Saturday morning. Early. I mean really early. A shaft of sunlight hits my face but I’m already wide awake. I’m waiting for that unmistakable tink-thud of the letterbox. When it finally comes, I sneak out into the hallway and hurriedly snatch the brown paper bag before returning to my bedroom without waking anyone. Nimbly I open the bag, teasing out the mint-new, heaven-scented comic. It’s here at last! The rest of the world falls away and I begin, again, my weekly voyage into the wonderful world of the Transformers.
Of all the Transformers media from the last 35 years (comics, books, cartoons, movies, even toys), the weekly British Transformers comic has consistently been the one that’s stayed the closest to my heart. From late 1986 to early 1989 it was, without exception, the highlight of my week. It was what I most looked forward to, and it was what I absorbed most thoroughly–from the wonderful characters and the exciting adventures, to the do-or-die heroism it inspired.
The series itself lasted for 332 regular issues until 1992, then for numerous (reprint) specials, until late 1994. But at the time, I didn’t catch every single issue. The series had such an impact on me that even now, 35 years later, I’m still collecting it, still finding replacement issues for those that I read so much that they fell apart at the staples.
The first issue of Transformers I ever read was issue 29. It was two months after moving to a new home, and one month after starting at a new school. It seemed the only thing I had in common with some of the other kids was Transformers. One afternoon after school, one of my friends, Alistair, invited me round. After showing me his Soundwave and Buzzsaw toys, he showed me his small pile of Transformers comics and immediately I was captivated by the stories and the way the very small handful of toys I had been playing with for the last ten months were brought to life!
As it turned out, my friend had been given a duplicate of Transformers 29 by his grandparents. (They’d recently seen it advertised on TV.) He let me keep his second copy and I can’t tell you how grateful I was! Transformers was extremely hard to find and I only ever found new editions here and there, and only in branches of larger newsagents in larger towns. Issue 29 became very precious to me. I read it over and over again.
That Christmas I was given a Ladybird book/cassette gift set which, along with a handful of Transformers issues, were the only stories about the Autobots and Decepticons I had access to.
In the summer and autumn of 1986 I found a few more issues, specifically one of Bob Budiansky’s “Return to Cybertron” issues, a few from “Target: 2006” and a couple more at the very end of the year that featured the Aerialbots and Stunticons. Even reading just parts of stories was exciting, especially as I’d been given the Superior and Mensasor gift sets for my birthday and Christmas (respectively) that year.
In January 1987 my subscription to the comic began in earnest. Issue 97 was the first regular issue I had reserved and delivered. Prior to that it was in the hands of the gods or, more accurately, the wire-wool haired woman who ran our local newsagents, whether or not I managed to get my hands on an issue. More often than not, I didn’t.
But at the start of 1987, Transformers was evidently popular enough to be allowed to go on “the list”, a tatty hardback receipt book that contained all the subscription information for everyone in the village. And so, meekly, I asked if I could have Transformers reserved and delivered to me every Saturday. All it cost me was 64% of my pocket money. I still remember, to this day, the feel of her boney fingers jabbing the loose change out of my outstretched palm.
Why issue 97? Well, from that issue onwards the price had gone up to 32p and so as not to mess up the newsagent’s receipt book, that’s where the subscription had to start. Transformers 97 contained the second part of “Prey” and, although the story was already half-told, I couldn’t think of a better way to start my regular adventure with the comic.
When you’re 9 years old an entire week is a very long time to wait to see if your hero really had been killed. As agonising as the wait for issue 98 was, it only got better from there. It wasn’t until the summer of 1989 that I caught up on the first part of “Prey”, thanks to the Collected Comics summer special.
“Prey” was the story that started my two-year, uninterrupted weekly visit to the Transformers’ universe. (From 97-202 I never missed an issue!)
At the beginning of 1989 the local newsagent decided to stop carrying Transformers. Transformers 202 was the last issue I had delivered; right in the middle of “Time Wars”. It was like missing out on the ending of “Target: 2006” all over again!
With nowhere local to go, I had to rely on occasional trips into Nottingham or my dad finding them for me. The next issue I found was 230. Then 232. Then 235, 243, 245, 250, 253, 255, 301, 323, 327. Even now I can recite them. That’s how few, far-between, and very precious they’d become.
The last issue of Transformers I found was issue 327. We were visiting family in Gateshead and in the Metro Centre’s branch of WHSmith the iconic cover of Galvatron standing in front of a kaleidoscopic reflection of his former self leapt out at me from the magazine racks. The same day, we went to Jolly Giant and I bought Classics Astrotrain. That was a good day!
Issue 327 was the last issue of Transformers I ever saw on the shelves. At the time I had always assumed it had just kept going and going (not knowing that 332 was indeed the last issue) and my imagination would often bring me glimpses of possible ways the saga might have continued.
In late 1993 I started to try to fill in all those gaps that I’d missed. I rang up all the specialty comic and book shops that had sometimes advertised in Transformers to see what I could find. One store, Forbidden Planet Nottingham, asked if I meant the “new” Transformers Generation 2 series. (An hour later I had issue 3 of the American G2 series in my shaking hands!)
Since then I’ve been on a quest to acquire every single issue of Transformers that I’d missed out on the first time round, right back to the very first issue and, because of the way my brain is wired, every regular issue, every reprint special since…
It’s 2019: the 35th anniversary of the Transformers. I see each and every issue of Transformers as a sort of time capsule; a moment in the past that invites both inspection and retrospection. And that’s the purpose of Time Capsule 35, to go back 35 years in real time and revisit each of those issues of Transformers.