20th Century Toy Collector

Transform and Roll Out!

My MB Autobot Cars Collection

Of all the vintage toy lines that I collect Transformers are without a doubt my favourite. My primary focus is trying to complete my collection of Transformers that were released in continental Europe in 1985 by MB. Of all the subgroups of Transformers that were released, the Autobot cars have a special place in my heart. MB released a total of nine Autobot cars in 1985 in Europe and it took me a lot of time, money and energy to acquire these nine in their original packaging. It took me almost 5 years, around €2,000 and I don’t even want to know how many man hours! But seeing these awesome vintage pieces in my collection brings a smile to my face daily. No matter what. Check them out:


Transformers – Autobot cars (MB) 1985 / Europe

I made this photo of my collection last weekend and went to town with Photoshop and added some grainy noise to the photo to make everything look like an old magazine print ad. :-)

“In the Beginning There was Diaclone”

What’s so cool about these MB Autobot cars is that they were originally Diaclone robots. Diaclone is the name of a Japanese toy line that most of the early G1 Transformers were based on, before Hasbro snapped them up. In Europe a French company called Ceji released these Diaclones in 1984 under their Joustra subsidiary. By 1985 Ceji was presumably in financial difficulties and Hasbro/MB bought their remaining stock of Diaclones and rebranded them as Transformers and released them in France, West-Germany, the Benelux, Spain (and possibly also Switzerland). More information on this interesting piece of toy history here.


Joustra Diaclones

I’ll be writing in-depth articles on all nine of these MB Autobot cars in the near future, but for now let’s have a quick look at all of them, shall we? Autobot roll call time!!!!


Autobot strategist Trailbreaker. Transforms into a 1979 black Toyota Hi-Lux 4WD with cab. In the cartoon he is most remembered for using his awesome force field! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Toyota 4×4″. What a beautiful toy!


Transformers – Trailbreaker (MB) 1985 / Europe


Autobot medic Ratchet. Transforms into an early 1980′s Nissan Onebox Ambulance Vanette. In the cartoon Ratchet was the resident medic that could fix any injury that his Autobot brethren would sustain. This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Ambulance”.


Transformers – Ratchet (MB) 1985 / Europe


Autobot spy Mirage. Transforms into a Ligier JS-11 F-1 racing car! In the cartoon Mirage’s speciality was making himself invisible for a limited amount of time, which can come in quite handy when you’re a spy! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Ligier”.


Transformers – Mirage (MB) 1985 / Europe


Autobot agent Jazz. Transforms into a 1981 Porsche 935 Turbo. In the cartoon Jazz was known for his love of music and gettin’ down, yeah! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Porsche 935″. For some reason this is by far the rarest of all the MB Autobot cars ever released. If you ever find one, do not hesitate to snap it up. Literally worth its weight in gold!


Transformers – Jazz (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Red Tracks”

Autobot warrior Tracks. Transforms into a 1980 Chevrolette Corvette. In the cartoon Tracks was known for being vain, and well… who could blame him. He looks awesome! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Corvette” and that also explains why this MB version of Tracks is red instead of the regular old blue Tracks! One of the most well known colour variations in G1 Transformers collecting and absolutely the number one most popular (and highly expensive!) item of the whole MB Transformers line. Red Tracks’s vanity would not have it any other way!


Transformers – Red Tracks (MB) 1985 / Europe


Autobot warrior Sideswipe, erm, Sunstreaker, no wait…. What’s this? Well, it’s a Sunstreaker inside Sideswipe packaging! It’s still not clear how this mistake happened, but it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that MB actually sold Sunstreakers inside Sideswipe packaging! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Countach”. It is one of the many packaging/variant mistakes that MB made in the very early days of Transformers in Europe and it’s the most outrageous one if you ask me. More about this weird packaging mistake in an article I wrote here.


Transformers – Sunswipe (MB) 1985 / Europe


Autobot engineer Wheeljack. Transforms into a 1975 Lancia Stratos Turbo #539. Wheeljack is fondly remembered for being the crazy inventor scientist among the Autobot ranks. This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Lancia Stratos”.


Transformers – Wheeljack (MB) 1985 / Europe


Autobot strategist Prowl. Transforms into a 1979 Datsun Fairlady 280ZX Police Cruiser. Prowl is generally considered to be the second in charge after Optimus Prime during the early G1 days. This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Fairlady Police”.


Transformers – Prowl (MB) 1985 / Europe


Autobot scout Hound. Transforms into a Mitsubishi J59 Jeep. Hound’s function as scout was portrayed often in the early episodes of the cartoon along with this hologram gun. This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Jeep”.


Transformers – Hound (MB) 1985 / Europe

I feel all giddy inside whenever I look at these nine MB Autobot cars in my collection. They hold such sentimental value to me and their historic significance in the very early years of Transformers in Europe is really the icing on the cake. Good times!

And with this nice little round up out of the way, join me soon for an in-depth look at MB’s Trailbreaker. Thanks for reading and see you back soon!

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,MB Transformers,Transformers and has Comments (5)

David B. Mattingly interview (Blackstar artwork)

Today’s post is rather special to me. I’ve often expressed my fondness for the amazing artwork that is featured on 1980′s toy packaging. Looking back at the years ever since there is no doubt in my mind that toy packaging from the 1980′s was the coolest ever created! One of my absolute favourites of the era are those that were created for Galoob’s Blackstar toy line in 1983. I managed to track down the talented artist who was responsible for the amazing Blackstar artwork. His name is David B. Mattingly and it turns out he’s a really nice guy! He was so kind to grant me the honour of doing a short interview, which I will proudly share with you today.


“The Job of the Artist Is Always to Deepen the Mystery.”

