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Botcon 2016: Beastbot's Report

Venue: Galt Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Dates: 7th April - 10th April, 2016

The Trip to Botcon:

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

As soon as the Botcon location for 2016 was announced back in September 2015, I knew that this was going to be an unusual convention—and this was long before it had been confirmed that this was going to be the last Botcon. See, Botcon 2016 was to take place at the Galt Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky—the town, it so happened, where my dad had grown up, and where much of my dad’s half of the family still resided, along with some of my mom’s friends that she had gotten to know when she and my dad had lived there briefly after they were married, before I was born.

As the convention neared, however, it became obvious that it was going to conflict with some important deadlines for finals and papers for my Dad, who’s a professor at Ohio University, so unfortunately he wasn’t going to be able to come with me like he usually did. In his place, we had decided, my mom (who’s now retired) would come—both to spend time with me and to spend time with her old Louisville friends. To my surprise, my younger brother Nick (27 years old as of this writing) also wanted to come as well! (The 20th anniversary of Beast Wars was what tipped him into coming, it seems—back in the day, Nick was actually the one who had gotten me into Beast Wars and kickstarted my Transformers collecting. He got out of it after Beast Machines, but I kept going.) We had also made plans to visit my older brother Matt (40 years old as of this writing) during the convention, as well, who lived right in Louisville, only ~20 minutes away from where the convention itself was being held!

So, it was with eagerness that we set out on the road mid-morning on April 7th. My parents and I live in Athens in southeastern Ohio, so the entire trip would only take us about 6 hours’ driving—plus a small detour to Columbus to pick up my younger brother, who’s making his own living teaching music with his wife there. Unfortunately, even though it was early April and the trees were budding, it was an unusually cold day, and it was forecasted to be that way throughout the entire weekend. It felt weird, going on a trip to Botcon bundled up in my winter coat (it wasn’t quite at the freezing point at night, but pretty close, with the highs only in the 40s throughout the weekend). I had never been to a Botcon where it wasn’t pleasantly warm throughout the day.

Anyways, it was a fairly uneventful car trip, though my brother laid the news on me that there was a new They Might Be Giants album out, and we gave that a good long listen (I tell ya, that prolific duo has never run out of ideas; they’ve been constantly churning out albums almost yearly since the early ‘80s). We also stopped to have lunch at Skyline Chili, pretty much the best chili franchise out there, and well worth having if you’re ever in the Ohio area—it’s a different, “lighter” chili than most people likely think of when they think of chili, and it’s REALLY good, particularly on a hot dog, or “coney”, as they’re called here.

The Galt Hotel, it turned out, was quite a classy (and huge) hotel, located right on the riverfront, and consisting of two large towers connected by a neat enclosed “skybridge” over the dead-end street beneath it, in which most of the hotel eateries were located. We got in a few hours before preregistration was to begin, so we dropped off our things in our hotel room and went to eat at a nearby little bar called the Bluegrass Brewing Company. After a big lunch at Skyline, I honestly wasn’t that hungry, and my brother and mom were there more than the beer than anything else (which was good, since their food honestly wasn’t all that great).

The First Botcon Evening:

By the time we had finished our light meal, it was evening, and if you’ve ever been to a Botcon since 2005, you know what Thursday evening means—that’s right, it was line time! The preregistration lines at Botcon move infamously slow, and unfortunately this year it wasn’t an exception, particularly since their credit card processors kept going on the fritz. During the long wait, I looked around to see if I could spot any familiar faces that I knew—I didn’t find any, but then again I wasn’t expecting to, since as far as I knew there weren’t any BWINTers coming, and I was meeting up with one other Transformers fan for the first time later that weekend, and he wasn’t supposed to be in yet. But that’s one of the great things about Botcon—you can strike up a conversation about one of the most obscure Transformers subjects with whoever’s in line next to you, and chances are pretty high they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about and you’ll end up talking to each other until you’re hoarse.

The Boxset and Souvenir Toys:

As is usual, the people who run Botcon had shown what was in their core boxset ahead of time. As you’d expect, Botcon 2016 was another Beast Wars-themed set given the 20th anniversary—or rather, “pre-Beast Wars” just like in 2006, when we got Beast Wars characters as vehicles, since there weren’t many molds currently in use that transformed into ANY kind of animals, much less organic-looking animals. In addition to vehicles, Hasbro’s theme for the Generations collector-oriented line at the time was “Combiner Wars”—any deluxe-sized figure could also become a limb, with any voyager-sized figure becoming the torso for a larger combiner, and you could mix and match any limb with any other limb to create your own unique combiner! Taking advantage of this, the main boxset was entitled “Dawn of the Predacus”, and focused on a “pre-Beast Wars” version of Tripredacus, the Predacon lobster/cicada/beetle combiner from the last wave of Beast Wars toys before the toys entered the “Transmetals/Fuzors” era in Season 2. So, three of the figures in the boxset were Sea Clamp, a remold of Combiner Wars Scattershot; Cicadacon, a redeco of Combiner Wars Skydive; and Ramhorn, a remold of Combiner Wars Brawl. All of them were—in fitting with what the 2006 “Dawn of Futures Past” pre-BW set started—vehicles with animalistic details on them, such as the insect wing detailing on Cicadacon’s jet wings. Interestingly enough, their colors and heads were all based on the brief appearance of the Tripredacus Council in the show, and not the Tripredacus toy itself (i.e., they were all silver and light red). Two more toys joined the three Tripredacus Council members in the box set—after all, the Combiner Wars play pattern, with a torso and each additional ‘bot as a limb, meant that there had to be FIVE members for a proper combiner, not just three as with the original Tripredacus toy! And what better two Transformers to join up with the Tripredacus Council than their two agents, Tarantulas and Ravage? Tarantulas was a remold of Combiner Wars Rook (with the vehicle mode windows painted quite well to look like spider eyes), and Ravage was a cat-headed remold of Combiner Wars Breakdown, in a double-homage to both how he appeared in “The Agenda” and to his black sportscar form in the Alternators line in the mid-2000s.

