Rob's Pile of Transformers: BotCon '99, Sunday

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: BotCon '99

SUNDAY: We were up dim & late the next morning... I headedoff solo to get breakfast at the same diner as the day before,since I don't do mornings without breakfast, and the others werejust stirring as I got out of the bathroom. Said 'hi' to a coupleof guys I'd met Friday while at the diner. I made it to the 'conwith time to spare, and sort-of caught the end of "The Keyto Vector Sigma" (which, alas, I already have on tape. Toobad I missed "More Than Meets the Eye", which I haven'tseen in years! But, it was on at 8 am, a time that I rarely seeon weekends... :]

Sipher warms up while Phil gazes lovingly at his giant Tub o' Props

I sat around with M Sipher and Phil Zemanfor a bit outside the video room door (which is why I say I "sort-of"caught the end of KTVS), then filed in for the MST production. We were treated to BW's "Dark Voyage" (easily my least-favoriteBW episode, so I was happy to see it mocked), and the G1 eps "Fireon the Mountain", "The God Gambit", and "Carnagein C-Minor". By odd chance, I was sitting next to H. Jameelal Khafiz, he of the multiple MegaBee screen names, and fellowBrawn-worshipper -- a happy coincidence since I'd wanted to meethim the day before but failed to do so. We both cheered enthusiasticallyfor Brawn as he pummeled his way through the Decepticons in "Fireon the Mountain", and declared loudly that "Brawn lives!!"when he made his famous cameo in "Carnage". The MSTingitself was okay at the start, and got better as it went (I hada hard time hearing the comments over "Dark Voyage"for some reason, so that's probably coloring my impressions.) Phil Z. was filling in for Doug, who apparently hadn't thoughthe was gonna make it there; the part of Rob Jung was played byHex. ;] M Sipher starred as himself, and did one heck of a Waspinatorimpersonation while buzzing madly around the room -- and dyingalmost instantly when he wandered into the field of the videocamera. Heh!

The story of a man, a woman, a voice actor, and a snake

The voice actor panel was immediately after, so I never got upfrom my seat. With only Scott McNeil and Jim Byrnes this year,things were quite a bit more subdued than last year's five-actorpanel. Jim's attitude towards his work is pretty pragmatic --it's a job, that's all. A fun job, but still a job. He's nevereven seen an episode of BW, to the horror of the audience. Buthe was still happy to give EmarZero a big "Go to snooze --my queen!" when asked (another line of infamy from MG-Dinobot.) Someone (M Sipher?) asked him about a blues band he plays in,which seemed to pleasantly surprise him. Scott, OTOH, seemedas happy as last year to be schmoozing with the fans, and fieldedquestions left and right. Both answered a question or two aboutBeast Machines... poor Scott's gone from 4 characters to 1! Talkabout'cher paycheck cuts! Jim will be voicing an as-yet unseenand unnamed character on the show, as well. As the panel ended,we were surprised to see Scott McNeil walk right up to Trixter,sitting in the row in front of me, since she'd had her hand upat the end but got cut off by the panel's end. She got a personalanswer to whatever it was she'd wanted to ask. Doug Dlin wanderedover with Avatar wrapped around his neck, so Scott got to meether as well.

Scott gets all the women, while Jim looks on in envy...

After that panel, I made my first foray of the day into thedealer room, which remained as calm as the day before. It suddenlyhit me that what I wanted was Micromasters -- lots and lots ofMicromasters. And so I went on a bit of a buying spree, rushingthis way and that from one table to another, digging, scanning,and buying perhaps two dozen of the little guys in the span ofan hour. Hey, they run only $1-3 apiece; why not? Seems likethere were TONS of them this year, whereas last year I recallthem being fairly scarce. This year's hard-to-find items (forme, at least) included cassettes (apparently "the Britishguys" bought up a ton of 'em on Saturday morning) and G2figures (I hardly saw any Rotorforce guys at all, to my dismay. I only need one more to finish the set! And I wouldn't mindhaving a few to spare, as well. Others can have their hordesof Vehicons. Me, I want a horde of Ransak and Manta Ray and theirrotors o' death! Or Micromasters...) I also scooped up a nice-lookingRewind/Steeljaw pair for $12 (mine are worn out and broken, respectively...Rewind was THE Transformer I hauled around just to have one along,back in the day), and a Skullgrin for $30, to replace the oneI bought last year for $20 and promptly lost, to replace the oneI'd bought a few years before for $10 that got lost in the mail. Through some miracle, I actually managed to get this one allthe way home, finally completing my set of regular Pretenders. I also got a couple of Dan Kahanna's amazing prints, one to keep(Ultra Magnus), one to give away (Springer).

