Botcon 2012

Every year, every Transformer fan who can afford the voyage makes a pilgrimage to Botcon, the official Transformers convention. There were a lot of road bumps on the way to the convention this year – a questionable location (Dallas, Texas), questionable scheduling (April 26-29, the middle of exam time), and some major credit card fraud. Truthfully, once you’re at the convention itself most of those things don’t matter and all worries are washed away in a torrent of toys and hype at the Hyatt Regency hotel and convention centre.

Thursday night is line night. First, attendees get in line for registration and to pick up the exclusives they’ve pre-reserved. This line is divided alphabetically by name so some people were waiting in line for more than an hour, other for a few minutes, depending on if you’re Zeke Zebediah or Aaron Aaronson. This way of breaking up the lines was fine five years ago before the movies and a new animated series multiplied the number of attendees. Now it’s pretty unfair. Next you line up for the chance to buy more exclusives which you can’t pre-reserve because nobody knows what they are until the start of the convention. The convention staff operating the registration table are too friendly to serve the lines at the best pace. At least the big lines are out of the way early.

The exclusives included
* Six figures which come in a huge box, with a bonus figure for attendees only.
* Three almost identical motorcycles.
* Two souvenir two-packs.
* A customization class figure, Shockwave.
That’s more figures than the average kid’s Transformers collection. This year some are very good (Kick-Out), some are just okay (evil universe Soundwave). Nobody as good as Doublepunch from 2010. Re-selling them at a profit is pretty easy, though. I don’t mind “Evil Universe” as a theme but with it used twice in the past five years I hope they can shelve it for a long while now.

When the convention began on Saturday, the first event was MSTT: Mystery Science Theatre Transformers, where everybody crowded into the Reunion Ballroom (re-purposed into an auditorium which never ran out of seating) and watched episodes of Transformers while three professional goofballs made fun of them. This year the goofballs were David Willis, Trent Troup, and Greg Spelak. Some of the riffs were funny, some were terrible groaners, and some were references to commercials I haven’t seen. Between episodes there were some comically poorly acted sketches in the tradition of Mike/Joel & the Bots. It’s good that it returned after a three year absence and there were a lot of laughs in the audience but it would fit better later at night, after everybody had a few drinks with dinner.

Then for some filler event there’s the Film fest, which had some funny films and a few films that would better to watch on YouTube than with a crowd. Next was the TCC (Transformers Collector’s Club) comic panel, which was alright for time killing, and after that some designated lunch time. But really everybody is just waiting for the dealer room to finally open to the public. A 2 PM opening is very late, considering other toy shows are mostly closed by 3 PM.

Inside of the dealer room there was a new product displays, the autograph line, a both for IDW, professional comic artists, and of course tons and tons of vendors selling old and new Transformers from around the world. While at one point hard to find, Scourge and Sergeant Kups were pretty plentiful, Alternity and Titanium figures were on sale in the hundreds, and it’s the best place on earth to finish off your Beast Wars collection. For extra good deals you’ll want to find the Japanese dealer Azusa.

Guests for this convention included: voice actors David Kaye, Gary Chalk, G1 voice actors Dan Gilvezan and Peter Cullen (making it his third Botcon in a row). For fans of the comics there were writers John Barber, and Chris Mowry, Chris Metzen, artists Livio Raimondelli, Casey Coller and colourist Josh Perez. Instead of having an exclusive cover variant, IDW had a small packet of four prints you could get signed by attending guests. A full plate of fandom celebrities, but the real treat however was the honoured Simon Furmanimported from England.

Also camped out in the Dealer’s room were David Willis, writer and artist of Shortpacked!, the web-comic series that provides terrific insight into the collector lifestyle. And Colin Douglas was marketing Canada’s own TFcon (which is like Botcon with street cred). You know who isn’t there? Organizations which produce third party toys that come close to violating Hasbro’s intellectual property – since the concept of “Intellectual Property” exists exactly to prevent those kind of violations. But if you really need your bootlegs, there’s a hotel room with the hook-up.

If you haven’t checked out Kre-O Transformers, then perhaps reconsider. Stealing the concept from LEGO, they’re Transformers you build out of bricks and generic pieces for tiny “Kreons” to pilot. Last year introduced the product line, this year will have many more sets and numerous adorable Kreons. Kreons aren’t currently slated to be sold individually but honestly, if you can enjoy playing with a Kreon, you’re qualified to enjoy building a car for them.

