Ladybird Books is a British publishing company which released several Transformers storybooks and audio cassettes under their "Tell-A-Tale" line from 1985 to 1988, all written by John Grant.
Not based in any of the major existing Generation One continuities, the books draw from various sources. Some thematic concepts in the early books are drawn specifically from the original cartoon pilot, "More Than Meets The Eye", such as Spike keeping a journal and Rumble acting as a hench-thug for Starscream, presumably borne out of their discussion on treachery in the first episode. Conversely, the 1986 books spin their storylines out of the Marvel UK serial "Target 2006", describing the events of that story as the reason for Ultra Magnus and Galvatron replacing Prime and Megatron.
The books were not, however, above doing their own thing. Of particular note is the characterisation of Megatron and Starscream; the former is portrayed as a very aged, wily character, to contrast with the latter’s rendition as a user of clumsy, brute strength. The books also remain one of the few early Generation One continuities to employ the principle of "robots in disguise" consistently. One of the major points of the early books is the Autobots’ desire to carry out their war with a maximum of secrecy, preventing humans from even becoming aware of their existence. In 1987, Ladybird moved the war to Nebulos (while ignoring the Headmaster concept) and temporarily had Hot Rod and Cyclonus as the commanders. The books were further distinguished in 1988 when characters who received little attention in other fiction, such as Quickswitch and the Double Targetmasters, were cast in starring roles.
Although the art style was at best inconsistent, at worst wildly off with regard to the robot designs, the stories were well written with exciting plots that delved quite thoroughly into the secrecy of the Transformers' conflict on Earth. Brief character bios were also provided on the inside front and back covers in the 1985 run of books. The books were also notable for an opening blurb printed in each story and modified slightly for context. The blurb was also read out at the beginning of each audio adaptation by a Victor Caroli-esque narrator, set to a synthesizer theme that contains elements of the classic "Transformers! More than meets the eye" leitmotif.
Once, long ago, a race of robot beings called Autobots were forced to wage war against another race of robots called Decepticons to bring peace back to their home planet of Cybertron. As the war went on, chance brought both sides to Earth. They crashed so violently on landing that all the robots lay in the Earth's crust, seemingly without life, for over four million years.
Then, the energy set in motion by a powerful volcanic eruption gives them life once more, and the war starts all over again here on Earth. Among the robots' many strange powers is the ability to transform into other shapes, and they use this to disguise themselves to fit in among the civilisation they find on Earth.
The Autobots have to defend themselves. They must protect this planet, with all its valuable resources and the people who live here, and they must also build a new spaceship if they are ever to get back to Cyberton—THE TRANSFORMERS!
The 1986 books added:
Leaders come and go. Galvatron travels back from the 21st Century to take over from Megatron, commander of the Decepticons. Then the strange disappearance of Optimus Prime leaves the Autobots without a leader, and Ultra Magnus arrives from Cybertron to take his place as the Autobots' new commander.
And so the fight goes on, both now and far into the future, on different time levels.
In the final four books, the scrawl was altered entirely to:
Once, long ago, a race of robot beings called Autobots were forced to wage war against another race of robots called Decepticons to bring peace back to their home planet of Cybertron. When chance brought both sides to Earth, the war went on.
Over many centuries, leaders have come and gone. Now the fight continues in a far-flung corner of the galaxy, on the planet Nebulos. Both Autobots and Decepticons have formed new alliances, each with a rival group of Nebulans.
The Decepticons are determined to destroy the Autobots and reign supreme. Will they succeed?
(PS They didn't)
Ladybird also released an adaptation of The Transformers: The Movie this year, also by Grant, which is not part of its larger continuity:
- In all of the books featuring Transformers with Nebulan companions, no mention is ever made of their binary bonding in the text. (In Autobots Strike Oil, Hardhead is even said to transform into robot mode and look around while Duros is absent, so the illustrator tries to cope by just showing Hardhead without a head in this scene.)
- Speaking of whom, the Nebulans are definitely robots in this continuity.