Report on: Botcon 2013

Transformers is a big brand. With numerous appearances across all media, a new movie on the horizon, and almost thirty years of history, it’s developed a large and loyal following of fans who annually fly in from all over the world to share a building with hundreds of other aficionados who can name each of the G1 combiner teams1 – and to meet with the contributing individuals who make the brand what it is. Botcon (June 27th-30th) is big, official, and old, but it still has a lot of room for improvement in years when there’s no movie coming out.

Reports on previous year’s Botcons: 2011 | 2012

For more photographs than those in the article, check out our Facebook Album for the event.

The decision to hold Botcon in San Diego this year was questionable. A lot of people are waiting for Botcon’s overdue return to the Northeast, and with a movie coming out, next year’s convention will likely be California again. But by being in San Diego, Botcon at least provided travellers with the opportunity to see an urban landscape far distinct from Toronto’s. The particular hotel/convention centre happened to also be hosting a scooter convention and a scrapbooking convention, which is less funny than when Botcon shared space with a Hot Wheels convention.

After potentially hours in line for registration and exclusives, attendees were allowed to enter the various events and the exhibitors’ hall. The convention was anchored by dealers selling all kinds of Transformers toys like Japanese imports, loose second-hand Transformers toys, or extra Mini-cons. Of course, it was many people’s first opportunity to get the gigantic new Metroplex toy that won’t likely be at retail in Canada until next fall. Although the rules forbid unlicensed transformer toys, this rule wasn’t strongly enforced and as the convention went on more tables had toys which took liberties with Hasbro’s intellectual property. Thankfully UPS had a booth to assist people in shipping their wares home. Perhaps next year IKEA can have a display.

This year the exhibitors’ hall was missing representation from video-game developers High Moon and Jagex. This is likely because High Moon can’t reveal anything about their next game due to how secretive everything involving the upcoming film is, and Jagex just didn’t have anything new to share. But one licensor was there: comic publisher IDW and their artists, including Toronto convention regular Alex Milne.

Other special guests this year were Glen Morshower, who played military personnel in the three live-action Transformers films. Having a minor character as the guest is discouraging, but like Mark Ryan at TFcon 2010, he drew on his experiences from outside of Transformers for energy and was a lively an entertaining panelist. Fr example, he ended up telling the surreal story of how he developed the habit of putting crackers in his underwear and marshmallows in his socks. The other “big” guest was Jason Jansen, the child who spoke with Optimus during some reruns of the Transformers show. His presence was a fascinating experiment in seeing “Will anybody really care?”

Aside from those two, the real notable guests were a large number of voice actors from the Rescue Bots show whose panels and autograph lines were all grouped together harshly. Even though I only had an interest in meeting Steve Blum, I ended up with the chance to meet Maurice Lemarche but didn’t have any Ghostbusters issues on hand to have signed. Considering Steve also voices Starscream and Shockwave, he could have had his own line. Jason Marsden was also very cool, interacting with fans outside of scheduled appearances. A better system for an autograph line would be appreciated.

A big part of Botcon is its being the best place for official news regarding the brand’s plans for the rest of the year. While IDW didn’t have any huge news to reveal, Hasbro had slides of much of their upcoming product. There were many “Constructibots” toys to steal away Bionicle fans, and several toys with simpler designs for younger audiences. After all that boring stuff they revealed the new “Generations” figures, G1 characters redone to answer the demand triggered by their recent appearances in the IDW comics, and including the lovable bartender Swerve. And drawing a lot of attention were the upcoming new Rhinox and Waspinator figures the world has been awaiting for more than ten years. Sadly, there was no news on the future of the Transformers: Prime television series after the next film takes the attention of the brand in 2014.

Other events:

• MSTF returned, featuring episodes being mocked live by the hosts. With some better episode choices than last year, there were also more laughs.

• The film festival could use more submissions, a more modern submission policy could really increase the number of submissions so that they have enough to weed out some of the weaker ones.

• Friday night featured the 2007 Transformers movie projected on a screen in a garden where it was enjoyed by kids and adults.

• The Hall of Fame was completely marginalized. While the past three years had given it ceremony and class to applaud the brand’s more important characters and contributors , this year it was cut away from the fancy casino night dinner and reduced to a couple of slides. I personally hold the event in high regard since it was introduced during my first year at Botcon.

• The casino night dinner returned again and was a good opportunity to see the fandom looking better than they typically appear – it’s a refined opposite of the dance parties held at open-concept conventions. And while the quasi-gambling might not appeal to everybody, any buffet of tasty actual food is appreciated since typical convention cuisine is uncooked pop-tarts.

While people with costumes wore them all weekend, the scheduled photo-shoot was on Sunday’s costuming panel. There were a lot of people in outfits: some were huge mechanical piles of craft-foam and cardboard, some were clothing and props meant to simply evoke the giant robots they abstractly represented. A lot of girls dressed as robot boys and one boy dressed as a teenage girl. To contact the high-end artisans of this craft, look at the Transcostumers message board, where they’re already deep into planning next year’s wardrobes.

  

Exclusives: Attendees of Botcon had the unique chance to purchase a good number of toys made as souvenirs for  the convention: 5 boxed figures revealed in, 1 figure who came with them (Starscream), 4 more for purchase at ticket pick-up, 1 unpainted figure, and 3 “troop builders.” There were also five miniature “Kreon” figures based on the box set. Altogether it’s a full shelf of toys to kill any sense of frugality you might have come with. On top of the toys, there were comics, prints, and clothing. But this year everybody had their own cool T-shirts so few people were redundantly wearing the convention shirt. The Hoist figure has a minor assembly error which shouldn’t ruin it for anybody.

Once the convention was done (or before it started) attendees would want to check out other parts of scenic San Diego, a city surrounded by distant hills dotted with mansions and palm trees instead of Ontario’s complete horizon of woodlands. Almost the entire city is filled with smooth lounge music.

With the game companies MIA, the Hall of Fame being a side-note, and too much of the big news being saved for mainstream crowds at the San Diego Comic-Con later this summer and no theme park next door, this Botcon was rather weak compared to the last two. But it was still an amazing experience for seasoned convention-goers, and next year’s convention will have the hype for a new movie and the 30th anniversary of the brand, so it should be huge. Hopefully 2013 isn’t an indicator of what Botcon will always be in years where there’s no movie.

Previous years have left the impression that Fun Publication doesn’t throw good conventions on their own; they just attract an addicted fandom and let exhibitors and guests provide the entertainment value. This year continues to support that theory, although there was usually some panel to watch or some item to consider buying. Toronto’s own Transformers convention, TFcon (July 26th to 28th), knows how to make it’s own amusement, and has an impressive marquee of guests on top of that. It’s a must-attend for any Ontario residents who wanted to go to Botcon but couldn’t suffer the flight.

-Miko Ryan, July 6th, 2012

Personal experiences:

I shared a shuttle ride from the airport with Glen Morshower, what a cool guy!

I was crossplaying for reasons hard for me to specify: partially to annoy the bores, partially to be the first male Miko crossplayer, partially to show off my legs. When Steve Blum asked me for a picture, I considered my outfit a success. And the fandom should be proud of itself since nobody was intolerant enough to speak against my genderbending. Also, dressing up allowed me to get to know the wonderful Transcostumers people who I killed some time with. I’m undecided about whether I want to crossplay next year.

1 Constructicons, Aerialbots, Stunticons, Combaticons, Protectobots, Terrorcons, Predacons, Seacons, Monster Pretenders.

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  • Tony

    Hmm – Monster Pretenders, but no Technobots? In any case, thanks for the info!