Friday, July 23, 2010

Remembering Calvin and Hobbes

One of the unwritten benefits of working at Fuller is that I have easy access to a post office just downstairs from my office.  When I was there the other day to mail a package, I found this set of stamps featuring "Sunday Funnies" (as the title at the top of the sheet says) available, and picked up a sheet immediately.

Although I haven't really been active in maintaining it for many years now, I still have my stamp collection from back when I was in fifth grade.  Besides that, I'm a fan of comics enough that I probably would have picked these up anyway.  But what really clinched the deal for me was that second stamp from the left.

For those who don't know, Calvin and Hobbes was a comic about a six-year old boy named Calvin, who (among other traits) had an overactive imagination.  The signature example of this imaginative streak was the fact that, to him, his stuffed tiger (named Hobbes) was a walking, talking, living being--and Calvin's best friend.  Calvin and Hobbes provided a window into the world of the child, and along the way provided some intelligent commentary and humor that made reading comic strips a "must-see" activity.  During some of my grade-school years, when I would wait in the school library for the hallways to open and the day to begin, I would pull out that morning's newspaper specifically so I could enjoy the daily adventures of the boy and his tiger.

I've enjoyed the other four comics featured on these stamps (Beetle Bailey, Archie, Garfield, and Dennis the Menace) to varying degrees and at various times throughout my life, but Calvin and Hobbes was special.  To get an idea of just how special this particular comic strip was, it should be noted that Calvin and Hobbes is the most recent out of the five comics being featured (having started in 1985.  Garfield started in 1978, while the other three are from 1951 or earlier), yet is the only one of this group that is no longer being created with new adventures.  Calvin and Hobbes ended at the end of 1995, having lasted for barely more than a decade.  Calvin and Hobbes did not end due to any lack of popularity.  Indeed, the comic was arguably more popular than ever.  Rather, creator Bill Watterson was a true artist, and the integrity of his artistic vision meant (and means, I assume) everything to him.  He had made as many concessions to the needs of marketing as he was willing to make, and decided that he would rather quit than have Calvin and Hobbes ever be diluted by interests that were unrelated to those of creating the comic strips that he wanted to create.

One could easily complain that such a luminescent comic ended so abruptly, denying fans any more access to these whimsical adventures.  I'm sure that I myself did complain quite a bit at the time the strip ended (now nearly 15 years ago!).  But if Watterson hadn't been so adamant about maintaining the artistic integrity of Calvin and Hobbes, those ten years worth of adventures we did get to see would hardly have been as memorable.  While some fans argue that other comic strips (including some of the other comics featured on these stamps) may have lasted too long, becoming stale and repetitive rather than fresh, I think I'm safe in saying that there are very few in the world who would ever say that about Calvin and Hobbes.  I'm so glad that the strip is still so well remembered as to get this honor of being featured on a postage stamp!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Shattered Glass Cyclonus

I had originally planned to do this entry immediately after the one for the club version of Punch/Counterpunch. After all, Punch/Counterpunch (henceforth referred to as "P/CP") and Shattered Glass Cyclonus were the two 2010 Transformers Club exclusives, and I had gotten both at the same time.  I had even started the process of taking pictures of the toy before I realized that something was very, very wrong.  Something that required that I postpone this entry for few weeks.

It's kind of a pity, because in most respects, this toy is a better toy than P/CP.  At least, it lacks P/CP's obvious issues.  At least one commenter has suggested that this is because Shattered Glass Cyclonus is less ambitious than P/CP.  No remolded parts, no attempt to engineer a transformation the original mold never intended (Punch's legs).  Just a straight repaint from one color scheme to another.

Shattered Glass Cyclonus borrows his color scheme from Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, suggesting that the two characters (or, at least, the "regular" universe versions of these two) are somehow counterparts to each other.  I'm sure that more than a few Transformers fans would dispute that comparison (I agree with those who've suggested that Cyclonus is more analogous to Ultra Magnus), but even so, the color scheme translates pretty well.

Since Shattered Glass Cyclonus reuses the mold created for Universe Cyclonus, which featured an updated version of Nightstick, the Nebulan that came with the the 1987 Targetmaster version of Cyclonus, Shattered Glass Cyclonus has a Targetmaster, as well.  Rather than consider this "Shattered Glass Nightstick," however--the name was already taken, anyway--the folks at Fun Publications did something really clever.  Taking advantage of a name created by the UK editors to cover up an error in the old Headmasters comic book, Shattered Glass Cyclonus' Targetmaster weapon is called "Krunix."