The quote above is by artist Francis Bacon. It is a quote that is part of David’s email signature and I guess there are several ways you could interpret that quote. I cannot help but notice that this is exactly what the artwork on the Blackstar packaging does for me. It evokes a feeling of wonder and mystery within me that I find fascinating. It fleshes out the mysterious and mythical world of Blackstar and leaves enough room for your imagination to fill in the gaps. There is an almost magical quality to it.


Trobbit Wind Machine artwork – David B. Mattingly

I had wondered for a while who had done the amazing artwork on the Ice Castle and Blackstar Space Ship, because there was no signature anywhere on the packaging. However when I finally recently acquired a mint-in-box Trobbit Wind Machine for my collection I spotted David’s signature on the packaging and that’s when I finally had a name! After a quick Google search I had managed to get in touch with David. We had a pleasant email conversation and shortly after that he agreed to do a small interview! Here it is:


20TC: Your mentor was the talented Jack Leynnwood. How did you meet him and what was it like to work with him?

David: I wouldn’t describe Jack as my mentor–he was an excellent teacher at Art Center College of Design, and I had one class with him.  I don’t remember exactly what the class was, but he was famous for his facility with gouache paint, and that is what he painted all of his model box covers with. He had an amazing ability to paint clouds in gauche, and I remember his demonstrations were mind blowing–everyone was trying to copy what he did, but with mixed results. I still like to paint in gouache when I do physical painting.  Most people aren’t familiar with the medium, but it is a finely ground tempera, and can be handled both opaquely, and like watercolor.For the record, the man I consider to be my “mentor” is Harrison Ellenshaw, my boss at Walt Disney studios.  He probably did more than anyone else to mold me as an artist.


Blackstar Space Ship artwork – David B. Mattingly

20TC: For which Blackstar toys did you do the art work?

David: I did the flyers, the balloon (The Trobbit Wind Machine -20TC), the castle (The Ice Castle -20TC) and the main logo that was used for the action figures. (David also did the Blackstar Space Ship -20TC)

20TC: How were you approached to do the art work for Galoob’s Blackstar toy line?

David: It’s kind of a funny story.  I was called out of the blue by them, and I went in to talk to them.  Sadly, the names of the designers I met with are lost in the mists of my memory.  They had a short deadline on the project, and asked if I could paint like Boris Vallejo.  I love Boris’s work, but I don’t think my work resembles it much.  I had Boris’s telephone number, so I gave it to them, and suggested they call him.  I went away, and figured I had talked myself out of the job. A day later, they called me back and said they wanted me to do it, in my style.  I guess Boris was too busy, or couldn’t make the short deadline, so I agreed to do it. I worked really hard to meet their deadline, and that’s about all I can remember about the project.


Ice Castle artwork – David B. Mattingly

20TC: Can you tell us a little bit about the actual process of creating the various art works? E.g. what did you have to go by when creating the artwork? Was it the actual toys themselves and did the cartoon influence you at all? And how long did it take you to create the various works?

David: I was unfamiliar with the cartoon when I got the job, and I think I did see a couple of the shows.  This was before I owned a VCR if memory serves.  I got print outs of the animation, and they also gave me 2 resin maquettes of the dwarfs to use as reference, and I have kept them over the years. I’ll attach a photo of them in a follow up e-mail.  I figured they must be valuable, since they are one of a kind.  I think this is what the designers got from the manufacturer for approval, and they are unpainted.



Blackstar Trobbits – preproduction maquettes

20TC: What happened to the original paintings? Do you own them or does (the current owner of) Galoob?

David: To be frank, I don’t know what happened to the paintings. I think Galoob bought them, but I don’t own them any more.


The Digital Matte Painting Handbook – David B. Mattingly

20TC: What are you up to these days and what plans do you have for the future?

David: I continue to do book covers–I’ve now done several thousand covers over the course of my career. I also teach digital matte painting at School of Visual Arts and Pratt Institute in Manhattan, New York. I am the author of a how to book on digital matte painting, called “The Digital Matte Painting Handbook”, available on Amazon, or through the web site for the book:

I also do training videos on Lynda.com on digital matte painting.  I have a new series that just went up, called “The Essentials of Digital Matte Painting”.  Here is a link to it.

You can look at the first couple of them for free.

Thanks for your interest!  It was a fun project.


I hope you enjoyed this short interview with David as it has given us some nice little insights into how his work for Galoob came to be. I can heartily recommend checking out The Digital Matte Painting Handbook if you are even remotely interested in the art of matte paintings, and while you’re at it check out the first free chapters at Lynda.com of his “The Essentials of Digital Matte Painting” !!

My sincerest thanks to David for the opportunity and his time to do this interview!

“More Blackstar”

I will be doing an article on the Trobbit Wind Machine in the near future. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in reading about the wonderful Ice Castle (and see some more photos of David’s artwork for the Ice Castle packaging) you can check out post number 97. Have a great weekend!


posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Blackstar and has Comments (10)

MB Laserbeak revisited

Waaaaaaay back in the early mists of time (in the year 2009) I dedicated my first post on this site to one of my favourite items in my G1 Transformers collection: MB’s Laserbeak! Since then lots of new information has been discovered about the early European Transformers releases, which this particular Laserbeak is a part of. Reason enough to warrant a new blog post dedicated to the old bird, I thought. Let’s have a more in-depth look at MB’s Laserbeak!!


Transformers – Laserbeak (MB) 1985 / Europe

“The Laser Beak”

Laserbeak is one of several cassettes that were created for the evil Decepticon Soundwave. The idea was pure Japanese genius. Have a robot transform into a cassette player and then, to top that off, create smaller robots that change into cassettes that fit into the aforementioned cassette player!


Soundwave & Buzzsaw (1985) MB Transformers trade catalog

The name Laserbeak is -of course- a rather clever play on the term “laser beam”. The name was thought up by Marvel Comics writer Bob Budiansky, who was also responsible for writing the cool Transformers bio’s for most of the tech spec cards in the early days and almost every frickin’ other Transformers name there was in the first few years!


