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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hachette launch Transformers comics partwork in UK newsagents

Marvel UK's The Transformers comic was good to me, or, to be more accurate, its editors were. Shiela Cranna accepted my Robo-Capers strip (starting in issue 15 I think) and then other editors such as Richard Starkings, Simon Furman, etc kept me busy producing more Robo-Capers and Combat Colin strips for the comic so that I was in almost every issue of its 300 plus run. However, the main draw of course was the title strip itself, reprinting the U.S. Transformers strip but also producing brand-new material for the UK market featuring the robots in disguise. 

At its peak, The Transformers was selling over 200,000 copies an issue to readers in Britain during the 1980s. It helped establish Marvel UK as a major publisher in the British comics industry and gave work to many creators at the time. Now, Hachette has just released the first edition in a new partwork series of hardback books; Transformers The Definitive G1 Collection, setting out to reprint the entire run of Generation One Tranformers stories from the UK and USA. It will not only include the old Marvel stories but also the more recent ones that were published by IDW. 

The first book, in newsagents now, is at the special price of £1.99. Issue 2 will be £6.99, and then the series settles at a regular price of £9.99, which is still a good price for a hardback graphic novel. 

The first book reprints Target:2006 from UK Transformers Nos.78 to 88, written by Simon Furman with art by Jeff Anderson, Geoff Senior, Ron Smith, and Will Simpson. 

The book also reprints stories from the U.S. Transformers Nos.21 to 23, written by Bob Budiansky and drawn by Don Perlin. Unfortunately, for some reason, the reproduction of the linework isn't too good on these American strips and the finer lines have dropped out (see photo below). I hope things like this can be rectified in future issues.

As with other Hachette graphic novels, the volumes aren't being released in chronological order. The first one is volume 6, the second will be volume 35, the third volume 16. They probably think it's better to start off with strong stories but it must be a bit frustrating to readers wanting to follow the continuity. Nevertheless, Transformers The Definitive G1 Collection is bound to be a popular series amongst the many fans young and old alike who either remember the classic stories or are discovering them for the first time. 

You can subscribe to the series at the Hachette website (which also shows the TV ad for the books):


SLOW ROBOT said...

Interesting to see a packaging variant on the first issue. Copies in London branches of WH SMITH are mounted on a backing board not much wider than the book itself with the poster and promotional paperwork shrinkwrapped with the book. It looks like other regions got the more traditional (and cumbersome) "widescreen" board.

I assume retailers can dictate which version they are supplied.

SLOW ROBOT said...

Also interesting to see Circuit Breaker appear in the US reprints. Marvel rushed a cameo appearance by the character into SECRET WARS II so they could retain the copyright. They did the same, via a house ad, for DEATH'S HEAD in the British line. Any character making their debut in the TF strip itself automatically became Hasbro's - rather than Marvel's copyright so a debut elsewhere allowed Marvel to retain ownership of ancilerary characters created for the comics.

Some previous IDW reprints of the US Marvel strips were forced to omit strips containing Circuit Breaker, Spider-man etc. This time it looks like Hachette will have a free run to reprint all the strips.

There's not even an acknowledgement in the small print that Marvel own the character. Unless they've cut a deal with Hasbro to relinquish their claim.

Lew Stringer said...

I don't know about Circuit Breaker. To be honest I didn't pay a lot of attention to the Transformers strip itself. I just got on with my bit. :)

As for packaging, my WH Smith had the smaller package but my corner shop had the big backing board.

James Spiring said...

SLOW ROBOT, the TFWiki says this:

Earlier reprints from Titan Books had been able to use Circuit Breaker for a small fee, as nobody at Marvel was bothered at the time: after all, who'd want to read old Transformers comics, eh? Years later, Marvel figured out "many people" and it wasn't until Classic Transformers Volume 5 that IDW had the rights to reprint issues with Circuit Breaker in them: before then, all stories featuring Circuit Breaker were replaced with text summaries.

So, yeah, IDW have done a deal which means that they, and Hachette, can use the strips that feature Circuit Breaker.

Craig Grannell said...

As I mentioned to Lew on Twitter, I'm disappointed to see the comment about the line art being ruined in the US reprints. This suggests the source is the dreadful IDW Classics line, which recoloured the art by removing all the halftoning and seemingly using nasty automated Photoshop automation that obliterated fine detail and even some of the lettering clarity.

I'd been hoping I could buy this collection to replace Titan reprints and the botched UK Classics books with something better. Turns out these will also be sub-optimal. What a pity.

PhilEdBoyce said...

I went into Belfast today to pick up the new DeLorean partwork to see what it's like (I'm impressed) and decided to pick this up too since it was only £1.99. I have the original Marvel UK run here but thought I'd check it out anyway. It's strange that it's advertising the original run so much and not really the Dreamwave and IDW ones (they get mentioned briefly only) since the original run will only make up less than a quarter of the books as I read inside the introductory poster mag (which is a nice retro touch I have to say). I'd be interested in collecting it for the newer stuff but there's no info here on how far along the collection goes or any samples. Also they advertised that all the black'n'white UK comics from later in Marvel's run are newly recoloured for the first time but show no examples, instead they advertise this with samples of the original full-colour strips. I'd loved to have seen them properly coloured, but given the shoddy Photoshop-esque reproductions as you pointed out I'm not holding out hope, especially as they're rather sneakily not showing them off but pretending they are. Add in the rampant fanboyism being presented as fact (rubbishing the hugely popular Bay movies which I love and their comics, as apparently the writer doesn't like them so no one else must) in the features, AND the fact most of their bonus material which they'd have us believe is all new is mainly reprints too... Add it all up and I've no reason to buy any more and I'll stick to the original comics. Such a shame as it would've made a great collection.