In an unusual step, the Fun Publications folks (the company who is licensed to run Botcon) also revealed two at-convention souvenirs before Botcon actually started—namely, the “freebie” pre-BW Terrorsaur, a remold of Combiner Wars Air Raid complete with green “camo” spots on the top and yellow “beak” detailing on the nosecone, and one of the purchasable souvenirs, Megatron, who was a remold of 2001 “Robots in Disguise” Megatron with a head and color scheme based on his Transmetal 2 dragon form. (In case you’re wondering why a pre-BW form of Megatron would homage his dragon form, this idea was originally going to be used as a “Transmetal 3” Megatron over a decade ago before the previous company that hosted Botcon went under—at long last, this idea was finally realized!)

In talking with the people in line, I learned what the other souvenir toys were—first, there was Tigatron, who was a re-use of the Ravage mold in the boxset, but in traditional Tigatron-y colors. (The cat head on this new version of Tigatron was an homage to Botcon 2001 Transmetal Tigatron, which itself was a redeco of Japanese Beast Wars “X-9” Ravage, which itself was a remold of Transmetal Cheetor with Ravage’s show head—whew! Talk about an obscure and long-winded homage!) Next up was Airazor, who was a redeco of TakaraTOMY’s Legends Slipstream. Despite not having a new headsculpt, the paint applications really made this mold shine as Airazor in a way I never would’ve seen—one of the things Botcon does best! Not everything was Beast Wars-related, though—the “troop builder” pack of the year was a 3-pack of (identical) Reflector figures, remolded from Combiner Wars Shockwave—each individually forming a flying “space gun” just like G1 Shockwave, but you could combine all three of them to form a camera, just like the original Reflector in G1! Also available was Combiner Wars Ratchet, a remold of Combiner Wars First Aid and the custom class figure for the year. (In the past few years Botcon had been offering a pre-assembled, but unpainted, custom class figure for those who wanted the toy but couldn’t make the class—a category which I fit right into, this year.) Even better, Botcon had posted a total of FIVE different color schemes that you could paint Ratchet into (granted, since it was unpainted you could technically do whatever you wanted with the toy, but these were guidelines with specific paint colors picked out for you to buy); both a “cartoon” and “comic”-accurate G1 template; a made-up “Generation 2” template, which meant lots of bright wacky early ‘90s colors; a “Shattered Glass” template, based off of the “mirror” universe that had premiered at Botcon 2008 with evil Autobots and good Decepticons; and finally, a “Medix” template, based off of the Playskool Rescue Bots character of the same name.

Going into Botcon, I was thinking that nothing could top “Transmetal 3” Megatron, which again, had been revealed beforehand and was a toy I had waited over a decade to finally get—but I was wrong! The coup de grace of the set, in my opinion, was the final souvenir—Unit 3! That name probably means nothing to you, and its sheer obscurity and absurdity is what makes it so awesome—“Unit 3”, a redeco of Combiner Wars Streetwise, was based off of “Under-3”, the “name” of a McDonald’s Beast Wars Happy Meal toy from back in ’96, which was only available if your child was under three (hence the “name”). Its alt mode was a lion head—yes, a lion head, not a lion—which opened up like a locket to reveal just the detailing of a robot inside the two halves of the toy. http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Under-3 It was just about the most ridiculous thing ever, but surprisingly, with the deco and paint apps it made Combiner Wars Streetwise’s robot mode look just like the detailing of Under-3’s robot mode, and the police car mode was painted with many different details to make it look a bit like a lion’s head, as well. THIS kind of obscure stuff what was Botcon exclusives are all about!

Unfortunately, not all of the purchasable souvenirs were winners (though thankfully, all of the toys were); there was a listing on the order form they give you while you’re standing in line that said “Megatron’s Rubber Ducky”. I got a bit excited at that—did they actually make a Megatron-sized rubber ducky accessory that he could hold in his fist hole?! Unfortunately, it was only a regular-sized rubber ducky with a Botcon logo stamped on it, as I found out, which I thought was pretty lame and thus passed on. There was also a sticker set to give the mass-release Combiner Wars Prowl, Silverbolt, and Ironhide figures some of the colors and details of Beast Wars Magnaboss, who was Tripredacus’ Maximal lion/eagle/elephant combiner rival (and whose components were named Prowl, Silverbolt, and Ironhide). The display case showed the stickered-up three of them joining with Unit-3 and Tigatron to form a 5-member Magnaboss, but I thought the stickers didn’t change enough about Prowl, Silverbolt, and Ironhide to make them  “Beast Wars-y” enough and passed.

