Thursday, May 23, 2019

Spark Man: the forgotten pre-Transformer

Today I had the pleasure of seeing a prediction fulfilled. Thanks to a fortuitous conversation with a wonderful collector and person, a mystery has been solved regarding the iconic Shockwave toy.

To keep the background brief, basically the accepted history is that Toyco first manufactured the Astro Magnum figure in Japan in 1983. Hasbro and Tandy licensed the figure as Shockwave and Galactic Man and sold those for a couple of years, and there was a spate of bootlegs in that period coming out of Taiwan.

The original Toyco Astro Magnum

I've previously tried to clean up some of the history regarding Toyco, and in doing so had actually suggested the handover of the toy from Toyco of Japan to Intecs of Korea. Every piece of the puzzle was strewn across the internet, and one of my goals as the writer of this blog was to make the connections from disparate information that others had surfaced and shared, but never systemised.

Firstly, in 2010 Jim Sorenson released scans of, and auctioned Ron Friedman's briefing binder. In it there was a reference to Shockwave as 'Spark Man'. This was presumed to be a discarded moniker for the cartoon character that never made final development. Unfortunately the scans are no longer online as they were saved to Megaupload, but the tfwiki makes reference to it here.

Spark Man was right under our noses this whole time

Secondly, the G1 Shockwave toy states that it was made in Korea by Intecs, Ltd. Note that this figure features 'Toyco Trademark' and '© 1983' stamped on the inside right leg.

Transformers Shockwave (Hasbro, 1984)
Shockwave was made in Korea by Intecs, Ltd. 

Third, Galactic Man is also made in Korea and has the identical stamping 'Toyco Trademark' and '© 1983' on the inside right leg.

Tandy's Galactic Man
Galactic Man was made in Korea

Toyco undated and dated stampings

Finally, the seminal Shockwave variant blog describes a bootleg figure called 'Spark Man'. The image was from an ebay auction, and it was presumed to be bootleg.


In my previous post, I pointed out that this was an Intecs made figure, and having made the connection to Shockwave, speculated that it contained a Toyco stamped figure.

Speculation that Intecs, Ltd. owned the toy and licensed it to Hasbro

Today, that prediction was confirmed.

By pure chance, the actual owner of the Spark Man figure from that very auction, Michael Trujillo, shared his specimen in a Facebook discussion regarding one of the other bootleg figures*. I immediately asked if he could answer some questions, and being an equally curious variant-hunter, he agreed to inspect if from the outside, as he assumed it was tape sealed. In fact, it wasn't sealed, so upon carefully removing the foam tray from the box for the very first time, the truth was revealed...

The figure was a Toyco stamped figure. As I'd predicted, but more importantly, it was an undated figure, meaning it predates both Galactic Man and Shockwave, and is second only to Astro Magnum by lineage. In fact, what this confirms, is that Intecs, Ltd. acquired the rights and the mold from Toyco, brought it over to Korea, and were already manufacturing this toy in Korea as Spark Man before Hasbro struck a deal with Intecs (not Toyco), to add the figure to the Transformers line in late 1984, and as Tandy had done for Galactic Man. Hasbro licensed Spark Man from Intecs, not Astro Magnum from Toyco! This is why Spark Man was in Ron Friedman's briefing binder instead of Astro Magnum. It is most likely that the Hasbro deal required a copyright notice to be added to the toy, (as they had done with Takara - see article for details about copyright notices).

I cannot thank Michael enough for his time and willingness to humor me and I co-credit him for this discovery. And I hope he can find a Spark Man for me!

The spirit of discovery

_ _____________________________________ _

*What was I discussing? Basically, this toy does not have a Toyco stamp (confirmed by the owner and contrary to online documentation), and is actually a KO most similar to '4 Changeable Super Gun'.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sketch - G1 Gears Fanart

Autobot Gears
The Transformers, Hasbro Industries, Inc., 1984

Micro Robot Car 4WD Offroad
Microman Micro Change, Takara Co., Ltd., 1983

Japan 1983 Release

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Bumblejumper Question

One of the fascinating mysteries of the G1 Transformers toyline surrounds the so called 'Bumblejumper' figure that appeared briefly on Cliffjumper cards in 1984.

