Friday, July 17, 2009

Vintage Space Toast Tour Miami part 1: I went to 1984 and all I got were these lousy toy robots ads

I've been thinking a lot lately about the nature of fandom and how the way a person participates in their hobby can show their obsession may actually be something else entirely. The old saying that comes to mind is how sports card collectors aren't fans of sports, but statistics and numbers. I've been thinking about this because I've noticed that the majority of people who go to libraries to look at old newspapers on microfilm fall into two groups-fans of death and fans of numbers. One type is the sports fan looking up old scores, usually from high school games of decades ago when they themselves played. Those guys are a little sad to me because they're stuck trying to relive their glory days one microfilm roll at a time. They are the fans of numbers. The second and by far largest category of people I encounter are the fans of death-little old ladies looking up obituaries. Usually it's for family genealogy projects but I've met some of them and the enthusiasm with which they talk about obituaries is frightening. As I spent last weekend looking through old newspapers for some new* toy robots ads from 1984 I wondered what the fans of death and numbers would think of me if they knew I was right there amongst them, spinning through the reels with my own sad nostalgic frightening enthusiasm with a Playstation 3 duct taped to my chest and a Happy Meal box on my head. More importantly, what would they think if they knew I was wearing homemade GoBots underwear.


Zayre 11/11/84
I figure I'll be living in southern Florida for a while so I'll take things slow and just concentrate on one year at a time during my weekly library visits. This lets me do a more comprehensive search than if I was just visiting for a few days, as is usually the case during any regular stop of the Vintage Space Toast Tour. The focus of this past weekend was 1984, the last best year for being a toy robots fan before Optimus Prime convinced everyone that freedom (to buy only Transformers brand robots) was the right of all sentient beings. In '84 the toy robots scene was still quite a diverse mix of brands and there were no clear winners yet. So if you wanted to rock out in your GoBots pajamas there was no shame for not being on the winning team. And if wearing GoBots pajamas didn't put you to sleep you could always watch their show! HEY NOW!

The more ads I find for promotional GoBots tie-ins the more I am amazed at how well a small toy company like Tonka was able to get its brand out there. They did a great marketing job and this next ad that ran in the Sunday comics section during October of 1984 is an example of that. I've previously found ads for the Challenge of the GoBots cartoon and the GoBot watch but the following ad is a combination of those two, plus it's also an ad for the GoBot cereal promotion tie-in. The dirty little secret of the cereal industry is that Cookie Crisp was playing both sides of the bowl back during the Toy Robots Wars of the 1980s. In '84 GoBots teamed up with Cookie Crisp to get GoBots propaganda pamphlets into cereal bowls across the nation well before Cookie Crisp and Transformers teamed up for the Jazz mail away offer later on. Although Leader-1 lost out in the end, he can take comfort knowing that when it came to cereal Optimus Prime got the soggy seconds.

21 October 1984


TG&Y 11/11/84
This next ad is the toy robots equivalent of a grainy, blurry picture of a Chupacabra. Back in '84 there was a b-list line of toy robots called Convert-A-Bots made by a company called Village Toys. One of the figures in that line was a transforming robot laser gun named N-4-SR (alternatively, the robot also known as Shockwave in Transformers). That toy was Korean in origin so variations and knockoffs of it are plentiful, but for some reason pictures of the Convert-A-Bots Shockwave still in the box remain elusive in my searches. The only evidence I'd ever seen of the N-4-SR's existence was from the cross sell illustration on the side of other Convert-A-Bots packages. Recently Nala at Plastic Crack was able to find one but it came in a strange, mail-away style cardboard box. So I was excited to come across this TG&Y ad from November of 1984 for what the description calls the "ToBot Laser Blaster". Normally I'd take their word for it but even though the picture really sucks I can tell from the packaging style and graphics that this is instead the best evidence I've found of a boxed Convert-A-Bots N-4-SR. The placement of the gun mode drawing at the top and the grid graphic on the packaging combined with the specific way the text is laid out scream Convert-A-Bots. Plus there's also guilt by association. I've cropped out the ad next to it but when I put this up at the Vintage Space Toaster Palace you'll see that it ran side-by-side with an ad for other Convert-A-Bots figures that had nearly identical packaging motifs. Mystery solved? Not really, but I'm hopeful that proving one of these exist might be accomplished by the right eBay search one day. Hell, proving Chupacabras exist might be accomplished by the right eBay search one day.


Zayre 10/14/84
ToysRUs 11/08/84

I look at these ads for two long forgotten and extinct Takara toy robot lines and I realize there is absolutely no difference between me and the little old ladies obsessed with death and obituaries...


