So far, 2020 has been a year which has had an unprecedented effect on the lives of almost every person on the planet, one that will be talked about well into the future. People’s lives, their health, friends and families, livelihoods – everything down to the most common and established daily routines – have been tremendously affected by the global pandemic. There have been differences in what we each have had to do or adapt to, and what we have had to endure. From the inconvenient to the life-changing, we’ve all been touched by it in some fashion. There is no shortage of news and documentation on everything that has happened or changed, and I am assuming that if you have wandered over to this blog, you’re here to read about Transformers and toy collecting. Well, 2020 has also had a great effect on that, too.
When we experience change as great as this in our everyday lives, planned or unplanned, it is not far from our nature to try and bring old aspects of our life – sometimes kicking and screaming – into what is considered the ‘new normal’. While toy collecting pales astronomically in comparison to the other struggles we all face right now, there are those who do wish to maintain as normal a life as possible under the circumstances, and therefore continue to spend time engaging in collecting Transformers and other toys. I am fortunate enough to have remained fully employed during a time where many have either lost their jobs, been furloughed or are working on reduced hours and pay. Working from home as I have been with space available, my workspace is the same as my hobby space. Basically, I do my work in the same room where my collection is displayed and where my gaming/computing equipment lives.
Being disciplined enough to work from home effectively means minimising distractions, maintaining focus and being very aware of carefully separating work space and time from home space and time. Considering the fact that my workspace is now the very same room in which I normally go to be the MOST distracted from everyday life, this has presented a challenge. Another consequence of this has been the blurring of lines between when work ends and when relaxation or leisure time (relating to being online doing Transformers community stuff) begins. Transformers-related browser tabs can be open before work is done, and work tabs can be open during leisure time, meaning that the demarcation is less distinct.
As a result of having to stay home much more in the evenings (although I won’t pretend this wasn’t mostly the case already anyway), I have naturally ended up spending more time on the internet looking up Transformers-related material, surfing eBay and online toy sources, as well as connecting with members of the TF community. As someone who often deep-dives into other hobbies like Lego and sim racing – and having not bought anywhere near enough Lego to make it through this extended period of home stay – naturally Transformers is getting a very large slice of my free time. This has meant that I have been able to focus on a few things I’d been putting off, such as selling the remainder of my TakaraTomy Diaclone collection and putting stickers on vintage Transformers that were patiently awaiting their upgrades.
Selling toys and shipping them internationally has changed, of course, due to restrictions on flights and people’s abilities to enter public buildings depending on their location. Items that would normally have gone by airmail have occasionally been making their journeys by sea, meaning extended waiting times for buyers. This might be even more noticeable for those who are forced to stay home, are not currently working and have decided to buy more toys to keep themselves entertained during lockdowns or – understandably – as a coping mechanism. Some locations are even adding surcharges to shipping costs due to the restrictions, increased load and all predictable (and unpredictable) obstacles. I currently have over 15 packages in the mail, most of which were paid for over a month ago, from the US, Japan, UK and mainland Europe. I have noticed, regrettably, that while waiting for things to arrive I have fallen into the dangerous trap of ordering more things in the meantime. This is a hollow fix, of course, as it does not get any of the things you purchased to you faster. It pays to keep an eye on your budget and finances at a time like this, if you have an itchy trigger finger.
So what’s in all of those boxes? Well, not everything has to be negative during this time. One of the things myself, Sixo, Toybox Soapbox and tikgnat decided to do during this extended period of home stay (for most) was to create daily G1 Transformers reading and viewing material in order to give community members just one more tiny thing to look forward to every day. We created the Great Cybertronian Write Off (#GCWO), a crossover between the three of us who are regular Transformers photographers, reviewers and bloggers. Tikgnat’s design genius has allowed us to exhibit our toy photography and mini-reviews in the style of vintage UK and Euro Generation 1 poster-style paperwork. We’ve been working our way through 1984 and 1985, and have over 40 entries under our belt already!
The thing is, having split up and assigned the toys between us that we have to photograph and write about, I have had to get on with the aforementioned stickering of vintage specimens. That always leads me to investigate a figure’s sticker history in order to ensure I sticker them up as originally intended, which sometimes contradicts what the stock photography and the instructions show. That road always leads back to Diaclone or Micro Change – Takara’s pre-Transformers toylines – and naturally some self-enablement takes place. As a result, I had some wonderful discussions and educational experiences with a Constructicon specialist collector that eventually led me to go looking for Diaclone Constructicons!
Another thing that has arisen out of the Great Cybertronian Write Off is that it has focused my toy buying a little more. There were figures none of us owned and would need to cover, so we ended up buying them sooner than we would otherwise have done. For me, this has meant the chasing of Motorized Transformers (aka Mini-Spies) and Powerdashers. Relatively cheap, small, enjoyable G1 figures what come in many flavours and variations. What could possibly go wrong? Well, 44 Mini-Spies clogging up what must be half of the USPS Jamaica International Mail Distribution Center in NY and an excruciating wait for mail later, I guess I have my answer.
Going back to the subject of community, the company I work for puts on an enormous event for our fans every year in the spring. This year, seeing what was coming early on, we decided to cancel our event weeks before it was due to take place in order to allow attendees an opportunity to get refunds on flights and accommodation where possible. At the time it was not clear just how widespread and serious the situation would become, but as the date of the show came and went, there was absolutely no question that it was the right call. People understood. So, it was obvious to me at that time that Transformers conventions such as TFNation would most likely not go ahead, and indeed they just recently announced that they were postponing it. This is absolutely the most responsible course of action, prioritising the safety of attendees, event staff, hotel staff and the general public.
Events like TFN can be the highlight of many people’s year in terms of this hobby, and a significant source of income for toy dealers that are regulars at these events, so the effect of its cancellation cannot be underestimated or brushed off as just one more casualty on the 2020 social calendar. However, being physically distant from the friends we’ve made and see once a year at these shows does not mean we have to exist in an isolated social bubble, and it’s important of course for collectors to stay in touch and continue to find release and escape from the circumstances we all live in through a shared and enjoyed activity. Sellers who would have done well at TFNation may still offer their stock for sale online where possible, but of course with people’s situations varying so much, it does not necessarily mean that all potential customers will do their TFN shopping online, now. This may be doubly hard for sellers whose day job involves running a collectibles shop.
While my own examples are not necessarily reflective of everyone else in the hobby, I still see plenty of evidence online of collectors – even in the hardest hit areas – continuing to pursue their hobby, especially online. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing people give virtual tours of their collections to fellow community members on Facebook Live or YouTube, as well as all the extra creative endeavours that have been born out of this period of isolation. I sincerely wish those who are having the most difficult time right now the very best, and hope very much that things take a sharp turn for the better in the near future. There are occasions when even an engaging hobby like Transformers cannot provide adequate escape, but for the occasions where it can, stay safe, stay connected and be there for each other.
Kind thanks to Jason Murray for the TFN image.
All the best