Sunday, June 5, 2011

Botcon 2011

Well, that was fun. Fun and exhausting, but definitely with an emphasis on the fun. Jim has been bugging me about attending Botcon since we became friends so this year I decided to finally take the plunge and fly out to Los Angeles to hang out with Jim, his Allspark Almanac co-creator Bill Forster, and several thousand other Transformers fans.

Other sites will run a blow by blow breakdown of all the news, hints and exclusive toys from the convention this year but I figure it'll be more effective if I just give my impressions as a first-time Botcon goer.

Even given all I knew about the convention, I was not quite prepared for the sheer size. I attended Auto Assembly in the UK last year and, while that was highly enjoyable and will no doubt become a yearly event for me, Botcon was on a different scale.

We arrived to register and pick up our exclusive toys at six o'clock on the Thursday and the queue was incredibly long. The atmosphere was excited and lots of fans who hadn't seen each other for a long time, or were just meeting new people were having a great time. Even so - you could tell that this was going to be a long evening. I was very glad that I could get it out of the way before the convention began in earnest. Pleasingly, the unavoidable tedium of standing in a relentless queue was offset delightfully by an enormous fondue meal with Jim, Bill and some fans we knew from Auto Assembly.

How was the convention proper? Incredible wouldn't be too far off. For one thing, I had never been to the United States before, which was special in itself, for another, it was just all Transformers, all the time and, given that I am more into the fiction aspect of the hobby than the toy-collecting, having the con' in Los Angeles was fantastic because it enabled a great number of voice actors, writers and artists to come together in one place. (It also enabled me to stay with Jim, making things much more affordable, but that's not especially relevant).

After a hearty breakfast we kicked off the Friday by attending the script reading session for the convention exclusive comic Transformers: Animated - The Stunti-Con Job, by Marty Isenberg. It was a very amusing script made hilarious by excellent performances. The ever-reliable David Kaye continued his sterling work as Animated Optimus Prime but really shone as the ludicrously fatalistic Dead-End. Neil Ross (G1's Springer) narrated the piece as a new character, Sideswipe, and brought exactly the right tone for a slightly washed-up police-bot on the verge of retirement. Greg Berger, usually heard booming out the voice of G1 Grimlock, showed his versatility by giving us an excellent interpretation of Cheetor. Unfortunately Jack Angel could not attend but superfan Vangelis stepped up and gave an admirable performance. Marty Isenberg's enthusiastic Sentinel Prime was also not to be missed. Morgan Lofting (Firestar, although most famous GI-Joe's Baroness) made what amounted to two highly memorable cameos as Drag-Strip and Strika. Special recognition in particular has to be given to special guest Abby Collins, daughter of the late, great Chris Latta (G1 Starscream) who put in a very funny performance as Minerva, an annoyingly persistent Autobot medic.

Moving on from that reading it was at last time for the Dealer's Room to be opened. I was blown away by the amount of different toys at Auto Assembly, so you can imagine how wide my eyes must have been when I walked into that hall. I'm not actually a massive toy collector, as space and money are both concerns, but that doesn't mean I didn't want everything I laid eyes on - especially the five Autobot vehicles from the live action movie - all buffed to an otherworldly sheen. In addition to this you had artist's alley where numerous prints and original artwork from Transformers' artists could be found and various booths from Hasbro and their partners displaying current and upcoming products. This included stuff like Kreo - a line of build it yourself toys, and Transformers: Universe, an upcoming massively multiplayer game, among the more obvious new movie and Prime toys from Hasbro.

When five o'clock came we retired to a local Japanese Barbecue place for a wonderfully tasty all you can eat meal and, naturally, more Transformers talk.

Saturday was when the meat of the more formally timed events of the con' really began. We started off with a very interesting panel from IDW who laid out their (mostly spoiler-free) notions for the upcoming Chaos event and what they had planned for Transformers into the future. Current ongoing writer Mika Costa was in attendance as well as veteran Transformers scribe Flint Dille, who is going to be working on a new web-only Transformers venture: Autocracy. Also of note was the last goodbye from Andy Schmidt, who has now stepped down as Editor-in-Chief in order to go to work for Hasbro.

We remained in our seats for the next panel which was delivered by Hasbro and gave us hints and examples of upcoming Transformers products. Obviously there was a great deal of Dark Of The Moon but Prime was also featured, even though they don't intend to release until December - those toys in particular are looking great.

Hunger, and not wanting to be spoiled for an episode I had not yet seen meant that I skipped the Transformers: Prime script reading and went on an epic quest to find a burger - harder than you'd think in Pasadena but that was mostly my fault for being cheap.