By the time we had gotten all the way through the line, it was quite late. Alright, so most of my money was already spent—tomorrow, it would be onto the panels and dealer room!


The First Full Day:

Friday, April 8th, 2016

I never sleep well in beds that aren’t my own, and that goes double for nights before exciting Botcon events! As such, I slept all of three hours, mostly just waiting for 8 AM to come so we could get up and start getting ready for the panels.

The IDW Beast Wars Comic Panel:

But at last, the time came, and we ate a quick breakfast at the hotel “skywalk” collection of bars/quick restaurants that I had mentioned earlier. (Being a hotel eatery, the prices were a bit expensive, but man were their muffins and cinnamon coffee cake good.) Then it was onto the first panel, focusing on the Botcon comic for the year—the first one that had been produced by IDW comics, and thus one of the few that wasn’t directly written by the Transformers fans at Fun Publications. The Botcon comic took place ~30 years after the end of G1, but ~300 years before the time of the Beast Wars. To simplify the basic plot, it revolved around the final death of Optimus Prime and Galvatron and the end of the “Great War”, and the Tripredacus Council seizing power of the Decepticons, planning on surrendering to the Autobots with a long-term goal of spreading their Unicron heritage throughout the Cybertronian colonies using a special part of the remains of Unicron’s head still orbiting Cybertron. Megatron (Beast Wars Megatron, that is) wasn’t fond of that idea, and wanted to let the Decepticons live on, under a new name—the Predacons, so taken because he had convinced the gigantic G1 gestalt Predaking (whose members were called Predacons in G1) to join his side. During a bit of negotiation (Tigatron was apparently a great and respected negotiator back in the day, and Airazor and Unit-3 were part of his troop), Megatron led a coup against the Tripredacus Council, aimed at taking out those who would maintain peace when he didn’t feel that was what the original Megatron would have done. The coup failed once the Tripredacus Council revealed their aces-in-the-hole—their own combined form of Predacus—killed Predaking and injured the rest of Megatron’s squad, and Megatron was locked up and downgraded to the form we see him in in the first episode of Beast Wars. “Dawn of Futures Past” Optimus Primal, Rattrap, and Rhinox also make cameo appearances, and during the battle—thanks to the Tripredacus Council’s shenanigans—many surviving Autobots are converted into protoforms, which sets the stage for the existence of stasis pods on the Axalon in Beast Wars. It was a cool idea in theory, and did explain why Airazor and Tigatron had different pre-BW bodies—this was a couple hundred years before the 2006 comic “Dawn of Futures Past”. Still, the comic left some sizeable holes and led to a bit of fan contention over certain points (such as the implication that G1 Inferno became BW Inferno). I actually got to ask the first question at this first panel (for the second Botcon in a row, interestingly enough), and it was regarding why Optimus Primal et al. were the same size as the Autobots—simple reason, the downsizing occurred later. I could tell that the writer was clearly enthusiastic about the comic, but unfortunately most of his answers were rather obtuse run-arounds, and it didn’t seem like he knew quite enough about Beast Wars to write a prequel comic about it aimed at the hardest of hardcore fans (the Botcon crowd). One of the Botcon “writer regulars” probably should have tackled this comic, instead. The art was pretty good in the comic, though, drawn by IDW artist Corin Howell—she has a very expressive style to her art, if at times a bit overly simplistic.

Q&A with Stan bush and Vince DiCola:

After the comic panel, it was time for a Q&A session with Stan Bush and Vince DiCola, both of whom were instrumental in certain songs and the score for the ‘80s animated Transformers movie. Much of the panel was them describing their different projects—I had no idea that Vince DiCola was involved in that soundtrack of the recent video game Transformers: Devastation, that music was a bit different than his usual style and incredibly amazing, which upped my respect for his work quite a bit. (Seriously, if you have the time listen to it on Youtube—the Soundwave and Menasor boss fight music scores are particularly awesome.)

Beast Wars 20th Anniversary Panel:

We then took a break for an hour since the next panel was for the “Transformers Film Fest”, which included screenings of Transformers fan-made films, 95% of which I personally find underwhelming. After that, it was time for the Beast Wars 20th Anniversary Panel, with voice actors David Kaye (Megatron) and Venus Terzo (Blackarachnia) ready to answer random questions and answers! I had seen David Kaye at several Botcons before, but Venus was new for me, since the last Botcon she had attended was in 1999, before I started coming (she’s a lot shorter than you’d think, given the characters she often plays in cartoons—her normal voice is very close to Jean Grey’s voice in X-Men: Evolution, if you’re familiar with that series.) Both voice actors were quite congenial and entertaining, and the audience cheered whenever they went into their voices. That said, the panel did have a bit of a disappointing feel to it, given that there were supposed to be two more BW voice actors there—both Scott McNeil (Silverbolt, Waspinator, Rattrap, Dinobot) and Alec Willows (Tarantulas) had had to cancel their appearances, so it wasn’t nearly as much of a big “BW gathering” as one would have expected for the 20th anniversary. Plus, as nice as they both were, they weren’t great at some of the improv situations some people requested, whereas Scott McNeil always owned those types of questions.

