Exploding on to the scene back in 1994….wait back it up ten years… Exploding on to the scene back in 1984, The Transformers, a named as coined by a young, fresh 24 year-old exec named Jay Bacal, was first released as a four issue limited series by Marvel Comics. Initially as a means of capitalizing on newly licensed toy molds from Takara in Japan, the comic was an overnight success, spawning 80 more issues of its initial American run, three seasons of at least six different television series, three theatrical films (with a definite fourth in the works), and about 6 billion toys!
Back to the present…err past…, in 1994 the Hartman brothers decided that the love of the Transformers franchise was just too be big to ignored or forgotten, as the series had run almost continually in some form 1984 to about 1993, so they decided to create a convention for the legion of lost, yet devoted fans. That convention was called Botcon, and it is with no irony what-so-ever that I, the author of this piece, was born in the town of this beast’s origin, Fort Wayne, Indiana. I say beast because that’s exactly what Botcon is, a living, breathing, hairy, smelly, gargantuan, carnivorous, blood thirsty creature from the Id of every lustfully greedy, yet entirely loving and devoted 9 year-old in all of us.
This is not a place to put on heirs, yet it isn’t exactly that sketch from SNL (where William Shanter asks the Trekkies if they’ve ever moved out of their parent’s basement or kissed a girl), as not just the twenty-something geeks and weirdoes sneak out of the woodwork for this, no entire families congregate by the thousand to the holiest of Transformer holies. It is here that virtually anyone who’s anyone can come and rattle off statistics and references to things other people would just never understand…seriously, they’d probably ask for your native country of origin.
But getting back to the beast this year, it being the 15th anniversary and the forerunner to the summer’s big upcoming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, was perhaps the biggest and best Botcon yet! With over a dozen big name celebrity guests (at least to fans that is), an entire Hasbro expo of upcoming merchandise that included video games, coloring/drawing exercises, toys, comics, posters, and free figures, well over 100 vendors, continual door prize contests, celeb panels & autographs (not to mention the lines for them, SH*T!), and between 5,300-6,800 guests this year, Botcon officially devoured Unicron with one bite (see twenty-five years of TF mythology for reference).
With each day positively packed to the brim, there’s virtually no way to cover every aspect of the event, but I shall try to summarize day by day as concisely as I can. On Friday, those brave souls who purchased the uber-crazy primus or Iacon package (or press pass, ahem) got to hear the panel for the team behind the newest animated series, aptly titled “Transformers: Animated”, as they discussed the show and showed some unseen animated shorts. Later the musicians Stan Bush and Vince DiCola gave a similar panel discussion on the original 1986 film score, as well as Stan’s involvement with the latest and…uumm..upcoming summer Baybuster Revenge of the Franchise…err..Fallen.
Appropriately, the writer’s of such disaster productions as The Island, Star Trek, and the summer film that stayed back in 2007 due to its inability to gleam the faintest interest of anyone not being bombarded with it in the theater, MICHAEL BAY’S Transformers. Gracing the all to eager fans with their immaculately gracious presence, the writer’s delineated responses only those possessed of pure, appealing genius could produce to the quivering masses of zealots who decided to take the unloaded, metal barrel out of their mouths to come to a convention for three days. Sorry, I’m a human being possessed of emotions, feelings, and, veeeeery rarely, uuhhh thoughts(!), and if there’s one thing I despise more than having them beaten and twisted in front of my eyes, its having them beaten and twisted in the context of my most prized childhood characters/franchise.
Suffice it to say the graveling made me want to puke in my suit, but I shoved a nail through my palm and seemed to make it to the end of the discussion. Later, after awaking from my blackout of sorts, I saw I had written some notes, which said the writer’s had to fight the studio to allow the robots to talk and that they listened to the good and bad comments of the fans in between eating a ton of lobster sandwiches. After all, he who becomes a beast gets rid of the pain of being a man, but I shall reserve my anger for that aneurysm later…
Moving right along, were autograph sessions with voice actor Gregg Berger and the (ahem) writers. This was also the opening of the dealer room for the hoards of greedy nine-year-olds dressed in overweight, balding sheep’s clothing to seize upon the all too eager vendors of those fine gems of childhood and persistent desire….collectibles! Having first crack at these fine offerings excited a very lustful thirst in my nine-year-old’s throat it had not had for years. The effect was not as financially damaging as I feared it would be when I checked my wallet later, but rather became quite a liberating experience that I seemed desperately in need of. This would persist for the next two days, resulting in a kind of exhausted ecstasy.
The next day, having slept very little from having gone directly to the New Beverly to watch the entire Back to the Future trilogy with Christopher Lloyd in attendance and making a new Botcon buddy, I staggered back to the convention to begin the long wait for the king of the voice over kings, Peter Cullen’s autograph. Luckily my new friend was able to hold our place in line as I covered the panel with voice actors David Kaye and Weird Al, who spoke at length about their history with the Transformers, with the Animated series, and how they keep their kids happy with their delightful vocal talents. Finally came the big moment for Peter Cullen (naturally after scrambling to find something worthy of such a scribe in the dealer room, I produced an original VHS of the pilot 1984 series for only $6;-), which was an overly rushed but absolute thrill non-the-less. This was followed by an amazing Q&A panel with Cullen, who was able to switch between a wonderfully amiable, zany mode to his magnificently golden Optimus voice with all the wisdom and integrity you would expect Optimus Prime’s voice to be in person. I was on a cloud, along with the rest of the drooling crowd.
After a restful night, I came back to the Con with renewed vigor to fully imbue everything I possibly could to the fullest extent, as conventioning can be quite exhausting even under the best circumstances. Kicking the day off was a voice actor panel with Gregg Berger and Michael McConnohie, who were still as affable and garrulously entertaining as they were when the show was made. Michael spoke of his characters Mexican/Blue blooded origins, and Greg spoke of how much fun Grimlock was, me like playing with English words, ahahah!
Next was the Hasbro presentation of the new video game for Revenge of the Fallen, including interviews with Peter Cullen and Frank Welker, who are just as good of friends as Prime and Megatron are enemies. They also passed-out the free posters, comics, and little hero figures to all the little kids (and press people, hehe).
Finally, the writer’s panel was the last of the event, but certainly not the least. Featuring Flint Dille, Bryce Malek, Paul Davids, and David Wise, they were perhaps the most entertaining panel next to Peter Cullen. Most of their comments on Hasbro’s decisions were quite frank and absolutely hilarious, such as forcing them to kill off Optimus Prime and half the G1 characters in the 1986 movie, but allowing them to bring him back as a zombie to kill him off again. They also noted that they received letters from parents telling them their kids had locked themselves in their closets over the loss of Prime, leading them to write the three parter The Return of Optimus Prime. Apparently a lot of the episodes would start out as 76 page scripts before they were cut down to 32 pages to fit into a 20 minute time slot! And so the convention ended with a sigh, as the lights were flickered several hundred times on top of the security people screaming for people to get out of the dealer room. Every last person made a mad dash for the American Dream, and I think we all succeeded to some degree in snagging a piece of it as we tore ourselves away from the madness and frenzy that was BOTCON 2009!!!
In closing I would like to note and plug some of the wonderful vendors who put forth extra effort to make sure the convention was as fun and painless on the wallet as possible: www.rdcollectibletoys.com, www.toyhell.com, myspace.com/neoscott, www.phatcollectibles.com, www.toyarena.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and animazed 8690 E. Napier, Benton Harbor, MI 49022 (269) 876-2544. Thank you one and till all are one…
– Dr. Botzo