It says a lot about the growth and health of the South American Transformers community – specifically Peru – that José Antonio Suárez is actually the second Peruvian Transformers collector that we have interviewed! Just as with David before him, José is a prolific and generous contributor to his local and wider Transformers community, and is a stalwart of the online scene. He will tell you all about his responsibilities within the community, and how grateful he is to be able to connect to so many collectors. When I was researching the Peruvian minibot articles, José was a huge help and provided me – and the fandom – with priceless information on those sought-after variants. A person like that deserves his moment to shine, so here’s José with his uniquely acquired and shared collection!
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
Well, my name is José Antonio Suárez Rojas and I live in Lima, Peru. I am an English and ICT teacher at Talentus Villa school. I am also part of Transformers Peru staff (I manage all our digital and social media platforms), news staff on TFW2005, Toyhax representative for South America and writer and editor of the Cybertron 21 blog. Our blog is on its 4th consecutive year of weekly educational Transformers content for any fan who is willing to learn about our beloved robots.
While my ‘formal’ name is Jose Antonio, I am better known in the Latin American Transformers community as “Black Convoy” (the original Japanese name of RID Scourge). Even my closest friends just call me “Black” for short. During the first days of Facebook, I used that nick for years, and people used it as a reference for my contributions or comments all over the internet.
In terms of collecting, I have figures from almost every line; G2, Generations, Movies, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Unicron Trilogy, etc. Some people think it’s strange I don’t collect many G1 or Masterpiece figures, considering how much I know about the matter. I grew up with the G1 cartoon like many Latin American fans, but to be honest, G1 toys were so expensive and hard to find during the 80’s, I never had the pleasure to enjoy them as I would have liked when I was a kid (I only had 22 Terrorcons and 2 Technobots). If there’s a collection that really made me the collector I am today, it was Takara Car Robots / RID 2001. That was the line that made me get into collecting seriously. I still remember when I saw the opening and I knew I had to get Gigatron.
I am lucky to have a small display at my school in my computer room. I usually bring part of my collection there from month to month to share with my students. It creates a happy and original environment. Nothing better for a collection than to be shared with everyone, especially with kids. It’s like a dream for them and it also gives us a very original space at school.
2) How has the collecting scene changed in the last 15 years?
From a South American perspective, it has changed as no one could have ever imagined. For many Latin American fans, the only source or reference for Transformers has been the G1 cartoon. The G1 comics were never fully released, and most people ‘remember’ the few toys they saw in a very particular way. It’s curious or even heartbreaking when you explain to a nostalgic fan that the Metroplex toy was not as big as a dog, or that G1 Devastator was not as tall as a kid! I remember a friend to whom I showed a G1 Insecticon and he didn’t want to believe they were so small. Not only were toys hard to find, but the information and facts about them was rare too. It didn’t help fans to get what they wanted.
Today, we live in a sea of information. Transformers is not just G1 anymore, but tons of models, Masterpiece, Generations, movies etc. Now there’s information just 2 clicks away, but most potential fans don’t know WHAT TO LOOK FOR. This was my first idea when writing my blog. As a teacher, I wanted to help fans to learn and start to investigate or research about several topics and collections of our franchise. I wanted to motivate fans to go further than G1 toys and cartoon. Some fans had never heard of Action Masters, others thought Beast Wars was not Transformers, or wondered what all those IDW comics were. Teach to learn, learn to teach. Collecting has become a hobby where information can be crucial. You may see only a repaint where it’s a BotCon exclusive, or a Diaclone homage.
Another great way collecting has changed, especially throughout South America, is the fact that we do have a great online market. During the sweet old 80’s you just had to rely on small second hand dealers. You could be happy with a broken and incomplete G1 Constructicon for almost $40 and consider yourself lucky with it. Now, almost any fan can start a decent collection with real deals and good figures. Of course, nothing is perfect. There are a number of dishonest dealers who will try to sell opened items as new, or KO’s as originals, but if you know the basics you can avoid them. I think there’s nothing bad about buying a KO or a second-hand item. The problem comes when someone tries to cheat people selling (and knowing) an item is a KO but claim it’s real.