The talented Mr. Budiansky [1]

“1985: More Than Meets The Eye!”

Before we continue, I’d like to introduce a little context now. There’s an interesting back story to the introduction of Transformers in continental Europe and this particular Laserbeak release is inextricably part of this story. In short, the story goes like this: Transformers were originally invented by a Japanese toy manufacturer called Takara. And they were not called “Transformers”, but “Diaclone” and “MicroChange”. In 1983 Hasbro bought the rights from Takara to release these toys in its home markets. After a very successful introduction in 1984 in Hasbro’s primary markets (USA, Canada and UK)  it was time to introduce the Transformers toy line in Europe[2]. This occurred in the fall of 1985 and in most European countries the introduction of the toy line was handled by Hasbro’s newly acquired subsidiary MB (Milton Bradley), well known manufacturer of puzzles and board games. Due to licensing issues a lot of well known, early Transformers were not available to MB so a limited line up was released at first, which we can retrospectively refer to as “wave 1″. It consisted mostly of 1985 Transformers [3], which were free of licensing issues. Lots of 1984 Transformers like Optimus Prime, Starscream, most Autobot cars and many more were unavailable to MB. Here’s a list of all the Transformers that MB initially only planned to release (i.e. “wave 1″):


Transformers – wave 1 (MB) 1985

Somewhere during 1985 the aforementioned licensing issues were ironed out and MB obtained the European rights to release these 1984 Transformers after all. Ironically enough these “older” Transformers were released as what we now can refer to as “wave 2″. Laserbeak is part of this second wave as you can see in the list below:


Transformers – wave 2 (MB) 1985

These licensing issues were all due to the fact that a French toy company called Ceji had also negotiated a deal with Takara in 1983 to market these transforming robots in their respective markets, which was a significant chunk of Europe (France, West-Germany, the Benelux and maybe even more countries). Ceji released these transforming robots in 1984 and 1985 under the original Diaclone brand. This is what they released:


Joustra Diaclone pre-Transformers – waves 1 and 2 (1984-1985)

Somewhere during 1985 (but after most of the first promotional material was already printed) MB / Hasbro came to an agreement with Ceji which allowed MB to acquire all of Ceji’s remaining stock of Diaclones and subsequent rights to release them in Europe as Transformers. The Diaclone toys needed to be rebranded as Transformers, which meant they needed to be put inside Transformers packaging, Transformers sticker sheets and instruction booklets were added, rub-signs were placed on the toys and voila! The former Diaclone toys were now Transformers! [4]


From Condor and Jaguar (1984) to Laserbeak and Ravage (1985)

With that little history lesson out of the way, let’s shift our focus back to Laserbeak!


One of the reasons why I like the MB version of Laserbeak so much (as a collector who likes to collect vintage toys in their original packaging) is that the packaging design is rather unique. Most of the other G1 Transformers that were released in Europe came in packaging that was nearly identical to the original American packaging, but with slight alterations for the European market. Problem is, that for the release of Laserbeak MB did not have a ready-to-go American packaging design to copy and adapt. Why? Well, because in the US all the cassettes were sold as dual-packs and Laserbeak came together with Frenzy.


Transformers – Frenzy & Laserbeak (Hasbro) 1984 / USA [5]

However, MB did not have any Frenzy’s available for release for Europe so copying the American packaging was not an option. The reason why MB did not have any Frenzy’s was of course because Ceji did not have any! So a separate design for the Laserbeak packaging was needed specifically for the MB markets, which ultimately resulted in this über cool piece of 1980′s packaging design:


Transformers – Laserbeak (MB) 1985

How cool is that! I remember very well seeing this card for the first time and totally falling in love with it. The artwork on the card has much more impact now that Laserbeak is pictured solo. The design looks a lot less cluttered. Nice and clean. Here’s a close up of the Laserbeak artwork on the card:


MB Laserbeak artwork

Doesn’t it look amazing? The yellow spotlight behind Laserbeak looks a lot like a hot and scorching alien sun and adds a very dramatic feel to the whole. Also, if you look very closely and compare the artwork on this MB card with that of the American card you can see that the MB Laserbeak artwork has been rotated a couple of degrees counter clockwise, which adds to the impression that this bird of prey is getting ready to dive towards an unsuspecting victim! That.. is.. cool..

“From the Front…”

Let’s have a detailed look at the rest of the front of the packaging. At the top left corner of the card we find the quad-lingual age notice (in German, French, Dutch and Spanish) split over two lines, just like MB’s other wave 2 minibots have (the wave 1 MB minibots have the age notice at the opposite side of the card and on one line instead of two).


MB Laserbeak – quad-lingual age notice

While the American Transformers packaging almost exclusively uses the Eurostile family of typefaces, the texts that are added to the European packaging are exclusively done with the Helvetica family, as are the age notices above.

Moving on to the bottom left of the card we see the MB logo instead of the Hasbro logo. Notice also how the MB logo takes up more space than the Hasbro logo usually does on the American packaging. The Hasbro logo on American packaging usually takes up exactly four grid squares. The MB logo box is slightly larger than that and as such does not align perfectly with the grid on all four sides. Again the wave 1 minibots are different in that respect. While the wave 2 minibots have this oversized MB logo, all the wave 1 minibots have a “normal” sized MB logo, which is exactly four grid squares.


MB Laserbeak – MB logo and compliance statement

Below the logo there’s some text in French. It’s a legal statement saying that compliance of this product with all French laws is guaranteed by MB France S.A., the French Milton Bradley subsidiary. It looks like products sold in France were legally required to have this statement and contact information on the packaging. I have seen examples of MB Transformers packaging where this exact statement is included in the form of a sticker, because the original packaging did not carry the statement. Note also the contrast between the typefaces. Laserbeak’s name badge is printed in Eurostile, while the legal blurb below is printed in Helvetica. MB’s logo by the way is also Helvetica.