So, what tragedy befell my efforts to feature this toy last month?  While taking pictures for the blog, I discovered that my specimen of Shattered Glass Cyclonus was misassembled!  The arm assembly was such that Cyclonus' elbow would only ever bend the wrong way.  Although I was able to take the toy apart and flip the arm around, I then discovered that the toy would no longer transform into "jet" mode properly!  Unable to fix the problem on my own, I took Fun Publications up on their offer (conveyed to me by FP resident art guy Lanny Latham via Facebook) to send the toy back for a replacement.  Although I was a bit annoyed to have to pay out of my own pocket to have Cyclonus shipped back to FP, I can at least say that they gave me a new (and correctly assembled!) toy without any difficulty.  (You can see a picture of this arm assembled correctly here.  Note how the black part is underneath the orange part, rather than on top of it.)

Shattered Glass Cyclonus really is a pretty neat toy, and exactly the kind of thing that the club does well.  I'm sorry to say that the toy already seems to be sold out from the club store.  If you want one, you're pretty much stuck with eBay.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Action Master Thundercracker - Letter to Hasbro

For those of you supporting the Action Master Thundercracker campaign, here is the text of a letter I'm sending to Hasbro to encourage them to consider making this figure.  Feel free to adapt to your own situation.

Hasbro, Inc.
Consumer Affairs
P.O. Box 200
Dept. C-847
Pawtucket, RI, 02862-0200.

July 10, 2010

To Whom It May Concern,

I have been a proud collector of Transformers figures for the entire span of the line. Although this does indeed mean that I have long since outgrown the target age group for these toys, I have long been impressed at the efforts Hasbro has made to appeal to Transformers fans of such long-standing. The reissue of, and homages to, many of the toys from what is now known as the "Generation One" era are so numerous that it would take me quite some time to even attempt to list them all. Thank you for these efforts.

I am writing to you now in partial response to news that came out of the recent BotCon in Orlando. Specifically, Fun Publications, the organizers of the convention, informed us that they had hoped to have one of their convention-exclusive toys be an homage to the Action Master Thundercracker originally made in 1991 for several non-US markets, using the mold originally created for "Classics" Starscream in 2006. Unfortunately, they were informed that this would not be possible, as Hasbro was using the mold at the time (presumably for Generations Thrust, which is now hitting the shelves of toy stores everywhere). Although Fun Publications has told fans that "G2 Ramjet" (using the "conehead" version of that same mold) would be made available to members of the official Transformers Collectors Club in 2011, it seems that the Action Master Thundercracker concept is being shelved indefinitely.

I am one of a number of fans who have been suggesting this admittedly quirky homage for several years now, and to learn that it got so close to being produced, only to fail to do so, is more than a little frustrating. As such, we are embarking on a more active campaign to have this figure finally produced. If mass retail is not an option, we're perfectly happy to have the toy produced as an exclusive for some outlet such as Big Bad Toy Store (with whom you've recently worked out a deal to produce the reissue Seacons set) or another online dealer. But we do want an official toy to be produced, as opposed to letting this idea fall to one of the unofficial third-party vendors who may or may not be able to produce a quality product.

So, this letter is an attempt to bring to your attention the fact that there is a fanbase behind this particular concept, and to voice our hope that you will work to find an appropriate venue for making such a figure available to the fans. Also, to help ensure that our campaign makes an impression, we’ll be seeking to “Thunder ‘em with Crackers” by enclosing a cracker with our letters, in hopes that you will see these small tokens, and think “Thundercracker” whenever you do.

Action Master Thundercracker: Make It Happen!


Mark Baker-Wright
Blog: Transforming Seminarian

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Action Master-colored Thundercracker: Make It Happen

Way back in 1991, when there weren't any Transformers toys on American toy shelves (or, those few that were, were being clearanced off of the shelves in favor of stock that could sell for more money), the line was still moving on in other parts of the world. A second series of Action Masters was released in the European (and also, apparently, Australian) markets, including one claiming to be the classic character, Thundercracker. I say "claiming to be" because, although the toy was just a redeco of the Action Master Starscream figure (which was appropriate, because the original Thundercracker was just a redeco of the original Starscream), it did not have the distinctive blue color scheme normally associated with Thundercracker. Instead, the designers gave Action Master Thundercracker a freakish array of blinding colors that can only be said to resemble "Thundercracker" if one is on acid. It's ugly! It's horrible! It's awesome!