Transformers Script Reading:

The final panel for the day was the Transformers Script Reading, a sort of “pseudo-canonical” story with a lot of fourth-wall breaking and humor. Voicing for this panel were the aforementioned David Kaye and Venus Terzo reprising their roles, along with Judd Nelson as Hot Rod, Gregg Berger as G1 Grimlock, and a “fill-in” voice actor fan Frank Todaro who actually did a pretty good Dinobot impression. The mostly goofy story expanded a bit on the pre-BW universe, with Hot Rod narrating a scene with Megatron breaking into a power facility on Cybertron to overload it and create carnage—a facility that just happened to be staffed by Black Arachnia’s pre-BW identity “White Propionica”. One of the most memorable lines—“What? Is there something wrong with my name?” “No, nothing, just… I’m wondering what name you would take if you were a bad guy…” Grimlock also comes in to thwart Megatron’s plans, and hilarity ensues. To give you the idea of the tone, when Megatron breaks into the facility in his dragon mode, he states, “…and may I just say that my dragon mode is completely mechanical with no traces of organic matter, so if I were to happen to lose my dragon mode and become a dragon again sometime in the future, this wouldn’t negate the importance of that later transformation!” It was an absolute riot!

The Dealer Room:

After that panel, it was time for the dealer room to open. It was here that I ran briefly into my friend from another board—he goes by the online name “Tryptlock”—but we both had things we were looking for, so we agreed to meet the next day, given that, shortly thereafter, my older brother Matt arrived and joined me and my younger brother in the dealer room! First up was a look at the Hasbro display cases revealing upcoming product—as was the usual before the big Hasbro panel on Saturday, they didn’t have much new on display, but they did have a really nice, impressive display of several of their upcoming Generations “Titans Return” figures on display in a large battle. (The “Titans Return” segment of Generations starts this summer, and largely features modern takes on the late-G1 Headmasters characters, with each figure having their head come off to form a separate little guy that can ride in that figure’s beast/vehicle mode.) There were a few new “Robots in Disguise” figures on display, however (the “mainline for kids” that’s backed by the current TV show on Cartoon Network), and to me the new Decepticon figures stole the show. If you’re not familiar with the new show, the Decepticon designs are largely very inventive and a unique concept for Transformers, featuring vehicles that transform into humanoid beasts! Scatterspike—an SUV that transforms into a humanoid porcupine-like creature—was a neat reveal, but the Hasbro reveal of Botcon for me was Bisk, a sleek car that transforms into a humanoid lobster. His design had been revealed a while back on the show, but his toy was far better than I thought it would be—complete with wonky eyeballs and antennae and big clackin’ claws! (This was when I ran into Benson Yee briefly, who was taking pictures for his website—I pointed out Bisk to him, and he said, “OMG, This is the figure I’ve been waiting THIS ENTIRE LINE for”, before taking several pics of it.) I also showed my older brother some of the new toys of characters he probably remembered (he grew up with G1), such as “Titans Return” versions of Astrotrain and Galvatron.

Then it was on to the dealer room proper. I don’t know if it was the fact that the dealers knew this was the last Botcon and thus wanted to get rid of some of their back-stock, but this was by FAR the most successful dealer room experience I had ever had. Usually I can’t find what I want on my “A list” or if I do, it’s priced way beyond what I’d pay—but not only did I find everything on my “A list”, I got it for much cheaper than I expected, ending up being able to get about twice what I thought I’d get for my money! I’ve been slowly retroactively collecting Generation 2—its bright colors and reminders of the early ‘90s appeal to me—and managed to pick up several of the small toys, such as the “Go-Bots” and “Cyberjets”, for only $5-10 each, though the deal of the convention for me was finding a MISB Energon Prowl & Longarm vs. Starscream & Zapmaster, a Sam’s Club exclusive 4-pack that were redecos of certain Armada toys I hadn’t been able to get back in the day. Usually they go for near $100 online nowadays and are quite rare, but I found a dealer who was selling them for only $35! I also FINALLY managed to find the original BW Tigatron toy for a reasonable price, thus completing that lone hole in my BW show characters collection. After a couple more purchases of some more modern toys (my older brother, in an awesome gesture, paid for one—“an early Christmas present, it’s much easier to shop for you this way,” he told me), it was time to drop off my swag at my hotel room and have some family time.