“Spy Cassette Assortment”

Moving right along to the opposite side, on the bottom right, we find the SKU (stock keeping unit) code of MB’s Laserbeak, which is 9104 21.


MB Laserbeak – SKU code 9104 21

MB International’s SKU codes in Europe in the 1980′s (and early 90′s) were usually 6 digits long and could be broken down into two segments. The first segment is 4 digits long and is the main identifier. It usually represents a specific item or assortment of items. The second segment is a 2-digit number, which is often printed in a smaller point size than the 4-digit number. This 2-digit suffix represents variations. Sometimes it is used to indicate a specific language version of a product, but in this case it is used to individually refer to a Transformer within an assortment. The number 9104 is given to both of MB’s spy cassettes (Laserbeak and Ravage), which means they were probably sold together as part of an assortment, meaning a retailer could place an order for 9104 and would get a case of 12 or 24 Laserbeaks and Ravages. Within the 9104 assortment, the variation number 20 is assigned to Ravage and the number 21 is assigned to Laserbeak. Here’s a scan from the European 1985 Milton Bradley Transformers trade catalog supplement showing both cassettes with their numbers:


Spy Cassettes – MB Transformers trade catalog supplement (1985)

“…to the Back”

Now let’s turn the card around and see what we can find on the back of the packaging. First, here’s a photo of the back of the card in its entirety.


MB Laserbeak – back of the packaging

Our first point of interest is the tech spec section, which takes up half of the card. The size of the tech spec section is bigger than that on American Transformers packaging, because of the need to display four languages instead of one. Also, this means no room was left for the bio, so only the function and motto remain. Here’s a close up photo of the tech spec section.


MB Laserbeak – motto and tech specs

Laserbeak’s function, motto and tech specs are the same as on the American release, just translated into German, French, Dutch and Spanish. Right below the tech specs is the copyright and manufacturer info. The copyright is attributed to Milton Bradley International, Inc., which used to be the foreign arm (from a US perspective) of the Milton Bradley Company to which all the European Milton Bradley subsidiaries belonged. The copyright conventions being referred to (Berne and UCC) are explained in more detail in an article I wrote here. As for the manufacturer info: the packaging is printed in France and the toy itself was made in Japan by Takara. So why is it that Laserbeak was made in Japan, but the packaging printed in France? Well, because of this particular toy’s history as we examined at the beginning of this article! This Laserbeak was originally manufactured in Japan by Takara and sent to the French toy manufacturer Ceji to sell in France as the Diaclone Condor! When Ceji agreed to sell their remaining stock of Diaclone pre-Transformers (including this Laserbeak) to MB in 1985 for inclusion in their Transformers line the product was already in France, so the Transformers packaging was printed in France!


Let’s continue our exploration of the back of the packaging. At the top left we find the barcode and underneath that there’s the Transformers logo. Let’s check out the barcode for a moment (yes.. I am going there).


MB Laserbeak – barcode

The barcode shown here is known as an EAN-13 barcode, which back in 1985 used to stand for European Article Number [6]. The “13″ refers to the number of digits that make up the barcode. So what’s so interesting about that? Well, those numbers actually mean something and here’s what:

  • The first three digits of the bar code are the so called GS1 prefix, which signifies the country where the manufacturer is registered [7]. Laserbeak comes with “501″ as GS1 prefix, which is a code that belongs to the UK. This is interesting, because it suggests involvement from a company in the UK in the process of bringing this product to market in continental Europe. It’s pretty much a safe bet that this UK entity will have been Hasbro Europe (or Hasbro UK or whatever it was called in 1985).
  • The next three digits are the company number, which is “180″. Hasbro Europe also sometimes used the company number “099″, but most Hasbro toys that were released in continental Europe up to and including 1987 came with a company number of “180″. From 1988 onwards the number “099″ seems to have become more dominant.
  • Right after the company number the next six digits of the barcode are the item reference. The item reference here is 910421. That sounds familiar! That is exactly the same as MB’s SKU code for Laserbeak: 9104 21! This is actually a very common occurrence, i.e. for manufacturers to encode their SKU numbers into the item reference section of a barcode.
  • The last digit of the barcode (“4″) is not interesting to us, because it is simply a checksum digit (a mathematical error detection mechanism).




This particular toy hit the European market in late 1985, which is when the Transformers finally made their entry into most of Europe through Hasbro’s newly acquired subsidiary MB (Milton Bradley, taken over by Hasbro in September, 1984). Laserbeak was probably available in most European markets where MB had local subsidiaries in 1985, which were: France, West-Germany, the Benelux, Spain and Switzerland [8]. These countries are marked in red in the map of Europe below:


Availability of MB Laserbeak in Europe (1985)

It’s hard to say for sure if all these countries got MB Laserbeaks and if so in which quantities (or if any at all!) Exact details on distribution of Transformers in the early days in Europe is hard to find and I’ve learned through research that you shouldn’t assume too much based on just catalogues. Just because these Transformers were depicted in European catalogues did not mean it’s a guarantee that all of them were available in every country.