...and nothing makes me feel like those has-been high school sports stars reliving their glory days like a good 1984 Transformers ad. The next two from Toys R Us and Jefferson Ward are very special because they're chronologically the earliest Transformer ads I've ever found. They both ran August 19 of 1984, a full ten days earlier than the current earliest TF ad I have up at the Transformers 1984 page of the Vintage Space Toaster Palace.

ToysRus 08/19/84

This Toys R Us ad appeared in the main body of the paper where the print was in black and white so they had to go with line art. Jefferson Ward meanwhile was able to use a picture of Jazz, Sunstreaker and Sideswipe in their color circular. I'm personally intrigued by these two types of ad (line art and color picture) that were so prevalent in the late 70s/early 80s. I wish I knew more about the process by which line art and ad text was distributed by Hasbro and other companies. To see them both in use in my earliest found examples of Transformer ad was interesting and I hope one day I'll get some answers on line art. An upcoming post I'm working on is an examination of 1984 Transformers line art and where it comes from-or more accurately what the visual basis was for the drawings. This leads me to the conclusion that just as I have found the underlying motivations of the little old ladies and sports enthusiasts, I have never been more sure that I am best defined as a fan of grainy pictures of toy robots instead of the toy robots themselves.

Jefferson Ward 08/19/84
You may notice the Jefferson Ward ad's price is blackened out. This is due to the low resolution of my camera and the microfilm transfer process, which renders areas of deep color as unreadable blobs. But never fear, my fellow Macrocranians. I looked really hard at the microfilm scanner screen and was able to make out that the price was $8.99. (Dedication like that is what sets me apart from the average toy robots obsessed weirdo library patron.) Documenting the price at $8.99 was important to me because there's a point in my 1984 Transformers page where I stick my neck out and write that on average, Autobot cars cost $8.99 back in '84. I know that's a controversial stance to take in the current global economic crisis but I'm not running for the supreme court anytime soon so I can have wild outspoken ideas like that.

Finding further support of my $8.99 average in the October 1984 Richway ad below was a bit of a bonus. The only problem I have with it is its composition. If it were me I would have put Wheeljack in front of Trailbreaker for the vehicle mode picture because the white of the Lancia Stratos Turbo would have contrasted nicely against the black of the camper. Judging by the way they positioned the cars I think somebody at the photo shoot lost Wheeljack's spoilers or didn't know how to put them on. Idiots! This is why I don't spend much time hating on Michael Bay. I'm still stuck having roboplastic apocalypses over the incompetence of a toy robots photographer from 25 years ago.

Richway 10/07/84

The final ad I'd like to highlight is this super collection of '84 Transformers lineart from Super Rx, which I think was a pharmacy of all places. I don't think I've ever seen so much TF lineart in one ad before. Nearly every 1984 size class is represented here-the only ones missing are the Decepticon cassettes and Shockwave/Jetfire. The ad is also unique because it has some strange mistakes in the text like the repeated use of the term "Autobats" and the mention of a tractor trailer in Megatron's flavor text (where they refer to him as a "weather P-38"). The copy writers also went a bit crazy with the usage of trademark (TM) annotation-they put it after every item description. Usually I see the TM only after "Hasbro" or "Transformers" in these old ads but holy hell these guys put it everywhere, even after words like "Autobat Cars". This sucks because their typo mistake trademarks that term forever and prevents me from making my epic movie about evil vampire Lamborghinis. Evil sexy exciting vampire lambos.

SuperRx 10/03/84

Ever since I hit up Fortlibrarius Maximus in Fort Lauderdale back in '07 I knew southern Florida had a great mix of 80s toystores and other retailers running toy ads. I just didn't have the time to look through all the microfilm during my first go-round. Now that I'll be living here for a while I hope to bore myself to tears looking through all those reels of grainy robot chupacabra ads with hard to read prices. Oooh what fun. I have never been more sure that I am best defined as a fan of crazy little old ladies at the library. STAY TUNED NEXT TIME SPORTS FANS FOR ANOTHER NUMBERS FILLED EPISODE OF MIAMI ROBOTS WEIRDO LIBRARY ADVENTURES!

*25 year old


Weasel said...

What is it with the elderly and obits? My great-grandmother would read the damned things out loud whenever me and mom would visit. It was kinda creepy.

$2.49. For Bumblebee. That's about six weeks worth of my lousy allowance. I could have afforded that. :grumble:

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I think the obsession old people have with obitiuaries is a coping process. Maybe it helps them come to terms with being dead? If there's a parallel between us it's that the robot ads help me cope with my childhood being dead.


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Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.