Botcon 2011

Although this website typically makes a point to cover primarily Canadian comic book news, I’ve decided to cover an American convention because I like to think it makes for a good article and good reading.

Transformers is a pretty big deal, and has been for quite some time. Since the early dawn of online fandom (and perhaps a few years earlier), the most diehard fans have annually converged at Botcon, a smorgasbord of shared interest in the tiny plastic robot space gods. Now that the brand is bustling with shows, comics, movies, and fruit snacks, the convention is the best place to get official hype on upcoming Hasbro-authorized material. As a man with shelves literally overflowing with Transformers, my presence at the convention was pretty much assumed.

Thursday, I arrived at LAX (as it’s a movie year the convention is held on the West Coast). I was lucky enough to find that my shuttle from the airport to the convention was shared by not just other convention attendees but particularly this dude, Sprocket, who I knew from the various online message boards, so we spent the ride talking about internet people we love and hate and tolerate. At the hotel I met my roommate for the weekend, Andrew “Andy” Andrusi: Professional Geable and irregularly dedicated fan of that Pretty Cure anime. After calling beds in our hotel room we headed to the convention center. Andy, if you’re reading this, my offer stands: $30 for the exclusive rights to the footage of the removal of either of the protrusions from your head.

Let me stop to tell you about Pasadena: perhaps it’s only the small neighborhood I experienced during the convention, but it seems like the kind of photogenic place that goes on tourism posters. The weather was gorgeous the whole weekend, and there were plenty of places to eat. And although I haven’t done the math, I suspect the walk to the convention centre was shorter than the distance between Anime North’s Doubletree and Sheraton. Finding our way for the first time, I asked my roommate, “Andy, where do you think the convention is?” He answered: “I’m pretty sure we should head in that direction since I just saw Bumblebee and G1 Ratchet drive down that street.” Sound reasoning. However, there is one gripe I had with Pasadena: the grocery store closest to the convention centre was an irritating maze to navigate. As Andy put it, it felt less like a store and more like an FPS level that just had grocery store texture maps.

Thursday:

Thursday Night: You get in line at an appointed time waiting to get your pre-registration package. Then once you have that, you get in line for the Club Store where you buy the other available exclusives and some other stuff to justify how long you’ve waited in line. The cashiers processing customers did a good job for people who aren’t professionals and were quite friendly. However, I refined a plan to cut the line-waiting time in half: next year, the convention organizers should hire some McDonald’s employees who are used to dealing with herds of eager people. On the upside, at least the people you’re in line with are all also fans of Transformers, so it’s easy to strike up a discussion over who your favourite of the original Constructicons was. This is a conversation you will hold until you finally get out at midnight. Mine is Scrapper.

OKAY, the exclusives this year were…expensive enough that if you had to ask how much they cost, it was too much. I didn’t ask, I just handed over my cash. The box set included the G1 Stunticon characters redone in animated form. With my preregistration package (Primus) I also got the “Fistitron” toy, Also availible was a Bizarro Optimus Prime named Toxitron, an animated-style Sideswipe, and evil universe Ramjet and Galvatron. I also grabbed one of last year’s black-light posters since I am somebody who owns a black-light.

Friday:

And the dealer room opens up. Upon entering you immediately see a giant Bumblebee statue surrounded by several of the autobot vehicles from Transformers (I’m uncertain if these vehicles were used in the actual filming). A gigantic Optimus Prime from the current television series watches over the room from a corner. This year it feels like there were twice as many dealers than last year and I was able to score a decent deal on reissue Powermaster Optimus Prime and RiD Ruination.

But a better deal? All around the dealer room floor were booths representing branches of Hasbro, which gave out various posters and cheap keepsakes. So there were a lot of posters for everybody who brought poster tubes. There was a booth hyping the upcoming Transformers Universe online game, but with only vague details on what the game actually involves – I’m hoping for something like Gaia online only with more Cybertron and less people acting like they do on Gaia Online. The Hub was there getting people interested in the Prime television series; however, their representatives didn’t know if the channel would be available in Canada anytime soon.

One of the panels I attended was the “Stunti-con Job” script reading, where professional voice actors read the A version of the script for the convention exclusive comic (by the developers of Transformers: Animated – Derrick J Wyatt and Marty Isenberg) although the story had been extended to include more characters and an incredible musical number by Greg Berger (as Grimlock)  and David Kaye (as a different Grimlock). I really, really hope the footage is online for club members somewhere.

Friday Night’s entertainment started with me and Andy dropping by the Allspark forum meet-up where I met internet people Lonegamer, Cheets, and a few others I can’t recall right now, but I bailed on dinner early to go to Botcon’s Casino Night Dinner event (access was included in my prereg package). First: Food! Buffets of pretty good food to provide fuel for the weekend, which I took advantage of. When I’m set to Con Mode, I don’t expect to eat more than a single full meal each day.