MB Laserbeaks were definitely available in West-Germany though, as that is where this particular specimen from my collection hails from. It was part of a batch of unsold toy store stock from a German toy store. It also originally had a special sticker that was attached to the back of the card. The sticker contained some German text and covered up the part which shows Laserbeak’s motto in four European languages. Here’s that sticker in question:


MB Laserbeak with German sticker on back of card [9]

This sticker says “TRANSFORMERS …the world of transformation” and was undoubtedly added by the local German MB subsidiary back in 1985, which was ‘Milton Bradley GmbH’ from Soest, West-Germany. I know of one other collector who bought an MB Laserbeak from the same source as I did and that one came with that same German sticker on the back. Why did Milton Bradley GmbH add this sticker to Laserbeak’s packaging? Well, my guess is that they did this to make the product more appealing (or more understandable) to prospective German buyers. This particular portion of the packaging is probably the most conspicuous as far as the negative consequences of having everything printed in four languages is concerned. It might have been that Milton Bradley GmbH decided that four languages of text was too confusing for the consumer, so they decided to cover that up with this sticker containing just German text. When translated into English it sounds a little corny, but in German the text is actually pretty cool if you ask me. This type of customization for the local market is totally in line with everything I have seen so far in my research. Hasbro delivered the product, but the local MB subsidiaries in the various European markets enjoyed a large degree of autonomy in deciding how, when and if the product was marketed and distributed in their home countries.


Laserbeak & Ravage in MB/Hasbro 1986 pack-in catalog (Europe)

I am pretty convinced MB’s Laserbeak was available in France as well by the way, because I have what I believe to be a loose MB Laserbeak and Ravage that I bought from a French seller in 2012. The MB Laserbeak and Ravage can be recognized by their unusual rub-sign placement and that leads us into the next subject matter I would like to discuss….

“Rubbed the wrong way”

On to the matter of the rub-sign and that’s where things start to become a little peculiar. As most vintage G1 Transformers collectors will know, the rub-sign was a nifty little addition that Hasbro introduced in 1985 in an effort to distinguish their “real” Transformers toys from knock offs or (parallel/grey imports of) Diaclones. The rub-sign was a special heat sensitive sticker that would reveal the sign of the faction that the robot belonged to when exposed to heat, which was either the Autobot or Decepticon logo, coincidentally both trademarked by Hasbro. The rub-sign technology itself was also patented by Hasbro. Also, contrary to today, back in 1985 the heat sensitive rub-sign was probably a lot harder (and more expensive) to duplicate by unauthorized parties, even if the trademark and patent rights weren’t enough to scare them off. It was a relatively effective way of letting kids know that only the Hasbro imported Transformers were real Transformers!


MB rub-sign instructions (German, French, Dutch, Spanish)

And here’s a photo of the back of the MB Laserbeak packaging which shows the rub-sign instructions in four European languages (German, French, Dutch and Spanish).


Rub-sign instructions

So, how do the rub-signs fit into MB’s Transformers line? Well, as far as wave 1 is concerned, these all came with rub-signs applied and are nothing out of the ordinary. And that’s not such a surprise, because all of them were manufactured and packaged in Japan by Takara, just like all the Transformers that were destined for the North American market. However, MB’s wave 2 Transformers are a whole different story altogether. As a general rule, the wave 2 MB Transformers did come with rub-signs, but as is totally consistent with all the weirdness we’ve seen so far with these early European releases, the application of these rub-signs is often different from the standard:

  • Rub-signs are placed at different locations than where the American and Japanese releases would have them.
  • Rub-signs were placed upside down
  • and in some cases there would not be a rub-sign at all!


Case in point being the MB Laserbeak. The normal spot to find the rub-sign on a Laserbeak that was released in the US is on the sticker side, right under the little tape window. Here’s a closeup that shows the rub-sign on an American Laserbeak:


US Laserbeak – “normal” rub-sign placement

On the handful of MB Laserbeaks I have seen so far in unopened packaging Laserbeak has the rub-sign placed right between the two reels, covering up the tape window. The rub-sign is also rotated 90 degrees either clockwise or counter clockwise (both variations exist!!!). Here’s an example of a mint-on-sealed-card MB Laserbeak with a rub-sign rotated 90 degrees counter clockwise:


MB Laserbeak – unusual rub-sign placement [9]

So where does my MB Laserbeak have its rub-sign? The answer to that is… nowhere! My particular MB Laserbeak, which probably came from the very same factory case as the one with the rub-sign above, does not seem to have a rub-sign at all. Check it out:


MB Laserbeak – no rub-sign

This is really funny if you think about it. Here we have MB and Hasbro hammering home the difference between official Transformers and unofficial Transformers (“Hey kids, real Transformers have rub-signs!”) and on the back of the packaging of MB’s Laserbeak there are rub-sign instructions, but the actual toy inside the packaging does not have a rub-sign at all! I wonder if any kids returned their MB Transformers to the store back in 1985 claiming they were fakes, because they did not have a rub-sign! LOL!

There is of course a slight chance that the rub-sign is located at the other side of the cassette on my MB Laserbeak, which is not visible the way it is packaged, but given the rub-sign inconsistencies seen so far and the fact that it’s hard to find a good spot for a rub-sign on the other side of the Laserbeak cassette I am more inclined to believe that this one has no rub-sign at all. There is one way to find out for sure, but I was not planning on opening this sealed specimen any time soon ;-)

There’s one more detail I noticed on my MB Laserbeak when I was studying it closely under a magnifying glass (I know, I know…. geek city) and that is that there are several imperfections on the sticker, the most noticeable of all being the tear at the top left of the tape window and some dust and dirt here and there. Here’s a close up photo:


MB Laserbeak – sticker damage

These imperfections puzzled me at first. It looked like a slightly used Laserbeak, but it was sealed tightly shut, so it couldn’t be! However, placed against the background of this toy’s history these imperfections start to make sense. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that the French company Ceji did not only sell their stock of Diaclones to MB in 1985, but that they also took care of the rebranding process as well (the repackaging of their Diaclone stock into MB Transformers packaging). It seems there was a lot of manual labour involved there and the inconsistent rub-sign placements (or lack thereof) seem to be a testament to this. These MB Laserbeaks did not come straight off Takara’s production lines. They were sent to France and some of them may have even ended up in Ceji Joustra’s Diaclone packaging before being reallocated to MB’s Transformers line. Who knows how the actual rebranding process worked and how the product was handled during this process.