The way-cool entrance bridge to the RiverCenter -- a perfect mood setter for a convention about giant high-tech robots.

We gathered once again to go get some lunch (and here camemy worst line of the weekend: "Power pack! Find the Billy!"as Trix and LV searched for their lost room mate.) Unfortunatelyfor me, it had begun to drizzle. My backpack was full of boxedand loose toys, and my writing pad was back at the hotel -- soI had nothing but a plain manila envelope to protect my two printsfrom the rain! I ended up just doing my best to keep my backpackbetween the prints and the precipitation; fortunately it seemsto have worked, and I'm happy to report that Springer was laterdelivered safe and sound. But anyway, after much futile, soggywandering, we wound up back at the same Burger King as the daybefore; I actually broke down and got a Whopper (hey, they'renot all that bad, for a fast food hamburger.) My newly acquiredMicromaster minions invaded the table space; people identifiedsome of the ones I didn't know for me (names which I've long sinceforgotten :], and helped me sort them out by patrol and allegiance(turns out I bought only one Decepticon!) I discovered to mychagrin that I had acquired three copies of one of the ConstructionPatrol guys... oops!

The last event of the convention was the BotCon panel, wherewe got some insight into what goes on to organize this increasinglymonstrous affair. There were 1,050 attendees this year, yet anotherrecord, with around 730 pre-registrants -- compare that with the175 people who attended BotCon '94 (a thin smattering of handswent up when 3H asked who'd been there.) There's now over 3,000on the BotCon mailing list, and they got over 1500 emails aboutthis year's 'con. There were 1,200 exclusives made (does thatmean 600 of each, or 1200 of each?), which sold out. Next yearthere'll be a limit on the exclusives -- I forget if exactly whatkind of limit was specified, something like 2 per attendee inadvance, maybe... I dunno, don't quote me on that. The relativelack of guests and major events this year was intentional; theHartmans don't want to have to keep topping themselves each year,so to keep it fresh, they're adopting a loose policy of toningit back every other year. Of course, with the sneak preview ofBM, I don't think we had anything to complain about. And maybebest of all, for the first time, the Hartmans didn't lose moneyon this year's convention. They turned a bit of a profit -- whichwill be re-invested in making future 'cons even better.

They outlined some of the process of organizing the convention,and from the sound of it we only got the tip of the iceberg. Here's a quick rundown of what I remember and wrote down...

1) Location is the first thing to be decided. It depends ona lot of different factors: sizes of convention space available,price, configuration of the space, and the dates it's available. BotCon is classified as an "exhibition" convention,I believe, which in many places is automatically required to havevastly more space than BotCon needs or can afford. Minneapolis,Atlanta, and St. Louis were also considered; I got the feelingAtlanta was the top choice (no, Southern folks, they haven't forgottenyou), but none of those cities worked out, alas.

2) Guests, themes, and events are the next item. The formeritem involves lots of scheduling hassles; some, like Frank Welker,can't be guaranteed until a couple of weeks before the 'con, sobusy are their schedules. As for themes, 3H tries hard not tomake things repetitious, and keeping it fresh each year is oneof their goals.

3) Next is merchandise negotiations with Hasbro, which involvesselecting convention exclusive toys from the toy molds currentlyavailable for re-coloring, then presenting Hasbro with a hand-paintedportrayal of what 3H is looking to produce. There were about20 toys on the list this year... Torca and Quickstrike were amongthose considered. The Transmetals weren't available, else wemight have gotten a re-colored Terrorsaur as a TM Fractyl, andCheetor as Cataclysm. Tarantulas was another contestant here. Packaging the toys is a HUGE part of the costs -- those beautifulBotCon packages don't come free, folks; 3H said that the ratioof costs for packaging vs. toy was something like 5:1. That'sright, five times as much for the package as the toy itself. Whoah.

4) Then comes hammering out of legal issues with Hasbro. This is complicated by the fact that Hasbro is hard to contacton a regular basis. It helps that 3H has a very congenial attitude-- if a Hasbro rep suddenly has to cut off a phone call with nowarning and no explanation, 3H is cool with it. Convention merchandisegenerally requires three or four signatures from various partiesat Hasbro before it's good to go. Only 6 people handle the businessend of the TF toy line, and getting hold of them can be ratherdifficult (I gather they also have commitments to other Hasbrolines as well.)

5) Finalization of equipment, location, and the exclusivesis next. They then acquire 6 or 7 helpers to act as staff --whether these were brave volunteers or paid employees wasn't mentioned. Either way, they deserve a hand for putting up with a thousandTransfans for a whole weekend.