On the plus side the DeLorean one could be great!

Lew Stringer said...

Good points, folks. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this new partwork?

Craig Grannell said...

Phil: I've not read the extras yet, but: ouch. Mind you, how often are they worth reading? The Marvel extras were painful reading, I thought. The Dredd ones are an exception, with some superb essays by Michael Molcher.

And, yeah, I'd forgotten they talked about colouring the b+w strips. Mind you, that should be easier to not wreck than redoing existing colour US art. (Scan. Adjust levels. Multiply layer. Etc. Versus 'obliterate all detail while trying to smooth original and correct wrong colours'.)

Craig Grannell said...

I've now had a look at the book and the repro on the UK strips is also poor. I sanity checked against my old Titan A4 trades. Those aren't amazing, but have at least some sharpness. The Hachette volume looks comparatively washed out colour-wise and also blurry. Perhaps they took whatever mess they made for the UK Classics books (with their comically large gutters) and then just expanded the art. It's a pity because the _package_ is, as expected, great. The hardback book is sturdy, the paper is pretty good, and the design and end papers do the job.

For two quid, it was worth a punt and I imagine in two weeks I'll be able to get shot of it on eBay. But even given the age of the material, I was expecting better than this. (And while the Dredd collection has some pretty nasty repro here and there in the classic material, the really poor stuff has been sporadic, not ubiquitous.)

SLOW ROBOT said...

I assume - given the age of the material, the shifting ownership of publishing rights and the long-term value of a toy tie-in when the toys stopped selling - the original 'masters' have long since been lost or distroyed.

Lousy printing (usually scans from the original comics) has also plagued the likes of the IDW collection of Marvel's first STAR TREK run and Titan's two BATTLESTAR GALACTICA collections (more Marvel reprints). Publishers clearly don't always try too hard... Or aren't willing/ able to work from the highest quality source material.

It's funny to think there was a time when the entire Marvel TF back catalogue was out-of-print and (relatively) hard to find. Now the bulk of the run is available in several different editions.

The IDW UK collections are worth getting just for their detailed behind-the-scenes notes. If only ever publisher cared as much about context and history.

I seem to recall Marvel announced plans for TRANSFORMERS trades around the same time Titan did... But ultimately didn't proceed.

Craig Grannell said...

I get the age of the material can be a problem, but Rebellion's collections show what can be done when they arm someone who has skills with decent kit, and afford them enough time to make good. The scanning in classic 2000 AD collections isn't perfect, but it's often very good, from tricky Sean Phillips Nikolai Dante art through to colour spreads for old Dredds and ABC Warriors, currently being reprinted for the first time.

Dealing with all of Transformers would have been a gargantuan task and likely would have made this collection unviable. Even so, it's a disappointment. The US material in particular is ruined for no good reason, through flattening the colour and removing the fine detail in the art. It's pretty clear this has been automated or semi automated. (I as an experiment tried something similar myself with old Zoids and Zenith scans, with a view to somehow 'self publishing' some books one day – and the results were equally iffy.) I'd sooner have had the original US colouring, warts 'n' all, with its halftones, errors and such-like.

On the UK IDW collections, I have them all. I agree about the extensive notes, which are great. But the strips themselves are printed absurdly small. Given that the original art was UK comic size (A4ish), it's like we've been 'treated' to thumbnails. Quite why someone decided on a double gutter, I've no idea. The only reason I can think of is the scans they were using were of such poor quality, they had no option but to print them really small, in order to boost the resolution. At which point, I'd say: do the scans again.

It's just a pity, really, that we'll clearly never get a decent collection of the UK material, bar somehow sourcing a quality set of the original comics (which aren't exactly great for storing anyway). The large Titan collections are very nice, but incomplete, reportedly through Furman being unhappy with the earlier TF stories. The IDW collections are complete in terms of strips (or at least will be if the series gets to the end – which is looking a bit creaky, given the massive delay to volume six), but the repro isn't good. And now this hardback volume – which should have been perfect, collecting the UK material and placing in context within the US comics – has superb production values for the actual book, yet little care evident when it comes to the material within.

Still: fourth time lucky, in 20 years, perhaps?

As an aside, if you're reading this, Lew, and your eyes haven't glazed over yet, what's the status of Robo-Capers? I assume some flavour of Marvel owns the rights. I'd love to see a collection of that some day, if it's feasible. (One of the few eBay auctions I regret not bidding much higher on was one of my favourite strips from that run, when you put it up a couple of years ago.)

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, Marvel still own the rights to Robo-Capers so I won't be reprinting that. It'd be nice if Panini reprinted them in the back of one of their comics but I doubt that'll happen. I don't think we'll ever see it back in print in my lifetime.

As for the Hachette books, they're stuck with whatever source material they're given I guess. The budget probably doesn't allow for new scans and repro.

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