There are a lot of ways Transformers has affected my life, both large and small. I’ve got a memory of getting Power Master Optimus Prime for my 8th birthday. And only 2 years later seeing that same Prime surrender to Scorponok on a news stand on the cover of the original Marvel comics run (issue #71). Like a lot of kids of the era, I was obsessed and even without access to episodes not available on VHS or any comics as a kid, I created stories for my Transformers that would rival the greatest sci-fi created.
Transformers started to dry up by 91. I turned 12, and although there was a brief relapse into Generation 2, my focus as a young man had turned toward spending my allowance on the music of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and other bands of the time. My Transformers disappeared into the oblivion of yard sales, donations, and the trash. I was the editor of the school newspaper. I played bass in a punk band. I still had interest in Sci-fi but I had outgrown the toys of my youth literally and figuratively.
In 1998 I got a job at Blockbuster Video. I began devouring movies by the hundred, immersing myself in new and old films and considering myself an expert on the medium. I was the first person I knew with a DVD player. I also got my first home computer and began ordering DVDs online, waitlisting for movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Ghostbusters to be announced and released in the format. I wait-listed Transformers The Movie on a whim. I hadn’t watched that since I was a kid.
The Phantom Menace came out. The less said about that the better, but it inspired debates with other video store employees about the best pop Sci-Fi and Transformers kept coming up as a concept greater than the execution of its day. Rhino announced a re-release of a handful of episodes on VHS and the movie. In spite of my transition to digital, I was happy to watch it again for the first time in a dozen years.
I befriended a guy with the handle “Optimus 87” online and followed him to a forum of his creation called “The Allspark.” It wasn’t the first Transformers website or forum, but at the outset seemed to attract smarter fans, and by 2000 I was well into adulthood and scouring Kmart for Beast Machines figures. I made some friends for life on those forums. People I never met face to face who I shared only an interest in plastic robots became my confidants.
On September 11, 2001 I spent the entire day refreshing the forums on The Allspark with CBS news on the TV.
I went to Transformers conventions in 2001, 2002, and so on. I moved in with 2 people I met online as Transformers fans, halfway across the country. I only learned about my new city by driving around looking for toy and comic shops. To the day I will get lost anywhere in downtown Madison, WI but know the quickest way to travel from each Target to Toys R Us to Shopko to Walmart. I excitedly purchased a Unicron figure from Target as it opened one summer day in 2003.
Relationships strain with anyone over such a long time and I was lucky to have girlfriends who supported my habit and friends who enabled it. But just like when I was transitioning as a teen, entering my 30s I stopped my annual treks to Botcon. I got married and have 2 kids myself now. I put the bulk of my collection in a storage unit with no room to display and then after a break in, virtually everything I collected from 1999 to 2009 was gone. Then my old friend Optimus87 died of cancer last year. Combined with the increased disillusionment of the franchise with the live action movie series, I felt like this era was over.
But I’ve still got a few enduring friendships. Guys I never talk Transformers with now, instead swapping parenting stories.
My daughter and son have a handful of small cars in their toy bin, ones that they play with regularly. Their young imaginations create simple stories but always with a sense of urgency and adventure. Its only a matter of time before they slide a few pieces around and discover a robot in disguise.
Zac Shipley hosts the No Topic Required podcast and is former staff to Tf fan sites Allspark, The Matrix Magazine, TFW2005, and Transfandom You can find him on Twitter here.