Transformers: A Visual History – Is This A History Worthy of the The Thirteen Primes?
Is Transformers: A Visual History a collection worthy of sitting next to the Matrix of Leadership on your bookshelf, or does it belong in a scrapheap?
Since debuting in 1984, Transformers has been a worldwide phenomenon, expanding from a simple transforming-vehicle-toy-line to every form of media imaginable, including animated shows, comics, and live-action movies.
As Optimus Prime, Megatron, and their vast legions of transforming warriors have lasted for 35 years across these mediums, it’s no surprise that the franchise has experimented with and portrayed their characters in various art styles, from the boxy, chrome appearance of the G1-era, to the realistic-animal-skin-clad of the Beast Wars-era, to the overly-designed and detailed designs found in Michael Bay’s film franchise.
Thanks to a new release from Viz, the history and evolution of Transformers art styles across the years has been compiled into a new collection, Transformers: A Visual History, in a collection that is far from complete, but truly showcases the various designs and artworks across the Transformers franchise.
Collected and arranged by IDW author and long-time Transformers fan Jim Sorenson, the collection is a labor of love by Sorenson, whose goal is to “sketch out some of the most iconic, representative, and just plain gorgeous pieces from the thirty-five-year history of the brand.”
Divided into five mediums, the book explores artworks related to ‘Packaging,’ ‘Comics,’ ‘Animation,’ ‘Video Games,’ and ‘Movies’ (with small, additional sections for ‘Homage,’ ‘Crossovers,’ and ‘Miscellania’).
Though primarily a visual collection, each section features a small introduction by Sorenson that summarizes the history of Transformers in a particular medium. These introductions are welcome additions, giving some insight into the design and creative process that went into various productions (the introduction to the ‘Comics’ section is a particularly interesting read, detailing the rise of the Marvel Comics lines and the licenses’ eventual shift to IDW).
Additional comments are included throughout the collection by featured artists, but they are few and far between, which is a shame in a collection that explores design processes and styles.
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As noted by Sorenson, this collection is not meant to be an all-encompassing archive of Transformers artwork, but rather a curated look at pieces that best represent the philosophies and aesthetics of a given era; this means hardcore fans should prepare to realize that some of their favorite pieces may be absent from the book (for the reviewer, the absence of the artworks of the original Optimus Prime-Bat and Megatron-Alligator from the launch of the Beast Wars line was a particular point of disappointment).
However, the pieces that are included are treated with respect and truly exemplify the various design philosophies of the series. The book is printed on high-quality paper which features a gloss on the character artwork, allowing for the characters to stand out and display the quality of the artwork against the blank white pages. The colors of the pieces are reproduced faithfully and allow for each piece to be appreciated in its original style; this is particularly notable in the ‘Comics’ section as Sorenson explores the action-filled pages of the 1980s Marvel and Marvel UK series.
The included pieces allow the reader to see the stark contrasts between certain incarnations of the Autobots and Decepticons; for example, while the packaging art for Transformers: Prime is more sleek and metallic, the packaging for the Beast Wars 10th Anniversary line tries to find a middle ground between photorealistic animals and traditional toy designs.
Regarding subjects covered, Transformers: A Visual History is unabashedly expansive. While the book obviously collects official toy line packaging and concept art from the Michael Bay films, it also reaches into the more obscure corners of the franchise to display the wide range of styles the Transformers have been depicted in.
Included in the book are unused color variations for Transformers: Energon figures, interior art from a 1986 Japanese television magazine, original G1 design documents, loading screens from the Transformer: Earth Wars mobile game, storyboards for Transformers: Age of Extinction and even artwork from Angry Birds: Transformers; a metaphorical treasure trove of Transformers artwork.
Transformers: A Visual History was clearly crafted with care and the intent to explore the evolution of art styles across the history of the world’s most popular favorite transforming robot franchise. The artwork, though far from a complete archive, is presented faithfully and in high-quality and overturns obscure corners of the franchise to provide readers with a more complete history. Sorenson’s introductions are very interesting and informative, but the lack of further and deeper commentary throughout the book is a small let down. Ultimately, Transformers: A Visual History belongs on the shelf of any Transformers fan, particularly those fascinated by the differences in design of each incarnation of the Energon–powered space warriors.
A review copy of this book was provided by Viz Media.