Monday, May 01, 2017

Where Eagles Zayre

This weekend was a momentous occasion for me: the anniversary of the April 29, 1984 Zayre circular. It happens to be the earliest retail store ad I've ever found with Transformers mentioned in it, so it's a bit of an historic milestone to me. Its significance lies not just in when it appeared chronologically but also in what it shows. Zayre 4/29 (as I call it) packs a ton of great photo and written elements that continue to be a source of much pondering and contemplation for me. Not the least of these wonderful details is that fantastic Starscream. So to commemorate the 'adniversary' I spent my Sunday finishing a replica of what at first glance looks to be just another Starscream, but that in actuality was more, much more than met the newspaper over 30 years ago.


I've already covered my initial attempt at recreating the Zayre 4/29 ad and how because of Starscream I fell short of doing a satisfactory job. The main reasons I goofed up were that I didn't pay enough attention to details plus my ad colorization was done in a hurry as I was rushing to include it in a slide presentation for my panel at JoeLanta 2017. Originally I thought I could grab a bunch of my existing toys and digitally photomanipulate them into the ad. Then I noticed the major differences with the Starscream I was using relative to the one in the ad. By the time I realized my Starscream didn't match, it was too late to build a more ad accurate photoshoot model. So just how tremendously different is the Zayre version from my childhood '84 mass release production model? Would those differences make it next to impossible to kitbash an accurate copy? Taking a closer look would prove surprising...


With the original ad lost to time and only a monochromatic microfilm image to guess what it looked like, I at first thought it would be difficult to dig out much detail. But thankfully the defining quirks of Zayre Starscream are rather huge and obvious even in black and white. The biggest is that the forward extending point of each wing (or 'wingpoint' as coined by Maz at tf-1) running along the fuselage is longer and pointier than that of mass release Starscream wings. Another characteristic is the missing Decepticon sigil on the nosecone, which is a consumer applied label. At first I didn't think much of it, but then I realized I'd seen a long wingpoint/no Decepticon sticker nosecone Starscream before-in the 1984 Transformer pack in catalog! Then the clincher was what appeared to be writing on the jet intake sticker where my production Starscream only had a blank yellow area. I began to realize that making a simple kitbash of this toy as it appeared in the ad would not be easy at all.


To understand what this toy is you have to know the origins of the Starscream toy as a Diaclone Real&Robo Series Jet Machine Robo F-15 High Speed Fighter Type. So they started as Takara Jet Robos then Hasbro sticker manipulated a few of those into Transformers for early promotional photography. It is my conjecture based on my analysis of the ad that the Zayre Starscream is in fact a Japanese Diaclone f-15 Jet Robo with a mix of Diaclone decals and modified/Hasbro applied custom decals on it to make it look like a production Transformer. How Zayre was able to attain this toy makes for interesting speculation but that is beyond the scope of this post. (I do want to address that question in a future article, though.) For now based on my ad analysis I believe the Zayre Starscream has these most obvious defining characteristics:

Instruction shoot Starscream w/ cockpit
sticker and pointy wingpoints

  • Diaclone mold wings with extended wingpoints
  • No Decepticon sticker on the nosecone
  • Diaclone sticker with 'EAGLE' written on it above the jet intakes
  • Solid red stripe and Decepticon sigil on each wing
And based on observations of the original Takara Diaclone Real&Robo Series Jet Machine F-15 Jet Robo High Speed Fighter Type, the Zayre Starscream most likely inherited these less obvious or not as easily discernible characteristics:
  • a hard plastic Diaclone mold nosecone
  • a Diaclone cockpit sticker omitted from production TFs
  • possibly no copyright stamping
  • firing missile launchers

It dawned on me that in order to faithfully reproduce the Zayre Starscream I would need more than just a pair of Diaclone wings and some Decepticon stickers. Because of all the sticker differences I would also need some Diaclone 'EAGLE' jet intake stickers, too. What's neat is that affordable reproduction Diaclone F-15 High Speed Fighter label sheets do exist, however the wings themselves are harder to track down. Plus there is the ethical conundrum of mutilating a rare Diaclone original just to transplant its wings on a lesser, more common toy. Plus plus Diaclones are expensive as hell nowadays and not easy to come across. So I was about to give up right there not so much because I didn't want to desecrate a sacrosanct Diaclone toy, but mostly because I am cheap. But then something wonderful happened-Dairycon!


While I was at Dairycon 2017 I came upon a dealer who had a rather infamous bootleg jet. It was the Kingdam RoboJet F-15, and because it was knocked off directly from the Diaclone mold it had those elongated wings I needed. But even though it was a bootleg it was in such beautiful and complete shape that I'd feel bad parting it out just to make my Zayre photoshoot Starscream. I asked the dealer if he had a pair of just Kingdam wings lying around and he said no and he couldn't part the jet out just to give me the wings because-and get this-if all he had was the fuselage, it could be passed off as an original Diaclone by unscrupulous individuals! I looked at it and sure as heck, it had everything the Diaclone version had down to the cockpit sticker, 'EAGLE' intakes, and hard nosecone. I never noticed how dead on of a copy that thing was. I may not have had the money or guts to mutilate a legit Diaclone F-15, but now I was aware of a suitable stand in should I ever see one in crappy shape. Lo and behold, just a few days later that's exactly what would pop up in the haven of beat up crappy shape knockoffs-eBay!


Just as I ran out of hope that I'd ever find a reasonably priced parts donor for my photoshoot Starscream project, along came eBay auction 112371069453. For $45 it had no launchers but the nosecone, cockpit, and jet intake stickers were all intact. It appeared dark grey in the auction photos and there really is a dark grey Kingdam variant, but it was actually the light grey version. Notable differences from the Diaclone version are the orange canopy and white vertical stabilizers. In the above left photo the plastic quality is so poor it's mostly transparent in places like the vertical stabilizers. The plastic is a shade of grey that doesn't quite match up with any Starscream I have so a simple wing swap wasn't going to work. Ultimately I'd have to use a majority of the Kingdam parts so the color would be uniform but some bits did have to be replaced...


One major consequence of the inferior quality plastic used in the Kingdam bootleg is that the joints the wings plug into and rotate on are super prone to breakage. These 'wing knuckles' as I call them are also pretty shoddily molded on the Kingdam toy, so even if they weren't broken (as they were on my eBay one) I still had to replace them with the cleaner looking Hasbro parts. I also swapped out the orange canopy with a correct smoke colored Hasbro one. The project ended up being slightly more than the simple decal and wing swap I originally thought it would be, but the results were well worth the work.


In the end I basically had a Kingdam bootleg with a Hasbro Starscream's vertical stabilizers, wing joints & decals, and canopy. It's a bit of a Frankenstein monster but it does a good job of emulating an historic moment in Transformer promotional photographic history. The next step for me would be going back and doing a more accurate recreation of the Zayre 4/29 ad. For now just having this representation of one of the rarest Transformer specimens in history is good enough for me.

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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.