Bobby Allen is a collector on a mission. His glorious display of vintage versus modern Masterpiece-style figures has gained him a lot of admirers online. In addition to that, he’s started doing some lovely stop-motion transformation gifs and classic scene re-creations with vintage figures. An extremely approachable and active community member, Bobby has been around the fandom for a long time, even contributing some amazing papercraft models back in the early days! A fantastic collection, excellent advice and a brilliant story about G1 Scattershot all make for an unmissable interview. Take it away, Bobby!
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
Hi everyone *waits for clapping to stop* my name is Bobby and I’m a Transformers addict!
Ok, ok … if you’re reading this article you probably are too, let’s be real! So my name is Bobby in the real world, Robert on paper, and Turbine027 pretty much everywhere else. I’m a high school math teacher by day, world explorer by summer (mostly beaches in Mexico), softball player by weekend (that’s where the 27 comes from) and every moment in between is spent on TFW2005.com.
I was born in 1984, so I grew up with G2 and Beast Wars, living most of my G1 dreams through 1987-90 catalogs. I’ve always been a huge fan of puzzles, everything from jigsaw to Rubik’s cubes, so my affinity for Transformers has always stemmed from the engineering and transformations. I think that’s why they survived all my other interests (GI Joe, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, girls … wait, what?). Until recent 3P figures, I used to pride myself on never using the instructions. I would stare at figures I didn’t own in a catalog and ponder their transformations and where everything would fit.
As an adult, my main goal is my “Then and Now” collection where I display my complete G1 set alongside their Masterpiece counterparts. There’s just something about blending the nostalgia of the original figures with the marvel of engineering that allows for recreating the old cartoon characters that just ticks all my boxes. It also gives my collection a “light at the end of the tunnel” feeling where I can look forward to filling in the remaining gaps over the years. I think this also helps my partner (who is amazing, btw) and friends who see the collection get an idea of what it is I’m collecting and not just see a new figure as “another robot showed up.” They are able to at least understand on some level what happens when MP Sunstreaker arrives from the last eBay Flash Sale… OHHHHH, he goes in that empty space behind that smaller yellow looking dude next to that red one. Yes, yes, you’re totally right!
In the Transformers community, I’m still amazed to see people wowed by my collection room. I remember when my own was very meager and I looked to great collections for inspiration in awe. It’s crazy to think that my collection has started to receive name recognition… imagine if I could tell my childhood self about that, or show him MP-10?! He wouldn’t believe me as he finally tracked down a dusty, incomplete Hot Rod for his birthday.
Recently I’ve been “having fun” and interacting with my collection via photography. I’m no Maz or Sixo, but I love taking silly pose-off shots between old school and new school figures, recreating scenes from the series and 1986 movie, and capturing stop-motion transformation gifs. I feel like sometimes you can get in a rut where each time a new figure arrives you transform it once (or not at all), then pose and stick it on a shelf. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but I feel like taking photos is my adult version of “playing” with the figures now.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 15 years?
Two words: The Internet. As a kid, my knowledge of upcoming figures came from looking at toy catalogs, backs of boxes, and from immediately running to the “Hasbro Aisle” the moment we were in any store. There was an excitement to the hunt and a true surprise when seeing a new figure that you didn’t expect. I won’t say that that has completely gone away, as there are many times I wake up at 5am to a surprise new prototype reveal and I feel that same initial, giddy excitement (Fans Toys Dinobots, anyone?)!
With the internet, we’re often aware of figures YEARS before they’re released to the wild so there’s time for that excitement to waver and for people you’ve never met before to nitpick it to death, or worse … Photoshop it so wonderfully that you can never be satisfied with the product you end up with hahaha! I wouldn’t say that it’s all bad though, as it definitely gives you something to discuss and think about to help maintain that excitement throughout the waiting period. You also have access to review videos to get an idea of your own experience with a figure, or build your anticipation, before you even have the opportunity to buy it.
Access to buying vintage figures has changed, too. I remember when eBay first started and you could search “Transformers” and find 253 results. The forums were predated by alt.toys.transformers newsgroups that you had to access through your email. I was too young to buy/sell at that time with “mysterious strangers on the internet” but I remember finding websites like Snarl’s Homepage (Todd) and Robozone (Gerry Bunker) to grab some figures I wanted. The internet introduced me to Diaclone, and the other toy lines that were compiled into the Transformers we know and love. It also introduced me to a whole world of European and Japanese exclusive figures I had never heard of before!
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
It might take a little longer than 5 years, but I think that as 3D printing technology progresses we will start to see our community work on far more complicated projects. Right now we’ve got accessories and add-ons popping up left and right, but when the ability to print plastic comes to every home, I can’t wait to see what happens when some of the great artists out there start collaborating!
