Botcon 2002 Report - by Sabrina

(a fictionalized account based on true events)

I was really looking forward to going to Botcon, the Transformers convention, this year, especially with the possibility of getting some information about the new 'Armada' toys and cartoon this year. Every journey starts with a single step, and aside from sending in my registration and orders for exclusive merchandise a couple months ago, that first step was asking my employer for the time off. Just like the last two years, she offered to join me on the trip. I politely declined as I always do, and Zig Zag replies with 'No problem, I just thought we could save some money and effort by traveling together.' followed by one of her smiles that really worried me, but at the time I didn't know why.

Botcon 2002 was held at the Grand Wayne Center in Fort Wayne Indiana, the same location it was held two years ago, so I already had a vague idea of where to go. I took a slightly different route than I did last time, which turned out to be a little faster, as it didn't go through as many small towns. As reached Ft. Wayne, I got a little confused by the layout of the streets and highways, and took an exit which sent me the wrong way on the outerbelt for a while, so I ended up coming in from the north, instead of the east. I finaally found the convention center and its parking garage, and went in. Just like previous years, Friday only allowed pre-registered people to pick up their membership packets, which I did. Included with the convention packet was a badge, con book, a lollipop with the image of Optimus Prime, an art print to advertise an upcoming book, a T-shirt I ordered, and one of the con-exclusive toys. This one was 'Tap-out', a green and gray version of the Cliffjumper mini-bot keychain. It's pretty cool to see an exclusive that isn't a recolored Beast Wars toy for a change. I was also able to put a couple of my Transformers drawings into the art show. I'd rarely felt so well prepared for a convention in my life, so I explored the streets surrounding the center for a little while, or at least until it started raining lightly. I went back to my car and set off to find a hotel. I found a Holiday Inn about 5 miles and another misstep on the highway out, which seemed pretty nice, at least from the outside. The place had a big swimming pool at its center, but after checking in, I discovered the pool didn't look very clean to me, almost like pudding with a skin over the top. Needless to say, I never ended up using it. Instead I took a book and my convention materials to the lobby, and relaxed, taking in the occasional whiff of chlorine from the pool. After an hour or two in the lobby, I got my biggest surprise of the weekend. I heard a familiar voice, and looked up to see Zig Zag walking my way. Apparently the guy she's been seeing is also a Transformer fan, and she joined him coming here. I'm hoping our choice of the same hotel was just a coincidence. Zig sat with me for a little while and we chatted. She asked me about what kind of things she might expect to see at the convention. I was worried she might do something disruptive there, but she seemed more curious than anything. She told me she did consider a nude dip in the hotel pool, but changed her mind after I showed it to her. We both ran off to a nearby McDonalds for a quick dinner - make that a slow dinner factoring in the service. We returned to the hotel and went to our separate rooms. I set up my Primal Prime and my new Armada Starscream toy as the mascots for this trip and, after a little television, laid back for a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, my night wasn't too restful as it turns out my room was across the hall from Zig and her boyfriend's room. I'll spare you the details, but she was a bit noisy.

Saturday I woke with the alarm, reluctantly, and shook the groggy feeling out of my head. I showered and brushed my hair, and slipped into my brand new Botcon T-shirt, sporting images of the many incarnations of Optimus Prime. With my con badge around my neck, and camera bag at my hip, I'd never looked so much like a con-goer, or a tourist, in my life. I stopped at Bob Evans for some breakfast along the way, even though it meant I wouldn't be there right when they opened the doors. That's OK, because from my experience that meant there'd be one less huge line I'd have to wait in. After a huge breakfast (I always forget how big their portions are) I returned to the parking garage and found my decision validated for once, because I walked right in. Naturally my first action was to roam the dealers' room, the heart of a Botcon. There were a lot of things to be found there, a great variety of toys spanning 18 years of Transformers from the US, Europe, and Japan, not to mention all the cheap cruddy knockoffs if you can't afford the original toy it was based on. I was a bit surprised to see so few toys from the new 'Armada' line there. I'm not sure if that was because it was too new for some dealers to get, that people preferred to get them at toy and discount stores, or if all the good ones were bought up in the opening seconds of the con. It's too bad, as I was hoping to find the new Optimus Prime toy. Either way, I fell into the pattern of shopping, and pushing through the crowds to see the more popular dealers. Every Botcon seems to have at least one seemingly rare toy that everyone sells for inflated prices, and this year's toy was Storm Jet, a red and white recolored version of the smaller Jetstorm toy from Beast Machines. It sells for ten dollars in the stores, but was extremely difficult to find for some. There were plenty Storm Jets to be found at Botcon, but they all sold for four or more times the retail price. I was tempted, but I managed to resist. I stepped out to pick up a light lunch, returning a little after 1 PM, when the preregistrants could start picking up the convention-exclusive toys they ordered. The pick-up line snaked around the whole dealer room, so I decided to wait for the crowd to die down, choosing instead to peruse the art show one more time, so I could get a good seat for the Hasbro presentation at 2.