“Two Birds, One Stone”

I hope you enjoyed reading this detailed look at MB’s Laserbeak. Like most other wave 2 MB Transformers it has a special history that is closely tied to that of Ceji’s Joustra Diaclone line, which only adds to its appeal in my opinion.


MB Laserbeak (1985) and Ceji Joustra Condor (1984)

I am desperately on the look out for the MB Ravage to place alongside my MB Laserbeak, but that item has proven to be the most difficult one to track down yet in its original packaging. If you ever find one or have one for sale I will gladly take it off your hands for a handsome sum ;-) Thanks for reading and see you back soon!


“Notes, References and Acknowledgments”

  1. Photo of Bob Budiansky by oinkandcoo, used under CC-BY-ND 2.0 license
  2. Geographically the UK is part of Europe too, although some of its inhabitants like to pretend it’s not.
  3. when I refer to 1984 or 1985 Transformers I mean the year those Transformers were originally released in the US.
  4. More information on the transfer of Ceji’s Diaclones to MB’s Transformers line in the article MB Transformers: Part 4.
  5. Photo of U.S. Frenzy and Laserbeak by patobot. Used and adapted under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license
  6. the EAN-13 barcode is currently known as the International Article Number system even though the acronym has remained unchanged.
  7. the actual product itself can be manufactured in a different country, as is the case here.
  8. MB also had subsidiaries in the UK, Ireland and Italy at that point in history, but these markets were already covered by Hasbro and GiG.
  9. From the collection of Ferdy La Bree (bobafer73).
  10. From the collection of Ferdy La Bree (bobafer73).
posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,MB Transformers,Transformers and has Comments (12)

NTWICA: Dragon Walker

NTWICA? What’s that? An American assocation for nitwits? Close, but no. It’s an acronym for a term that I just made up: Now That’s What I Call Art!


NTWICA #1: Dragon Walker!

Beauty (and art!) is in the eye of the beholder and a lot of what I find visually pleasing today has its origin in artwork and design that was featured on toy packaging in the 1980′s, a time when I grew up and a time which will officially go down in history as the coolest decennium to grow up in for anyone EVER. Toy packaging from that era is some of the most beautiful packaging ever created. No really, I’m not biased :-) One of the reasons why toys from the 1980′s (and to some extent also toys from the 1970′s) had such cool packaging was not only because of the cool design of that era, but also because of the absolutely amazing artwork that was created for these toys. Something that is sorely missing from most toys today if you ask me!


Masters of the Universe – Dragon Walker (1985) Mattel / Europe

While most of the major toy lines from the 1980′s certainly had packaging that was endowed with beautiful artwork, to me there is one toy line that stands head and shoulders above everything else. That toy line was the Masters of the Universe…. Words can only say so much. Take a look at this (and click on the photo for a larger version):


Dragon Walker artwork

Damn, I remember seeing this artwork on the Dragon Walker packaging for the first time in my local toy store somewhere around start of school in 1985, which must have been late August or early September. I was ten years old back then and I was blown away by the sight of all the boxed Masters of the Universe toys and the Dragon Walker is one I remember the most of all. I can still recall the sense of wonder and awe that I felt as kid back then, whenever I see this artwork today. Quite amazing, when I think about it.

Even more amazing is the fact that we live in a time where so much of what makes up our childhood memories has been preserved both physically and digitally, which allows us to relive our childhood joys and examine things in greater detail than we were able to when we were kids. Case in point being a lot of the Masters of the Universe box artwork, which can be found online on several websites in nice and high resolution. There’s just so much beautiful detail to behold and today I would just like to share some of those beautiful details!

“Coat of Arms”

One of my favourite details about the Dragon Walker artwork is something that is not immediately apparent when you first look at the painting, but is something that does register on a subconscious level and adds to the sense of realism of this painting. Check the close up below. Right behind one of the smouldering craters, on the side of the Dragon Walker, we find what looks like a coat of arms!


Dragon Walker – Coat of Arms

I was fascinated by the design of this coat of arms. I never realised it was present on the actual toy itself as well. It shows blue in the upper right portion, which I guess could represent sky or water. Then there’s a black and green checkered portion on the bottom left, which I somehow believe to be related to the dragon itself. I guess it most reminds me of the dragon’s hide. Both portions are seperated by a red diagonal line, which is the colour of the dragon’s fire or his tongue. On top of that there’s a stylized letter “H”, which of course stands for He-Man!


Dragon Walker – Coat of Arms


Talking about He-Man, here’s a close up of our hero himself riding the Dragon Walker. If you look closely you can see that same stylized letter “H” on his battle armour. He-Man looks just positively bad.. ass.. in this painting. Awesome!


Dragon Walker – Battle Armor He-Man

Now, He-Man does not particularly have the most manly hair cut there is. Truth be told. However, somehow the incredibly talented artist who made this painting (his name is William George by the way, remember that name) succeeded in making He-Man look like the baddest mofo on the block. Check those biceps!


Dragon Walker – Battle Armor He-Man: bad ass!

“Baby Dragon”

Another little detail that I would like to draw your attention to can be found at the bottom right of this painting. Here we find a little baby dragon waving his wings angrily at the Dragon Walker. This part of the painting is obscured on the front of the Dragon Walker packaging. It can only be seen at the bottom of the box.


Dragon Walker – Baby Dragon

“The Dragon’s Head”

The next portion of this painting that I would like to direct your attention to is the head of the Dragon Walker. I mean, get a load of this:


Dragon Walker’s head

AaaRgH! By the power of Greyskull, how cool is this! (Note to self: say “By the Power of Greyskull” more often when I see something cool) Granted, the artist had the toy to go by, but man, what a fantastic translation from toy to mythical, fire-and-brimstone vibe dragon! *bows head in awe* (Note to self: this would look awesome on a poster…. ) For comparison purposes, here’s a photo of the toy itself from a 1985 French toy catalog:


Dragon Walker – Noël 1985 catalog

Cool looking toy? Hell yizzeah!

