For a long time (long, long after I became an artsy-fartsy comic dude) I held onto the dream of doing The Best Transformers Comic Book Ever. It's hard to say why such a thing would matter. I think it has something to do with seeing the icons of your childhood constantly being raped before your eyes and wanting to right that injustice somehow. But the whole thing is really a lost cause. I am totally, totally through with the dream of taking a franchise and "doing it right". So, no, there will be no Transformers graphic novel from me at any point in the future. Sorry. Doing this one page was enough for me. I'm not saying I won't do another comic with giant robots in it, but if I do it'll be some kind of weird thing that could only have come from my brain.
So what I'm gonna' do here is switch gears for the next few posts and talk about giant robots. That's right, the month of May is GIANT ROBOT month! This is a massive post so keep reading if you want to get into some hardcore nerd shit!
The Super Robot genre is something that has only been lightly touched on in the US. What I'm going to do is provide a history of the genre, showing how it led to the Transformers and focusing on it's place within comics, which is where the genre originated. After that I'll do posts discussing the meaning of existence or something.
There are all kinds precedents of giant robots in popular culture dating back to ancient times- some of which I'll get to later. But the Super Robot genre as we know it belongs to Japan. Still, it's worth noting that giant robots were a staple of the US pulps from the 30's and 40's. Here's a very Transformers-esque giant robot from Amazing Stories.
Giant robots started appearing in Japanese manga around the same time. Readers of Manga! Manga! might be familiar with this image: The Science Warrior Appears in New York by Ruichi Yokoyama, dated 1943.
Like every other manga genre, the Super Robot genre really began with Osamu Tezuka, in this case within the pages of Astro Boy. In fact, in the 1957 story Crucifix Island Tezuka provides an origin for transforming robots. Here it is (sorry about the blurriness of some of the scans):
In the 1960 story Space Snow Leopard Tezuka gives an origin to another staple of the Super Robot genre; the combining (or gestalt) robot. This eventually led to robots like Voltron. Like many of his ideas, the inspiration came from nature.
Another Astro Boy story worth mentioning is The Greatest Robot on Earth from 1964, which is probably one of the greatest robot stories on earth. It was the inspiration for Naoki Urasawa's critically acclaimed Pluto (personally, I vastly prefer Tezuka's original story). Those of you who have read Pluto and NOT read the Tezuka version need to correct that mistake immediately. The opening spread promises a tale of epic proportions.
In 1965 Tezuka went on to create his own transforming giant robot hero; Ambassador Magma.