Most Transformers fans don't know it, and most casual fans won't give a shit, but there's actually a yearly party - to end all parties - devoted to you: the Transformers enthusiast. A convention that unfortunately doesn't meet with high media ties formed in 1994, and every year since has been held and various spots across the U.S. for Transformer die-hards to meet, greet, congregate, and argue over whether the fucker should be called Skyfire or Jetfire. Fittingly enough, its called Botcon.
I had only really heavily gotten into the world of TFs again back in late '96. I was always into geeky crap, and watched the movie an awful lot, but I must've been pretty novice at that point, since I remember making a 20.00 bet with someone that the Autobot city's name was Magnavox. Glory be. My downfall was accidental - I started college, and I needed cash. Since I wasn't dorming, school was a two-hour commute each way a day, so the idea of going to get a part-time job wasn't enthralling. I turned to eBay..hey, I had been making deals to buy this shit since I was in my mother's stomach, surely I deserved a little something back. Some guy made what we in the toy collecting business refer to as a ridiculously huge fucking mistake, and traded me four giant boxes of the toys for a few Beetlejuice figures. I'm sure none of you out there have any idea what this means, but it makes the Native Americans selling off NYC for beads look like the fairest trade in history.
Anyway, I got them with the intent of selling 'em...but as soon as I opened those boxes and saw them again, I was immediately hooked. I apologized to my Star Wars video library for finding a new obsession, and delved deep into the lore regarding a bunch of robots who for some reason need to disguise themselves even though every human on Earth was well aware that they were there.
The obsession eventually correlated nicely with the fact that I have no legs and stay on the net all day, since there was a wonderful thing called Transformers newsgroups. Newsgroups are kinda like message boards, only a little less annoying, and there were several dedicated solely to TFs. Now, understand why this was great for a fan: in real life, if you were lucky enough to find a Transfan, you'd have to dumb down your own geekiness for the conversation...usually you'd just talk about where Prime's stupid trailer went when he transformed, or why Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. But here? Nuh uh, this was the big leagues. Here you could jump right into a debate over whether or not Skywarp wanted to defect to the good guys without anyone even suggesting you were a loser. HooksX, how we miss you.
Being in there for awhile, I heard all this talk about a mysterious entity called 'Botcon'. People who never met made plans to meet up, have dinner, even make babies, all in the name of Botcon. People salivating at the mouth over the idea of limited edition toys, people arguing over any potential surprise guests, and best of all: people finally getting a chance to be in their own elements and do as they wished without fearing that the 'normals' would outcast them from their usual reindeer games.
So what goes on at a 'Botcon'? Well, be warned, its only for the extremist fan. I mean...really extremist. Even I'd be out of place at this thing. Its completely Transformers...if you brought a non-fan friend to it, chances are good they wouldn't be your friend much longer. It'd be kinda like going underwear shopping with your mother for them, only not with quite as much need for recooperative therapy afterwards. Its an event! For 2-3 days, screenings of the movies are shown, fans buy toys, special guests appear, and yes: the world's largest, most disturbing pizza party takes place.
The guests vary from year to year, and since the idea of having random people show up in cardboard Ultra Magnus costumes was scratched, usually the fans get to interact with some of the more famous voice actors and comic people who helped create the legacy. Alright, so these aren't the type of people whose autographs you frame, but its cooler than having the chance to meet 'Boy with complete Fort Max' or 'that guy who has every Transformers UK comic'. Now, if only they'd get Robert Stack and Judd Nelson to show up, then we'd be in for a party. And for those of you who don't get that joke, I commend you for having a life.
For the Transfan, meeting some of the special guests was definitely pretty cool. In the past, the convention's had Larry DiTillio, who made up one half of the editing team for the late, great Beast Wars series, a show that had better writing than most of what's on prime time television. (if you'll recall, I interviewed him a long time ago on the site..check that out here) Next up: Vince DiCola. He might not be Stan Bush, but he did the instrumental score to the Transformers movie...so without his work, we might've misintepreted Prime's death as a comedic moment. If you don't believe me, try watching it with the volume off. How robots can get hooked up to heart meters is beyond me.
Rounding out the guests - Simon Furman, who is a legend to many comic fans. He wrote many of the original American TF comics, but his arguably best work was with the comics produced over in the UK - comics so good that people will get second mortages on their homes to attain a full set. Finally, Charo also appeared.
