Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The 1984 Hasbro Catalog concluded: The secret recipe for success that combines peace, freedom, tyranny and lots of crying and screaming

There's a game called Jenga where players build towers with strangely shaped little wooden blocks. Once the Jenga tower is built the players take pieces out without making the whole thing fall down, giving one an appreciation for the very important blocks near the base of the tower upon which the entire structure depends. I think the Transformers brand in 1984 was like a Jenga tower and three of those important blocks upon which the whole franchise depended were Soundwave, Megatron and Optimus Prime. Any other robot that year could have been removed from the lineup and it wouldn't have made much of a difference to the success of the Transformers. Taking away any other robot would be like taking blocks from the top of a Jenga tower and their absence would hardly be felt. Remove the characters of Soundwave, Megatron or Optimus Prime and Transformers 1984 collapses into a pile of oddly shaped transforming jet planes and Lamborghinis with little to differentiate them from GoBots, Zybots or Convertors. That gun, truck and tape deck really carried the rest of the line, which really wasn't much better than the competition. (However, take those three guys away and I still think I could come up with a compelling space opera about a young robot growing up on a Tattooine moisture farm who must learn the ways of the Force to find his destiny amongst the stars (plus he turns into a yellow Volkswagen)).


Line art of Soundwave in newspaper ads is not easy to come by, but not because he wasn't advertised much. From what I've seen the lack of Soundwave line art is mostly because stores preferred using actual pictures instead of drawings in their ads for larger Transformers like him. He got a good amount of ad exposure in '84 but retailers were always getting his name wrong for some reason. Although the '84 toy catalog from which the ad text originates clearly states his name is "Soundwave", retailers rarely ever capitalized the 's' or put the 'sound' and 'wave' together in one compound word. Then in my experience during 1985 the volume of Soundwave ads dropped considerably. Although he and Starscream are the only Decepticons from the original 1984 lineup to appear in the first three consecutive years of pack-in toy catalogs, I've never found any ads featuring either of them from 1986.
Carrs 11/20/85

It really bothers me that I've never found line art for the initial four Decepticon cassettes in newspaper ads. Thanks to page 69 of the '84 Hasbro catalog (shown above) I have an idea of what they'd look like since newspaper ad line art is created from these catalog images. There was also a set of "Color-Me" Decepticon stickers made by Diamond Toymakers that used line art derived from the catalog pictures. It gives a glimpse into what an ad for Ravage and Laserbeak would look like and it's as close as I'll ever get unless I find an ad for them someday.

It is interesting to me that Soundwave and Buzzsaw are the only two robots shown touching each other throughout all of the Transformer pages in the '84 catalog. I think this is because Hasbro wanted to be able to separate all the individual robots so that art of any single toy could be used to represent their whole assortment in retailer ads. Oftentimes I will see a drawing of one car figure or plane figure used in ads for all the cars and planes. Since Soundwave and Buzzsaw were together in their own assortment I assume it was no big deal if there was a little bit of photographic overlap between the two. Usually the only overlap in these pictures is between the robot and its alternate mode which is placed in front of it. I have seen instances where retailers attempt to sever the robot graphic from the alt mode, leaving the robot without a leg or foot (or both feet) in some cases but I've never seen an ad where Buzzsaw is removed from Soundwave's arm.

Swallen's 11/07/84


Megatron has the unique distinction of being the only Transformer in the '84 toy catalog to not be pictured touching another robot or his own alternate form. Unfortunately he is also distinguished by having a pretty bad mistransformation that was duplicated in the line art newspaper ads. Not only is his arm hanging off at a badly disjointed 90 degrees, but his Particle Beam Cannon accessory is assembled wrong according to his instructions. Consequently all the ads where retailers chose to use the line art of the cannon have this mistake. One could argue that it's not a mistake since Hasbro was still early in the development of the line and was trying to figure out how they wanted the particle beam cannon to look, but I think the '84 Hasbro toy catalog was made well after the instructions and pack-in toy catalog so it's not like they didn't know what they intended the transforms to look like. This then becomes the first officially released picture of a Transformer transformed wrong in what would become a 25 year history of publications including newspaper ads, publicity photos, toy catalogs and other media where photographers (like Megatron) shot first and didn't ask questions later.


The 1984 Hasbro toy catalog is unlike the pack-in toy catalog in that Optimus Prime does not immediately follow the other Autobots, instead his spread is reserved for the last two Transformer pages before the catalog switches over to G.I. Joe. Although the catalog offers up all sorts of pictures of Prime connected to and dancing around his trailer in combat deck mode, the only line art ads I've found of him remove the combat deck graphic entirely. It's always just the robot drawn standing behind the tractor trailer. So just as in the cartoon, in the line ads when he's a robot his trailer disappears.

Karl's Toys 12/05/85
There may be a difference in order of appearance between the two catalogs but there is one big similarity as well. The Optimus Prime pictured on pages 72 and 73 of the '84 Hasbro toy catalog has the same colors and configuration as the one shown in the toy pack-in catalog. Heck, I can almost guarantee it's the same Optimus because not only does it have the silver missiles, blue roller and metal plates in the trailer like the other catalog, it also has that uniquely shaped combat deck Roller launcher that's unlike any production Prime unearthed so far. This trailer is only ever seen in the '84 catalogs and a more production accurate version with black missiles and a normal launcher replaced it in the 1985 catalogs. So once again we have an example of a disappearing Optimus Prime trailer, except I know a collector who ended up with what is probably that very same photoshoot trailer in his private collection. But that guy got out of Transformers collecting a little while ago so I don't know if he still has it or it's disappeared yet again.


And so concludes my coverage of the Transformer action figure pages from the 1984 Hasbro Toy Catalog, a truly historic tome in the annals of roboplasticology. Hasbro did a fantastic job of presenting their toy robots in settings much more attractive than the single colored backgrounds we got with the toy catalogs that came with the 1984 figures. There were some surprises and strangeness within its pages like the '84 battle scene devoid of faction sigils on the robots, the black hooded Bluestreak and the mirror imaged minicars. The '84 Hasbro toy catalog is also interesting for what Transformers it doesn't show. There were a few known '84 releases like the Autobot car Skids, Decepticon Military Operations Commander Shockwave and Autobot Air Guardian Jetfire that missed the cut for whatever reason. Those three would make it into the '85 Hasbro toy catalog but would not be labeled as new for that year, unlike the Dinobots, Insecticons and other 'new for 1985' figure assortments. Other toys like Bumblejumper, yellow Cliffjumper and red Bumblebee never appeared in the '84 or '85 toy catalogs at all. Even though some guys got omitted, as far as the 1984 Hasbro toy catalog was concerned the line was complete with Soundwave, Megatron and Optimus Prime. As far as the '84 cartoon was concerned these would be the three that had the best voices. And as far as the ten hundred billion kids that watched the show these were the robots that were the awesomest. Hasbro, Marvel and Sunbow are given much credit for creating the secret formula that infused these three lifeless toy robots with strong personalities, making them some of the most memorable characters in pop culture cartoon history. What was the secret marketing formula that endeared these three in the hearts of billions? Was it some complicated process involving a combination of character archetypes throughout storytelling history, Jenga, and distilling essential truths about human existence and common mythic elements of the ages into various everyday household appliances? Well actually the secret was more like "the larger your price point was, the more lines you got on the show". GOBOTS DID NOT UNDERSTAND THIS.

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