Going early to the meeting room proved to be a mistake, as the doors were closed, leaving nothing for me to do but stand on my tired feet for a half hour while the crowds massed. I was a bit annoyed that the time I could've gone to get autographs from the cartoon series' voice actors coincided with this. (for me at least. I was unlucky enough to have a green-colored con badge.) After the crowds and ambient heat built up for a little too long, the doors were finally opened, and everyone stampeded to find a suitable seat. The panel was hosted by a member of the design staff at Hasbro, along with directors of PR, marketing, and exclusives. I was pleased to see a rather polished and informative show this year, compared to my last two years, where we were either informally fed information we'd already known for months, or given no presentation at all. This year, there was a nice lecture backed by a computerized slide show, which covered the conceptual and design process for the new Armada toyline, and gave information about G1 reissues and related items also on the way. On the whole, Hasbro didn't tell us a lot of stuff we hadn't already heard elsewhere, but it's nice to have the internet threads confirmed or denied by an official source. The other element to the presentation was answering some of the obvious questions before they were asked. One such answer regarded a possible toy for Unicron, the planet-eater from Transformers the Movie. We didn't exactly get a straight answer on that one, something along the lines of 'If we DID make one, we'd want it to be big and impactful.'. I took it as a hint that they're at least looking into it, otherwise we'd get a 'no', or 'not at this time'. Another answer regarded the possible reissue of the original G1 Megatron toy, who most know turns into a decent replica of a real pistol. The basic answer on this was no, punctuated by a hilarious image of the Megatron toy with copious amounts of bright safety-orange plastic making him up. Hasbro investigated the possibility of making the toy, but current child safety regulations (to prevent kids from getting shot for brandishing a real-looking toy gun) would have required Megatron to at the least be made almost entirely safety orange, which defeated the purpose of being a remake of the original toy. It's nice to know they at least tried before giving up though. One other part of the show I found curious was a note to say 'We're listening.' followed with a pic of Hot Shot from Armada with a new, calmer looking face, implying the current face has gotten complaints. Of the possible complaints levied against the Hot Shot toy, I would've thought the face sculpt was at the bottom of the pile. (I like Hot Shot, BTW) After the main presentation, it was opened up to questions from the audience. As usual, some questions were rather good, and others were pretty dumb. I've only been to one other Hasbro presentation in the past, but I'm already tired of questions that are variations of 'I'd like to see a toy of this. Why don't you make that?' and 'I didn't like this toy at all. Why did it suck so bad?', At least the questions and rants loaded with personal bile were curbed pretty well this time. Oh yeah, some people seem to have trouble accepting the new Armada Laserbeak toy, who changes from bird to camera to gun, had to be bright orange as well.