Partially because of AM Thundercracker's bizarre appearance, the toy—already rare due to its non-American distribution—has become quite valuable and is a prized part of many collections. Expect to pay quite a bit of money if one is made available on eBay or any other place. Indeed, I do not own this particular figure, myself.

Especially since Fun Publications has taken control of the official Transformers Collectors Club, and of BotCon (the official Transformers convention), fans have speculated about what figures would make good exclusive toys for either the club or the convention. The idea of using the "Classics" Seeker mold (used for BotCon 2007 Thundercracker) as an Action Master-colored Thundercracker has always been especially popular. After an image (originally a joke, but later established as part of the "Shattered Glass" continuity) established this color scheme for the "Shattered Glass" version of Thundercracker, this idea has only become even more popular.

Speaking only for myself, I had never really considered it especially likely that FP would actually do such a figure, but it was kind of a pipe dream. "Yeah, it'll never happen, but wouldn't it be awesome if it did?" It went without saying that Hasbro would never make such an homage on their own. The fact that they'd ever used the color scheme at all was simply the result of a freak period of time catering to different tastes than are at play today.

At BotCon 2010, we learned that FP not only had considered making an Action Master-colored Thundercracker (I'll just use "AMTC" as shorthand from here on out), but that it was actually the concept that the entire "Generation Two/European" theme of that convention had been structured around! The intention was to use AMTC as the attendee-freebie figure using the "Classics" Seeker mold, and they'd also use the remolded "conehead" version for a "Generation Two"-colored Ramjet. Unfortunately, Hasbro nixed the use of the Seeker mold (that is to say, both versions, as they're both pretty much the same mold, with one sprue able to be swapped out for "conehead" vs. "regular" versions), as they were working on "Generations" Dirge and Thrust (one of which should be available in stores anytime now, while the other will follow in few months).

FP has announced that the planned "G2" Ramjet will be available next year as one of the 2011 club exclusives, but that Hasbro's only allowing them to do two club exclusives next year (not counting the membership incentive figure, which will be another character from another mold) and that, since each production run takes up a slot, they didn't feel that AMTC would do as well as Ramjet on its own (as opposed to being a part of a larger set, as was the intention for BotCon 2010). Thus, efforts to get FP to do both Ramjet and AMTC as a 2-pack seem to have failed. Moreover, FP said at BotCon 2010 that this would probably be the last time that they would use the "Classics" Seeker mold, apparently closing the lid on the possibility that they would do AMTC forever.

Although Pete Sinclair (all-around liaison between FP and Transformers fans) has backpedaled a bit on that "last time" language, suggesting that if the demand remains high enough (and Ramjet sells well enough, which I consider to be irrelevant, as I want AMTC. I don't particularly care about Ramjet. Two different things.), they might reconsider doing AMTC in the future. That said, I'm not particularly placated, and consider this possibility remote.

We'd been taken from "it'll never happen, and we accept that" to "it got so close, but it'll never happen" in the blink of an eye. Having gotten so close, my state of passive "acceptance" is considerably less than it was, and so I and a few others are starting a campaign to get AMTC produced and made available to the fans.

Let me be clear, if FP picks this up, great! However, I am not limiting this campaign to FP. The recent announcement that the G1 Seacons reissue (in mostly G1-accurate colors) is being made available through Big Bad Toy Store (and, for all practical purposes, only through them in North America. The one exception I know about is actually through an arrangement with BBTS) has opened up other possible venues. We're happy for any of these venues to pick this up. The only stipulation on my part is that it use the official Hasbro/Tomy molds with production-quality materials. No customs or resin-kits, please! We're looking for an official toy!

So, here's the deal. Fellow Transformers club member Crazy Jetty has created an image to be used wherever you want on the web (you can see more of his work via his deviantART account). It's the image you saw when you opened up this blog entry, and I've already made several versions of it available here. Download one (you can choose your own size using the tools on the right of each image). Save it to your own server, then make it your profile picture on Facebook or one of the Transformers message boards. Use it in your signature. Send a Twitter message with the hashtag #AMThundercracker (or retweet this one, also, I find that Twitpic can be useful with an "amthundercracker" tag). Write a blog entry (and feel free to link to it in the comments of this entry). Spread the word however you want, but spread the word!

A new Action Master Thundercracker can become a reality, but we have to raise our voices to make it happen. Let's get some interest!

Here is the posted version of the letter I sent to Hasbro a short time after this post.

UPDATE: June, 2011 - It's Real, and it's Spectacular!

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