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
I don’t know if this is your definition of success here, but it was a bit of internet fame at a young age. Back when I had no budget for toys, I used to make Transformers out of paper. And not just drawing them on a sheet and cutting them out, like full on (designed in MS Paint) pieces that were folded and strategically put together so that they could transform! Based on how young I was, they objectively started out pretty awful… but over time I got really good and would have people emailing me their requests. My little site was “http://home.att.net/~turbine/myotf.htm” for “Make Your Own Transformers” but that site has long died, like back in the 2000’s died, and unfortunately all the files are lost with it. It’s been YEEEEAAAARRRRS since I’ve designed any of these, but I still see my Metroplex, Star Saber and a few other of my better ones show up online now and then on papercraft sites and on Deviant Art. The funny thing is that I bet no one knows I’m the one that made them. Literally the only file set I still have access to is G1 Metroplex.
Now that I’m writing about this and bringing up the memories, maybe I can tap back into that mental geometry skill and creativity and hop on this 3D printed Transformers train while it’s still boarding! If anyone reading this randomly remembers what I’m talking about or has any of the files stored on a dusty hard drive somewhere, feel free to reach out!
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
I mean, we all hear of surprising yard sale finds and the like, but what I found most surprising were the instances where people had lost their entire collections to fire or flooding. In those times I wonder what I would do if I had to start from scratch, and if I would even want to? I certainly don’t think I’d collect at the scale I do now, but I know I wouldn’t be able to stop forever. Thinking of this also makes me wonder about what I’ll do with my collection someday when I’m getting closer to the end and no one wants “Uncle Bobby’s old dusty robots.” I’m convinced that at some point I’ll just give them all away. No, really! And, yes, you can get on the list!!
I mentioned that I teach high school, and I suppose this might fall under a surprising story, but I met a student in the 9th grade a few years back who knew everything about G1 Transformers… and I mean, knew about Black Zarak knew everything! Turns out both he and his dad are also posters on TFW (Good job, dad)! I’ve basically decided that when my journey with collecting Transformers comes to an end, I would like to be able to find someone like him, who is younger and who appreciates the collection and literally just gift it over. I’ve never collected as an investment and if I could give that joy to someone instead of the figures eventually being tossed out by some relative years down the road, I’d prefer that!
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
G1 Computron – that was the one that started it all. Most of my original has been lost with age (I was 4 when I got it so he went through a lot). My original Scattershot is horribly yellowed and the rocket mechanism was ruined by sand from playing outside. Lightspeed was my favorite and I left him at a Denny’s once… I eventually “replaced” him with a second Strafe I found at a yard sale until I got my hands on a replacement. Nosecone was my first experience with a head breaking off in an arm socket, and Afterburner’s legs snapped off at one point. I’m pretty sure Strafe is the only surviving original member, although he’s been graced with Reprolabels! We still have family stories about my dad trying to transform Scattershot out of the box for me, in front of all the extended family on Christmas morning. There was that inevitable moment where the torso was spun the wrong way and what should have become a “flipped up backpack” became a flipped down … well, that can’t be right… what’s this button do? *opens and extends* … ummmm … *blank stares followed by laughter*. To this day my family has jokingly decided that this is why I’m gay!
Hmmmmm, that’s a toss up between Black Shadow (I still just need the shell) or a complete Grand Maximus (come on, Encore reissue – seriously, where are you??!!). Those are really some of the last few, and expensive, pieces I would like for my old school collection.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Consider what you think is important or what you want out of a collection. Are you enjoying the figures you buy? Or are you just buying them to complete a checklist? And consider the space you have available. You might want to decide early on what your focus is. But like a college major, feel free to change that as many times as you want! Oh, and what will you do with the boxes!? Keep them? Toss them? I tend to keep them all for a while and then begrudgingly toss them all out when the stack gets too high and I’m fairly certain I won’t be selling any of them. I always admired big collections, and being a kid during the trading cards and Pokémon crazes, my “got to catch em all” phase started early. I’m sorry, is that a checklist? I’ve got to complete it!
Even with a display as large as I have, there are so many figures stuck in bins that will never see the light of day again. If I could go back, would I tell myself not to buy them? I don’t think so… the journey and the memories are equally important and I certainly enjoyed the figures at the time so I don’t regret going through that process. So I guess my main advice is to just make sure you’re enjoying the ride, collecting what is important to you, and not to feel stressed about purchases or comparing yourself to others. Sometimes that can lead you to buying things that you don’t necessarily like or want, unless checking off boxes brings you joy? And on that note, “Hi everyone… my name is Bobby and I’m a Transformers addict!”
Many kind and gracious thanks to Bobby Allen for words and photographs.
All the best