BLOG: Botcon 2009 - A Retrospective

As BotCon 2009 has drawn to a close, I hope that the members here have enjoyed the coverage brought to you by Tformers. I, as well as BaCon, Ender and DragonX76, worked hard and long to make sure we left as many stones possible unturned. Such a task can be very demanding. We suffered with low bandwidth connections and a couple of sleepless nights, but overall was able to bring you, the fans, as much pertinent news and complete coverage as one could expect. My thanks to the other staff members for an overall cohesive effort to pull everything together.

Now that I've had a full night's rest and some time to piece together my thoughts, I wanted to share with you the overall experience for this year's Transformer's convention. My previous encounter was with BotCon 2007, coinciding with the upcoming release of the first blockbuster movie. However, in my view the two shows were as different as fire and ice.

The Location

This year, the convention was held in Pasadena California, just a short throw away from Los Angeles. Not only does this allow BotCon to tap into a vast population source (over 12 million in the Basin area), but also puts them in close proximity to Paramount Studios. This afforded the Paramount Party on Saturday night. Convention attendance seemed very light by package purchasers. In fact, the dealer room had moderately light traffic during the preview Friday. That all changed on Saturday. As general admission traffic flowed into the room, the dealer rooms became very packed indeed. By mid-day Saturday, there was hardly any room to walk about. While on the subject, let's touch on the dealer room.

The Dealer Room

Dealer turn out seemed slightly smaller than what I remember from the 2007 event. Surprisingly, there were several tables that had ample amounts of the 2007 movie merchandise. Even more surprising was the fact that people seemed to be buying the 2007 figures. To me, this again demonstrates the poor performance of the distribution system of the big box stores. It's obvious that, while some stores have had shelf warmers for weeks, other stores have seem little of some waves. There was also ample amount of ROTF merchandise to be seen as well, at prices that would make one shudder. Considering the timing of the figure releases was only a day or two away, the prices (almost double retail) seemed illogical. This is especially considering that HTS was also selling figures at the entrance for retail.

Amongst the standard fare of G1 oddities and rarities, there was also quite a bit of knockoff display. One table had a plethora of KO Metroplex figures selling at $40. This, no doubt, grabbed the ire of Hasbro and could have very well been the last straw broken to bring about their policing threat on Saturday. One row of tables was filled with IDW panels, with writers and artists manning the booths. The tables seemed to get very little interest from attendees. Matt Moylan of Lilformers and Gregg Gerber were also signing autographs in the same area. One last mention of the dealer tables. In 2007, Alt Rodimus and Nemesis Prime were going for unthinkable prices, averaging $70 or well beyond. Not this year. Alt Rodimus could be had at any number of tables at about the $40 range. However, Alt Nemesis Prime seemed to be holding his value slightly, averaging $60-$70.

Panels

One of the main draws of BotCon are the panels. As always, the Hasbro panel drew the biggest crowds and the most newsworthy items. In fact, the Hasbro panel on Saturday was the closest any panel got to room capacity. Aside from the David Kaye/”Weird Al” Yankovic panel, the remaining panels barely filled the first few rows. This partially might have been due to bad timing. Most of the panels coincided with autograph sessions. Saturday morning was especially brutal, due to the late arrival of Peter Cullen.

However, even if the autograph schedules didn't conflict, the news in the panels was light to none. Panel sessions for the most part barely lasted 10min before going to Q&A. Most of the Q&A didn't shed any light on news, either. The Kaye/Yankovic panel was especially grueling due to many fans wanting improv from the two voice actors. One request was even somewhat tasteless, when a fan asked Kaye to improv Optimus pitching for an erectile dysfunction medication. The Cullen panel also ended abruptly when one fan asked if Cullen had ever read any slash fiction about Optimus.

As mentioned earlier, the Hasbro panel drew the most news. Fans were ecstatic that the Animated figure line would extend through 2010, bringing out figures previously delayed or canceled. Rodimus Minor, Arcee and Blackout especially got the crowds going. This is a smart move for Hasbro, because the Arcee figure in particular was a very touchy issue.... and they knew it. However, it is disappointing that all bets seem to be on ROTF merchandise, at least for the next year. There was no mention of future lines or shows at the panel. Talk was circulating about the Discovery Kids production, but Hasbro members would only comment that “it's not all put together yet” and therefore would not discuss content or release dates. Questions about Animated's TV future were pushed off between Hasbro and Cartoon Network, which probably means the show is indeed over and with ill feelings between the two companies.

Autographs

I wasn't around to account for Sunday's autograph sessions, but there was some disappointment about Saturday's offerings. The first session was for musician and voice actor “Weird Al” Yankovic. There were very strict guidelines about this session. Only Primus package holders could participate. A set maximum of 240 members were allowed to get an autograph, and then only one autograph per person was allowed. There was also a “No personal photos” rule enforced. I tried to get in, but it was impossible. The line was formed in a way that no photography could be taken through the door. Now, I don't know if this was at Yankovic's request (which I find unlikely) or if this was TFCC's idea (more likely), but I don't think it was handled properly. Considering the line that wrapped around the building, I'm sure those at the back of the line were disappointed at not being told until it was too late that they exceeded the limit.

The next batch of autographs was with David Kaye and Peter Cullen. David Kaye arrived on time and seemed to get right into his session. The line was pretty light, but had a steady flow. Peter Cullen's line was massive, wrapping around a corner of the building and halfway down one side. The original session was from 9:30 to 10:00, but Mr Cullen was not present until 10:30am for reasons I do not know. The autographs did happen, though. The Kaye/Yankovic panel started at Noon. At the panel's conclusion at 12:50pm, there was a bum rush of fans that tried to get last minute autographs from Weird Al and David. Interestingly enough, TFCC let this happen.