“Beast Man and Tri-Klops”

Finally, as is often the case with Masters of the Universe artwork we can find some characters in the background. Here’s a close up of Tri-Klops and Beast Man standing in the distance, both looking very defiant. Tri-Klops is holding his sword and Beast Man is lashing his whip in the air. Awesome! How can you not be impressed with something as cool as this as a young kid?


Dragon Walker – Tri-Klops and Beast Man

Thank you for joining me in this short look at what will hopefully be the first in a long line of “NTWICA” posts. The 1980′s live on! ;-)

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in He-Man and has Comments (6)

G.I. Joe MB 1987 product numbers Europe

The availability of the original vintage 3.75-inch action figure toy line G.I. Joe in Europe in the 1980′s and 1990′s was everything but a uniform affair. If you thought that the availability of Transformers in Europe in the 1980′s was confusing, with all the various distributors involved, the G.I. Joe line takes this to a whole new level and way up into the stratosphere. Part of this is due to the way that the G.I. Joe line’s European history is entwined with another toy line called Action Force from a British company called Palitoy. The two lines ran from 1982 to 1994 and were available in most west-European countries during this time span in some way or another. 1987 was a landmark year in European G.I. Joe history, because that is when Hasbro took over the reigns from Palitoy and properly introduced the G.I. Joe line in Europe.


Article on G.I. Joe introduction in Netherlands in trade magazine Speelgoed + Hobby, March 1987

I’ve been investigating the availability of G.I. Joe toys in Europe during said period and I currently have a mountain of information, which I am structuring and compiling into an all-encompassing article that will be published on this site. Although it’s probably going to take many weeks before I will be able to publish that article I would like to share some information today with you on that landmark year of 1987 and specifically on the mainland European area, because that year and region holds most nostalgic value to me.

“Hasbro takes control”

Before Hasbro truely launched the G.I. Joe line in Europe, the British company Palitoy had been active selling 3.75-inch action figures under the name of Action Force. During their very succesful run Palitoy even imported several of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles (sometimes repainted or with different stickers, which makes for very nice variations!) and sold them under the Action Force name as well to further flesh out the line.


Action Force – Cobra Water Moccasin (1985) Palitoy

Due to a shift in strategy from Palitoy’s parent company the line all but died in 1986 and Hasbro seemingly saw their chance and acquired the intellectual rights to the Action Force line. The time now seemed right for Hasbro to properly launch their G.I. Joe toys in Europe themselves instead of going through Palitoy and this is what occurred in the spring of 1987.


G.I. Joe – Dutch pack-in catalog: G.I. Joe side (1987) MB International B.V.

The line was (re)-launched by Hasbro and MB in the following countries:

  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • Benelux
  • Italy
  • Switzerland (unconfirmed)


Distribution in the UK was done by Hasbro Industries (UK), Ltd and the toyline there retained the name Action Force, while France, the Benelux, Italy and Switzerland were introduced to the G.I. Joe brand, distributed by the various MB subsidiaries, as was common in mainland Europe in the 1980′s for Hasbro toys. Notable absentees here are two other major markets where MB was active and those are Spain and West-Germany. Spain was introduced to the G.I. Joe line a year later (in 1988), while West-Germany had to wait until 1989 and saw the line introduced under the Action Force name instead of the G.I. Joe name, along with a different background story (Action Force was a futuristic fighting force that defended Earth against enemies from both outer space and from Earth itself).


G.I. Joe – Dutch pack-in catalog: Cobra side (1987) MB International B.V.

But today I would like to focus on 1987 and specifically the roll out of the line in continental Europe, i.e. in France, the Benelux, Italy and Switzerland. I was particularly interested in the product codes of all the toys from this first release. I like making lists and sometimes patterns will emerge from looking at the number sequences, as they did in this case! Before we look at the list of product codes, here’s a short explanation of what these numbers mean.

“MB product codes”

Milton Bradley (MB) was the company that was responsible for the distribution of Hasbro toys in continental Europe from 1985 until the early 1990′s. MB used to be an independent company and had a presence in Europe that dates back to 1968 with the opening of their first international subsidiary MB International B.V. in Ter Apel, the Netherlands. MB was taken over by Hasbro in September 1984. By that time MB had expanded their presence into a total of nine European countries and possessed a distribution network that covered a large chunk of Europe. Because MB had their own methods of distributing and numbering products the MB product numbers on Hasbro branded toys were often different from the numbers that Hasbro used.

MB used a 4-digit code, followed by a 2-digit suffix code. This code can be found on the packaging of all MB distributed toys and in their dealer/trade catalogs. Generally, the first 4 digits represent a unique number, which is assigned to a specific toy. The 2 digits that follow, which are usually printed in a smaller size, generally indicate the language variation(s) of the packaging. Here is an example of the packaging of the 1987 Cobra Water Moccasin (with Dutch language on the packaging).


