Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Hasbro -- Throwin' Elbows

Fan subcultures, by their very nature, are outlaw cultures.  Fans will come up with artwork inspired by their favorites, or stories, or anything really, all the while skirting copyright and trademark law.  I would say Star Trek was where it first really caught fire, simply because I can't think of anything that inspired the output it did before.  Companies found themselves straddling a very difficult fence between protecting their IP and not honking off the fans that were throwing money at them.

Some, like Paramount with Star Trek, simply wink a blind eye at the fandom.  "Oh, you aren't supposed to do that, you naughty boys!" is the official line, but as long as no one gets too out of line (for example, turning a profit on it), they are content to let everyone live their fantasies of participating in the mythology.  Others get a bit more territorial.  George Lucas, in particular, was one of the first to attempt to co-opt the outlaw culture of fandom.  Lucas will let you make Star Wars fan films, but he has to approve them.  Now, he approves them, you get a seal of approval that will make you the envy of other Star Wars geeks.  But if not, and if you make your presence too prominent, he will sic his lawyers on you (which has happened).  Others are just overly aggressive, like Warner Bros. stopping MuggleNet from selling MuggleNet T-shirts because of their rights to the Harry Potter movies.

Every year, Hasbro has something called BotCon.  It is their official Transformers convention, and their attempt to co-opt the outlaw culture nature of fan conventions.  And every year, people who find this stuff fascinating head down to get their collective geek on.

Hasbro, however, has also found itself in the middle of fan disinterest.  Keep in mind, I'm not a Transformers fan (haven't been since I was a kid, and any time I see the letters TF, I think Team Fortress.  I am so not the target audience), so the level of attention to detail this is inspiring kind of catches me by surprise.  Apparently, fans have had some reservations with the newest Transformers toys, saying they aren't well designed or whatever.  Thanks to resin molding, several people have been making Transformers accessories, such as new heads for the bots to better resemble their cartoon counterparts, or weapons more in line with other media, or whatever.  Hasbro initially didn't mind this, as you still needed to buy the actual Transformer from them to get any practical use out of the stuff.  Same with the fan art.  And Hasbro would let indie artists and third partiers into BotCon to do their stuff.

Things took another turn when another fan collective started making Transformers based on versions that appeared in the comics, like a steampunk Optimus Prime or the Shockwave that turns into a battleship.  Others made things like a Soundwave that was an MP3 player.  Hasbro may not have been thrilled, but didn't really do anything, either.

Apparently, that all changed with some fan collective calling itself TFC.  TFC did not like the Devastator robot released awhile ago.  The robot was fairly small, considering it is made up of six other robots merging together, and didn't transform into anything.  Basically, it was a giant action figure.  So this group decided to come up with its own robot that would be made of six smaller robots and with just enough details changed to dodge any legal bullets while being close enough for the die hards to have their dream toy.

So here, on the right, is Hercules.  They take pains to point out it is NOT Devastator.  Uh-huh.  I remember Devastator from the cartoons (my interest in Transformers started dropping about the time of the "many robots form one big one" because I found it too outlandish.  I know, I know, I know, don't say it....), and this is pretty much dead solid perfect.  This...thing you see here is fifteen inches tall when assembled, is articulated, breaks down into his component robots, and generally makes TF geeks wet themselves.  Oh, each individual robot costs $100 each, so start saving for Christmas now.

Hasbro tolerated the other stuff, but this, apparently, is going over the line.  Hasbro has now officially banned any indie artist or third party TF makers from BotCon.  The only ones with a pass are people who have ever done official Transformers stuff (box art, worked on the comics, web design, that sort of thing).  This effectively kneecaps 90% of the people plying their trade at BotCon.

Naturally, there are all kinds of "You'll be sorry!" statements on the web, saying that the fans won't have as much opportunity to buy stuff at the show.  PROTIP:  when someone is banned from selling their stuff on the show floor, that usually means you can buy it from them at their hotel room once the show floor is closed for the day (and trust me, you'll also be able to find it on eBay).  Hasbro isn't really doing much more than determining who has their stamp of approval and who needs to jump through hoops to get their stuff out.

Can Hasbro do this?  Sure.  It's their property.  As I've pointed out in my articles on fan games and fan tributes, just because they give some people a pass doesn't mean everyone gets a pass, and if they say "STOP THAT SHIT!", the only response you have is, "Sir!  Yes, sir!"

Should they have done it?

I don't know.

I understand the fan desire for the really cool shit, and if I was into Transformers, I think I would be salivating over the Hercules.  At the same time, though, this is an almost insane amount of effort put into a fan item.  This isn't something obscure like a Transformer based on something that appeared in one issue of the comic.  This is a full blown "FUCK YOU" at Hasbro, basically saying, "THIS is how it should be done!"  (It reminds me of Air Pirates Funnies, a comic that basically was made to piss off Disney and set back the legalities of satirical intent and Fair Use by decades.  A lot of underground cartoonists hate the APF crew for making it harder for them to do their thing.)  And we already know Hasbro isn't quite sure how to deal with non-official venues, as their handling of MLP-FiM voice actresses attending brony conventions shows.

There's an old Polish proverb that says, "When waking the tiger, use a long stick."  I think the Hercules just made it that much tougher for genuine fans who just wanted to do something cool with this mythology they love so much to be a part of it, however tangential.  A lot of companies have been trying to embrace the fans.  Things like this push the pendulum back way too hard.
Tags: art, comic books, comics, don't say i didn't warn you, fandom wank, haven't we suffered enough, important life lessons, infernal gall
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