There is one other thing about the autograph session that annoyed me. As I was making my way from table to table shooting the dealer room for our gallery, I noticed that one dealer had an Animated Wreck-Gar on display. This Wreck-Gar was freshly autographed by Weird Al and had a yellow sticky advertising it's availability for a mere $100. How tacky. Personally, I find such exploitation to be in direct paradox to the spirit of what an autograph session should be.

Hasbro Display

One of the highlights of the dealer room has always been the Hasbro display cases. There were certainly many, MANY figures on display this year. One case was designated for Unicron, and featured the 1986 prototype Unicron figure that was canned before being mass released. Another showed the 25th Anniversary Soundwave, complete with Ratbat, that will be offered at the SDCC in July. Animated figures were on display, including some that had been canceled. These figures, including Freeway Jazz and Activators Fireblast Grimlock, were not mentioned in the Hasbro panel nor have they been seen in retail. Could they still see light of day?

Almost all of the display area was prepped for ROTF. All the lines, from RPM to Gravity Bots; from Fast Action Battlers to Leader class; and even Combiner class Devastator, could be seen. One of the figures that caught my affection included the Leader class Jetfire, who has a very realistic (and large) jet mode. As for Devastator, he does look slightly better in the flesh. However, I'm still not convinced that he's worth the $100 price tag that he will be slapped with. This could very well become the Ultimate Bumblebee from 2007 that warmed shelves right up until Christmas. Oh, and by the way, expect a softly retooled Ultimate Bumblebee for the ROTF line.

There were three Universe figures also shown in the case. A more G1 accurate Powerglide was amongst them. I say more accurate because it's not 100%. A lot of the white from the original release is still showing, so it looks very contrasting. There is also Hardtop (redeco of Ultra Onslaught, including a scrawled out Con symbol on his shield) and Skyjack (redeco of Silverbolt). I just don't see these guys moving. The Silverbolt figure has already had a redeco with Darkwing. Does anyone need 3 versions of that mold?

The Exclusives

With those that had Primus packages, or even for some who didn't, there was the “Wings of Glory” box set. Included in this set were Kup (Cyb RedAlert redeco w/new head), Scourge (Cyb Sideways redeco w/new head), Landshark (Energon Landmine redeco), Thunderclash (Energon Rodimus redeco) and Flak (Cyb Defense Scattorshot redeco). The box set was pretty ho-hum in terms of desirability. With Flak, there are now 3 repaints of Scattorshot. Considering that 2 of the repaints came back to back in the Universe lineup before Botcon, the mold now seems overused. Using Energon molds for the box set further cheapened the value of the set in my eyes.

At least the in-show exclusives were more appealing. For $45, you could score the Sweeper set, which included 3 recolored versions of Scourge, each with their own bios. For $89, you had your choice of two other sets. You could either receive BanzaiTron (Energon Mirage redeco), who came with Skyquake (Energon Starscream redeco) or Razorclaw (redeco of Cyb Leobreaker), who came with Elita-1 (redeco of Cyb Thunderblast. All payed package attendees (besides GenAd) received LeoZak (redeco of Energon Starscream) as a souvenir.

BanzaiTron was an interesting figure that seemed to fit the mold rather well, even though he was originally an Actionmaster. Skyquake was also nicely done... but why also offer LeoZak? He has only been used for Victory, which unfortunately never saw the light of day in the US. Could some fans even relate to him? The head sculpt for Razorclaw was rather underwhelming, and the whole figure had a KO feel to it. Elita-1 was a mixed bag. The mold suits a Fembot, but I couldn't get the Elita-1 feel from it at all. The program (aka Comic) packaged with the admission was decent at best, but somewhat mediocre.

Conclusion

For the price Primus members paid, it didn't seem worth for them this year. Not only did they get a box set that was not awe-inspring and full of multiple run repaints, they also got stiffed. Primus members had to pay an additional $50 to go to the Paramount show, which only gave them 2 sneak peeks at the movie and a dinner at the studio. Big whoop. That should have been included in their admission price. For the ones that payed Protoform price, it was a bigger letdown. Very little news, coupled with exclusion from the Weird Al autographs and the Paramount party, left you with basically a souvenir figure and an overpriced GenAd admission. Sure, you got in Friday afternoon as well for a couple of hours and caught some 'exclusive' panels, but the panels Friday offered nothing new. The Hasbro panels should have been Friday to preserve the value of being a package buyer. Had I been a Primus package purchaser and had gone, I would have felt fleeced.

That's not to say that the show was a total bust. The dealer rooms are always a nice, reminiscent walk to see what's out there. This presents an opportunity to see figures, and even buy figures, that you wouldn't have the opportunity to find anywhere else besides eBay or Tfieds. Being able to cover the event is also a bit of a thrill. It's definitely a switch from my mundane life as a trade salesman. The whole "rush but be thorough" pressure that comes with such a short and quick paced convention also draws a similarity with my career. Only difference is, it's short term and is hobby based. I would still recommend that anyone who has never seen a convention try to go to at least one.

Looking ahead to 2010, I don't see much news. The movie will be carrying the line for the next year, with random sprinklings of Animated and Universe figures here and there. The big news for 2010 will likely be the Discovery Kids series, assuming the info isn't leaked beforehand... or assuming that it's not announced at the SDCC this July. At any rate, I'm pretty sure this is it for me... at least until the 3rd movie.






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