Micro Change Mazda Familia 1500XG (left)
Transformers 'Bumblejumper' (right)

I'll discuss my thoughts on the figure in the context of my previous entries on toy hallmarks.

'Bumblejumper' is the fandom ascribed name to the G1 appearance of the Micro Change Microrobot Car - Mazda Familia 1500XG. The figure is understood now to have only appeared on Cliffjumper cards in the color yellow, even though the name originated from the misconception that he appeared on Bumblebee and Cliffjumper cards equally. He was only ever a prerub and only came packed on ™ cards in car mode. It is important to note, for reason that become clear in this article, that Bumblejumper only ever appeared with the dated Takara-only copyright notice (stamp) on the underside.

'Bumblejumper' on Cliffjumper card (ASST 5700)

The Micro Change Microrobot Car figures (that originated the original six Transformers Minibots) were first released in Japan in 1983, in two types of packaging:
  • Large 'Coffin' box (1st release)(Bot mode) - where the Mazda came in Red, Yellow and Blue
  • Small box (2nd release)(Car mode) - where the Mazda came in Red and Yellow
I will digress further at this point to state that the Mazda figure was licensed by Hasbro Bradley as 'Sedan' to Estrela, for their Brazilian Transformers 'Robocar' line, that included the original six minibots, with the exception of Huffer who was replaced by Bumblejumper. With this release, it surfaced that a character artwork of the figure in a white color-scheme existed, in the hallmark style of artist Mark Watts, who was responsible for of 1984's minibot artwork. However, Mark has never laid claim to this artwork and it is possible that it is a bespoke piece organised by Estrela itself.

Brazilian Estrela Sedan

The existence of the artwork led to speculation that Bumblejumper was intended for a Hasbro release. Consistent with the G1 artwork for Bumblebee, Bumblejumper's rendition includes the roof sticker from the Micro Change versions of the toy that was not featured on the G1 figures. A possibility is that the artist was given Micro Change references or samples by Hasbro to create artwork from, very early in the development of the product line. Alternatively, as the Sedan artwork does not allow any room for inclusion of the Autobot insignia, and all of Mark's art feature this, this piece may well have not been produced at Hasbro's direction, and thus was never intended for inclusion in the G1 toyline, and is in fact an original Estrela piece.

If the figure was planned for inclusion in the toyline, it appears to have never made it further than a consideration at worst and an artwork at best. Hasbro obviously had the option to select the figure from the Micro Change catalog, however, by the time the toyline was unveiled at the 1984 Toy Fair, six figures has been decided upon - Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, Huffer, Gears, Brawn and Windcharger - and they were to appear four apiece in the 5700 assortment case containing 24 figures. This left no room nor need for a seventh figure. Perhaps the figure was too similar to Cliffjumper to be worth developing further as a catalog figure at that price point, and thus his characterization was never fully developed or committed to the comic and cartoon canon (which were marketing tools to sell the toys). Instead, Hasbro gave the impression of a larger minibot line by simply including red and yellow variants of both Bee and Cliff, which would have been two apiece per case. These ratios were maintained in the 5709 assortment that introduced rubsigns and minispy companions.

Hasbro Toy Fair Catalog 1984

The next question is how did the figure end up on Cliffjumper cards in 1984? Some hypotheses suggest that it was Takara overstock from the Micro Change line. There are several reasons why I don't agree with this. Firstly, the Micro Change figure is a different color plastic from the G1. Secondly, the Micro Change figure is circle stamped ('TAKARA JAPAN'), and there are no circle stamped Bumblejumpers in existence. It can't be overstock if it features the copyright stamp that Hasbro instructed Takara to add to the toy (I will get to this). Thirdly, Takara didn't produce surplus figures just to sit on them until a partner came along. Once made, they were out of the factory door. George Dunsay recalled, "Remember, we originally were limited to Takara's original, complete tooling. There was no Takara overstock. The line became so hot they diverted some of their domestic production for us." That is to say, production time, not product. Hasbro found themselves with 100 million dollars of preorders by March 1984 and only forecast to meet 75 to 80 percent of that by the end of the year. Therefore Takara was under the proverbial gun to fulfil their contract and put Hasbro product as top priority.

