Sunday, September 15, 2013

Crashing THE ARK...and, uh, a lesson about shipping books, for some reason.

This ended up being a long one, so I put in a page break. Dare to read a boring tale about low cost shipping options when all I started off to do was tell you about a die-hard fan friendly book that I'm STILL on the fence over recommending.

A few months ago I was surfin' around some TF related blogs and in the back and forth on various archival type sites, I ended up looking at this book, THE COMPLETE ARK. It's by Jim Sorenson and Bill Forster, in that they compiled animation models and various background sketches from the G1 cartoon(s) provided by professionals behind the scenes (most notably Bob Budiansky) and hardcore fans.

It was published by IDW, the current licenseholder to the TF comics. This particular collection is made up of two "complete" books published earlier, the first dedicated to the G1 cartoon and its animated movie, the 2nd dedicated to the various Japanese cartoons that carried on the G1 legacy (only recently released in the US on DVD). It came out in 2010 yet everyone seems to be out of it. When I saw it on Amazon, it was $30 from one of their sellers. Well, I figured why not, and bought it. Like the More Than Meets The Eye series by Dreamwave (not to be confused with the current awesome comics series by IDW), it's hard to find at its cover price. The Dreamwave MTMTE books collected bios (and drawings) of the TF G1 characters as written and drawn by the DW staff, and since G1 characters had been pretty much the same in most versions of the G1 story up until IDW, I figured it was a pretty good reference to have (of which I own the first collection and the comics that make up the 2nd collection).

Anyway, I saw this "Complete Ark," it was under $30, the 1st book was over $100, so why not. I've mentioned before I've been having more fun looking up TF art and tech specs, this should be interesting and who knows if I will get a chance to see this at close to cover price provided I don't see it at a major comics convention (that I'll pay $30 to get into, you know?).

The thing about sellers on Amazon is that they are reimbursed for the $3.99 shipping you pay, whether it costs them that amount or not. You know those people who sell books for $0.01? They are probably hoping to dump an item and it's under 1 pound and they make about $1.20 on the shipping, as it goes out Media Mail and Amazon charges $2.73 or so to print out the legit PO label for you. (Who knows what other fees they have to pay though). If it weighs MORE than 3 lbs, they lose money on the shipment, because they are only reimbursed $3.99.

The nice person who sold me this, and I can't stress again that he was super nice, super responsive, and super duper accommodating, probably figured out the cheap bulk way to do this. When the package didn't arrive for a month nor was it scanned, I noticed that the tracking # started off with the same four digits my company had used when we used a UPS service called Mail Innovations.

Post Office options include the following: First class (letters and packages up to 13 oz.), Parcel Post (regular packages), Priority (quicker delivery), Express (next day, 2 day), Media Mail (books, DVDs, CDs...), and something terrible called BOUND PRINTED MATTER.

Bound Printed Matter and Media Mail both fall under Bulk Rate Mail, mostly for the former and somewhat for the latter. BPM, even cheaper (way cheaper!) than Media Mail, is basically for junk mailers and advertisers. A good portion of business for our financially suffering PO is BPM. But a while ago there was BOOK RATE, and that became Media Mail, but sadly magazines fell under BPM because they contain ads. Because BPM is basically lowest class mail as it's mass (bulk) sent (and usually to people who aren't expecting it but ended up on a list etc.), that means it's incredibly low on Post Office's priority to not just deliver, but look for in the event that it's missing.

And this includes Comic Books, because comic books contain ads. Though I don't know any comic book reader who buys comics for ads, I did have to abide by the PO's rule of mailing them out to my then-customers via BPM (of which we had to pay a yearly license for, because now we were using their Bulk services) and heaven help my customers if the package was lost. Once? Packages of comics with BPM just sat in the PO's bulk distro center FOR A MONTH until they finally looked for it after several requests and then finished sending them out.

We then decided to cut ourselves out of the BPM process and took up UPS' Mail Innovations service. I didn't even mention the amount of extra work (a full day) in dividing up the packages into the PO's special bags and the scrutiny the people at the Bulk office gave me (TWELVE employees lined up, for two hours, to double check that I was indeed sending out comic books). We used UPS' software to print out tracking info for the PO, put them in special bags for UPS, and they drove it off.

The idea is that UPS MI takes these bags, divides up the boxes for us, delivers them from one UPS center to the next, and then hands the package to the last PO office to be delivered by the PO. Sounds great, right? Well, we discovered right away that wasn't the case. They take the bags, rip them open and then hand everything to PO's bulk offices. And then they're delivered, as last-class low priority mail, at the PO's indifferent leisure.

And if someone at the local UPS MI center didn't scan the bags you put the packages in? Well, we discovered that NO ONE, at any point, would be able to track ANYTHING in that bag.

How? what? huh? Sounds crazy, but early on we couldn't find a dozen or so packages (nor could our customers) and then you have this nightmare where not only can the PO not find it, but neither can UPS.