Afterwards was a session of gambling for points at various game tables, which I was too afraid to try. Instead, I briefly conversed with a few fellow fans with internet names like Artoni, Eels, and Moa and others with names I don’t recall (sorry/deal with it). The points earned from the game tables could be used in an auction for rare and irregular Transformers merchandise, but the opening bids were usually more than I had. I would have gone for the child’s bike helmet but the gentleman running the auction closed before I had a chance to increase my bid, which is not how auctions are supposed to be run. So I went home empty handed, but at least the food was good and I got to meet some important internet people, G.B. “Geebles” Blackrock and Egoraptor. Next year, I’d rather watch some MSTF where professional snarkers make fun of the old shows.
Oh and my drawing of Predaking came in 3rd place in the black and white category of the art contest, so I had a medal to wear around for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday:

IDW EiC Chris Ryall and Editor Andy Schmidt were in a booth selling and marketing their Transformers comic books, although I understand Sunday was actually Andy’s last day as Editor. The writer of the G1 ongoing series, Mike Costa, also was there. I gathered a few signatures and talked to Mike about the COBRA series he also writes for the G.I.Joe titles, and my eyes lit up when Chris Ryall passed me a business card for me to use after I’m done with Andy Schmidt’s comic art classes and have some real samples of sequential work.

that is CLEARLY Shackwave.Ohmigod Kre-Os. In the past Hasbro has made a few embarrassing attempts to bleed the Transformers license into construction toy aisles dominated by Lego and MegaBloks, although this time I think they’ve nailed it. Toss pieces together and make a robot or vehicle – sadly you have to disassemble them to Transform them (although I’m sure inventive fan configurations will improve on these designs). But the real coolness is in the Kreon minifigures who come with the sets. Each attendee received an exclusive Optimus Prime Kreon with the matrix visible in his chest. I see myself spending a lot of money on these things; successfully mixing Lego and Transformers is like a fusion between Heroin and Crack. I also used some of the Kre-Os by to make a version of Shackwave (sic), and COBRA agents Tomax and Xamor helped me get the ears right.

Saturday night was the Hall of Fame dinner event which cost an additional $45. Everybody got dressed up nice, put on some silly looking Bumblebee and Optimus face masks with Real3D lenses, sat down in an audience (which included Peter Cullen and Tyrese Gibson) and watched a few music videos dedicated to fan-favourite characters who are inducted into the Transformers Hall of Fame for the rest of eternity. This year’s inductees were Ironhide, Ratchet, Soundwave, and Waspinator from Beasties with special dedications to Erector and Cliffjumper. Then there were presentations on two actual people inducted into the Hall of Fame with explanations of why they’re so important to the brand. This year it was Spielberg and Michael Bay, which I am okay with, but only since you can’t be inducted twice. I got all dressed up just to look at a screen and two presenters in a nice room for an hour or so? Not worth $45, but I think the boosted price just pays for the extravagance, and it’s nice that Transformers fans are able to have something with a modicum of class.

A lot of people suspected the audience would be treated to an advance airing of the upcoming movie, which didn’t happen; instead there was a 16 minute demo presented by Mr. Bay. Insane 3D explosion stuff with one of the best actors in the acting community and also Shia Lebouf being thrown through the air. Despite a very good reason not to be (the last movie) I’m excited for the next movie. I mean, come on, it’s got Shockwave so my ticket is already bought.

Sunday

While everybody gets a few last-minute deals with their remaining pocket change, the cosplayers had their dedicated panel. Giant ornate outfits crafted from all sorts of materials, just so humans can adopt the likenesses of their favourite characters. Although some outfits were just clothes colored to match characters, nobody was shunned for not going all out, even if some people went above and beyond. Mentioned earlier, Tomax and Xamot from G.I.Joe were hanging out with a Baroness -  the Transformers and G.I. Joe fandom have serious overlap.

This is where I am going to shout out to David Willis, who managed to run around the city to get the paperwork done to have a table at Botcon, then wasn’t able to for some reason, but then he ended up having a table anyway. I bought one of his comic books and grabbed a picture of him either deep in thought or suspiciously bored.

Shortly before closing time was Hasbro’s big last panel, where they showed a couple more of the original 13 Transformers (one was a girl, which explains why only a 13th of Transformers are girls) and some glimpses at new Transformers products on the super-far horizon (or even further depending on local distribution habits).

Speaking of girls, after I checked out of the hotel and spent an hour arranging my various pieces of luggage so that I could go home (Yes, Andy, let us lament the trouble you’re having stashing your loose Micromasters for the flight home while I try to put a Powermaster Optimus Prime into my bag), rather than taking my pre-arranged shuttle to the airport, I spent a few hours in the company of my internet friend April Hamm who is totally whoah.

All-in-all it was an incredible convention for me. Much better than last year’s con when there wasn’t as much new material prepared to flood the fandom. It also gave me a chance to do things that I just can’t do outside of Transformers conventions, like ask random people if they preferred Cybertron or Robots in Disguise. Whether or not I go next year depends on the location – I’m sure it will be somewhere much closer. However, if I ever have to return to Pasedena again I know there are the most incredible local babes to justify the extra flight time. Right now, though, I am eagerly awaiting Canada’s own TFcon next month, which handles the same brand with a northern flavor.

-Michael Ryan needs more shelves for toys.
EVERYTHING WAS WORTH IT.