Finally came the announcement that next year's 'con wouldbe July 29-30th at the Grand Wayne Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana,site of the original BotCon back in 1994. Apparently conventionspace elsewhere getting hard to acquire due to Year 2000 madness;anyway, there's a nice circularity to the 'con returning backto its origin point (heh... fits in well with the three-part storyarc by Simon Furman, as well, which repeatedly had the line "returnto the beginning". :]

The convention was officially over, but things were stillgoing on afterwards. I hung out with a crowd in LV's room till7, when Emily and Mike came to pick me up again. This time wehad dinner on a cool, recently-rejuvenated commercial street inSt. Paul, and they drove me around a bit more -- there's somenice old houses in the old suburbs of the city.

Trixter and Saberback, at the end of a hard day's conventioning.

I said good-bye to Em as they dropped me off at the conventionhotel again, where I headed back to the LV/Trixter/Billy/Chip'sroom -- just in time to catch a crew of seven or eight folks headingout in search of food. I tagged along for the heck of it, thankfulthat I'd already eaten. We wandered all over looking for someplace that was open after 10 pm on a Sunday, first towards theBurger King, then -- when our quest turned up only a gay bar --back into downtown St. Paul, where we wandered much and foundlittle. Finally we ended up hanging out in a cool little pocketpark overlooking the river and one of the bridges across it fora half hour or so, then wandered through a long, thin city parkwith nice fountains and a nice view of the Mississippi (gods isit ever a dinky little river up there!) before heading back tothe hotel, where those who sought food finally resorted to orderinga couple of pizzas. After a while of relaxing and chatting, manygood-byes were said; Walky drove us back to our own hotel in Steve'scar (Steve himself had sat out the day to study), this time withWalky's love Windy in tow. We crashed for the night around 2am.

MONDAY: Poor Walky and Steve had to drive out at 5 am; I wasonly coherent enough to mumble 'bye' as they stumbled out. Steve-oleft at a more reasonable hour, and I said a proper farewell ashe departed. That was pretty much the end of the convention forme, though after packing up -- which included figuring out howto transport almost twice the volume of stuff I'd come with, thanksto all the boxed Japanese stuff I picked up -- I spent severalpleasant hours running all over downtown St. Paul photographingbuildings (there are a LOT of nice old ones there, largely datingfrom the 1890s.) Alas, downtown St. Paul has no large bookstores,so I never found out if the Twin Cities have an architecturalguidebook. Ah well... next time. At noon I caught the airportshuttle from the hotel; we picked up several more folks from otherhotels on the way -- all of whom turned out to be convention attendees! Two of them were on my flight home; at the gate, one of them(Astrotrain, though not the Astrotrain I'm familiar with fromATT) told me about getting stopped by security for transportinga G1 Megatron in gun mode. He simply stepped aside, transformedhim to robot mode, and went through a different gate, no problem. Heh.

The flight home turned out to have an excruciatingly longconclusion -- we were in a holding pattern outside Philly forover an hour due to storms, then had to land at Dulles in get more fuel; then after another 45 minute flight to Philadelphia,we had to wait for a good fifteen minutes just to cross the activerunway and reach our gate. Overall, we came in about 3 hourslate. Arg! Making it far more intolerable were the grumblingsof the other passengers, who somehow decided it was all the airline'sfault, as if TWA make the decisions on who can land where andwhen. I especially wanted to slap the guy in the seat right behindme, whose comments managed to be inane, stupid, and amazinglyun-funny all at once. And he would *not* shut up about it! Sometimesshitty stuff happens and there's nothing you can do except justget over it; complaining only makes things worse. This was oneof those cases, but a ton of people on that plane didn't get it...urrg! On top of all that, when I'd finally gotten back to myhouse, the large plastic bag I was using to carry all my new acquisitionshome caught on the door of the trolley as I was getting off --completely tearing the handles off, and spilling several Transformersinto the street. Luckily it's only a 30 second walk from thetrolley stop to my front door, and no toys were harmed.

Ah well. Despite that lackluster ending, it was still aheck of a weekend. Not the same as the intense rush that BotCon'98 was, this year's convention was quieter and more low-key,both officially and for me personally. Last year was a whirlwindof meeting everyone at once; I seemed to be tagging along witha different group every time I turned around. This year, I actuallyknew a fair number of folks beforehand, and I was pretty muchattached to the group of Liquid Velcro (who qualifies IMO as theclosest thing we had to a leader :], Trixter, Walky, Steve-o,Windy, EmarZero, the elusive Phil Zeman (the other "oldguy" in the group), Megatron33, Picard42, PercepterTFWW,and various assorted others who came and went. Both ways havetheir merits... and both were terrific. As with last year, Iadvise all Transfans -- make it to BotCon if you can. It's expensive,and it's worth every penny.

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