It is wonderful to see the Transformers hobby and online community allow someone to bring their qualities, personality and passion to the attention of others who can benefit from it. Seeing Becka Allen’s following grow, and witnessing her blossoming friendships throughout the global Transformers community as a result of her Twitter interactions and TF Nation attendance, is one of 2017’s very real positive stories. Becka has a fantastic sense of humour, a very real passion, an open-minded approach to Transformers and other collectors and an impressive toy collection to boot. I’m honoured to be able to bring a part of Becka’s story and her relationship with Transformers to you.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
Hi, I’m Becka! I like Transformers! And spending money on them! Okay, no, I like Transformers. The spending money on them thing is just an unfortunate side-effect. Capitalism, am I right, fellas?
I’ve been collecting since 2008 when I first stumbled across the franchise thanks to the 2007 Michael Bay movie (thanks, well-placed DVD display in HMV!). These days my collection is solely geared towards Transformers, but in the past I’ve collected Hot Toys, Gerry Anderson stuff (mostly from Thunderbirds and Stingray) and a bit of LEGO.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 10 years?
I’ve only been a Transformers fan for nine years at this point, and only rigorously involved with the toy-collecting side of the fandom for about six years, so I’m not sure how comprehensive my answer will be, but:
My general impression is that I remember more stock at brick and mortar stores. My discovery of Transformers aligned with the airing of Transformers: Animated, and I remember Toys R Us being chocka with TFA toys of all size classes along with some TF2007 stock and a few Voyagers for the upcoming ROTF line. Over the years I’ve seen these shelf sizes decrease and the availability of the mainline Transformers from CHUG, Prime, and the films just…vanish. Same local supermarket the other day only had two TLK one-step changers. It’s really sad.
It’s also made collecting more difficult for people in the UK, I think, in a way American fans can’t relate to because they have so many more options available to them (including the online Hasbro shop itself). We’re constantly faced with questions like do you risk buying a whole case of Power of the Primes toys online or do you hold out and pray they might eventually reach a supermarket or TK Maxx the following year? Hell, the UK (and Europe?) was skipped over for an entire wave of Combiner Wars, which meant kids couldn’t complete the Combiners advertised on the box of the toy they did manage to get hold of!
I am glad that we’re getting more female Transformers, though. It’s insane that Arcee first appeared in 1986 and didn’t get a mainline toy release until nearly thirty years later – when the film’s entire point was to advertise new toys! Er, I mean, to traumatise a generation. NO, wait, I mean, to give you an adventure beyond your wildest dreams! Yes.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
More accessibility would be my top answer. Toys back on shelves!
But I’d also like to see more of a variety of things available. The G1 lovefest of Titans Return and Power of the Primes is absolutely amazing and I’m glad so many relatively unknown characters are getting new toys, so this gives me hope for continuities like Beast Wars/Machines and the Unicron Trilogy – which are still very much left out of the main line despite being instrumental in keeping Transformers alive in the late nineties/early noughties (Is that what we’re calling that decade now? I can never remember). I’m not a fan of the Unicron Trilogy myself, but it gets a lot of love amongst my friends and it would make them so happy if they got a new uh *googles it* the jam guy. You know. Hot Soap.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
This might be a bit of an unusual one and tame by the Transformers world standards, given some of the finds people have made at car boots or in relatives’ spooky attics, but I’ll try to make it as interesting as possible*.
*note: may not actually be as interesting as previously advertised.
My first experience of G1 Transformers was in 2008, when I watched the 1986 movie on a PSP UMD whilst chatting with an American friend of mine over Skype. I can’t say I liked the film at the time, mostly because I was lacking any emotional connection to 99% of what was going on, but I can tell you two characters I loved straight away: Megatron and Starscream. And their constant bitching at each other. And their backstabbing of each other. After the film was over I mentioned to my friend that I was sad I didn’t get to see more of their dynamic because snarky villains is totally my jam, and that’s when he dropped the good news bomb on me: there was a cartoon accompanying the film, and they were in the first two seasons of it plenty.
I watched the cartoon, and by the third or fourth episode G1 Megatron had become my favourite character. Sure, I love Perceptor and Red Alert over on the Autobot side, but a ridiculously arrogant (and, let’s face it, super ineffective) Frank-Welker-voiced gun-man clanking around whilst his Second in Command screeched through a series of bizarre assassination attempts yet somehow didn’t ever get fired (more than once) was just…I loved it. I love everything about G1 Megs. He’s my go-to cheer-me-up character, mostly because whenever I think my life is a mess I can look at his and laugh. Sure, I messed up a spreadsheet, but he spent all the beer money on a giant purple griffin.
Unfortunately, this love for Megatron was where a major collecting problem started and lasted for seven more years.