The Concert:

It was awfully weird, leaving the hotel room, driving for about 15 minutes, and arriving at Matt’s house and spending an evening playing a board game (X-COM the Boardgame) with him, his girlfriend, my younger brother,  and my niece, Ariel (she’s 8 years old as of this writing). Botcon and family certainly occupy two different sections of my life, and it was odd seeing them “clash” like this, but in a fun way. After a bit of hanging out, we went back briefly for the Friday night concert, featuring Stan Bush and Vince DiCola. (We had apparently just missed David Kaye’s acceptance speech, as he was inducted into the Transformers Hall of Fame this year because of his many voices he’s leant to TFs over the years—darnit!) I’m not normally one to go to concerts—in fact, outside of a Stan Bush concert also at a Botcon back in 2007, I’ve never been to one, because I don’t like the crowds and how loud they are. Just give me a CD of the music and I’m happy. It was rather cool seeing all the dry-ice smoke and flashing lights, though I did have to put my fingers over my ears in order to get the volume down to an acceptable level for me. With the exception of the Stan Bush’s ending hits—“Dare” and “The Touch”—the music was unfortunately largely forgettable, however. Vince DiCola didn’t play some of his awesome Transformers: Devastation music like I thought he was going to, and well… Stan Bush unfortunately is a bit of a “one-hit wonder”, so to speak. (Nick—who is, again, into music—told me Stan Bush was lip-syncing the entire time. Darned if I could’ve figured that out.) After the concert was over, we went out to eat at a local barbecue restaurant (I honestly can’t remember the name), and then bid Matt and his girlfriend adieu, as it was getting late and we had another early day tomorrow!


Botcon Day 2:

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

Panel with Venus Terzo

It was another mostly-sleepless night for me, as most nights at Botcon tend to be. At long last it was time to wake up, and after a quick breakfast of muffins and coffee cake at the hotel, it was time for the first panel of the day: A Q&A session specifically focused on Venus Terzo. I noticed that this time around she had a cool yellow Maximal pin on that someone had presumably given her—I made a mental note that I would have to seek those out in the dealer room later. It was particularly interesting for me in this panel to hear that Venus’ role as Blackarachnia really opened up a lot of roles for her, including her later role as Jean Grey in X-Men: Evolution. (It was also a bit saddening to hear that sometimes voice actors never get calls confirming or denying their involvement in a new season of a series. She said she never did get a call that X-Men: Evolution had ended—she asked an honest question about “Whatever happened to that series? Does anyone know why it was canceled?”

Hasbro Reveal Panel:

Venus’ panel started to get pretty crowded towards the end, as up next was what was always the biggest, most-crowded panel at every Botcon—yep, it was time for the big Hasbro Reveal panel. Disappointingly, they didn’t actually reveal much this time around that wasn’t already in the cases—most of what they showed were store-exclusive redecos of toys that were already out/would be out soon or toys that had already been leaked through unofficial sources. That said, there were a couple of gems—for one, I was glad to see animal Transformers coming back in the upcoming Titans Return line. It only made sense, since many of the Headmaster Decepticons from G1 transformed into robotic animals, but it was still nice to see, since so few animal-former molds have been released lately (with the exception of all the toys for Grimlock & his Dinobots in the Age of Extinction movie line 2 years ago). Coming up in Wave 2 of the line was “Wolfwire” a re-named update of G1 Weirdwolf, who looked like a dead solid toy. Also shown was Alpha Trion, who would be a triple changer and turn into both a futuristic spacecraft AND a lion, the latter homaging his cancelled Botcon exclusive redeco of Beast Machines Snarl (which was later released as another lion TF toy, the Botcon 2014 exclusive Alpha Trizer, the “final form” of Cheetor several hundred years after Beast Machines). I always love obscure little homages packed in like that. Hasbro also revealed a complete Combiner Wars set for the G1 gestalt Computron coming in the fall, but to me the highlight of the set was that it was getting a neat little extra toy in the form of SCROUNGE, a remold of Cosmos that became an orange UFO—homaging the poor guy’s appearance in the original Marvel comics, where he transformed into a wheel. (Yes, you read that right. A wheel. Scrounge always had the worst luck—he was basically Waspinator before there was a Waspinator.) During the Q&A session, Hasbro was asked the obvious question—what was up with this being the last Botcon? The Hasbro reps insisted that they weren’t “leaving the fans behind”—the Generations, collector-oriented segment of their releases WAS bigger than ever, after all—but they couldn’t reveal any details. (It also became obvious during the convention that whoever had made the decision to can Botcon was higher up than any of the Hasbro reps that made it to the con, anyway, so it was hard to be mad at the guys there—they were clearly TF fans just like the rest of us.) Another interesting question addressed if Hasbro was planning to celebrate Beast Wars’ 20th Anniversary in any way—to which they said, rather bluntly, that they weren’t, beyond the “Platinum Edition Year of the Monkey” Optimus Primal that had already been released. (Although a nice toy in its own right, this release was hardly an appropriate Beast Wars homage, given that it was a redeco of a Beast Machines Optimus Primal toy.) I thought that was a big opportunity missed, especially given how many store-exclusive giftsets that they’re releasing this year celebrating the 30th anniversary of the animated TF movie—even though the regulars in that movie cast like Hot Rod/Rodimus, Ultra Magnus, Wreck-Gar, Galvatron, and the like get new versions every couple of years anyways. At least TakaraTOMY is coming out with a Masterpiece Optimus Primal toy later this year (based off Primal’s original gorilla design in BW, and looking astonishingly show-accurate).

Q&A session with Gregg Berger:

Next up was a Q&A session with Gregg Berger, the voice of G1 Grimlock—and out of the voice actor guests there this year, Gregg was definitely the one most prone to ad-libbing and having “conversations with himself”. He answered a lot of fans’ requests for weird/goofy scenarios between some of his different characters, and I was also surprised by how many different roles he had played over the years, including the “voice” of Odie in the various Garfield cartoons.

