Sunday, April 12, 2009

25 Years ago in Transfromers PART 5-DRIVE OF THE MACHINES or:As with the generation it inspired, concieved in the back of a car

The origins of the great fictions are always as fantastic as the stories within them (and by great fictions I mean the stuff with droids and Hobbitses). Lucas wrote Star Wars incorporating mythological symbols and motifs and The Lord of the Rings was born of a writer who had seen the hells of World War II. So as a young pre-teen in 1985 I remember wishing that Transformers too had been born of legends torn from the mind of an angsty English poet. Surely the story of intergalactic war waged between sentient robots took decades for some solitary recluse to write in a cave as he slowly drove himself mad fine tuning the storytelling subtleties and delicate layers of meaning within the subtext of an epic adventure about alien robots that crash into a volcano and turn into Volkswagens.


Playthings Magazine Feb 1984
But in reality I've found that the true creation story of the very core of the Transformers mythos didn't come from the tortured mind of a disturbed genius caveman. Instead there is this excerpt from a book titled "The Real Toy Story" where the writer relates a road trip taken by four guys between Hasbro's Rhode Island headquarters and New York City. (The author doesn't provide and exact date of this historic car ride but my best estimate based on an interview with Hasbro's Senior Vice President of Research and Development George Dunsay would be sometime around June or July of 1983.) The four guys were Hasbro Senior Vice President of Marketing Steve Schwartz, Thomas Griffin who was the president of Griffin-Bacal advertising agency, Paul Kurnit the executive vice president of Griffin-Bacal and Joe Bacal, who I think was the co-chairman and creative director of Griffin-Bacal at the time. I've written before about how Griffin-Bacal was the real creative force behind The Transformers (and also their feelings on the marketing of its predecessor) so it didn't surprise me that these were the guys in the car. It just surprised me that the creation of the Transformers story happened in a car at all. It wasn't the miraculous virgin birth/conception by midichlorians genesis I expected, but it is still fitting that my favorite sci-fi story of robot cars was born in the back of one.


With their jets vs. cars alien space robot fantasy idea in place, Griffin-Bacal would go on to further flesh out the concept alongside Marvel Productions, where comic writer Bob Budiansky and others would come up with names and character profiles and other elements that would complete the background story. Then there came print ads in toy industry trade publications featuring those cars and jets fighting each other in space and eventually other advertising for the line including commercials, comics and the cartoon. Of course there is more, much more to the creation of the Transformers toyline beyond Griffin-Bacal's involvement. What strikes me most about it is how the creation of the franchise and its mythical backstory was such a collaborative effort spread out over the contributions of so many talented individuals. There was no one distinct George Lucas or J.R.R. Tolkien creator type behind the Autobots and Decepticons. THEN MICHAEL BAY COMES ALONG AND CRAPS ALL OVER IT AND OHMYGOD ROBOPLASTIC APOCALYPSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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