I think the internet has provided hundreds of opportunities for people who never thought they would collect Transformers (or any other brand). Collecting has changed the way people look at adult collectors here. In the past, looking at a grown man buying toys was the kick off for silly jokes about it. Today, from serious professionals to enthusiastic kids, all can say that collecting is a serious hobby. No need to feel ashamed.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
That’s a very interesting question. Some fans mourn how we have lost the “magic” of hunting toys at retail, how toys are smaller every year, and many more things. I think this is similar to what happened with MTV. Many people claimed it should go back to broadcasting videos, that this was the best era and they would watch it everyday if it went back to what it used to be. But the fact is that I don’t think many people will leave YouTube or any streaming platform to sit in front of a TV anymore. Times have changed, and even people who miss the sweet old past have adapted to the online world.
While I miss those days where you had to walk or travel to deal in order to buy or get a toy, online stores have become our best alternative in an era where time has become a luxury for many people. Most of my collection has been bought online. It would have never been possible to get most of my hardest and most expensive toys if it weren’t for the online market and connections we have today all over the globe. I got pretty great deals from Ebay, Facebook, Instagram, etc. The end of Toys R Us is a clear example of this. While many collectors claim how sad it was to see them go out of business, I bet many of them hadn’t been to one of those stores in a long time. Toys at retail were moving to smaller chains and online stores even before the end of Toys R Us.
On the other side, I can see there’s a growing market for high-quality products like premium statues and other merchandise. Some years ago, I could never have imagined that there would be a market for a $1000 statue. You don’t need to collect only toys to be recognized as a fan anymore. There’s going to be a new core of collectors that are focused not only on toys but on top quality merchandise; fans who love a character more than a toy. Third party companies will also have to adapt to the next era. They have got a golden opportunity to fill the gaps that Hasbro or Takara are not willing to. Older fans are looking for high quality and complex moulds, and 3P groups should pay more attention to QC and open their catalogue of products to other popular characters in our multiverse. I hope with time, there won’t be anymore “official vs 3P” flaming wars around. Collect, share and be happy, and let others collect, share and be happy, too.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
This is hard to tell. For me, all the Transformers I have added to my collection have got a really interesting and invaluable story around them. That’s what I think is the difference between a collector and someone who just gathers plastic toys. Each toy reminds me of a friend, a story, an anecdote. No matter if it cost $1 or $100. Each figure has got its own special feeling that makes it unique for me.
As far as adventures go, I think one of my biggest moments was to be part of the revelation of the Peruvian Minibots made by Lynsa via your articles, Maz. I remember those days where the only way to communicate was via old free Hotmail accounts, and it was a real challenge to get a proper photograph of a toy. After many years, Peruvian Minibots are finally recognized, and it is thanks to all the dedication of fans like you Maz, that took time and effort to reveal the history of these Minibots to the fandom.
Talking about items, I think Micron Legends Scourge is one of those items you can grab only when a lot of energon and luck come to you. I got it from Elvin Pena (one of the best Optimus Prime figure collectors ever). Elvin started to sell his collection and he really helped me a lot to grab this toy. As I said, in those old times when communication came only by e-mail, I didn’t even have a proper internet connection at home. I had to go to public cabinets to finish the deal, and find a way to send him the money when PayPal was not even an option! It took almost 5 months to finish the deal, but this is one of my favourite items in my collection, mainly because it came from a good friend and all his efforts to make this toy travel to Peru.
One special achievement for me is my blog, Cybertron 21. When I started writing, I originally planned to share a weekly post every Saturday for one or two months to engage readers. To my surprise, the reception and comments were so nice and generous, I extended the plan for 4 months, 6 months, one year…. And it was incredible how readers and followers kept asking me to continue. After 4 years, I haven’t stopped yet. One post every week. It’s really amazing the messages and feedback I receive from Latin American fans. Friends from Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Panama…. They send me nice messages encouraging me to continue sharing more articles or inviting me to share the blog on their Facebook groups. Thanks to all of you. I can’t believe how my small project has been so well received. As a teacher, I am so satisfied to encourage fellow fans to research and learn about our franchise. As a fan and collector, I think I am finally giving back to the fandom some of the great moments and satisfaction this hobby brought to my life. I never thought people would recognize me at the events we participate in here in Peru. For me, to see a friend happy with my small contribution to the fandom, is something invaluable. That’s the reason I always take my time every week to bring more content.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
There are a lot of stories that I always remember. One that is still in my mind was a guy who bought a Japanese Toys R Us Exclusive Black Big Convoy for 15 bucks shipped to US. It was a sequence of coincidences and good luck. This guy was just randomly looking for figures on Ebay and he saw a very blurry black picture. The auction had a name like “Japanese Black Robot” or something really generic with no indication of Transformers.
