Transformers rivals Robo Machines comic art by Mario Capaldi on show

Robo Machines Exhibition Poster

Many years ago, while Group Editor at Marvel UK, I was nominally in charge of a project to clear the company’s Arundel House basement of old artwork, which Editorial Director Paul Neary wanted  cleaned out for his artists’ bullpen, where the likes of Liam Sharp, Bryan Hitch and many others would work on his “Genesis 1992” project.

(The hard work of cataloguing all the work and getting it out of the building was actually done by Sarah Cheesman).

Mario Capaldi was one of the artists whose returned art pretty much filled a small transit van, given his prestigious output for the company on all manner of titles, ranging from Care Bears to Zorro and James Bond Junior. Years later, I phoned Mario for some reason, perhaps to ask him about attending an event. When I introduced myself, he declared, amiably: “You’re the bugger who sent all that artwork back. It’s clogging up my garage!”

Well, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who clogged up his garage, because IPC also returned at least some of the art created by this talented artist, who died in 2004 aged 69, which is now getting an airing at the Dorman Museum in his home town of Middlesbrough, including 20 pages from “Robo Machines”, the only comics outing for Bandai’s Transformers rival line, aka the Gobots.

The Robo Machines artwork is now on display as part of the Museum’s offering of “Invasion” themed artworks that actually comprises two exhibitions: one bringing together iconic costumes, props and even the invaders themselves, from the good to the bad to the downright frightening, from various TV shows and films; and the other focusing on Mario Capaldi’s work on Robo Machines.

The Robo Machines first appeared in comics on the cover of 2000AD Prog 329, promoting a competition from Bandai. Cover by Kevin O'Neill.

The Robo Machines first appeared in comics on the cover of 2000AD Prog 329, promoting a competition from Bandai. Cover by Kevin O’Neill.

The Robo Machines were first seen in comics form on the cover of 2000AD Prog 329 in August 1983, drawn by Kevin O’Neill – beating Transformers, who debuted in the UK in Marvel UK’s Transformers initially fortnightly comic in September 1984 to the printed page by a year. However, despite their appearance in the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, the robotic invaders wouldn’t get their own strip until they appeared in the 1980s incarnation of Eagle, in a series published from November 1984 to July 1985.

Although the Gobots also featured on British TV (on TV-AM), unlike Hasbro’s more co-ordinated media approach for their Transformers line, Bandai’s animated series bore no relation to the comic strip in Eagle, and despite Maruo’s great art on the series the line didn’t have the same success in the UK. Eventually, it was Optimus Prime and Megatron that went on to win the war of camouflaged robots causing havoc on Earth. Indeed, as noted on the Starlogged blog, it could be argued that the success of the Transformers comic for Marvel UK (backed by Hasbro’s support through TV advertising) pretty much re-shaped the company’s direction, and laid the seeds for the domination of British news stands by licensed titles that continues to this day, at the expense of comics-only brands.

(The Gobots – or one of them, at least, did actually make a comeback of sorts, albeit in disguise, in a Dan Dare strip of all things published in Eagle in February 1986, written by Tim Tully and drawn by José Ortiz, as a robot on an abandoned freighter. He even appeared on the cover of the issue dated 15th February).

Born in 1935, Mario Capaldi’s career as an artist spanned some 44 years from 1959 to 2003, but he was a reclusive man, whose contribution to British comics has gone largely unrecognised. His official web site notes he dedicated his whole life to art; drawing, painting, photographing potential subject matter, researching and reading about art, talking about art – great art that really inspired him, (which always included the Victorian great, Fortunino Matania). He settled in Middlesbrough where he lived his adult life, often taking inspiration for scenery from the surrounding, beautiful North Yorkshire countryside.

A page from Robo Machines featured in the exhibition.

A page from Robo Machines featured in the exhibition.

While I never worked with him directly at Marvel UK those that did, such as Stuart Bartlett held him in high regard and his professionalism and dedication to his work much praised. His credits for the company include Captain PlanetZorro, Thundercats, Transformers, Care Bears and James Bond Junior, while at IPC, he  worked on a huge range of titles including Roy of the Rovers, Hurricane, Tiger, Eagle, BattleTammy, Jinty and Misty.  He also worked for DC Thomson on titles such as Bunty and Judy.

He illustrated Charles Dickens (his favourite author) for the New York Saturday Evening Post and a version of Harry Potter for the BBC, and a number of children’s books, including Enid Blyton’s The Little Bear’s Adventure, Ladybird Books and more.

His work also became best-selling Christmas cards for Sharpe’s Classic Collection, and he was responsible for the charging horses painting on the front cover of a popular board game, Risk.

Mario’s daughter Vanda Capaldi, the custodian of his art, has written a book, Mario A Biography in Poetry, which documents her father’s early life and his struggle to be an artist, which she hope may inspire others in achieving their dream.  It’s available from www.vandacapaldi.co.uk and selected stockists in the North East, detailed on her web site.

• Mario Capaldi’s official web site is at: www.mariocapaldiartist.co.uk

• “Robo Machines” featuring original Eagle comic artwork and the “Invasion” exhibition runs at the Dorman Museum, Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough, TS5 6LA until 17th January 2016. Entry is £4 for an adult, £2.50 for concessions, or £10 for a family ticket (two adults and up to three children). For more information visit: www.dormanmuseum.co.uk

• Local newspaper the Gazette has a feature on the exhibition which includes a number of photographs of what’s on view here

• The Starlogged blog documents the history of Robo Machines versus Transformers here

• Counter X has an article documenting the Rob Machines adventures in Eagle here

With thanks to Christian-Mark David Cawley for the heads up about the exhibition

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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