For a very long time, I have wanted to feature a Transformers collector whose entry point to the hobby was significantly different to the majority of the other people we have featured; something more recent. Tara – or “Teletraan Meets Jarvis/TJ” as she goes by online – gained access to the world of Transformers through Cybertron as a child, and she grew up with the Michael Bay Transformers live action movies, so her perspective is a fresh one where these collector interviews are concerned. Quite apart from that, she’s a bit of a heroine of mine. At the age of 18, she decided to make the journey alone to TFNation, determined to enjoy the experience, make friends and connect with the community, as well as finding some Transformers to tick off her wants list. I know I did not have the bravery to do that at alone her age, let alone have the positive and confident outlook that she has on social media that has gained her many followers and friends. It is my pleasure to feature Tara, and as far as giving an absorbing interview and being a quality collector are concerned, she absolutely did not disappoint.
1) Who are you and what do you collect?
Hey, my name is Tara, although most of you may know me as TJ, and I am a Transformers collector (this feels slightly like a Transformers anonymous meeting, the first step is admitting you have a problem guys). In terms of collecting, I’m actually quite new to the hobby. I’ve only really had the funds and the access to get a real collection going over the past couple years. So compared to some of the previous collectors’ displays, mine is fairly small. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I am very proud of each figure that lines my display shelf. They are beautiful.
Despite only getting into collecting recently, I’ve been a fan of Transformers since I was 4/5 years old. I’d get up at 6am every morning and switch on CITV and Jetix to get my dose of Transformers Cybertron, Power Rangers Dino Thunder and SPD before braving the hell that was primary school. Cybertron was massive for me because it’s what introduced me to Transformers. Little did I know back then, as a wee child, that this one cartoon would make these robots in disguise a huge staple in my life and one of my most passionate hobbies. Once Cybertron ended in 2006 I thought all was lost, however a new reboot of Transformers was about to hit the big screen and this film was about to be the next big making of me being a fan.
I’ve grown up with the Bay movies (I know, I was a deprived child) which was something that always managed to keep my transformers obsession a constant in my life. Despite it always dying down for a couple years, as soon as the new movies were announced, my interest would ‘blow up’ so to speak, and I was back on YouTube trying to find out as much detail as I could about the upcoming blockbuster. All joking about explosions aside though, the Bay films were and still are a massive part of why I’m a Transformers fan. I remember leaving Toys ‘R’ Us in 2006 with my first ever Transformers purchase, Cybertron Evac, and the cashier telling my mum and I that there was talk of a big Hollywood film centred around my favourite transforming robots. So of course I start freaking out in the middle of Toys ‘R’ Us like any six year old girl would and thus my love/hate relationship with the films began.
Now, however, I am an avid reader of the IDW comics which feeds my obsession to worrying levels. This series has led to me buying a large chunk of the Combiner Wars, Titans Return and Power of the Primes Generations lines. As well as the comics though, Transformers Prime is my choice for background telly, so I’ve now seen it so often that I can quote nearly every episode. Both these and many other series/comics have become a key part of why I’m a Transformers fan and collector.
More recently though, I found out that there was a giant community of Transformers collectors online! I come from a place where I am the only collector so I never had the chance to discuss my hobby with anyone. But this community, in particular the fine people on Twitter, these guys changed my collecting in so many ways. I’ve been encouraged to be proud of what I do, people show mountains of interest in my journey despite my late start and everyone is just so lovely. I’ve been welcomed into a family of people I’ve been waiting for my whole life and I couldn’t be more thankful for everyone who ever stopped to say hi online or dropped me a follow. You people have honestly made more of an impact than I can begin to explain. Because let’s face it, one of the best parts of being a collector is being able to share your experiences with like-minded people. This community has opened my eyes to the huge variety of figures available, so much so that I’m now branching out to collecting a few G1 figures here and there. This fine community has also put me in touch with people who can get me the figures I’ve been after for a while, helping my collection grow at a (rather worrying) exponential rate.
2) How has the collecting scene changed since you joined the fandom?
