The Transformers collecting community constantly gains new and younger members as things such as the Movie franchise bring in fresh blood, or children who grew up with Unicron Trilogy, Beast Era or RID 2000 etc reach the age where they can spend disposable income on Transformers. We like to think of this as a relatively new occurrence, but there are ‘old timers’ among us who started collecting at an equally young age as part of the fledgling online community back in the 90s. ‘Tuxedo Mike’ Murray is one of those collectors, someone who has pretty much always had Transformers in his life and has been a fan throughout virtually all eras of the brand, so his insights into how things have changed are particularly interesting. I was thrilled to re-connect with Mike at TFNation 2015 after almost a decade where we lost touch, only to find that he’d been in almost the same hobby space as me all that time. A talented customiser and designer as well as a UK TF scene stalwart, this is Mike’s story.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
My name’s Mike, AKA GlauG, and to a certain group of old UK TF nerds, “Tuxedo Mike”. I collect transforming robot toys! I used to have quite an expansive collection of Transformers from almost every line (and it’s safe to say I have owned a selection of TF toys from every single main line) but recently I have been trimming down for various reasons. After being laid off from my job of 3 years, I had to take a serious look at my collection and have begun culling lots of things I’d normally have kept; multiple similar versions of particular characters are the main victim of my newfound ruthlessness! My “Unicron Trilogy” toys are one big part of this cull too, but the more surprising part is my G1 collection going on the chopping block. Besides the need for cash, I just can’t justify several toy collections in an apartment where I barely have room to display one in a way that does it any justice (almost everything not on the shelf ends up in giant IKEA plastic tubs, as shown in one pic). I do have a very small collection of Yamato toys and Bandai Macross Valkyries too, as well as a large number of ‘Third Party’ transforming robots that fit in alongside my Transformers collection.
Right now, at a push, I think I am very much a Classics/Henkei/Generations etc (the dreaded “CHUG”) and mainline Hasbro/Takara collector, with a selection of complimentary 3P toys, and a small side interest in MP toys that are small and/or cheaply priced enough to justify alongside it.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 15 years?
From my own point of view… 15 years ago, I was a teenager riding the crest of the nostalgia boom that the revival of the TF brand via Beast Wars had prompted, and the internet fandom in particular was a lot smaller, it felt like everyone knew everyone back then. Back then it was plausible for a teen to set about collecting pre-TF or exclusive toys and I met people such as yourself and Ras (who I know you have interviewed before) during that time, for example. Back in the earlier days of internet TF fandom, a lot of information was still being uncovered, there were “new” vintage items which could crop up and surprise us as for the first time we were being put in touch across global distances. It was a small world full of nostalgic fans trying to recreate or complete childhood collections via newsgroups and eBay. Weird to look back at that period with a different kind of nostalgia now!
Five years later, we’d had the start of what seemed unthinkable: Masterpiece figures, and alongside them, a G1 revival of sorts with the Alternators/Binaltech line and reissue after G1 reissue… Lots of vintage toy values had been crushed by the latter, with ’84 Prime and Megatron, God Ginrai, Stepper and Targetmaster Hot Rod being particularly notable examples. On top of this though, several solid years of Transformers product meant that the number of toys available to collectors had increased massively. Beast Wars & Machines, Japanese BW2/NEO, Car Robots/RiD, and the first two instalments of the “Unicron Trilogy” meant that there was a lot more than G1 for an interested collector to be potentially hunting down, with ball-jointed limbs being a relatively new inconvenience for those trying to complete childhood figures from the Beast era. I took a bit of a break during this period, as the UT toys didn’t do much for me, mostly focusing on Binaltech/Alternators, which had begun to wind down.
Another 5 years, and CHUG was in full swing, having been considered impossible for many years by the older fandom. We’d also seen the start of the 3P market expanding beyond garage kits, as City Commander had opened the floodgates. For me, I found that a lot of G1 toys had lost value again so I snapped up a few I had been missing, only to discover that JTF and Pre-TF had started to go a bit crazy. The “good old days” of using Yahoo Auctions or even scoring cheap toys in Asia in person were well and truly over, as the Japanese collector market had matured too.
Now, we have a very well-educated fanbase, with an excellent set of web resources like the TFWiki and other online tools for researching esoteric items for one’s collection, or just matching tiny missiles to tiny launchers! Importantly, there are a lot of younger fans who only know G1 characters through the more modern media such as IDW’s More Than Meets The Eye comics, and it’s interesting seeing them buy toys that are, in some cases, older than they are, in order to have a plastic representation of a character they now love. I’ve seen a surprising amount of this while selling off my G1 toys and spare CHUG figures. Generally speaking, while I would hardly call this a golden age, it’s a lot easier to obtain things that were previously considered rarities, and the big online stores mean that keeping on top of import toylines is just a few clicks away, and for UK collectors often at pretty competitive prices compared to domestic releases. Plus, the sheer breadth of toys available is staggering now that the 3P market has broadened significantly… Ignoring even the dozens of competing teams of dinosaur robots and green combining construction vehicles, there are multiple toys available to represent many iconic characters, even within the same size/cost bracket. The number of toys released may be hard to keep up with, but as someone who remembers the “middle years” I am happier that the choice to buy any of them exists at all.
