The greatest challenge of having a hobby or interest is finding some fresh new aspect of it to keep that interest alive. There comes a time in a man's toy robots collecting hobby/career/fetish/sickness when the allure of owning the latest sexy exciting transforming robot Tyrannosaurus begins to fade. This happens to all men-some cultures call it "coming of age" or "Pon Farr" or simply "growing the hell up". My love for toy robots began dying out sometime around 1989 when I hit ninth grade and it never really recovered but I've been able to keep it on life support with the whole newspaper ads collecting thing ever since. Even that's getting kind of old, though, and unless I tour the country spending the rest of my life looking at library microfilm I'm running out of new newspaper ad discoveries to make. The problem essentially is what do you do if your hobby revolves around the years from 1984 to 1987? They're not exactly making any more 1985 if you know what I mean.
NOTHING SAYS I LOVE ROBOTS LIKE LOOKING AT PICTURES OF ROBOTS
This year was when a new hotness entered my life and made 25 year old toy robot Volkswagens and their transforming dinosaur cohorts interesting again. During 2009 I was re-energized by the slow but steady acquisition of the seven holy Hasbro tomes of Roboplasticology otherwise known as the Hasbro Toy Fair catalogs from 1984 through 1990. These are the years known to Transformers fans as "Generation 1" (and to the rest of the world as "around the time we started playing Nintendo"). The appeal of these books to a toy robots fan is mostly in looking at all the pretty pictures of robots. Hell, the appeal of almost everything about toy robots is looking at pictures of them. I've always felt that the core of this hobby is not the acquisition of toy robots but just the act of looking at pictures of them and these books bring back the days when as kids we'd repeatedly obsess over and abuse the old catalogs that came with the toys to the point that they'd be falling apart and all beat to hell. What I've realized after all these years is that those toy pack in catalogs really sucked because the pictures of the robots were so tiny and the backgrounds were usually very bland (with the exception of the 1985 one). But the Toy Fair catalogs are nice and big with magazine sized pages and a good amount of space devoted to each robot. Plus the backgrounds aren't just solid color mattes as with the toy pack ins. One of my problems with the toy pack in catalogs were the sterile environments used as backdrops. Instead the Toy Fair catalog photographers went through great pains to photograph these alien toy robot Tyrannosauruses in their natural habitats, which were volcanoes and on the moon. I don't understand why a bowl of fruit is most often the object of artistic appreciation when a Volkswagen robot in outer space standing on an asteroid is also rather inspiring.
ALL MY PROBLEMS DEATH STARS, ALL MY DOLLARS PROTON TORPEDOES
Usually when a Hasbro Toyfair catalog goes on eBay the cross-franchise appeal of the contents draws every G.I. Joe, Inhumanoids, Jem, My Little Pony, Wuzzles and Transformer collector into a bloody hellacious bidding war and the winner ends up paying hundreds of dollars for a single book. I'd never bid on them because I wouldn't pay that much but earlier in the year I got lucky and won the 1984 catalog for 45 bucks and scored 1985 for just under thirty. Then some guy was selling 1988 for $38 so how could I say no. A couple months ago I got '89 and '90 for $30 each. I was on a roll. The problem was 1986 and 1987 would not be so easily attained and I got boned and ended up paying $70 for '87 and a terrible amount for 1986 so horrible that even I am ashamed to admit it and I usually tell you guys everything. But I just had to complete that set. I don't know how much proton torpedoes cost but I'm sure Princess Leia wasn't sweating the cost of the one that blew up the Death Star. I just had to get it over with and finish it off at all costs and just get it done. I wouldn't be so bothered about it but it comes down to either I won or some guy who collects Jem or G.I. Joe would, and those dudes don't give a crap about Transformers. I'm not saying I deserve the books more, but I would definitely appreciate certain pages more than Joe average Jem/Joe collector. I also feel guilty for owning pages and pages of GI Joe catalog that I don't care about. I guess the moral here is nobody will ever love the things you love as much you do, but they will love them just enough to screw you over by bidding 2 more bucks than you on ebay.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO 1986
I am not the first guy to have these books and I won't be the last but what I didn't understand is why established Transformer people with these kinds of resources hadn't made their contents more available. Aside from the pictures there is other information contained within them that would be interesting in a toy robots enthusiast/obsessive compulsive kind of way. Well after tracking them all down I think I know why these pages aren't already plastered all over the internet and it boils down to a) scanning a couple hundred pages of catalog to share for free on the internet is a lot of work, b) there are issues with copyright violation in reproducing content from these books and c) in the world of online toy blogging where everyone is essentially bragging about what they own there is no way to write about anything of worth without seeming like a totally enormous galactic douchebag. Actually the first two are the only legitimate concerns-the douchebag writing style is an affliction only I have. I prefer to think of it as a skill.
ENLIGHTENMENT IS ONLY ADVANTAGEOUS IF THAT STUFF YOU DIDN'T KNOW BEFORE IS ACTUALLY USEFUL
There is also the possibility that everybody already knows everything and that's why there isn't a site with all these Toy Fair catalog pages. Honestly there isn't much in these books that hasn't already been made well known over the past 25 years. About the only somewhat interesting things are the large pictures of the prototype wave 3 Action Masters (the Transformers that didn't transform) featured in the 1990 catalog. They were very different from the actual production figures, especially one guy who looks like a cross between a Macross VF-1 Valkyrie in super armor and a Gundam. But after looking around on the internet I found there were other pictures of this prototype out there already and those parallels had already been drawn. After all that money I spent and all the obsessing I did over collecting these books I stand here on the other side of these seven monoliths of toy robots enlightenment and I'm feeling a bit burnt out again. It's great to finally know what was in them and I'm glad I went on the quest to obtain this peculiar brand of essentially useless enlightenment. But I wonder what the future of this hobby holds. How many more newspaper ads will I find, how many more magazines will I track down searching for knowledge, how many more Botcons do I have left in me before my enthusiasm flatlines? How much more 1985 is there out there for me to find? Luckily I am not immortal so I need only stay interested in my hobbies a couple more decades. I don't want 1985 to last forever, I just need to make it last until I die.