Well I started collecting again maybe 2/3 years ago, around the start of the Combiner Wars line. The only really noticeable change I’ve seen is the closing of Toys ‘R’ Us, including the one where I bought my first ever Transformer. My Toys ‘R’ Us was the ‘go to’ toy shop that offered a fine selection of Transformers, far better than that of their only local competitor, a tiny ‘The Entertainer’. I sadly don’t live near a Smyth’s or any other toy store other, so a real change for me was losing access to buying figures in person. I now have to buy all of my figures online which honestly, is a real shame. Despite having a much larger choice online, I miss going into a shop and holding that one figure (*cough* TRU exclusive Masterpiece Grimlock *cough*) that was wayyyy out of my budget because that was, really, the only chance I had to see Transformers of that scale. TFNation was honestly the first time in a long time that I managed to buy some big scale figures and take them straight home with me. So yeah, the rise of online toy sales and trading is a definite change I’ve seen since becoming a collector.
3) How do you see, or hope to see the scene changing in 5 years’ time?
Phwarr this is a tough question. I mean there is so much that could change and plenty that I want to see. I guess people talk a lot about encouraging women to be free and express their love for collecting and Transformers. I’ve been beyond lucky and haven’t really encountered any judgement. I’ve felt nothing but support but I do see a slight lacking of female rep so I guess it would really be to just keep doing what we are doing and hold a hand out to anyone who wants to be a part of this wonderful community and see what brilliant people we find to join in.
4) What has been your single biggest success as a collector, or your greatest ever find?
My collecting success stories are probably a lot different from most. I don’t have a pristine G1 Dinobot set that was missing the perfect Swoop or anything exciting like that (although I wish I did now I’ve said that). No, my greatest triumph as a collector was finally hunting down Transformers Cybertron deluxe Red Alert. Now hear me out.
As previously mentioned, Cybertron was my gateway into the Transformers fandom and I’ve done maybe two re-watches over the years. As I did my re-watches, the characters I favoured shifted from when I was five years old. I went from following Optimus’s every move to waiting for Red Alert to show his face the odd time here and there. I went from cheering for Hot Shot to clapping for Jetfire. As I got older my appreciation for certain characters changed and this also meant that I just had to own the figures in order to showcase that appreciation to the world.
Seeing as I’m quite new to the hobby of collecting, my ‘to buy’ list mainly consisted of my favourite characters from a few different universes. Don’t get me wrong, it was a muddled, long list with absolutely no order or sense, but each figure on there was achievable and meant something special to me. Red Alert quickly made an impact on me during my re-watches of the show, his attitude, his voice (which kindly gave some cool representation for us Brits), and the fact that he was a background character (I have a teeny tiny underdog complex btw). Due to all the facts listed, Red Alert became a prominent figure on my messy, future purchases list.
Over the past few years I’d casually search eBay for a deluxe version of the figure. However, I quickly came to realise that this hunt would not be as easy and I initially thought. Red Alert actually has two deluxe figures, this is due to him getting a kind of ‘upgrade’ later on in the series. So fellow collectors out there, we all know what that means… The older versions of the figure get ‘phased out’. This meant there was a huuuuge lack of the original figure in the UK. The only sellers I could find offering a complete original deluxe Red Alert were from America. Now given at the time I was still a young teenager, living off my parents’ money and a minimum wage waitressing salary, there was no chance I was paying a shipping cost of £15+ that came to more than the figure was even worth! As a collector it made no sense, plus I had a feeling that a UK one would have to show up eventually.
Story update: the right Red Alert figure never showed up on eBay for me. Maybe I was looking at the wrong time and kept missing them, but all I could ever see was the Cybertron Defence Red Alert. I could never bring myself to buy this version because it wasn’t ‘my’ Red Alert, if you know what I mean. It did get to a point, me being new to this world, where I thought I was never going to have this figure which really sucked to be honest. But alas! There was a light at the end of the tunnel. In the form of a neon coloured, G2 themed TFNation. It was there, at this very convention, that my luck finally changed.
I spent hours of the weekend just wandering around the main hall, wide eyed and ready to hunt. I dug through boxes upon boxes of used figures for sale. There weren’t many Cybertron figures hiding in these boxes, well not many compared to the mass of movie verse figures I had to fight through. But in the far corner of the trading hall, in one of the 100 something boxes I searched through, my hand closed around a blue and white ambulance, hidden in a clear plastic bag. I didn’t want to get too excited too quickly as I’d been teased by multiple C-D Red Alerts along the way, but this figure…it was smaller, sharper and lacked a gigantic, oversized shoulder cannon. As my hand pulled the figure free from the box, I looked it over and nearly squealed like a little girl. After years and years of hunting I finally held this simple figure in my hands! He was in great condition and he was everything I hoped. For the bargain price of £10 I finally secured my Red Alert, complete with cyber-planet key and everything.