The Fall Of Cybertron Booth & Panel always drew a big crowd, with some playable demos and plenty of souvenir posters. The gameplay looks pretty solid and some graphical issues in the first game have been taken care of. The cast of playable characters is much larger and there’s a lot of refinement to the character builder for the multiplayer mode which should enhance replay value. There’s a lot of people out there who love Transformers as a brand but are more accustomed to wandering Best Buy instead of Toys R Us, so this game is the perfect product for that market

Close by, Jagex officials signed people up for the Transformers Universe MMORPG and answered questions. It’s browser-based multi-player online, but still 3D, and free to play. It’s now clear that the game will be it’s own entity and not have too much conceptual overlap with the action Fall Of Cybertron brings.

Peter Cullen’s panel was typical Q&A but had one exceptional moment where he referenced his brother, Larry Cullen, who inspired Optimus Prime’s manner of speaking. Apparently Larry Cullen passed away last March. In honour of Larry, a marine who served in Vietnam, the crowd stood up and gave loud applause for several minutes and clearly having some emotional effect on Peter. A genuinely priceless moment.

But please Botcon organizers, take a lesson from Con-G and have people line-up to ask questions rather than doing random crowd selection. This way all questions can be screened, which is needed with this crowd.

Transformers: Animated’s art director Derrick J Wyatt had a Q&A panel which was fun but the experience is a little dampened by knowing he’s always available for Q&A on his Formspring page. He looks a lot better with a full beard instead of just a moustache.

The Hall Of Fame event on Saturday evening was a special formal event. This year’s human inductees were Simon Furman and Starscream’s late voice actor, Chris Latta. Simon’s presence in the Hall Of Fame was, considering his contributions to the brand, inevitable. His acceptance speech was mercifully quick though. Chris Latta’s aware was graciously received by his daughter, Abigail Collins. For the fictional character inductees, Shockwave, Grimlock, Jazz and fan-choice Wheeljack were welcomed. Beast Wars Megatron, Hot Rod, and Arcee will have to wait until next year, no telling what will happen to Sky-Byte. Maybe the event didn’t have an eyegasmic 16 minute movie preview like last year, but it didn’t have a $40 ticket either, and the food provided was  tasty.

Following the Hall Of Fame event was the Casino night where people could buy points (money goes to charity) and gamble them to win prizes. This event worked a lot better after the Hall Of Fame than it did on it’s own. And all money raised goes to help fund a hospital in Fort Wayne.

Sunday, Simon Furman had a panel of his own. He went over some unpublished material he’s written, mostly stuff he’s covered on his blog before. But the big subject everybody wanted information on was ReGeneration 1: A continuation of his legendary series of runs on the G1 and G2 Marvel comic which sounds like the Transformers equivalent of Kingdom Come. ReGeneratin will be 20 issues long, and the first one drops on Free Comic Book Day.

He also didn’t make any references to the movie he’s prohibited from talking about but I’m very excited over whatever it might end up being, even if it doesn’t involve Transformers.

Other comic news: IDW Edittor John Barber confirmed that there’s a definitive reading order for both Transformers and G.I. Joe which should be released in the next two or three weeks, which is very good because with around 130 issues which jump around a period of several million years, it is very confusing to put them all in correct linear sequence. Also coming out is a book collecting all the bot art the Transformers toys have ever used, which is awesome to exactly the same number of people who showed up for Botcon. No more Spotlights coming out for a while, and no news on the Infestation 3 crossover and if it’ll involve Kill Shakespeare.

    

The final event on Sunday was the Cosplay gathering. There was a presentation on prop and outfit construction from representations of the Transcostumers forum, and after that was over the real highlight began where all the girls dressed up as robots flaunted their custom made suits. I think the most impressive outfit there was clearly Brake-Down, but I’m going to give a shout out to the Miko who sat quietly in the audience until she totally switched gears and rocked out in character. Oddly, I think all the cosplayers might have been girls this year. Only one My Little Pony at this convention, but Pinkie Pie was a lot less scary than last year’s Rainbow Dash.

While I brought a lot of emotional baggage to the convention and expected it to be my last one, but soon as I entered the dealer’s room I changed my mind. I got to meet a lot of cool people, both fans and professionals, experience the heat of Dallas, and buy toys I you can’t find anywhere else. Although it didn’t have a world-class theme park attached or super-exclusive preview of any upcoming movie, it’s still a good final stage in the fandom experience. Still, there’s a lot of bugs in the framework that should have been patched years ago.

• If you’re free from July 27th to the 29th, Canada has it’s own Transformer convention: TFcon, which is a great experience with just as many toys and special guest Scott McNeil.
• Anime North is May 25th to 27th and is one of the most gigantic conventions in Canada with fans of everything from Japan. There’s also a fun Transformers panel, usually hosted by Ninjatron.

-Michael Ryan, 5/4/12

Seriously dudes, screen your Q&A questions.

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