Meeting Cool People:

After that it was time for a break from the panel room, so I went to check out the new reveals in person at the Hasbro cases while my brother and mother went to get lunch. I ended up talking with Mark Weber (the highest-ranking Hasbro official there), and we talked random TF stuff for a while, with me thanking him for his years of added creativity to the brand and ensuring my disposable income was always spoken for. I did mention that I hoped—whatever Hasbro had planned for the future—that they’d be able to make exclusives as obscure/niche as Unit-3. Mark Weber seemed confident that they would, though obviously he couldn’t say more. Shortly after that, as I was looking through the cases, I thought I saw someone familiar out of the corner of my eye, and did a double-take—it was Dragonsflayme! I had no idea she was going to be at Botcon—it had been at least 5 years since I had seen her last, it was great to see another BWINTer at Botcon at last! It turned out she was the one who had been handing out the neat allegiance symbol badges to the guests (she had recently purchased a high-quality 3D printer), and allowed me to pick out one, as well. (I picked a Movie Decepticon symbol, because narrower eye slits=cooler.) We talked about a few various Transformers topics, but we didn’t talk that long-- she had other people to meet and I had to get back to the panel room for…

Q&A session with Aaron Archer:

…a Q&A session with Aaron Archer, who was pretty much the head of the Transformers brand direction from the 2001 Robots in Disguise series up to the Prime series (he quit from the position in 2013, wanting to do something different in his life and stepping away from the brand a bit). If you were at any Botcon in the 2000s, he was there, representing Hasbro. He still works for Hasbro on a freelance basis, but isn’t a direct employee anymore. He showed off some interesting design slides, including his first Transformers projects (TM2 Cheetor and TM2 Megatron were his first major TF projects—what a note to start on)! In a bit of a “joke” slide, he said that his claim to fame at Hasbro was working on more Jar Jar Binks toys than anyone else (for The Phantom Menace toyline). “He’s not that bad, I guess,” Aaron laughed. He seemed particularly sad that Botcon was ending, and a little bit angry, as well (though I could be reading into things a bit there). “There isn’t a Superman convention,” he said, emphasizing how unique Botcon was. “There isn’t a Batman convention.” When asked what his favorite Botcon was, Aaron immediately answered, “Botcon 2006. We owned that hotel—no other conventions were there.”

Transformers’ Collectors Club Panel:

After the Aaron Archer panel was the Transformers’ Collectors Club panel, in which the employees at Fun Publications unveiled their last exclusives for the rest of the year—they officially had to close their business come the first day of 2017, so they showed off the toys for the upcoming “Transformers Subscription Service 5.0” (when you sign up for a Transformers Subscription service, you get six toys—one a month in the mail—with a seventh bundled with the sixth if your payments are good throughout the subscription). Two of them might be of interest to Beast Wars fans—one is a “Pretender Optimus Prime”, using  a small truck Optimus Prime toy that homages Prime’s Armada version in robot mode, his G2 “Laser Prime” version in vehicle mode, and it came with a small “Hi-Q” weapon/vehicle/robot figure that homages Optimus’ Powermaster version. Better still, the “Pretender shell” that those toys fit in was a redeco of the Oilmaster Pretender shell that was exclusive to last years’ Botcon—i.e., a gorilla in a mecha-suit! “The debate has been settled,” one of them joked, “Optimus is both a TRUKK AND a MUNKY”, referencing the popular Beast Wars meme about people who said Optimus Primal wasn’t “really” Optimus. Another “figure” was in fact two figures being shipped together. The larger of the two was a redeco of the pre-BW Terrorsaur convention figure we had just received as Fractyl (the original Fractyl was a Botcon 1997 exclusive, and a green redeco of the original Terrorsaur figure), who came with “Dawn of Futures Past” Scorponok, redecoed from Generations Scamper! When Scorponok arrives, Beast Wars fans will finally have “pre-Beast Wars” versions of the entire original cast of the show. During the Q&A session, there were several questions about what was to become of Botcon—and the Fun Publications employees unfortunately didn’t know much more than we did. They owned the Botcon name, they said, and didn’t intend to sell it, but beyond that, it was up to Hasbro. Given their company’s imminent demise, however, they were surprisingly good-mannered, and told the fandom not to get too dour—“What do we sell?” asked Brian Savage, the head of the company, at one point. Somebody yelled out the obvious—“Transformers!”—to which Brian shook his head. Someone else immediately yelled out “Memories!”, to which Brian vigorously pointed to that person and nodded. “Just because we’re leaving doesn’t mean you can’t still make great memories with other Transformers fans,” Brian Savage said. Towards the end, one long-time Botcon attendee stood up and gave a rather stirring speech thanking Fun Pub for all their hard work and all the awesome conventions and toys over the years—to which the entire room stood up and gave the panelists a long, standing ovation. By the end the Fun Publications people had tears streaming down their faces- -it got surprisingly emotional. After all, they aren’t just losing a convention at the end of the year, but their jobs, as well.