And then somehow, after HOURS of being on the phone back and forth (because you HAVE to find an answer and SOON), someone got it in their head to scan the MI bag, which they hadn't before.

And once that happened, ALL the points of the packages' travels started to appear.

Again, WHAT? HUH? HOW?

There's someone out there who has an answer to this and I don't care. Believe you me, from that point on we had our awesome UPS driver not just scan the UPS End of Day label, but scan each MI bag as we gave it to him, and didn't have a problem since. But because it was still BPM, packages still took longer to arrive than they had in the past.

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH...oh yeah, so, like I said, when I looked at the tracking # for this book, well, it started off with the SAME four digits that we were given for UPS MI.

So I asked the seller, dude, did you send this UPS MI and thus BPM instead of the Amazon generated Media Mail? He insisted that he did not, that he had put it in the PO himself. I didn't want to call BS because he was already offering to refund me the book after the two or so weeks I hadn't received it, and no one likes to be told how to do their job, but I was trying to be sympathetic, no, EMPATHETIC to something I had to deal with, and I knew that if he had the UPS bag #, he could call UPS and see if someone could get their butt in gear and find it and scan it and the info would show up. But the seller, who again I can't stress how otherwise nice he was, insisted that it was not a UPS MI/BPM.

So we agreed that the package was lost, and he refunded me.

And then a week later it showed up.

And then four days later Amazon's tracking of the package showed that it was delivered.

What the WHAT?

Well, I told him this, and again he was a total sweetheart in that he said it was up to me if I wanted to pay for it at this point considering how long it took to arrive. I said I'd pay him.

And then I didn't, because I moved and, uh, forgot. Until last week when I was looking through my comics boxes and there it was. SO, I called up Amazon customer support and got them to pay the seller. Sorry, dude.

If you see "ships out BPM" or "UPS MI" in the seller's description, however, rethink buying from them.


Read the reviews and read the description. Maybe you'll get an idea, but check out the bad reviews. I think it wasn't clear (enough) in the description that these were animation models. Simple drawings, none of which hold a candle to the detailed box art, of the characters so that the storyboard artists and animators know what to draw for Sideswipe or Skyfire each and every time they draw them in the cartoon. And that there's virtually no other information provided with the drawings, other than a short description of characters in the 2nd half as it covers Headmasters, Victory, and other Japanese continuation of G1 that we didn't see over here until recently.

So, you're getting kind of a brick as far as books go if you expect a detailed missive from, say, Floro Dery or any other artist or production member (only a few of which are mentioned in the thank you part of the book) for each drawing, or for any section. Then again, as nice as a credits section would have been, the cartoon series was produced at such a quick pace to match their need as an advertisement for the toys, many of those involved, churning out storyboards or even providing voices, probably had no idea the impact this series would have on its audience. I have searched, albeit casually, for cels from this cartoon, and very few G1 cels pop up, and they tend to be the same ones listed on eBay for the last few years. I have been able to obtain cels from Real Ghostbusters and see plenty from other cartoons from that time. I wonder how much of TF cels and drawings have just been thrown out during production?

The writers of the negative reviews seem really confused, especially by the fact that this 400+ page book, retailing for under $30, is in BLACK AND WHITE. Some are upset that there's a page for one obscure character but not for another slightly less obscure character. I think they were hoping, and I was too, for something more informative. I'm under the impression based on the authors' description of materials provided by Bob Budiansky that they had very little of this information and artwork to begin with, and lucked out with Budiansky's box of artwork he had held on to for nearly three decades.

The drawings themselves, you know, are in fact simple. Ratchet does not look like his toy counterpart. Some of the entries have little "here's how he transformers" sequences. There's a height-scale for nearly every character, so by consulting this bible you know if Hoist is able to drive Huffer like in that one episode. I'm just a little weirded out by some of the later entries for the Japanese series, in that based on the bios for character (toys) we didn't see shown (advertised via cartoon) over here, much of it doesn't make sense. But there was no harm for getting this giant compendium of both Ark books as it was still cheaper at the time than buying a wallet gouging $100+ for just the G1 friendly Ark 1 book.

So, who would I recommend this book to? Um, you die hards, and you probably already have it. I think this blog entry might have had more text than the Ark 1 portion (am I exaggerating?) beyond the introduction (and Budiansky provides the Forward). You'll get some black & white drawings on the coloring-book level printed on copier paper. Seeing as how expensive it is on Amazon, currently, well, that's up to you. A cheaper PDF for a tablet would be bad ass.

You can see Jim Sorenson's dedication to all things behind the scenes on his site. There's plenty of material he is adding on this page after the fact that fit the format of this book, so you'll get an idea, though I kinda wish material like this made it into this book in the first place. Enjoy pouring through his site, is what I'm saying.

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