The community of Transformers fans is referred to as a fandom. While the term technically encompasses any group of kids coming together to talk about Transformers in a sandbox, it is commonly used to refer to the people from college-age and up who participate in the online fandom. The fandom has long played a role in the history of the franchise. Most notably, BotCon is their Mardi Gras, an official convention geared almost totally to adult fans.
Individually, or as a group, Transformers fans can be referred to as Transfans. This may raise eyebrows among the uninitiated, but it sure beats "Trannies."
Before the internet
The earliest form of interaction between Transformers fans that went beyond the usual schoolyard talks was the Letters Pages in the Generation One comics by Marvel. In addition, the S.T.A.R.S. fan club can be viewed as the first form of an officially organized "fandom", although interaction between individual members was still limited at best.
Unofficial fanclubs were formed as early as 1986. One of them, the Transmasters club, even got a shoutout in the letters pages in issue 79 of the Marvel US G1 comic (published in 1991), leading to a huge influx of new members, soon growing to 300 members globally. The original organizers of the club soon began to crumble under the weight, leaving matters to new members who would take over responsibilities. A British branch of the club was also formed. The club was even officially recognized by Hasbro in 1991, legally giving them permission them to use the Transformers likeness for non-profit purposes.
The early days of online fandom
As fans grew older, those few that did not outgrow their hobby (like most children do) eventually found a form of communicating with each other on the internet. Emerging from comic-centric bulletin boards such as the CCC (Comics Collectors' Club), a mailing list was created in April 1993, coinciding with early rumors about the impending launch of the Generation 2 toyline. Later that year, still before the Generation 2 toyline was launched, the mailing list was abandoned in favor of a text-only Usenet newsgroup named alt.toys.transformers (a.t.t.), which was launched on September 11, 1993. Many of the members of the mailing list and a.t.t. had previously also been members of the Transmasters fanclub, which was now rendered somewhat anachronistic by the internet.
Because Usenet is one of the oldest parts of the internet (dating from 1979), a.t.t. functioned as a central hub where all members of the then-small fandom interacted together. Indeed, it would not be unfair to say that for most of the 1990s, a.t.t. was the online fandom. Beast Wars showrunners Bob Forward and Larry DiTillio later also used a.t.t. as a means of communicating with the fans, and even recruited one of them, Ben Yee (who had also started out with the Transmasters club), to work as a consultant for the show.
Rise of the World Wide Web
During the late 1990s, the first individual fan sites were launched on the World Wide Web. Most of them started out as personal collector showcase/information sites, and while many of them have either disappeared from the web since then or not been updated in a decade, some still exist to this very day, such as Steve-o Stonebraker's site (launched in 1995, currently semi-abandoned), Dave Van Domelen's site (launched in 1996), Ben Yee's BWTF.com (originally launched as beastwars.net in 1997, currently under reconstruction), the Lukis Bros. Unicron.com (launched in 1997, moved to its top-level domain in 1998) and Rob Jung's site (launched in 1999, moved to its current top level domain in 2005).
The Transformers Archive was originally also launched as a private site in 1996 and eventually moved to its current top level domain in 1999. Its sister site, Transfans.net, was originally launched as Transfans.com in 1998. Both sites gained message boards in late 2000, but were mostly known for offering downloads of old cartoon episodes and scanned comic book pages for years, a practice Hasbro still silently tolerated at that time—until a cease and decist order in January 2003. Since then, TFArchive has started to focus mostly on comic and toy reviews, while Transfans is mostly known for interviews these days. Both sites have comparably small, but stable communities.
Aside from the British fandom, Scandinavian fans were among the most active non-Americans in the online Transformers fandom during the late 1990s. In 1998, several Scandinavian Transformers fans decided to form their own fanclub, the Nordic Transfan Association, which eventually got its own website, NTFA.net, in 2001. NTFA remains one of the largest European Transformers fan communities to this very day.
Early message boards and tensions in the fandom
Some of these early sites, particularly Ben Yee's, also featured message boards, which were used as an alternative to a.t.t. by some fans. While Ben Yee soon closed his board again due to frequent trolling and lack of moderation, another fan named Renaud Lefebvre launched his own site, Bigbot.com, in 1998, which also featured downloads and a message board, Bottalk.
Even though Renaud was in contact with Beast Machines showrunner Bob Skir, thus briefly making Bottalk the primary Transformers discussion hub during that time, his tight-handed way of moderating his board eventually led to mass bannings, coupled with a mass exodus to a newly created board, named The Allspark, in November 1999. To this day the reasons regarding the bannings have yet to be resolved. Many who are still present on Bottalk at the time say it was due to trolling and hate spam. Others who went on to join The Allspark and other Transformers message boards seem to have a vendetta against Renaud, and at times threatened him online. Some people have even been banned from other message boards for mentioning they are Bottalk members. Renaud still refuses to acknowledge the existence of some Transformers fansites on his own site and board. Bottalk continues as a small message board, however fellow moderators Bob Skir and Marty Isenberg haven't been seen on the forum for years.
The Allspark eventually encountered internal friction itself—when the community, under a new owner, moved to the new top-level domain Allspark.com in 2001, several members stayed behind and turned the old board into a second Allspark community (now also available under Allspark.net). The .com site remains the much larger of the two Allsparks to this very day, whereas the other board has faded into obscurity.
The Big Bang
In the early 2000s, the World Wide Web literally exploded with new Transformers fan sites. This coincided with the onset of the "nostalgia boom," when numerous properties from the 1980s were relaunched in various forms—in the case of Transformers, these were the Robots in Disguise and Armada lines and the Dreamwave comics. This caused a growth spurt for the fandom, with new arrivals eschewing the outdated Usenet and instead using web-based message boards.