We made it back in time for a lively panel celebrating twenty-five years of Transformers: The Movie with several of those who had been involved in its production. Flint Dille, Greg Berger, and Neil Ross appeared from earlier, Ross in particular proving to be an asset at his first Botcon with his warm but very dry sense of humour. Paul Eiding (the voice of G1 Perceptor) had been bussed in to replace the sick Jack Angel and the four provided a good mix of insight, witty banter and character voices. Naturally much time was given over for questions and the panel fielded fan queries and requests with aplomb.

Deciding to hang out in the hotel lobby we spent some time talking to various fans before very fortunately being given two and a half free pizzas by someone whose eyes were bigger than their belly. This provided ample sustenance before we hit a bar. As neither, Jim, Bill, nor myself had tickets to the Hall Of Fame event we went for a few beverages before coming back to the hotel and chatting with other fans in the bar until it was really way past time for bed.

Once again we need to be at the hotel bright and early on Sunday to catch the first panel - an interesting one where the Collector's Club explained the development of the Stunti-Con Job comic. Writer Marty Isenberg and fan contributors Trent and Greg provided some commentary on the comic while Animated art director Derek Wyatt talked about the designs used in the story that were then translated into the con' exclusive toys, including fan-favourite Ironfist.

Straight up after that was a panel by the writers and producers of the Transformers: Prime cartoon that talked about the history of the production while giving us some intriguing hints as to where it might be leading. Questions were enthusiastically answered but with a minimum of spoilers. Still, the end of Season 1 and start of Season 2 seem like they're going to be a thrill-ride.

Almost as a sequel to the previous day's Transformers: The Movie panel we then went straight into a panel populated by G1 voice actors. Everyone from the previous day was there, minus Flint Dille, and Michael McConnohie (G1 Tracks), Morgan Lofting and Arlene Banas (Carly in the G1 cartoon) joined them. Once again it was a very genial gathering with a group of funny and talented people who seemed genuinely touched to have had such an impact on such a large number of fans.

Rounding off the weekend as far as panels were concerned was Hasbro's second of the weekend, featuring only Aaron Archer and Rik Alverez. They discussed some of the challenges and rewards from being the custodians of Transformers continuity and showed the audience some exciting titbits of things to come as well as some highly obscure unreleased product - Actionmaster Cliffjumper got a big cheer. Most significant going forward were the hints about the Original Thirteen Transformers that were accompanied by some wonderful Warcraft style artwork that really spoke to the mythic nature of these entities. The panel struck a delicate balance between simply giving us Transformers history and leaving intriguing hints that stories can be told in. Exiles, the sequel to the novel Exodus by Alex Irvine got a pretty big plug and looks to deal with a lot of this backstory.

Less chronologically, but just as important as the official panels there were numerous entertainments for the Transformers-loving punter. A row of cars parked across the street had been decked out as Autobots, with a particularly impressive G1 Ratchet; costumes abounded, and ranged from the impressionistic to the fiercely accurate, with a movie Starscream that has to be seen to be believed. In general everyone was very friendly, fans and professionals and while the mingling of the two was not quite as pronounced as I experienced at Auto Assembly, everyone had time to chat and seemed genuinely pleased to be there.

So that, apart from a quick pass of the dealer's room and a few conversations with some fans, was that. There is definitely a post-convention shell-shock to contend with. It takes a few hours of adjustment to realise that not everybody you see knows or cares about Transformers and when you get home and sit quietly, and realise you're not going to do it again for another year a kind of malaise creeps over you (except for me, WHOO! Auto Assembly in August!). This was the second convention I have been to and obviously the biggest. In terms of sheer information and things to see and do it is clearly unparalleled and I really hope I can manage to attend next (and every) year.


Caitlin said...

Have you considered an Animated Almanac Vol 3? Seeing all the TFA stuff thats been done since vol 2 and all the stuff thats happened with Botcon and funpub theres plenty to fill the pages of vol 3 (or at least vol2.5)

Jimtron said...

I'd love to do an AllSpark Almanac 3, or 2.5. If it's something you'd like to see, let IDW know, let Fun Pub know, let Hasbro know.

Caitlin said...

Need to get some kind of campaign on the go for this.

I'm guessing your partner in crime would be up for it, wouldn't he?

Just need to find out to to email at IDW, FunPub and Hasbro.

Stick a unseen new characters in there and some new techspecs that weren't on the botcon lithographs and hey presto its a collectors item.

Still Lots of Animted love out there...and we're all still awaiting season 3 on dvd