There was this time in my misty past, well before that advent of cable television in my home, when I didn’t have access to giant robots. During those dark days of the 1970s, when I was sick and had to stay home from school, my mother would drive me early in the morning to my grandmother’s trailer before she had to go to work. It was there, snuggled on an old floral patterned couch, that for at least an hour each day I achieved a moment of pure heaven.
I can well remember the incredible color of her small television as it displayed Star Blazers and Thunderbirds cartoons in those wee hours of weekday mornings. God, how it made being sick SO worth it, and during those episodes I grew to love space even more than I did when I watched Star Wars.
Fast forward to 1986, cable having found its way to my household as well as a wonder of wonders in a new piece of technology called a VCR. My oldest friend Mark (then a new friend), having just introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons, told me that there was this program on at 7 AM each morning called Robotech and I ‘had to watch it.’
Where Star Blazers began as a child’s infatuation, Robotech took things to the next level in a true love affair. I mean, I was just 15, couldn’t program a VCR (I mean who could, right?), and got my tired teenage butt up before 7 every day for a year so I could record every single episode personally.
A year later, when I first saw that FASA had released a boxed game called Battletech, which included versions of nearly every Robotech mecha, I had to grab it and play with rapt attention. It was in that same purchase, in a place called Main Hobbies in downtown Lafayette, Indiana, that Mark bought Palladium’s Robotech the RPG, giving us two versions of our favorite show.
Between the two, we played an inordinate amount of giant robot wars, but eventually Palladium’s quick rules system won out and Mark and I campaigned through all three Robotech Wars as they appeared on TV, then proceeded to follow the Jack McKinney Sentinels Series of novels, and when those ran out, we just started making stuff up.
Eventually, our giant transforming robots were drawing in pieces from Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx series, Keith Laumer’s Retief series, Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Man-Kzin Wars, Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker, Steward Cowley’s Spacewreck (Terran Trade Authority), and pretty much anything else we thought worthy from 1970s and 80s novelized science fiction.
If this wasn’t enough, we then began to add in a new wave of Japanese anime being pirated into the U.S. and distributed by hand on VHS tapes around college campuses (this was before the Internet). I swear to you, I’ve fought more aliens in giant robots than anything ever witnessed in a paranoid solenoid space battle (Gall Force *cough*).
The Robotech universe I played in was so huge it required six separate hand-drawn, poster-sized star maps and included five RPG supplemental books I wrote simply to keep track of what the heck Mark and I were doing (Robotech: After the Apocalypse, Robotech: Trader’s Heaven, Robotech: Mercenary Codex, Robotech: The Powers that Be, and Robotech: Armada).
So yes, you can say I love robots, mechs, mecha, veritechs, destroids, cyclones, power armor, and all manner of things that a person can get inside of and destroy the world around them. (Note: You will have no idea how much I wanted to get Kevin Long, the Palladium mainstay Robotech artist, to do my Art Evolution series; but alas, he was too busy.)
Still, the visual aspect of giant robots is something that I firmly believe is as intrinsically wired into men’s DNA as fantasy armor. The ability to ‘suit up’ just never gets old. And when you’re given the ability to fly, carry weapons of mass destruction, and basically ‘Hulk’ around at will, it is a full-force adrenaline rush with a testosterone chaser.
And what red-blooded American boy doesn’t love the clean lines, the bulky shoulders, the weapon’s blisters, and the semi-human battle-frame of such fabulous machines? It’s an affair of the heart that I’m fairly certain will never end, and although I can’t show even a fraction of all the beautiful art dedicated to such magnificent machines, I hope all of you reading have visions of your own favorite robots dancing in your heads.
I also write this piece in dedication to Robotech game designer Kevin Siembieda, who after all these years, I finally got to meet in person at GenCon 2012. Now I’ve heard my fair share of complaints about Palladium, about their antiquated gaming system, and certainly about Kevin himself; but I’ll say this, he was incredibly pleasant to me, and without him, Robotech would not have existed in the fashion which it has for more than 25 years of unceasing print. To me personally, Kevin’s work is probably more important than that of Gygax as I’ve certainly logged equal to more time in a Palladium-bound system than in any single edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
Kevin brought me mecha, he provided me a sandbox to play them, and he gave me access to a storyline worth my time in fully-formed RPG mode.
So to giant robots, Japanese animation, long-deceased science fiction writers, and a gaming company that still keeps putting out product (like Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles), I raise a glass and toast, ‘May your protoculture cells be ever full, your ammunitions always primed, and your armor impenetrable.’
If you like what you read in Art of the Genre, you can listen to me talk about publishing and my current venture with great artists of the fantasy field or even come say hello on Facebook here. And my current RPG Art Blog can be found here. Also, for my hardcore fans and those that love small press books, I’ve launched my latest crowd-sourcing campaign that I’m determined to see become the most successful fantasy fiction Kickstarter of all time, so come help me and all my artist and writer friends create a franchise to remember!