Fandom. The word refers to a subculture characterized by fans of a certain thing, be it something as relatively broad as video games, to a certain animated series from Japan. A fandom grants you a safe haven to express yourself, even if your family or friends don’t share your passion or interest and also gives you the feeling of belonging somewhere, a group label that you can always put next to your name. Two of the oldest and most well-known fandoms are those that have a passion for George Lucas Star Wars and the people who have referred to themselves both as Trekkers and Trekkies at one point in time, the Star Trek fandom.
I have belonged to several fandoms in my time, both short-term and in the longer term; but the fandom I have subscribed to the longest celebrates its 30th anniversary next year:
The Transformers fandom.
Only a fraction of the current fandom can claim that they have been there since the day the brand was first unleashed on American children and eventually children in other parts of the world. Certainly, new fans have joined the fandom at regular intervals, most recently when the three Michael Bay movies with the titular robots were released in 2007 to 2011, and as I write this a fourth movie is in the works and no matter how good or bad it is, it will bring more fans into the Transformers brand.
I can still remember my own induction into the fandom of these transforming robots. While I had been around for the earlier toys, the comic book and the cartoon (I was born in 81), Transformers were just one of many brands I enjoyed when I was a child in the 80s. One complication for me was that I was a girl and my brothers, the only ones who could expect to receive such boy’s toys were too young. There are some faint memories of when the cartoon was in early reruns in the late 80s, my parents had just got cable and my brothers and I would be up early on Saturday morning, watching Transformers and fiddling with their Micromasters – Transformers in miniature – trying to synch them up to the actions of the larger robots on the TV screen.
It wasn’t until later, in the 90s, when Hasbro had moved into what was referred to as Generation 2, when Transformers began to rose above most of the other cartoons and shows I enjoyed watching every weekend morning, and this was when Batman: The Animated Series had begun to air, another great cartoon I enjoyed. In America there was a comic released, but for me the only Transformers fiction available was the old cartoon, repacked with the Generation 2 logo and a simple CGI sequence during scene changes. For the first time I found myself truly engaged with the characters and now I was old enough that I could go purchase toys myself, with my saved up allowance.
Sadly, the toys did not reflect the robots portrayed on the TV screen, but I still bought some recolored versions of the old toys, as always with the Generation 2 label. What was even more unfortunate was that I came into the fandom, though I did not even know a fandom existed as of yet, during the very last gasps of Generation 2, or the old style of Transformers. The brand wasn’t doing too well and unbeknownst to me, Hasbro had a new, daring plan in the works, which could kill or save the brand. As it turned out, it was the latter. And thanks to that, Transformers remained in my mind long enough that I discovered those other people that enjoyed transforming robots as much as I did.
When I received my first computer in early 1996, complete with a dial-up modem, one of the first things I searched for online was Transformers. And boy, did I find more than I expected. Not only did I find plenty of information, including hints of these new “Beast Wars Transformers” toys that were coming out, accompanied by a CGI cartoon, I also discovered the products of the active fans already very much involved in the Transformers fandom. I found fanart, I found fanfic and became so drawn in that there were days when I rushed home during my lunch break in school, just so I could finish reading this one fanfic I’d discovered the night before. I found chat rooms with other fans, some who helped me acquire both episodes of this new Beast Wars show, but also the toys of the characters. Though I did not need help with the latter for long, soon they began to appear on shelves where I lived too. With time I was also able to meet these other members of the fandom and soon enough I had made new friends for life, people to share my own art and stories with, people I could meet up with during the yearly convention and people I could stay up all night talking about various aspect of the Transformers fiction. Even today I firmly call myself a Transformers fan, though there were a few years in the 2000s when the fiction did not interest me enough to keep track of it, but with the current excellent comics and the recent cartoon with some very fun characters I am firmly back in the fandom, even producing reviews for More Than Meets the Eye for this very website.
What is it that makes this fandom grow and thrive then, even after 30 long years or ups and downs? Though Transformers as a brand was a silly hodgepodge of different Japanese robot toy brands that could turn into something else, it is the fiction that has made Transformers so long lived. The fiction that showed us that these robots are not just huge, hulking war machines that do battle, but also sentient alien beings, who have feelings too. They get hurt, they can die, they can mourn their dead, they can feel fear and happiness, sadistic glee and a desire for wanton destruction. They can love and they can hate. Most of the early robots were given a profile which gave them some ability and character quirk, some of which created some very lovable and enduring characters. How about the jet plane robot that is afraid of heights? The robot who feels great compassion for earth or the one who is convinced earth’s machinery is spying on him? Or the one who gets a kick out of making a good deal, no matter which side he’s dealing with? It’s these quirky and lovable characters that make the brand live on, that in this modern age creates image memes on Tumblr which use the words “feels” and pair them up with music (even the official writer for one of the comic books does this)…and each other.
I have among my fandom friends some that have been in the fandom for almost as long as it has existed, but I also know of some who came into it later, like me, and some even later still. Though there will always be unpleasant corners of any fandom, and Transformers fandom does have a lot of nasty corners, I do feel that a lot of Transformers fandom is welcoming to anyone, even if their love for those robots has not existed for as long as it has for them. We are all fans of Transformers, all the different takes and versions that exist today. It’s true that we’re not as fun to feature on documentaries as our other space fandom brethren, like the Star Trek and Star Wars fans, but perhaps that is a good thing.
We kind of like our privacy.