I’m a total sucker for screen/page accuracy. I don’t even care if the toy itself is rubbish: if it looks like the character it’s meant to be, then I’m all over it like a rash. But unfortunately G1 Megatron just didn’t seem to inspire that much faithfulness when it came to toys, and even if they got the general idea of his body right, they always messed up on the head. In terms of official Hasbro releases, G2 Megatron and Combiner Wars Megatron are the closest they’ve ever gotten to replicating the G1 cartoon head but both fell short on the body and after the clusterfaff of the first MP Megatron (which I didn’t even buy) I gave up ever owning one that looked like the character who had drawn me into the fandom in the first place.
Fast-forward to 2016 and enter Takara and MP-36. When I first saw the leaks I figured they had to be a mistake, or a fan Photoshop job: surely nobody could have produced a toy that looked like it could have walked right out of the cartoon? But they had. They’d captured toon Megatron absolutely perfectly…at a time I was flat broke and unable to shell out ~£200 on the figure my collection had been missing right from the start. By the time I’d managed to scrounge up some of the money all of the pre-orders were sold out, and the aftermarket was barren unless I wanted to pay ridiculous shipping costs from America. I was gutted. It actually made me give up collecting TF’s for a short while!
But then the stars aligned: a second run was announced and put up for pre-order the internet over, I got a pay rise at work, and in November of this year MP Megatron arrived via a DPD van that I chased up my road screaming THAT’S MINE THAT’S MINE YOU’RE DELIVERING TO MEEEEEEE. (Bless the driver, who proceeded to pull my leg by insisting my address wasn’t on the large package he was holding just out of my reach. Haha. I’ll get you one day, Steve).
MP-36 might not have been the rare grail others have been hunting for lifetimes longer than mine, but he is officially the best thing I have ever bought and would be the one item I would save from my house in a fire. Phone? Laptop? Purse? Eh. Okay no maybe not my purse but I’ve got two hands and I can multitask, I can save both.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
I haven’t heard too many to be honest, but stories that always take me aback are mostly centred around people who place collecting Transformers above all else – when ‘all else’ is their partners and children.
I’ve flitted around various Transformers forums through the years and all too often there are threads decrying spouses for not understanding the collecting itch, for wanting to use ‘toy money’ for more practical things like clothes, food, medical bills, or retirement. We’ve all done a cheeky purchase here and there when money was a bit tight, but some of these posters just seem so crushed and angry about something that is meant to bring them happiness. On the one hand it makes me sad they’re in a relationship with someone who is either unable or flatly refuses to understand their hobby, but equally I’m horrified that these people conflate collecting toys with actual important things like the security of their family.
Health and wellbeing of yourself and your loved ones should always come first, no matter what.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
I’ve already explained in detail how much I love MP-36 Megatron, but hey, giving the same answer for two different questions is boring!
Instead, I’ll pick Universe Starscream. He was my first ‘proper’ Transformers purchase, bought from a scalper when I was young and didn’t know any better, and whilst he’s a bit floppy and lacks those all too crucial bicep swivels he’s still an excellent Starscream and he’s still technically my first ever Transformer. I have a lot of happy memories with this fella.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
‘Tis a sin to covet thy neighbours’ Transformers! …But to be 100% honest with you all, I would totally nab X2’s Skycrusher from anyone who owns him. He’s huge and gorgeous and so amazingly derpy (guys, seriously, that head, what. were. you. thinking.) but I’m not a massive Skyfire fan so I couldn’t justify the financial outlay for him.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
For me this was the toughest question because so many people want so many different things from their Transformers toys. There are the serious hardcore collectors who have whole walls of beautiful glass cabinets full of expensive robots; there are people who only collect certain lines; there are people who only collect certain characters (looking at you, Ackbar Man Dave Shorter); and there are people like me who sort-of hobble together something together from various universes because continuity is for cowards.
So instead, here is the advice I would give to myself if I nabbed a time machine and visited myself back in 2009:
1) Attend. The. Transformers. Conventions. For UK people this is very much TF Nation, and it was a life-changing experience for me – not just meeting fellow fans and forging some pretty beautiful friendships, but also experiencing new toys I’d only seen in pictures and being persuaded to try new continuities like the Marvel G1 comics and Beast Wars – something I’d’ve never tried otherwise. It can be costly, it can be scary, but it also can be done.
2) If you’re umming and ahhing about a toy, try to watch video reviews and look at photographic reviews on forums or from reviewers like Toyboxsoapbox, Maz, and Sixo. You’ll never get a 100% complete picture of the purchase you want to make until it arrives on your front doorstep, but seeing it both in motion and in a range of posed stills can be more informative than just watching somebody muck about with it on camera. Size and colour can be deceptive. Winky-face.
3) Collect what you love, and don’t think you have to conform to any standards. You only want to collect one-step changers from the movie line? Right-on! You’re just as valid as an MISB G1 collector.
4) Have fun. If at any point collecting Transformers begins to feel like a chore, re-evaluate why you’re collecting (for example, are you buying certain figures only because other people champion them as a purchase?) and adjust yourself accordingly.
No, not like that.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Becka Allen for words and photographs.
All the best