I think I can say darthvyn is correct. My friends and I more were into the comics as kids, because (until the writer, Bob Budiansky, seemed to suddenly run out of cool ideas and started giving us carp like "Car Wash of Doom") the stories were more realized, and could continue for several months. (Also, I don't think the cartoon could get away with Jazz blasting "Material Girl" as loudly as his speakers would go.) Plus, when we played with the toys, it was easier to come up with your own continuation of a comic arc that was only halfway done than a 30-minute, self-contained cartoon.
I'd recommend checking out the original series (the entire thing is collected in about a dozen or so paperbacks from Titan Books--found in large numbers at Comic-Con 50% off bins). It starts pretty weak, when it's just an ad for toys, quickly moves into overdrive when Shockwave kills all the Autobots except Ratchet and takes over the Decepticons (#4), flounders when the ideas start getting goofy in the #20s (like a Decepticon campaign to graffitti NYC--no joke--or Prime's aforementioned videogame death), picks up slightly when Grimlock returns (from an absence not explained in America, but filled in in the British comics) to take over the Autobots and coasts at "readable but not great" until Simon Furman takes over with #56 and turns it into one of the greatest sci-fi comics ever written within about three issues. (All the history of the Transformers, evil Matrix, Unicron's appearance in the comic universe, etc, was the work of Furman. I'll tell you now that I was so incredibly disgusted when a cliffhanger ending showed a full-page panel of Unicron for the first time in the comics... until I read the next issue. When he actually arrives at Cybertron a couple of years later, he commits carnage to dwarf what we saw in the movie.)
Dreamwave had two G1 mini-series, an ongoing series (that only lasted like six issues), and 2.5 series set in the far past called The War Within. The first series started in the present day, with the background supposedly being that the events of the cartoon (somehow mashed in with some comic events, which was never made clear) had happened, then the Autobots defeated the Decepticons in the early '90s and tried to go home. But their ship exploded when the Decepticons, who weren't as defeated as everyone thought, attacked and blew up the ship, scattering deactivated Transformers across the globe. A mercenary started to use them ('Bot and 'Con alike) as weapons until the US government discovered Prime's body. He used the Matrix to somehow restore all the Transformers' minds, and then there was a big pointless battle. The writing was some of the absolute worst I've ever read in any comic book. Prime didn't act like Prime, other than the fact that he was in charge, and the same with Megatron. Starscream wanted to take over, and Grimlock talked funny. Other than that, everyone was pretty much totally interchangeable. This series also scored major negative points with me when, after being restored, Grimlock decided it would be more fun to join the Decepticons and eat people. The follow-up series were readable, but not very good, and kept hinting at some sort of history that the writers were never talented enough to actually convey.
Only The War Within series (all by Furman) deserve to be remembered from Dreamwave. These are set millions of years in the past, and primarily deal with the development of Prime, Megatron, and Grimlock as emerging leaders, against the backdrop of the early days of the civil war.
IDW's series is pretty good from what I've read. I'm several issues behind, but it looks like it's starting very slowly and will keep building up to some huge battle within the next year or so.
I thought the cartoon was fun as a kid, but preferred the longer stories. I hated the movie. As an adult, I can see the cartoon as being good for what it was, and the movie is one of my all-time favorites.