Once I got out of the presentation, I hopped in the somewhat shorter line to pick up the con-exclusive toys. The line was still long, but it moved briskly, and I probably was there less than twenty minutes. While in line, I got to talk with some of the people near me, either in line, or visiting those in line. I saw Stinken, a friend and fellow skunk visiting from Japan. I've traded American toys for Japanese with him on occasion. I also met Tamar the Ebony Leopard and Myles, a coyote. Myles was their ride to the convention, I was told. I also saw Chee-Toy, whom I've talked to online, and her fiance. Once again I almost felt left out for having a green badge, as the folks behind the table kept calling people with red and yellow badges ahead of me. I wish I knew what made them special. Anyway, I picked up my new toys - Glyph, a blue (and female) version of Bumblebee to go with the Tap-out toy, Cat-Scan, a red and white medic variation of a Cheetor toy, and Cyclonus, a nice purple version of the large Jetstorm, which is already one of my favorites. I also got the next Botcon comic book, with the adventures of all these new toy characters. By this time, the panel featuring the voice actors I missed getting autographs from was fast approaching. I was interested in going, but I was rather sick of waiting in lines and sitting in uncomfortable chairs by now, so I passed it up in favor of a bit more shopping. I also took the opportunity to take a lot of pictures at Hasbro's booth at the back of the room. They had a pair of glass cases loaded with many of the new and upcoming Armada toys and G1 reissues. Of particular interest was Jetfire, a large space shuttle who, in addition to his own features could combine with the Optimus Prime toy, replacing his trailer unit. There were also repainted versions of Starscream and Megatron, as Thundercracker and Galvatron, respectively. I wasn't sure if these were planned to be part of the main toy line, or exclusives of some kind. A new favorite of mine was a smaller toy of Optimus Prime, which appeared to be better articulated than the larger article. It also came with a minicon jet he could use as a gun. I may have to get extras so my Starscream can mount these jet-guns on his arms. :3 . I spied Zig Zag wandering the dealer room, looking a combination of bored and confused, much like a lost child. It's kinda fun to be in a situation where I'm in my element, and she's not. She was looking for trinkets and gift ideas, and expressing her amazement over how much some of the older toys sell for now. I tried to help her out a bit. I also found out why there were no Armada Prime toys to buy - they weren't out yet, except for a few donated by Hasbro as raffle prizes. After a while, I was mostly shopped out for the day. I returned to the hotel, stopping for a turkey sub sandwich along the way. I spread out my new acquisitions in the hotel room, making time to look over each one in detail, except for Cyclonus, who was wired into the package with so many twist-ties, I felt it best to wait until I got home, and had proper time and tools to extract him. A knock at my door was followed by a visit from Zig Zag. I'm usually wary sharing any small room with her, but she behaved herself, discussing the events of the day with interest. We don't often have common things to talk about. It almost tempted me to invite her with me to the next Botcon. After she returned to her room, I went to bed. Zig was kind to me that night, either that or she and her boyfriend were too tired from the days events, because this night was restful and quiet.

I slept in Sunday morning, shooting to come in around ten, rather than when things opened. I ate breakfast at the hotel's buffet, and was shocked at the 18 percent gratuity charge on the bill. (I don't mind tipping, but this was self-serve!) I checked out of the hotel and drove into the parking garage, winding up on the roof level again. I was surprised to see Zig Zag's Viper on the roof, and more surprised to see her laying on the hood with a reflector, taking in some of the ample sunlight. She told me she planned to camp out at her car while her beau wandered the convention. I nearly got heat stroke just looking at her. Once in the air-conditioned comfort of the convention center, I went to the meeting room, where the voice actors were signing autographs. I was happy to reclaim the opportunity I lost on Saturday. The line for autographs wasn't huge, but it didn't move very quickly. The voice actors joked around quite a bit as I inched closer to the table, making me regret missing the panel yesterday. Neil Kaplan asked for a show of hands for those from Ohio, and extolled the virtues of Mansfield. I prefer Columbus myself :3. Right before I got to the table, Dick Gautier (Rodimus Prime from the original TV series) and Michael McConnohie (Tracks and Cosmos from the original series, Hot Shot and other from the Robots in Disguise series) had to leave in order to catch their flight. They traveled down the line giving out autographs, which I thought was a very kind thing to do for those who have been waiting. The Robots in Disguise voice actors remained a while longer, and I was able to get my small Optimus Prime toy by Neil Kaplan, who voiced the fire-truck-bot, as well as a bunch of Digimon. I also got signatures in my con book from Wankus (Prowl) and Peter Spellos (Sky-Byte). I dropped by the parking garage to drop off a few things at my car, and wince once more at my sunbathing boss and the spectators she attracted. When I returned, the panel for Dreamwave, makers of the new Transformers comics, was starting. I was interested, but I didn't go. I'm not sure why I blew off the presentations I did - I guess I just wasn't really in the mood that weekend. I did wander around the dealers' room a while longer instead, picking up the last few things that interested me, budget permitting of course. Around 3 or so, I passed on yet ANOTHER panel, the convention organizers' panel this time, in favor of going home. I said good-bye to all the friends and acquaintances I made at the con, including Zig Zag, whom I passed on the way out coming in to track down her own acquaintance. She gave me a hug I didn't need, which was pretty harmless when I thought back on it. I took one last glance back at the convention center from the parking garage, and hopped on the highway home, not getting lost on the way out this time.

Epilogue: Though it might not sound like it reading back over this report, I had a real blast at Botcon this year. Better yet, I lucked out and found both the Storm Jet (at normal price) and Armada Megatron toys a few days after I got back home. Here's some of the great things I brought home from the convention:

The next Botcon will be held in Chicago. Maybe I'll see you there

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