Micro Change Mazda Familia 1500XG (left)
Transformers 'Bumblejumper' (right)

It is precisely the diversion of time that leads me to my answer.

When Hasbro struck The Agreement with Takara, one of the stipulations was that Takara was to update the existing products with manufacturer notations as Hasbro saw fit. In the course of modifying the toys to meet Hasbro's specifications, Takara designed new molds that contained a copyright notice; at the same time, it added a copyright notice to its old molds. Takara had never used these for their domestic product. They used a maker's mark but not a copyright notice. However, we find almost all of 1984's G1 line-up to have specimens with only the maker's mark and no copyright notice, which are accepted to be the earliest G1 releases. This is where if we understand that Takara diverted their own domestic production to meet Hasbro's demand, then they began fulfilling Hasbro orders before they had the opportunity to update the existing toy molds.

This is why we have 'Diaclone' or 'Micro Change' stamped toys with no copyright notice. Hence, we find all six initial prerub Minibots in the 5700 assortment with a maker's mark or circle stamp. And then later, the same six prerubs with a dated Takara-only copyright stamp, in the same assortment.

However Bumblejumper only ever has the dated Takara-only copyright stamp.

My conclusion is, when all the injection molds were swept up for retooling to add the copyright stamp, the Micro Change Mazda mold was one of them. Takara was under time pressure to keep the production lines chugging and mistakes were made in the hustle and bustle. And what happened to any mold after it was retooled? Obviously they went back to the production line to be used to produce more toys. The Mazda mold itself ended up on the factory floor, being injected with yellow and black plastic in order to make... yellow Cliffjumpers! I firmly believe that the mold was mistaken for Cliffjumper and tossed into the production line for a short period, churning out Mazda figures that ended up in Cliffjumper packaging. And, it was the copyright stamp retooling event that caused the Mazda mold to enter production. This is further supported by the fact that Bumblejumper wears the same rear sticker that belongs to Cliffjumper. 

Bumblejumper sports Cliff's rear sticker, not Bee's.

It was obviously a mistake that was detected and rectified, because Cliffjumper was packed correctly ever since, including immediately after Bumblejumper's limited appearance, as the prerub dated Takara-only stamped Cliffjumpers that only appeared in that assortment. However one can only guess at what stage the error was discovered - during parts harvesting, assembly, or packaging. The error was deemed acceptable enough to pass QC, eventually reaching retail display racks to delight, confuse and fascinate fans and collectors for the next three decades.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

File Notes - Astro Magnum, Shockwave, Patent, Design Registration

It's been almost a year since I last contributed to the blog. I'd only recently acquired an original Toyco Astro Magnum, and I felt the need to revisit its origins again.

I've been largely obsessed with finding the patent for the toy, but so far it has been a fruitless investigation. On the back of the packaging there is 意匠登録 58-037528 which is a 'design registration' number.

The Japan Platform for Patent Information allows a search of the design number. Punching in the details, we return that in Showa 58 (1983), a design application was made with the Japan Patent Office (JPO).

I'm still hoping to track down the actual patent and schematics. The search continues...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Quick Look - Commemorative Series I Reissue Optimus Prime Prototype Prize

I saw this go under the radar on auction in August 2017, under title:
 アメリカ版 試作 景品用 コンボイ オプティマス
(American version prototype for prize Convoy Optimus)

My gut feel was that it was a legitimate prototype/prize figure. I've read previously about similar items - clear plastic versions of reissue figures, and vacuum metallized reissue Seekers - that either served as test-shots (for inspection, fault-finding) or created for promotional prize draws, (or utilised ultimately for both purposes). Read about them here, herehere and here. When it comes to purpose, hearsay is involved, but there is definite, albeit scattered documentation of these types of figures themselves, and they appear to be truly scarce, which actually supports legitimacy (as in not mass produced counterfeits). At the very worst, this is a 'lunchtime special', a clandestine product borne outside official factory hours. At best, this an extremely rare and possibly unique prototype figure that received some extra preparation - custom decal application, additional accessories - in order to be offered as a prize figure