Q&A with Judd Nelson:

The final panel for the day was a Q&A with Judd Nelson, who has been in many Hollywood movies and was the “big name” guest for the year. Unfortunately, unlike his promo pictures he had grown out his hair and beard long, and wore sunglasses and a large beanie—perhaps because he didn’t want to be recognized outside of the convention? I’m not sure—but he seemed like he hadn’t done his homework. He entertained a little with some tales of Orson Welles’ peculiar character during the recording for the ‘80s movie (Orson was the voice of Unicron), but he had either forgotten how to do his Hot Rod voice or couldn’t anymore, and most of his answers were rather vague and unenlightening. Judd Nelson was still a nice guy, to be sure, but the panel was quite a bit less than I was expecting.

After that, the “show hours” were over for the day, and we had about 2 ½ hours to kill until the Casino Night/Dinner. My mom and brother went out to eat, while I met with Tryptlock and his wife (they actually met on a Transformers message board, so they were both into TFs quite a bit) and just talked about various Transformers topics for 2 hours, with Dragonsflayme meeting up with us for the last half hour or so and joining in on the conversation. Talking about TFs with Internet friends until your throat is raw… that’s what Botcon is all about! Unfortunately Tryptlock and his wife hadn’t registered for the dinner and were leaving early on Sunday, so I bid them adieu.

Casino Night/Dinner:

Soon enough, it was time for me to head back to the hotel room and get dressed for the dinner (it had a “business casual” dress code). The dinner setup was that you could get into one of several different lines, each with its own kind of food (American, Chinese/Japanese, etc.), and then afterwards you took a seat at one of dozens of large circular tables. I went for the chili dogs, myself—they were quite good, though not as good as Skyline! I also downed glass after glass of water, since my throat was so raw by that time. Shortly after we sat down, the announcements started, and that years’ “Hall of Fame” Transformers Fan Vote winners were announced. To my delight, Optimus Primal won the vote for the newest Favorite Transformer Character inducted into the Hall of Fame (with the other BW inductees over the years being Dinobot, Waspinator, and BW Megatron); Cosmos (from G1) was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in a new category, Favorite Underrated TF Character (being underrated was sort of Cosmos’ schtick, so it made sense); and Weird Al was inducted as Favorite TF Musician, due to his “Dare to be Stupid” contribution to the ‘80s animated movie. Judd Nelson also came up and accepted his award for being the other person (besides David Kaye) who was being inducted into the Hall of Fame that year, though unfortunately there weren’t many people actually listening to the speech; the room was so loud, I didn’t hear much of what he said, even with his microphone working properly.

The outskirts of the room were lined with various dealers waiting for you to spend your fake Botcon Casino night money on various gambling games—at the end of the night you got all your winnings totaled up on a ticket, and then you could use that ticket to bid on items laid out for sale at the end of the night, with the proceeds going to Cooks’ Children’s Hospital. Unfortunately, as those who know me know, I’m not one for gambling, and I’m terrible at it anyways. Thus, after we were done, we ducked out early and decided to go to my older brother Matt’s again, just in time for him to put his daughter Ariel down to bed. We said a quick goodnight to her, then fiddled around with a LEGO set she and Matt had been putting together. (I think there’s a collecting gene somewhere in my family’s DNA; as I mentioned before, Ariel’s only 8, but she’s already collecting LEGOs. She loves them, and can do even the very advanced builds.) We chatted about random, goofy things for a few hours (along with a fair amount of silly Youtube video sharing), and then drove back to the hotel, as we were all exhausted and ready to hit the sack.


The Final Day:

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

Unlike the previous nights, within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow I was out Saturday night and into Sunday morning—exhaustion had finally caught up with me, and I slept until it was time to wake up for the final day of the final Botcon. We got up a bit early to make sure we had both eaten breakfast and checked out of the hotel so that we could make it to the first panel, entitled “The Art of Transformers”. I was under the impression that this would be some of the various TF comic artists over the years showing off some design sketches and perhaps some teasers of upcoming comic events, but alas, it was simply a Q&A session—no slideshow of pics at all. Although certainly not bad, the panel wasn’t particularly memorable, and I can’t recall any particular stand-out moments from it.

The next couple of panels I had little interest in, so I basically had two hours to kill hanging out in the dealer room. My mom and brother went to eat an early lunch, while I went and looked at the submissions for the various art contents that Botcon does every year. One in particular stood out to me (and, rightfully, won first place in its category)—someone had done some EXTENSIVE retooling and modifying of the TF4 Leader class Grimlock mold to create a large, super-detailed and transformable TM2 Dinobot toy, which looked absolutely incredible. After the art exhibits, I mostly just wandered around the dealer room, seeing if I could find any last-minute deals (I didn’t—and they’d have to be pretty amazing deals anyways, as I was pretty much tapped out monetarily by this point). The mood at the convention had definitely taken a negative turn—I could tell that a lot of people were getting a bit sad with Botcon just a few hours from ending. Granted, a little of this always happens during the last hours of Botcon on a Sunday, but it was definitely more intense and obvious this time. I ran into Dragonsflayme again walking around the dealer room, and we talked for a bit, mostly lamenting the imminent demise of Botcon. She invited me to come with her to Hacker’s later that night (apparently Hacker only lives a stone’s throw away from the convention center, as well), but unfortunately I had to decline—my brother had to work that night, so we had to get going in a few hours.  That was a real shame, I would’ve loved to have seen Hacker in person after all these years (I believe the last time I saw her was at Botcon 2008). I said goodbye to Dragonsflayme in case we didn’t see each other again before I left (which was what happened, unfortunately), and mostly spent the rest of the time going around and thanking the various Botcon staff for their hard work over the years. Brian Savage was quite magnanimous, while a few—like Shawn Tessman, the person in charge of the customizing classes—were downright angry. “We’re getting a raw deal here,” Shawn said to me from his position at the info booth. “There’s no way Hasbro’s going to do exclusives as niche or obscure as the Botcon stuff anymore, something with that much creativity and thought put into it. I mean, I don’t even care about my custom class, if the custom class has to die, so be it—just let Botcon continue.”