Finally, I think it’s fantastic to see that Hasbro/Takara have done two full main retail lines of the kind of toys that many people had been wanting for years. Combiner Wars was very hit and miss with lots of people (although as you can see from my pics, I am quite a fan) with a lot of mould reuse apparently burning lots of people out, but Titans Return has done an amazing job of learning from the mistakes of the CW line, it feels like. Bonus points for bringing us modern, articulated versions of Fortress Maximus and Trypticon that can be found in retail stores!
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
Tough question… I’m not sure what realistic change I would expect to see. People keep talking about the 3P bubble bursting, and I suspect there’ll be some element of this. In 5 years’ time I would hope that were toy representations of all the iconic G1 characters in both CHUG and Masterpiece flavours, both Hasbro/Takara and unofficial, so I think things will be at a bit of a crossroads. I daresay we’ll see more and more high-end Bayformers toys rising in price though, and maybe 3P products aimed there, as the huge numbers of kids who watched those movies grow older and more affluent; we’ve already seen a bit of this with the Leader Class TF Movie toys gaining value on the collectors market, and the Japanese 10th anniversary movie figures.
I think my main hope is that we get to see the CHUG lines seen through to some level of completion, likewise the “G1 animated series Masterpiece” lines, both official and 3P. Possibly a bit optimistic, I know…
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
Such a difficult question… I think it highlights what I was saying earlier about how the scene has changed in terms of ease and availability when I think that my most recent “Grail” toy, Botcon 2007 Dreadwind, was just a matter of waiting to find someone selling one solo while I had the cash to buy it and transferring the money by Paypal. Conversely, 14 years ago in 2002 I was running all over Hong Kong as a teenager looking for JTF stuff to make my collection feel more complete; I’d had some Japanese Headmasters and beyond era toys gifted to me by relatives as a child, so I had long wanted to get more of these. That trip definitely has some of my major highlights, including chancing upon a number of test shots for toys NOBODY knew about… I didn’t realise what it was at the time but I picked up a complete test shot for Armada Sideways, which the aforementioned Ras promptly offered to buy from me within hours of my touching down in the UK!
My favourite story though, is how I got my Victory Leo. I already owned a Star Saber, and the only Victory Leo I found for any kind of price I could afford was in a store in Mong Kok, loose and attached to a Star Saber in worse condition than my own and missing its chrome blade. However, I’d come prepared for bartering, and had a Star Saber sword blade spare from my efforts to complete my aforementioned Star Saber, so after getting my mum to interpret into Cantonese, I convinced the seller to split the set in exchange for completing his Star Saber. I took home a lovely loose Victory Leo for that blade and what was £30 or so worth of HK dollars at the time.
An honourable mention has to go to the Liokaiser helmet and Leobreast I won on Yahoo! Auctions Singapore for 27p though.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
If it wasn’t my own story, that Yahoo! Auctions SG one would probably count…
One of the best was when, as a child in the early 90s, a friend told me ASDA had original, black and red boxed G1 toys back on the shelves… Smokescreen, Tracks, Onslaught, etc. I couldn’t believe it, and it nearly caused a playground fight. Of course, the next weekend I insisted I go out shopping with my mother to see for myself, and splurged all of my saved pocket money on what I found, it turned out he’d been absolutely right! Later on, those case-fresh G1 boxes netted me some excellent trades.
On a more negative end, I used to know an Italian collector who highlighted the horrific unreliability of the Italian postal system, as he had a priceless Abominus Giftset (I forget if it was European or Japanese, but either way it was rare as hell) destroyed in transit back in the late 90s/early 2000’s. Poor guy was so unhappy, almost everyone else who heard the story felt like they’d been kicked right in the balls in a painful kind of sympathy.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
My “favourite” toy is a thing that’s constantly being re-evaluated, but it’d have to be one of the toys that’s surviving my G1 purge right now. Probably G1 Chromedome, yellowing, rust, sticker wear and all, as he’s the first TF I remember getting, even if apparently I got Hubcap first! He’s certainly the one G1 toy who’ll be safe through my ongoing purge.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
Probably something from yours! I don’t have too much collection envy, as I have owned most of the G1 I ever wanted. If not one of your fancy 3P/MP toys, one of the prototypes/test shots Paul (Spacebridge) Hitchens has. They’re very cool and unique items that would be lovely to own.
Also, right now, I /really/ want a Maketoys Downbeat. That thing is sexy.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Don’t worry about what other people think is “cool”, don’t worry about your collection being relevant to other people. Just buy what you like, and share that joy with your friends.
Also, absolutely, definitely go to conventions if you’re able. If you don’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet up with other local collectors or friends, the atmosphere and sense of camaraderie is hard to beat.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Mike Murray for words and photographs.
All the best