It’s inspirational and refreshing to come across a Transformers fan and collector who is still incredibly positive about everything surrounding the hobby, someone who wears their passion for the brand and its media on their sleeve. I had the pleasure of meeting Jason Wagner at TFNation 2017 for the first time, and have since enjoyed his company across social media as well. Having had a letter of his published in the original Marvel UK Transformers comic run, Jason – despite this obvious fame from an early age – came to the community later than most, but you wouldn’t believe it looking at his beautiful collection. Over to the big man himself to talk you through his history with Transformers.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
My name is Jason Wagner and I’ve been a Transformers fan since their first release in the UK in 1984. My love of the comic, cartoon and toys has even influenced my career, having graduated from art school as an animator and now running a creative app development studio in Scotland making games for kids.
The focus of my collection is UK Generation 1 releases, be that the original 1980s versions, Takara Collection, Commemorative or Encore re-issues. Of the original 80’s releases, I still have most of my Transformers and boxes from my childhood. This is partly thanks to my mum who told us to keep them and because we moved five times as I was growing up; packing and unpacking was easier if you kept the original box. However, I’m not a MIB collector. My entire collection is there to be enjoyed and played with by anyone that visits the “robot room” as it’s become affectionately known in our house.
My collection also includes Alternators, Binaltech, Masterpiece, World’s Smallest, third party figures and a lot of newer releases including CHUG & the recent Titans Return line. Basically, if it’s an original G1 character realised in a new way, be that play value, design, size, material used and so forth, I’ll get it. This love of G1 extends into the printed publications I kept as a child from the entire 332 issues of the original UK comic, binders, posters, pencils, card games, bio cards right up to the latest IDW collected comics. I’m even a member of the S.T.A.R.S club and still have my membership card.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 15 years?
Entirely. Back in late 90s and early 2000s Transformers were nowhere, your only option was eBay and even then, the search result were often electrical transformers not the toys. But in 2002, I was browsing my local Toys ‘R’ Us in Edinburgh and there was Ultra Magnus in his original packaging; I was giddy as a kid as I took Ultra Magnus and Rodimus Major to the checkout. Hasbro had released the Commemorative Series and suddenly Transformers were back on my radar.
However, as I’m in the UK it’s quite often famine or feast with Hasbro releases and, true to form, I only found Optimus Prime at retail and that was it, back to eBay. What was interesting, though, is that the momentum had started. The comics from Dreamwave had begun and just as the original comic in the 80s had promoted the toys, so did this new release.
And then I went travelling around the world with my (now wife) Selina; more on that later.
After 367 days away, I arrived back to the UK and Transformers were starting to appear more and more at retail with the Alternators, Armada and Classics lines. There was a real feeling that the brand was back but again retail was always hit and miss. Then, independent online stores that had previously stocked a wide variety of toy lines, focused mainly on Transformers. For myself, and I believe for many other collectors, this changed the scene entirely. No longer were you having to trawl through eBay listings or cross your fingers at every visit to a major retailer. Within a few clicks you could browse and order the latest release and get your hands on some Japanese exclusives.
Now in 2017 we are absolutely spoilt for choice. It’s overwhelming to be honest with the availability and choices available. Whether you like them or not, I believe third party figures have helped push Hasbro and Takara to up their game. It’s forced them to design and create fan favourites that only a few years ago the third party designers were all over. For me, this can be seen in the Masterpiece line of Takara Transformers. These are the toys I dreamt of as a kid. They look superb in both robot and alt mode and are outstanding pieces of toy engineering. They are also great fun!
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
I’d love to see Takara continue the Masterpiece line so that I could get the entire ‘84 range. I’m super excited about MP Sunstreaker as he was a well-loved, well played with character I had as a kid and still have as a big kid. More than anything, though, I’d like to see toy companies i.e. Takara / Hasbro innovating in the same way the third party teams do. It would be fantastic to see collaboration between these companies both in design and engineering of the toys and get some new characters. Because, although I like what the third party scene has done (in my opinion) at motivating Takara and Hasbro to up their game, I’m getting bored of another Masterpiece scale combiner or yet more Dinobots. If it keeps going that way I can see the entire market crashing as it did back in the early 90s and more than anything I don’t want the toys and availability to stop.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
As I mentioned earlier, Selina and I went travelling around the world 2004 to 2005 and little did I know that Transformers were making a comeback in big way. Our journey took us to India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Los Angeles and New York. It was an amazing time and made even better by Takara. We were about 5 months into our journey when we arrived in Kuala Lumpar; a bustling, exciting multicultural city full of wonderful people, tasty food and huge shopping centers! We’d just flown from Borneo so we were ready for come city treats and shopping.
We were not disappointed.
