More Than Meets The Eye. I have also been allowed the privilege of contributing ideas, feedback and my experience to concepts within the 3rd party scene and I’ve helped conceptualise official exclusives that have made it to market.
The culmination of all of the above experiences and developed skills have, this year, allowed me to successfully land a role as a creative copywriter within the marketing team for a really exciting project in Iceland. The writing, photography, photo editing, marketing, community and client relations aspects of what I have been doing within the Transformers scene, the involvement in taking projects from gestation to final product, the growing of something tiny to something valuable have all combined to open the door to an unmissable opportunity for me, and of course my family, to start a brand new adventure overseas. Absolutely none of this would have been possible had my love of Transformers, and the opportunities within this amazing hobby and community, not driven me to try and develop different skills or step outside my comfort zone. Transformers – or at least my feelings for them – made these things a comfort zone.
Now, this latest big professional step may work out great, or it may necessitate another change somewhere down the line. Whatever happens, I can never properly quantify my gratitude for the brand, the people in it, the many ways in which one can express themselves creatively, socially and productively within it, for allowing me to take big steps/side steps professionally at times when I have felt most stuck and in a rut, or uninspired. It will come as no surprise to you, then, that the people who have helped me most in achieving this new position have been Transformers fans and collectors that I have met in the last few years. I have been criticised on occasion for being too positive about the hobby and community, about the Transformers fan experience generally, and putting across a positive message that can sometimes be hard to relate to. With everything I owe to Transformers in my life, can you blame me?
All the best