I honestly had never wanted to play with one of my new figures so badly. I’d been itching to get my hands on the figure for most of my teenage years and now he was mine.
My Red Alert now stands proudly at the front of my Cybertron collection and I’m reminded of the best weekend of my life now every time I look at him. The experience I had at TFNation makes the figure even more special to me.
5) What is the most surprising or outrageous collecting story you have heard?
You know, I’ve been digging around in my head trying to think of an answer to this for quite some time. Sadly, I don’t really think I have an answer to this one. I’m still getting to know everyone in the community, which has been my first real exposure to other collectors so I haven’t encountered any surprising stories yet. Sorry Maz!
6) If you could pick one item from your collection to keep, what would it be?
My answer to this question is a very underwhelming and simple choice unfortunately. I’d pick my Generations Combiner Wars Ultra Magnus.
My reason for this is because he’s the figure that got me into really collecting. I was 15 at the time and it was before I got my waitressing job so I was still purchasing things from my pocket money every month. I had just started reading James Roberts’s ‘More Than Meets The Eye’ and I had completely fallen in love with Ultra Magnus’s character. He was powerful, he was honourable and he was the Duly Appointed Enforcer of The Tyrest Accord! Every aspect of his personality was just perfect to me and he quickly became my favourite Transformer. Being able to watch him grow every issue and turn from this soldier into an actual member of the family was just a privilege and a journey I really loved.
This led to me deciding to do some googling one day as I realised that I now had to own everything that ever had UM’s face on it. It was on this day that I stumbled across, what was to me, the most glorious Transformer figure I had ever laid eyes upon. This huge bot looked like he’d literally walked out of the pages of MTMTE! He even came with a teeny tiny Minimus Ambus so I. Was. Sold! The only issue was that this figure I HAD to have was £50+ and as a teenager trying to keep up with the latest fashion and makeup trends with my pocket money, I really didn’t have much spare money going for Transformer purchases as I was only just getting back into the fandom properly.
So I began to plant the seeds for Christmas, i.e. I consistently emailed my mum eBay and amazon links begging that she buy her teenage girl this toy robot. Bless my mum, back then she didn’t quite get how I’d gone from buying eyeshadow palettes to £50 action figures. But, despite not getting it herself, she eventually became quite the enabler. So on the Christmas of 2015 I woke up to a big toy box wrapped up in Transformers wrapping paper (once she got on board, she started to go all out) and I got my Ultra Magnus. He’s big, he’s badass and he’s mine.
7) If you could have one item out of someone else’s collection, what would that be?
Ooooohhhhh don’t do this to me. Given that my collection pales in comparison to most people out there, I’ve got too much choice. One that I can think of off the top of my head right now would have to be Maz’s absolutely stunning clear Mirage (or Ocular Max Sphinx in official terms). To be perfectly honest, Mirage was never one of my top characters so I never really searched for one of his figures but I have, in fact, fallen head over heels for that one. I haven’t wanted a figure this badly in a longgggg old time. It’s given me, you know, the feelings. So it will be on my shelf one day.
8 ) What advice would you give a new collector starting out today?
Gosh this is a hard one. Well I mean it’s been said before but it really depends on what you wanna get out of your collection. If you’re relatively new to the hobby like I am, then my advice will definitely be to set goals. Think of the characters you want and start small. My first goals were IDW accurate Ultra Magnus, Megatron and Wheeljack. From there I’ve expanded and I now have a *nearly* complete Wreckers display, a fair amount of Generations CW, TR and POTP figures and now I’ve got what I wanted from those lines I’m moving onto the Cybertron figures, some Masterpiece and G1 figures. Keep it small, keep to a budget and the big one is don’t get over excited and just start impulse buying straight away. EBay can be a very tempting black hole but having restraint (barely) has saved me valuable space, money and sanity. Stick to your list! Once you’ve got a foundation and you know more about what you really want, then a couple impulse buys are good for the soul.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Tara for words and photographs!
All the best