Seibertron.com was launched in 2000, originally as an informational website, later expanded to include toy galleries and a message board. These days, the site views itself as one of the biggest Transformers fan communities.
Its biggest competitor is TFW2005.com, which was originally launched as a private fan site named Transformer World 2005 in early 2000. It first moved to its current top level domain in May 2000, added a message board and soon started to offer downloads of Japanese Car Robots episodes. In July 2001, TFW2005 merged with two other sites, Transformers News and the Matrix Magazine, to form a new super-site, Transfandom.com. The honeymoon didn't last long, as frictions among the merged site's staff caused TFW2005 (including its boards) to return to its old top-level domain in January 2003, while Transfandom (now with its own board) continued alternatively under the domains Transfandom.net and Transfandom.com again, ultimately fading into obscurity and eventually disappearing from the internet altogether in the fall of 2007. Meanwhile, TFW2005 is said to have close ties with Hasbro (albeit only unofficially), and is also often the go-to site for representatives of other official parties, such as screenwriter Roberto Orci.
Another site that would eventually become large was originally launched in 2001 as TFExchange.com. In May 2002, a hostile takeover by a URL sniper caused the site to move to its current domain, TFormers.com. These days, TFormers is part of the Entertainment News International network that includes Toy News International, Jedi Insider and Entertainment News International. Similar to Bigbot, TFormers also prefers to pretend that other fan sites don't exist. The biggest rival for TFormers is TFW2005, which dates back to Hasbro employee Aaron Archer blaming TFormers for causing his superiors to order Aaron to cease posting at TFW2005's boards.
In addition to these considerably large sites, there are countless smaller sites, some of them being mostly collector showcase sites run by individuals, while others have their own message board communities. Fan communities not based in the United States have also emerged in considerable numbers, with sites often concentrating on a single country, or at least a clearly defined area (such as the aforementioned Scandinavian NTFA), many of them also operating in other languages than English.
The large boom of Transformers fan sites on the World Wide Web also had an effect on the established Usenet newsgroup alt.toys.transformers. Activity on the group dropped off, leading many of its members to venture beyond its confines and into the message board world. Given the large number of different boards, the preferences of the users, and the enmities that formed between sites, it was no longer really possible to "know everyone," as it was in a.t.t.'s heyday.
The situation remains the same today, only more so, as the live-action movie has turned a perennially strong franchise into a runaway powerhouse, attracting countless fans young and old, new and nostalgic, across the globe.
Many references to the fandom have been made in official Transformers fiction.
- In "Dark Designs", a loopy Waspinator declared that he was "Not wacko, Wonko! Wonko the Sane!" In addition to being the name of a character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Wonko the Sane" was a screen name used by Ben Yee.
- In "Before the Storm", the Predacon computer informed Megatron of a "code A-T-T alert," and Megatron later initiated a "voice code A-T-T override," both references to alt.toys.transformers.
- Also in "Before the Storm", Megatron mused that "There is a storm coming. A storm of such power, such magnitude, it is beyond imagination!" This was a reference to the website of fan James Hooks, called "Beyond Imagination" (itself named after a tagline for The Transformers: The Movie.
- In Nemesis Part 2, Optimus Primal's line "encoding transmission M Sipher" refers to the screen name of Greg Sepelak.
- Also in "Nemesis Part 2," Megatron instructs Dinobot II to fire on "targeting grid 3H," referring to 3H Enterprises.
- Numerous locations throughout the series were references to the names (both screen and real) of fans:
- The Universe Ultra Class Onslaught toy's painted deco features a reference to long-time Transformer fan Monzo's screen-name and birthday. Jealousy sold separately.
- Acid Storm's bio personality and "Hyperion-3" blasters are also references to Monzo.
Adopted fan terminology
Several terms initially used only by fans have been adopted by writers of official Transformers materials, thus becoming a part of the canon.
- Generation One
- Seeker (Technically, this one originated in a 1984 J.C. Penney catalog, but widespread usage within the fandom is what led to its official use.)
- Rainmakers (The term was actually used by Bluestreak in Divide and Conquer, but only as a colloquial description of their actions. As with "Seekers", repeated fan usage ultimately led to its adoption as an official group name.)
Fans gone official
Many members of the online fandom have gone on to contribute to Transformers in an official capacity. They include:
- Fumihiko Akiyama
- Adam Alexander (aka "Botch")
- Aaron Black (aka "Delta Star")
- Mark Bristow (aka "Bodycount")
- Josh Burcham (aka "DCJosh", aka "GodFireConvoy")
- Kris Carter (aka "Drivaaar")
- Jordan Derber (aka "Buster Darkwings")
- Doug Dlin
- Don Figueroa
- Tim Finn
- Bill Forster
- Andrew Frankel (aka "Swiper" or "Sideswipe")
- Rob Gerbracht (aka "Tengu")
- Guido Guidi
- Jon Hartman
- Karl Hartman
- Hirofumi Ichikawa
- Dan Khanna
- Shaun Knowler (aka "White Rabbit" or "Beachcomber")
- Matt Kuphaldt (aka "Jackpot")
- Joseph Kyde
- Joana Lafuente
- Chris McFeely
- Frank Milkovich (aka "Crobot91")
- Adam Patyk
- Daniel Ross (aka "Mouth04")
- Greg Sepelak (aka "M Sipher")
- Liam Shalloo
- Pete Sinclair
- Jim Sorenson
- Chris Tang (aka "Ravestrike")
- Brandie Tarvin
- Frank Todaro (aka "Broadcast")
- Trent Troop
- Josh van Reyk (aka "Richter")
- Graham Weaver (aka "Liquid Velcro!")
- David Willis (aka "Walky")
- Benson Yee (aka "Wonko the Sane")