Berjaya Times Square is a huge shopping center and running vertically through its center is a theme park! I kid you not, as you eat and drink, wander around shops or go up an escalator, people whizz past screaming their lungs out as they plunge to the floors below. It is everything I love about Asia, the fun, the food and the toys! As soon as I walked in on the ground floor (and after gasping at the rollercoaster) I noticed a small window display of tiny Transformers. It was the first wave of World’s Smallest Transformers with a tiny banner pointing to the name and shop number that sold them; off we went. What we discovered was a floor to ceiling mecca of Hasbro / Takara / Bandai toys. My eyes bulged as I scanned for Transformers but to my disappointment there weren’t any, not even World’s Smallest.
Suddenly form behind a pile of My Little Ponies a woman appeared and asked if she could help. “Transformers” I blurted. She laughed and calmly explained her son “has all that stuff”. From utter despair to hope I was jumping with excitement. She was a lovely woman and had two boys similar age to myself and my brother who also love Transformers, bonus! After talking to her about our travels and where we had been she gave us directions to her eldest son’s store and off we went; up escalators; past the screaming rollercoaster and rounded a corner to find a huge, brightly lit store filled floor to ceiling with Takara Transformers boxes. From Binaltech to Takara Collection box sets to Worlds Smallest Transformers. I was overwhelmed.
And then I saw Masterpiece Optimus Prime MP-1 – my jaw hit the floor. To this day MP-1 has pride of place in the center of my collection (above the World’s Smallest and Encore Fortress Maximus). And this defines my collection because it is not just about the toy itself but the memory it conjures; be that where I bought it, who I was with or how old I was. That moment, the excitement of finding a Transformer in the wild, cannot be beaten.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
I’ll be honest, I’m not that aware of that many collecting stories. Oddly, I’ve been a bit disconnected from the Transformers community until recently when I set up a personal profile on Twitter. It was like coming home. Suddenly this huge family existed that loved what I love and I could talk to them about it rather than boring the eyelashes off my friends and family. It was and still is amazing to find such a great community of people, and having visited my first convention this year (TFNation 2017), I got to meet all these people in person.
It was such a fantastic weekend and in a way, that’s a surprising collecting story itself; you can make great friends collecting plastic toys, it’s a win-win! But, of course I have heard a few stories in my time collecting and the ones that always capture my attention are the original sealed cardboard boxes filled with G1 Autobot cars – it’s the stuff of dreams.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
It would be Generation 1 Bumblebee because of one simple reason; this is the exact toy that started it all for me. I bought it when I was 7 years old on Marlboro High street, Wiltshire from H.Ducks, a local, family run toy shop. I remember vividly going in and seeing the mini Autobots on the shelf rack. I bought Bumblebee and my brother got Gears – both of which I still have to this day.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
This list could be quite long as I’m at the point in my collection where I only need (or is it want?) a few Transformers… does it ever end!?! Top of my list would be Grand Maximus. I’ve got Encore Fortress Maximus and Brave Maximus, but to have all three would be an absolute hoot! There is just something utterly ridiculous and supremely retro about these hulking city-formers that I love more and more every day. The only slight issue with this choice is that it’s a Japanese only release, so it doesn’t technically fit into the UK collection ethos. But then who am I kidding, I have a lot of U.S.A only releases in my collection and Japanese reissues so yep, Grand Maximus it is… may have to sell a kidney though as I just looked on eBay at the current prices!
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
This is my hobby. It gives me so much pleasure, happiness, joy and sometimes frustration (Masterpiece Megatron!) but Generation 1 Transformers are a money pit, so keep all this in mind.
Like any hobby, think about what you love from the entire Transformers universe, be that the comics, cartoons, toys and more besides, and then look at the availability and price where you live. If you do decide to go down the G1 toy collecting route, I’d recommend steering clear of well-known auction sites and look at the Transformers / toy forums instead. This is something I completely missed and have never taken advantage of but I know others that have.
Japan (Osaka and Tokyo) are an absolute gold mine for vintage, but the prices reflect this, so unless you’re local it can be very hard to find good deals. I’ve had some luck shopping in the U.S.A although admittedly this was for R.I.D releases. In all honesty, if I was starting out now I’d collect Titans Return, both the Takara and Hasbro releases choosing your favourite version of either toy as you please. And what’s great is that you can find the Hasbro releases in store for reasonable prices.
And for a new collector there are a few reasons I’d recommend this specific line. The toys are an absolute joy; they look superb and have gotten better and better as each wave is released. They are great fun to play with for all ages. My four-year-old son has a blast with them and the transformations on some figures are superb, which keeps me entertained. More than anything, the original spirit and excitement I felt for the Generation 1 has been captured in the Titans Return releases and to see them enjoyed by a new generation of fans would be wonderful.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Jason Wagner for words and photographs.
All the best