Most hardcore Transfans are also hardcore TF collectors. The two go hand-in-hand, like a story plot revolving around Seaspray's love life, and a shitty episode. So Botcon isn't all about a bunch of people holding on to their childhood for dear life by realizing there's others like them...its also about a bunch of people holding on to their childhood for dear life by paying way too much for old toys!
There they are, the infamous dealer tables. Imagine having the opportunity to waltz through the aisles of a 1984 Toys'R'Us, only the prices are jacked up 5000%. That's what you're looking at here. The people who orchestrate the Botcon festivities historically tend to downplay the toy sales, for a few reasons. Number one, it might seem a little redundant and annoying to some to pay money to get into a convention, just to pay more money to buy toys. Number two, you never know what the dealers are gonna sell, so if they try to promote it based on that, people'll rip out their optics. And, finally, it would be kind of a slap in the face to the special guest if their names appeared in small print under 'OLD CRAP FOR SALE' on the marquee.
In reality, its a big part of it. I should know, I lived off selling these things for two years...they're fucking expensive. Not everyone can afford to shell out a few hundred bucks if they want to see what Bluestreak looks like painted the right colors. So even for those who don't go to Botcon looking to spend their live savings, just checking out the wares is good enough for them. Of course, Botcon itself offers limited edition toys that you can only pick up there - or more specifically, a select few lucky ones who really get on line early. These Botcon exclusives are actually just repaints of figures already on the market, but they're repainted to look like characters you can't buy, and they come in nifty packaging, so they're worth the cash. Many of the characters are entirely ficitional and have never appeared on the show or in the comics, but for the sake of...umm, another paragraph, we'll just accept them. Here's a few past exclusive toys and other items that were available...
There's the Antagony figure, a repaint of the Beast Warrior Inferno, looking as sexy as a plastic bug robot could in black and violet. This is one of the more highly sought of the exclusive, and people will spend over 200 bucks to get her. Insane when you think about it, but remember, people also paid 60 bucks for Dreamcast's Blue Stinger when it came out. Now stores can't hock the fuckers for 9.99. Supply and demand.
Tons of little Optimus Prime pictures swirl together to form one giant one in this exclusive mosaic poster, which defies all logic by carrying a pricetag of around a hundred bucks in today's market. It looks like it'd drive some people insane, sorta like one of those Where's Waldo games, only in this one someone will direct you to find the one picture of Optimus standing on one leg amongst the other 567 pictures of him standing on both.
The screening room! This is where they show the Transformers Movie, repeatedly, and if you're lucky, some other stuff. That's one of the biggest selling points in going to Botcon, even for those of you who aren't forming religions based on Kup's war stories. Chances are very slim that the movie will ever be rereleased in theatres, so unless you've got a really giant television, this is as close as you'll get to the cinematic experience without creating a time machine. And, if you hate Transformers and people who like 'em, its a good place to go and make fun of anyone who cries when Brawn gets shot. Hell, I love TFs and even I can laugh at that enough to make an article about it. I can't deny Prime dying being a touching moment, but c'mon, the fact that Brawn charged at fourteen Decepticons without even a gun in hand isn't exactly a star tribute to his brain circuitry. In fact, it was Brawn who made the biggest Transformers faux paus of all time, in the highly-regarded but rarely seen special Thanksgiving episode:
Prime: Well Autobots, Thanksgiving is upon us! And you know what that means, right? Its time for me to go downtown and pick us up a turkey!
Brawn: What?! Optimus! No, you can't!
Prime: What the Hell are you talking about?!
Brawn: Prime, you can't bring a turkey back to headquarters, don't you understand? The mighty Decepticon warrior known as Trypticon is in turkeys! He'll kill us all!
Prime: Brawn, you idiot! You're thinking of tryptophan, not Trypticon. Christ I'm working with the biggest bunch of idiots from here to Cybertron. If only I was born with a purple emblem on my chest. If only... I hate you people.
Getting back on track, Botcon is headed for its eighth year come 2001. I'm thinking about making the pilgramage, but we've still got a long wait. For those interested, the next Botcon will take place July 14-15, 2001 at Durham Civic Center in North Carolina. Believe me, tickets sell faster than you'd think. For more information as it becomes available, head on over to the official site at Botcon.Com. Guaranteed good time...if you're into that sort of thing.
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