This item was auctioned by the same seller sharbicc who had sold what appear to be contemporary prototypes nearly 10 years ago. Many other signs pointed to it being a legitimate reissue figure, that is it has all the hallmarks of an official reissue Optimus Prime, from the unique wheel pins, bumper moldings and sticker cut, down to the part stamping, and none of the hallmarks of a KO figure (which all are based on a T2/#3 French or Japanese Prime). Also there are no short-stacked counterfeits on the market, so I jumped. Fortunately, nobody else bid and I got it for a song.

The figure comes in Hasbro Commemorative Series 1 packaging. The mass retail figure was released in 2002.

Opening up the clamshell, you can see that it is the US version cab, with the shortened smoke-stacks for safety. The cab forgoes the die-cast chassis and leg parts, replaced with plastic. The cab is almost entirely a translucent amber plastic. The typically chrome parts remain - wheels, stacks, grill. The trailer is rendered in standard grey plastic, and the amber plastic replaces all the trailer parts that are normally blue. Across the cab and trailer is a glossy chrome sticker trim. Tyres are standard black rubber.

Zooming in a little, one can see the Autobot logo on the trailer has been hand-cut and placed on top of the chrome decal. Roller is a clear plastic, and the standard rifle is amber.

Taking a look at the baggie, we have clear plastic wheels for Roller, clear missiles, gas pump and nozzle. There is also a clear bloated rifle and an amber matrix, which were included with the Japanese release 2002 New Year Special Convoy. The hose is a regular black flexible plastic. What is interesting is that a set of 4 black 'safety' missiles are included, which are the longer version exclusive to the US release. This would allow the prototype figure to be potentially offered to different markets, but perhaps the parts considered less safe would have been removed if the figure was used as a prize in the US. Let me tell you, the trailer launcher is absolutely nerfed - there is no spring installed in the launcher at all.

What else was included? The sticker sheet that originated with the 15th Anniversary Convoy of 2000, and a US instruction sheet. I believe this is the standard set-up for the Commemorative Reissue of 2002. I haven't actually owned one until now!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

File Notes - Astro Magnum, Toyco, Intecs, Shockwave, Galactic Man

Many websites that discuss Shockwave's origins state that the original manufacturer, Toyco was and still is a Korean company, and infer that Shockwave is notable for being somewhat of a 'Korean' Transformer, often due to the fact that there is a Toyco Korea website in existence today. It is true that Shockwave was manufactured in Korea for the Hasbro toyline, among others, however we will explore the history of the toy in more detail here.

In fact, the Toyco in question was and still is a Japanese company. This is the actual website

Toyco was established in Tokyo, November 20, 1981 and its operations are the business planning, manufacturing and sale of boy's toys. A bit of Trivia, though the head office address has changed several times, Toyco is still located in Tokyo, and has maintained the same telephone number until today, as per the original Astro Magnum packaging of 1983.

The original Astro Magnum clearly shows a Toyco head office address in Tokyo on the packaging, and both the original 'laser gun' packed version, and the latter 'robot' packed version were manufactured in Japan (as per the box and stamping on the battery cover). The trademark is of course, unmistakable.

The Astro Magnum toys were manufactured in Japan and distributed by Toyco. The original realease bore a maker's mark, 'Toyco', with no copyright notice.

The figure was then licensed to other parties. As we know, Shockwave was initially released to western markets as a Transformer by Hasbro prior to Christmas 1984, and was part of the Japanese toyline in 1985. Radio Shack, a subsidiary of Tandy, also released a version known as Galactic Man at roughly the same time internationally through its network of stores. When the figures were licensed to Hasbro and Tandy, (as well as other US toy companies), it appears that manufacture was off-shored to Seoul, to a manufacturing partner called Intecs, Ltd.. Both Shockwave and Galactic Man are stamped 'Toyco, © 1983' and 'MADE IN KOREA', and there are references to being made in Korea on the packaging and papers included. However only on the back of G1 Shockwave is it clear that the manufacturing partner Intecs, Ltd..