The seller seemed to be the mother of a guy related to the army who had been sent to a foreign country for a long period of time. His mother wanted to make some space at home, and she started to sell most of his old toys. As you would imagine, she didn’t know anything about Transformers. She just wanted to make space. When asked about this toy, she could only tell that it was a Japanese toy. She asked only 15 dollars and free shipping. Our brave buyer took the chance on the confusing description and bad picture. When the figure finally arrived, it was an original, complete Black Big Convoy in perfect condition, with all missiles and accessories. EPIC WIN! How do I know the story? It was a TFW2005 Boards user who shared the experience, starting from the Ebay link, to the final happy ending.
In other sad moments, I remember a guy who broke up with the girl he was living with, and she literally threw all his collection through the window…. From the third floor. I don’t think I need to tell you the rest of the story.
There is also a nice anecdote that happened here in Peru. Combiner Wars was a popular line here. As usual with previous lines, Leader Class toys didn’t usually hit stores or we only got limited quantities. It was a surprise to see Combiner Wars Ultra Magnus in stores, but with a price tag of $77. A local fan bought one the first day they arrived to a well-known local supermarket. We were not in a hurry to buy it for that price, but this fan shared in our Facebook group that when he went to the cashier, the toy was listed on their system for only $30! Even cheaper than a regular Voyager here. Some lucky friends dashed to the same supermarket and could grab Magnus. The cashier made a comment on how cheap the toy was. By the next day, many more collectors tried to grab one for the same price, but they corrected the mistake. You had to be there at the right time.
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
I have always asked myself that question over the years. If a time may come when I have to stop collecting and say goodbye to most of my collection. If I had to choose only one item right now, it would be my Encore God Fire Convoy set.
Why? As I said before, Car Robots was the collection that really got me back into collecting. It was my very first complete collection. As happens to many collectors, there were hard times when I had to sell most of my toys. Time passed, problems were solved, and I got back into collecting, but it took me years to get those toys back. Slowly, with great effort I could get them back one by one. Fire Convoy and God Magnus proved to be very elusive. Hard to find for a good price and in good condition, and I was not there when the opportunity appeared. When the Encore reissue was announced, I took the chance, especially for the new voice clips and the impressive God Sword. I saved money for months, but we all know how controversial this release was in the end. I was terrified with all those terrible quality control issues. Fortunately, my copy arrived and I was one of those lucky collectors who got a good copy. This figure really means a lot to me. I still have the same feeling when I combined them many years ago, and having it back in my collection also makes me feel relieved of those hard years. It’s not only the figure, it’s what comes with it that makes it invaluable for me.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
I have one easy pick here. If I had the power to pick up an item from anyone’s collection it would be your Wonderfest 2007 Binaltech BT-17 Black Convoy. As a fan of the character, I would love to have it into my army, but right now it’s only a dream to try to grab one! Time to buy lottery tickets and try my luck or eat beans for some years to collect the money.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
First of all. Collect what you really love and feel close to. If you love G1, G2, Generations, Beast Wars, Unicron Trilogy, Live Action movies, or any other collection, feel free to enjoy it. In a franchise with so many lines, there’s always one that brings you more satisfaction, nostalgia or enjoyment. Always try to focus in what you really want. Don’t feel forced to buy all that you see. Our hobby should always be a source of enjoyment and satisfaction, not the source of any problem or worries.
Remember that, while we are adult collectors, we should never forget that feeling of amazement and happiness every time we got a new figure when we were kids. You must enjoy what you collect, it does not matter if your have 10 or 100 or 1000 figures. When you do something with passion, it will be noticed and recognized without you noticing it. Collect, enjoy, share and help other fans to do the same. A great greeting to all Latin American fans and all in the Transformers Peru community. Thanks for the interview! Viva Latino America!
Many kind and gracious thanks to José Antonio Suárez for words and photographs.
All the best