Tell me something…
Transformers has been doing its thing for three fabulous decades.
What are the three best things you’ve gained from TF?
Belonging. ’Friends’ seems to be on everyone’s list, which comes as no surprise. What may be more surprising is that it only really happened in the last five or six years, when I started participating in communities online. Through the Mosaic project I met John-Paul Bove who fast became one of my best friends. Through the IDW forums I met Sprite and Temple. After discovering the Transmasters UK website I found an entire community of people that I got on with and felt at home around, particularly Andrew Turnbull and Graham Thomson. And when I became a part of Auto Assembly I started meeting even more, like Billy, Isa, Tori, Adam, Deano… and aside from belonging, I also gained a bit of purpose.
Heroes. It may be cheesy, but it’s true. The fictional inhabitants of The Transformers were responsible for my strongest impressions of morality, of right and wrong. The comics in particular, wherein Optimus Prime would endlessly wrestle with his conscience as to what would be the right decision, taught me more about the complications and grey areas of morality and virtue than probably anything ever has since. And despite this, the idea that the good guys DO NOT KILL, except as a last resort, and if there is absolutely no other avenue available to them, if all other options have met with failure. Optimus Prime would rather die than take a life, or be the cause of the loss of life. One of the reasons I despise the shotgun-happy movie version.
And over in the real world, it gave me writers and artists to admire, that inspire, and whom I would try to emulate. From Geoff Senior’s dynamic, gritty-yet-efficient pencilwork in the 80’s being my direct inspiration to try drawing myself in the first place, up through E.J Su’s challenging my conceptions of composition and detail, and to Nick Roche’s blending of both styles and addition of a unique and slightly exaggerated quality all of his own. There’s Simon Furman, who created all of the qualities in the fictional heroes that affected me so much, and who taught me most about the construction of a story. And James Roberts, who quite apart from being one of the most talented writers ever to touch the series, is almost a case of personal example for me. Before he made it, he was just another member of the TMUK community, albeit one who had garnered massive respect for his bodies of fan fiction over the years, and whom I was lucky enough to be able to provide an accompanying illustration for his last published fan fic before going pro. He, and to a lesser extent Nick, were proof to me that we ordinary folk CAN be the next generation of creators, and they gave me hope for what had always been a naive and unrealistic pipe-dream before then. Similarly, John-Paul Bove made that transition. But he’s a bigger hero to me because of how close we are. I saw the work he was putting in to attaining his dreams first hand, I saw the dedication, the willingness to do more, be better, and yes, the stress it caused. I saw him go above and beyond what others in his situation would do. I saw how he never missed a deadline or required a fill-in colourist for over two years and 22 issues of Regeneration One, how effortlessly he could dramatically change his style to fit different eras sections of the book visited, and how during this time he also did fill-ins on other TF books, worked on other titles like 2000AD, Godzilla, and TMNT, how he fit in covers and prints, and even box art for a con exclusive TF/Joe crossover product, how he visited every convention that would have him, and all the while maintaining his dayjob.
And I’ve also been lucky enough to meet actors that played some of my childhood heroes, and who became heroes themselves by virtue of being genuinely nice, humble, friendly and down to earth people. In particular, Paul Eiding and Townsend Coleman, who I am humbled to call my friends.
And finally, some of those selfsame friends from my earlier entry. Billy is a hero because of his tireless dedication to a thankless job. Everyone, if you read this far, it is Billy more than anyone else who is really responsible for making Auto Assembly happen for you each year, though he’s too humble and logical to ever admit it or even accept it as a compliment. He seriously does more than any of you could imagine. Sprite and Temple are heroes to me for being examples of positivity and good nature, of humour and loyalty, no matter what they may be having to deal with themselves. Turnbull for his work ethic, Thomson for his success. And Isa and Tori for their devotion to following their personal goals, and the amazing work they put in to doing so.
Robots. I fucking got some, mind.
Today, for the first time in, I dunno, three or four years, I sat and watched Cloverfield. I guess it was an attempt to slake my thirst for the new GODZILLA a little longer.
Cloverfield is an odd duck. It always divided fans of the genre in a love hate way, but back when it was recent the lovers outnumbered the haters. These days it seems to be the opposite. It almost makes me think that in two year’s time the majority will also be becrying Pacific Rim.
I remember vividly the viral marketing for it. The fake news items and the ‘Slusho’ tie-ins. The webpage regularly updating with photographs of the event and things relevant to it. How leaving that page open for seven minutes or so would treat you to the monster’s unexpected roar. And how all of these things, even after watching the movie, only ever hinted at the truth behind the creature. It was phenomenal marketing that really created an enormous buzz.
Back then, I was still a regular poster on a relatively small-scale Godzilla community forum, and the excitement was clear and palpable, both in the lead up and after release. It earned a ton of goodwill.
Myself, I’ve always enjoyed it. But as I said, I hadn’t watched it in years. And has my opinion changed? No, not really.
Sure, it has it’s downsides. I’m not a fan of the creature design, but that doesn’t really matter because that’s only of peripheral importance to the film itself. It’s intended to be hidden for most of it’s presence, and it was horrific enough to be alien and disturbing on a primal level on the few occasions we glimpsed it clearly. So I guess job well done there, even if I don’t see it ever making any historic movie monster countdown lists. And yeah, the movie kinda descends into a cliche rescue-the-girl love story (that had been done often and better in hundreds of places) for the second half.
I feel that this is one of the most important monster movies ever made. Love or hate the handy-cam style of film-making, this is the first and last time in film that we have ever really been shown what it might be like to be a civilian in a city suffering a Kaiju attack. The ground level point of view, and the very human reactions really sell the monster attack as the disaster it is like never before. The confusion, panic, and disbelief, particularly of the street scenes immediately after leaving the apartment building at the beginning, really convey how people would react to such a situation in real life. No pre-established evacuation proctocols. No heading into the high ground to watch how things are going to play out. Just the activation of the survival instinct. “I don’t care what it is, we just have to LEAVE”.
And yeah, the love story kicks in and rationality goes out the window. But even that isn’t entirely unrealistic. The dude just lost his brother, suddenly, violently, and horrifically. He was in shock, his mind reeling. so he focuses on finding the girl, he can’t lose someone else. It’s justification enough to hang the rest of the film off of at least, so again, no real complaints there. And pretty much all of the set-pieces they encounter along the way could just as easily have been transferred to a story about people simply attempting to escape the city.
So yeah, when people hate on Cloverfield I can’t help but roll my eyes. It managed to do something different with what could be argued to be THE most plumbed sub-genre of science fiction. Could it work again? Probably not. But I for one am glad that we got to live through a kaiju raid on the most uniquely personal and human level ever committed to celluloid, at least once.
In a situation that I’m obligated to be in rather than have any desire to be in, and trying to make the best of it I possibly can. But it seems I can do no right for doing good with some people, as I struggle financially and stretch myself thin. But I carry on, even though I could easily cry. At times like this, I wish I could get drunk.
But most of all I wish I had someone to support me. I don’t even get the comfort of being held.