I can only surmise that the manufacturing was moved to Korea for reasons of production capacity or economics. No doubt the contracts with American companies called for high volume at low cost. It is typical that copyrights are sought for legal reasons when a figure is planned to be distributed outside of Japan. Domestic release toys often featured a maker's mark but not a copyright notice. So it's apparent to me that the appearance of the copyright notice on the toy indicates the involvement of non-Japanese market companies. 

It becomes unclear at this point, who is the licensor to Hasbro and Radio Shack (*see next paragraph), as while Toyco is responsible for the design and manufacture of the original toy, and have acknowledged it here in a roundabout way, there are questions as to what parties have rights to produce and market the toy today, even if the mold's whereabouts were known. Paperwork only refers to Intecs and never Toyco, but Toyco remains the maker's mark on the figures. (Fast forward to today - Hasbro of course would have strong interests in the intellectual property and likeness of Shockwave, though it does not have exclusive rights to the Toyco-G1 toy itself. Hasbro/Takara continues to make toys in the likeness of Shockwave today. And of course the mold appears to be missing.) 

*There is a little know variant that has been described (possibly erroneously) as a knock-off called '4 Changeable Spark Man'. It looks like an off-brand Galactic Man, however like G1 Shockwave, it bears the Intecs mark on the packaging, '­© 1983 Intecs Ltd.' and is made in Korea. It also features the Japanese patent registration number as seen on the original Toyco Astro Magnum, as well as patent pending application numbers for other regions: UK/HK, Taiwan, Korea, and USA. (These are not searchable today in patent databases as they are not the the same as the published patent numbers.) This is the key detail that suggests the figure may be a legitimate figure. I believe if I were to find a specimen, it would be a Toyco marked figure. It looks identical to Galactic Man, and has the same foam packaging. It appears that Intecs may have (a) registered copyright on the mold (as a good partner), or (b) was acting as a licensor and/or supplying the figure in grey-market off-brand packaging, (c) actually legally acquired the rights from Toyco to license the figure and was the primary licensor for all figures produced in Korea (being Shockwave and Galactic Man.)

A further knock-off figure called 'Electronic Magnum' looks to have been copyrighted in 1984 by an American entity called S.R. Mickelberg Co., Inc. in PA, USA, who owned the Royal Condor trademark from 1981 to 2005. It appears to be identical to the Spark Man figure, down to the foam and packaging format.

This may offer a clue into the ambiguity of ownership. Several parties appear to have asserted their rights to the toy. Unfortunately I can not confirm anything until I hold specimens in my hands and perform detailed mold analysis to determine lineage.

During the 80s Japanese toy companies generally made toys in Japan, for Japan. The Takara-developed Transformer toys were all initially made in Japan, and in accordance with the operational and financial realities of distributing the toyline internationally in partnership with Hasbro, certain toys were produced in countries such as Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Macau, France, and eventually predominantly in China and recently Vietnam. The idea that Toyco is Korean seems to be the result of flawed deduction supported (understandably) by a single piece of erroneous data - the website. 

However, what often isn't discussed is the manufacturing partners that are often responsible for mold tooling and/or manufacture, done on behalf of the toy designer. This adds complexity to understanding the history of some figures. The figure known as G1 Jetfire is one such example, conceived by the legendary Shoji Kawamori and first sold by Takatoku Toys in Japan as the Macross 1/55 Valkyrie, the figure was actually designed, and manufactured by Matsushiro (patented by Yukimitsu Matsushiro in 1984). The Toybox Mechabot-1 figure and its Hasbro-licensed G1 Omega Supreme, were actually designed and manufactured by Tomy on Toybox's behalf. This only became apparent when after Takara-Tomy's merger in the mid 2000s, it was discovered Tomy still had the molds for Omega Supreme and Sky Lynx.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sketch - G1 Wheeljack Fanart

Autobot Engineer Wheeljack
The Transformers, Hasbro Industries, Inc., 1984

Car Robot Lancia Stratos Turbo

Diaclone Real & Robo Series, Takara Co., Ltd., 1982

Italy 1985 Release