The Last Panel: A Botcon Retrospective

It was after that that I went to the final panel, appropriately titled “A Botcon Retrospective”. Unfortunately, Pete Sinclair—one of the founders of Botcon back in ’94, who was also a full-time employee of Fun Publications—hadn’t had enough time to do a proper electronic slideshow, so instead he had brought along a bunch of regular (non-digital) pictures, and he and Brian Savage went through several of them, coming down to the front row of the audience, turning the camera to face said audience, and then (with some difficulty) focusing the camera on each individual picture that they held up. There were lots of interesting pics (remember back when…?), but the star of the show was, quite unexpectedly, a bearded guy who just happened to sit in the front row right behind where the camera was, and who the camera would inadvertently focus on every time Pete put a photo down and rummaged through his stack for another one. After it became obvious that the bearded guy would be “the star of the show” whenever a photo wasn’t up, he started to make funny faces (he was quite good at it), and then as the panel went on “graduated” to using props given to him by other people. When one picture went down, all of a sudden, he had sunglasses on! And then the next, a straw hat! (My favorite as when someone gave him a little chibi stuffed Optimus Prime doll, which he silently “proposed” to and then made out with, only for Prime to “slap” him and walk away.) Everyone was cracking up, and one of the best parts was, Pete and Brian had no clue—they thought they were all laughing because of Brian’s bald head taking up the camera view, or something. They didn’t actually figure it out until about halfway through the panel. It was great, as it added some much-needed levity to what otherwise would have been a bit of a downer of a panel. When it was near the end, Pete Sinclair went back up onto the stage and called for everyone to stand up. Then, he called for those whose first Botcon it was, to sit down. Next, he called for those whose SECOND Botcon it was to sit down, and so on, and so on. Once it became obvious what was going on, I counted in my head—I had been to every Botcon since 2002, making this my 15th one. I ended up being among the last 10% or so in the room standing up, but eventually I had to sit down, too. There ended up being only 7 people left standing when the count came to who had been to all 22 Botcons—and 3 of those people were Pete Sinclair and two other organizers who had started Botcon back in 1994, Jon and Karl Hartman. Pete knew all of them, and had had jerseys made up for all of them to wear—with the number 22 on the back of them, of course! That was a great moment to end the panel with. “And that,” Jon Hartman said as he choked back tears, “is it.” I spied Ben Yee and shook hands with him saying a (perhaps?) final in-person goodbye. Since I was monetarily spent, and because there was no drawing during the last minutes of the convention to stick around for (there was no “next Botcon” for there to be free trip tickets for), we headed for the car. After a brief stop to see Matt and Ariel once more, we said goodbye to them and started our drive back.  After laying my head against the window, I fell asleep within about 2 minutes and didn’t wake up again until we were nearly home—I had gone an entire weekend on only about one night’s sleep, after all!


Final Thoughts:

Botcon has been an annual part of my life for almost half of it (I’m 32 as of this writing), and it feels weird not to have another one to look forward to next year. I hope Hasbro has something nice waiting in the wings for hardcore Transformers fans. As of this writing, the name “HasCon” has been recently trademarked, suggesting that Hasbro is going to celebrate all of its properties at one convention—something I personally don’t have any interest in, though it’s worth emphasizing that at this point nothing has been confirmed. Still, with more and more of the toyline becoming collector-focused anyways as the toy industry itself slowly but surely dies among its target audience of children 6-10 (primarily due to the proliferation of mobile devices and video games), perhaps Hasbro legitimately feels a convention dedicated solely to collectors of one brand isn’t worth the expense, and from a financial standpoint, I suppose I can understand that. From a fan standpoint though, it’ll be a shame if this is it as far as official Transformers conventions go—yes, there will always be unofficial fan conventions, but those tend to be smaller and more regional, not the “must-go-to” conventions that draw in people from all over the world, and they don’t have the draw of exclusives and talking and hanging out with Hasbro reps right there at the convention. Although I’ve always been a TF toy-centered fan more than anything else, I’ve made good friends from around the world because of Botcon, and it’ll be a sad day if future Transformers fans don’t get that same kind of experience, at least in terms of the scope of it all. Meeting people from halfway around the world in person and chatting away with them as you buy more plastic robots to play with and see all the latest reveals—it doesn’t get much better than that.

Photographs can be seen here!


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