Friday, April 06, 2007

transformers conventions in disguise

(this article is from the late 90s and originally appeared at

So my friend Dan came to town last weekend and we spent most of the time driving around doing some serious shopping. Yeah, I know it sounds pretty boring, but let's face it, I'm a pretty boring guy. I live in a fairly boring city. I drive a boring car and I have a boring job and I make up for it by seeking out and consuming weird pop culture from all over the place. I dunno, some guys hang-glide, others go for kickboxing, I root around in the detrius of civilization. Which one of us still has all his own teeth?

Anyway, Dan got to telling me about the Transformers convention he went to up in St. Paul the other week. That's right, Transformers, More Than Meets The Eye, Autobots and all that. Actually the name of the con was Bot-Con. It's an international thing, a convention that meets in a different city every year. Last year it was in Britain. This year it was in St. Paul. There are quite a few of these things, travelling cons - there are SF cons (Worldcon being the big example), there's even one for Gargoyles (the Disney TV cartoon about stone gargoyles come to life) that has been in two different continents so far. So I'm not too surprised somebody worked up a con for Transformers.

Knowing some Transformers fans, I'm not surprised at all. Transformers fans are sort of a weird hybrid between fanatical toy collectors, Trekkies, and anime fans. What's more, they're hard core. Most of the anime fans I know went through a Transformers phase when they were kids - you know, giant robots and all that - but once they discovered Robotech or Gundam, in other words, the real thing - they dropped Transformers before you could say "otaku."

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But not these guys. They know what they like, which is Autobots and Decepticons and Beast Wars and Headmasters and the Movie and ferreting out old Mint-On-Card toys and digging up the three Japan-only TV series and buying plastic bags full of broken toy parts at the Value Village because there's part of an Optimus Prime in there somewhere. I can't quite figure it myself - I never liked that half-assed Marvel Productions animation, which is just as flat and lifeless and sterile now as it was back in 1985. Watch an episode of Hulk or Fantastic Four today, and compare it to an episode of GI Joe or Transformers, and there's not a dime's worth of difference. Character design by committee - guaranteed to suck the life out of anything. Plus, I never liked the idea of sentient robots. Cartoon robots are things you climb inside and blow stuff up with -everybody knows that! I once even watched the entire Headmasters mini-series, because a friend of mine insisted that if only I watched this I'd be convinced that Transformers was as good as Zeta Gundam or Saint Seiya. When the 10-episode series was over and the only practical thing accomplished was to turn the surface of the planet Autocron gold, I'd had enough. But like I said, I don't have enough toy-collector in me, different strokes for different folks, etc., etc., etc.

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Anyway, Dan said Bot-Con was totally empty when he showed up - everybody was next door where representatives from Hasbro Toys (they own Transformers) and a guy from the CG animation company that produces Beast Wars were holding court and anwsering questions. Sample question, "Have you talked about making another Transformers movie?" "Yes, we've talked about it... next question." When the Q&A session was over the crowd moved back into the main hall, the dealer's room, where bits and pieces of Transformers history were on sale for widely varying prices. These guys had every kind of Transformers toy ever made, bits and pieces, on card, in box, out of box, and from what Dan said the dealers could tell you every single bit of trivia about the toy, when it was made, how many were made, what colors of plastic it was made in. There were even two special exclusive Bot-Con-only releases of Transformers toys, that Hasbro made JUST FOR BOT-CON! Now that is what I call knowing your market. Dan said the British Transformers fans were really interesting and the Japanese Transformers fans had really groovy T-shirts left over from the previous Transformers convention in Japan, but they were $20. The Bot-Con '99 shirts were cheaper but weren't nearly as good.

The goofiest thing about the con was, as Dan saw it, was the program book. It cost an extra $15, and while it had the schedule and lists of guests and everything, it was mostly fan fiction. Fan fiction that was continued from last year's program book, and didn't end this year, but would be continued next year. Now, I like fan fiction as much as the next guy, but putting it in the program book of a con is kind of suspect, having it be "to-be-continued" fan fiction is even worse, and charging an extra fifteen smackers for the whole shebang is highway robbery. That's what ADVERTISING is for, people- to pay for the program book.

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What Our Correspondent remembered best about the con was the go-getting attitude of the dealers. Seeing Dan as one of the few people at the con who wasn't carrying around a box full of previous Transformers purchases, the dealers zeroed in on him and launched every hard-sell missile they had in their arsenal. One guy even ripped a toy OUT of the bubble-pack so he could show it to Dan better. Now, I know toy collectors, and they'd rather rip out their own hearts than take away the precious "mint on card" status of their merchandise! Dan's not a big Transformers fan, and the other anime stuff was way overpriced ($70 for a toy Yamato gun that makes the wave-motion noise when you pull the trigger? I don't think so) so his wallet was safe.

(When this was originally published, Danno reposted it Usenet and it got crossposted to a Transformers fan message board and much hilarity ensued. Years later I still have zero interest in robots in disguise, so spare me your outrage, Transformers fans.)

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Tohoscope said...

That was a fun saturday afternoon. If Bot-Con comes to your town I'd recommend going straight to the Art Show where you can find wonderful things like life sized oil paintings of Optimus Prime and Megatron depicted in macrame. Now that's dedication to your art!

davehellmerrill said...

There's a Transformers convention in Toronto every year in a few rooms at the Doubletree, but it doesn't look like much more than a dealer's room. I would totally go if there was an art show...

Ninjatron said...

Heh, cool. I was at BotCon in 99. It was big time fun. I haven't been to one since, as the local Toronto TransformersCon is good enough for me. There is an art display there but it's not as big as it really should be.


Plaid_Knight said...

Heh. I loved Beast Wars when I was in college and still do. Even if you don't care for the other shows in the series, I think you'd really enjoy that one .

To each his own.

saint seiya said...

Great piece, thanks a lot for spending the time to write it. I like the direction you are taking your blog. I just ordered these consoles at PIJ! I’m excited! I’m going to have these in week!