MB product code of Dutch Cobra Water Moccasin – 9608 04

As you can see the unique code for the Cobra Water Moccasin is 9608. The 2-digit suffix code is 04, which means this packaging comes with Dutch language on it. Whether the packaging of the European Water Moccasin is French, Dutch or Italian, they are all 9608. Only the last 2 digits will differ. Here’s a table of all the suffix codes you will find on 1987 continental European G.I. Joe toys packaging (and other European Hasbro products from that time!) and what they mean:


Selection of MB language codes (1987)

There are obviously more language codes in use, but the 1987 line up only came in these languages, so I’ve kept the list down to just these four codes here. Here’s the breakdown by country for 1987:

  • France obviously got toys packaged with language code 02, which is French. Distribution was done by Hasbro S.A. and/or MB France S.A.
  • Italy got toys packaged with code 03, which is Italian. Distribution by MB Italy S.r.l.
  • The Netherlands got packaging with code 04, which is Dutch. There are also several reports of some Dutch toy stores also carrying toys with code 98, which is the bilingual French/Dutch packaging. Distribution by MB International B.V.
  • Belgium primarily got packaging with code 98, which is bilingual French/Dutch packaging that was specifically made for Belgium. (Dutch and French are the two main languages spoken in Belgium). Belgium apparently also got the 04 code packaging, which is the all-Dutch packaging, because the Belgian Hasbro-MB office address is specifically mentioned on the Dutch packaging. This 04 code packaging was probably primarily available in stores in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. Although there is no mention on the 02 code French packaging about Belgium, it’s quite possible that the 02 code French packaging might have also been officially available in Wallonia, the southern, French speaking part of Belgium. Distribution by Hasbro-MB N.V./S.A.
  • Official languages of note in Switzerland are German, French and Italian. I have no confirmation yet that Switzerland was included in the 1987 G.I. Joe launch. If it was, the Swiss would probably have had to settle for the 02 and 03 code packaging, which is French and Italian, because there was no German G.I. Joe packaging manufactured in 1987 (due to the absence of West-Germany from the 1987 roster). Distribution would have been done by MB (Switzerland) A.G.
  • Little is known about the situation in Luxembourg, but the most likely scenario is that Luxembourg got the same packaging as Belgium did, which is code 98 with French and Dutch on the packaging. Distribution in Luxembourg was probably done from Belgium through Hasbro-MB N.V./S.A.


“The 1987 line up”

So what was the inaugural 1987 line up for continental Europe? Well, as you might have gathered from the catalog scans above it consisted of 20 action figures and 19 vehicles and sets. What I was most interested in is if there was any way to determine what sort of assortments were available, because (unlike Hasbro) MB never printed assortment numbers on their packaging. Dealer catalogs are usually the only source for assortment codes and unfortunately I do not own any 1987 Hasbro/MB dealer catalogs for the France/Benelux area. What’s an assortment? Well, some toys (usually the smaller toys) cannot be ordered on an individual basis by retailers and are only available as part of an assortment, i.e. a mix of several same-class items. By writing down all the product numbers on the packaging I was able to create the following list, which I was able to group into 4 sections. Have a look at the list. You can click on it for a closer look.


“Action Figure Assortment 1″

By looking at the numbers that MB allocated to the G.I. Joe toys in 1987 it becomes apparent that the 20 action figures came in two different assortments of 10 action figures each. The lowest product number of all is 9150 and has been assigned to Storm Shadow. You can see that there’s a total of 10 action figures, which have been assigned numbers sequentially counting up from 9150 to 9159:


G.I. Joe action figure assortment 1 (1987) MB

I’m pretty convinced that these ten action figures were part of one and the same assortment, because I have a 1988 Spanish dealer catalog from MB, which also has 20 action figures nicely grouped into two assortments of 10 each. This same catalog shows that each assortment came with 36 action figures, so it’s a pretty safe bet that these 1987 assortments in France, Italy and the Benelux also came in a factory case of 36 pieces.

“Action Figure Assortment 2″

The next list of sequential numbers ranges from 9250 to 9259 and is undoubtedly another action figure assortment, which starts with Ripper and ends with Eels:


G.I. Joe action figure assortment 2 (1987) MB

If you look closely you can see that there are 11 G.I. Joe action figures and 9 Cobra action figures. These have been divided quite nicely over the two assortments. Assortment 1 contains 5 G.I. Joe action figures and 5 Cobra action figures and assortment 2 contains 6 G.I. Joe action figures and 4 Cobra action figures. But hold on! Aren’t the two Crimson twins Tomax and Xamot action figures too? Well, technically they are action figures, but they were not sold as part of an action figure assortment as we will soon see. This, by the way, brings the balance between the Joe’s and the Cobra’s to an equal 11 vs 11.

“Battle Stations Assortment”

The next logical grouping of product numbers seems to be another assortment, which is the battle stations assortment. These are boxed items, but were probably considered too small to sell seperately so they were grouped together in an assortment:


G.I. Joe battle stations assortment (1987) MB

The battle stations have numbers 9450, 9451 and 9452 and contrary to the action figures assortment I have confirmation from that same 1988 dealer catalog that these were sold as an assortment by MB España in 1988. Here’s a scan of that particular page that I made:


G.I. Joe battle stations assortment (1988) MB España S.A.

As you can see these battle station assortments came with 12 pieces inside a factory case. But what’s even more interesting is that we see mention of an assortment number, being 9033. This is the assortment number that MB España S.A. used for this particular battle station assortment in 1988 and there’s quite a good chance that this assortment number was used by the remaining MB countries as well. Notice also how all three battle stations photos in the 1987 pack-in catalog are directly copied from this particular single diorama photo! Cool.

“Vehicles and sets”

The last sequence of grouped numbers starts at 9600 and is a listing of all the 1987 vehicles and sets. These items were large and expensive enough to be ordered on an individual basis by retailers, so no assortments here, just single items:


G.I. Joe vehicles and sets (1987) MB

As you can see Tomax & Xamot are part of this listing with product number 9601, same goes for Zartan and his Chameleon Swamp Skier. As you can see the items are also arranged from small to large, with the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform and the Cobra Hydrofoil closing the list.

“More Joe”

I really enjoyed taking apart this first wave of early G.I. Joe releases in Europe. If anything it gave me some insight into the way that these toys were available to retailers back then. Stay tuned for the afforementioned article on Action Force and G.I. Joe in Europe in the near future and see you back soon. From the eleven Joe’s from the 1987 European line up : “Yo Joe!!” ;-)


2-page spread from MB España 1988 dealer catalog


posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in G.I. Joe and has Comments (8)