Saturday, 2 January 2016

My 30 years of Transformers - Conventions and Collectors Fairs

Tomorrow we get back to the Final Five Display Cases, but today, after detailing my main interest yesterday of collecting the toys, I want to detail the other major interest of mine with Transformers - Conventions.

Dedicated Transformers conventions have a number of elements that draw in Transformers fans, including the guests (including voice actors of our favourite characters), presentations/panels (sometimes with toy reveals), activities, a chance to cosplay, trading in a dealer room, and meeting up with friends and fellow fans.

In Australia we don't have regular dedicated Transformers Conventions, so for us fans to experience some or all of those elements, we either have to travel to another country that has a dedicated convention, or go to a generalised scifi/fantasy convention here that rarely has any Transformers elements (sometimes there is a Transformers voice actor and some people selling Transformers toys).

In the last 20 years there have been many localised fan meets organised through the Australian fan community, and with a number regular collector fairs in some cities, we've seen some of them become catalysts for some decent turnouts of fans to those meets.
My very first meet with other fans was in January 1997, in Sydney, which is in another state to where I lived. It was only about four or five of us, but it was great to finally be spending several hours with a group of Transformers fans, instead of with just one.

In about 2001 Australia had what I think was our first annual scifi/fantasy convention start up in Sydney (Supanova), which later expanded to six cities a year, and now has competition from another company (Comic Con) that also does five cities each year.
The Ozformers club had a booth at the 2003 Supanova convention, to show off the toyline to others, and see if there was enough interest to host our own Transformers convention.
(photo is not mine)

We did get a fair bit of interest, but it wasn't until 2004 that we saw a dedicated convention, which was done in Sydney.
(photo is not mine)

A second attempt was made in 2006 in Sydney, but administrative issues meant a very small turnout, making it little more than a presentation of a Transformers collection and a couple of toy dealers.
(photo is not mine)

Since then I've been pretty keen to travel around the country to attend meets, and go to collector fairs... as well as the occasional scifi convention if there was a significant voice actor to make it worth the admission fee and $50 autograph fee.
(Parramatta Collectors Fair 2010)

(Nexus Fair 2010)

(Supanova Brisbane 2014)


But like most fans back then (1990s & 2000s), BotCon would be the ultimate goal. Back then it was one of those things that almost every Transformers fan had on their wish-list if they could afford it, and for me, once I got a taste for it in 1999, I just kept wanting to go back, as often as possible (only missing 2006 BotCon and 2004 Official Con).

I had first heard about the annual BotCon Transformers convention in 1995 just before the second one, and from that time I was following them with keen interest for four years before I was finally able to go to one... and it was worth the wait.
That first one in 1999 was in St Paul, Minnesota (America), and from a combination of it being my first long-distance trip as well as it being a last minute decision to go after getting a full time job, I only booked flights and accommodation for three nights (in Friday, out Monday). Looking back, that was way too short, and I wished I had spent an extra day or two in St Paul, especially with Mall America nearby.
As it was, I arrived just as the registration check-in was starting on the Friday afternoon, so I lined up for that before checking into the hotel across the road. Meanwhile on the Monday, I had to leave for the airport by mid-morning for the flight home.
One of the things that made it such a memorable experience was the kindness of other fans... mostly from the novelty of meeting an Australian in person. I was only the third Australian to go to a BotCon, so it was still a novelty. (even at BotCon 2015, I saw an Australian attendee being a novelty to a number of people on one of the pre-Con tours)
One of the first people I met at BotCon 1999 was Tony Buchanan. At that time he was producing a printed monthly fan magazine called Auto-Update, and he had been sending me copies of his publication in exchange for copies of the monthly Ozformers Club newsletter. Tony introduced me to a lot of the significant people in the fandom, many of which I remained friends with for as long as they were still into Transformers or attending the conventions.

The next five Hasbro endorsed annual Transformers conventions (named BotCon or the Official Con) had other Australians attend, which brought a new dynamic to the experience. I had someone to relate to that I often knew already, and as time went on, I would take on a role of guide for other Australians.
That brought us to 2004, the year of two Transformers Conventions, and I chose the BotCon one, because at that time it looked like it was the last one, and the Official Convention would be around next year for me to attend (so we thought at the time).

(BotCon 2000 with part of the Hartmans collection display)


(BotCon 2001 with the Wreckers display)


(BotCon 2004 with the big collection of toys on display in the Dealer Room)



The sudden end to the Official Convention license-holder in 2004 meant that that wasn't going to happen, and until Hasbro announced a few months later that a new company had the convention license (Fun Publications), I was resigned to not going to any more.
Finding out about the new business and it being instructed by Hasbro to take on an advisory council (that had some people on it that were my friends or I knew of well), I went to the 2005 BotCon and it was still pretty good. Different, but good.

(BotCon 2005)

I missed the 2006 BotCon due to funding an Australian Convention, but the next five years saw a growth in the numbers and fan support of the current BotCon convention organiser. 2011 looks to be its peak of popularity before the decline of sales and attendance (according to statistics of pre-registration and at-show toy quantities and sales, with 2011 being the last year they sold out of everything and 2012 being the last time they sold out the boxsets during pre-registration, prompting a reduction of toy numbers since 2013).
The quality and features of the convention itself is still as good as it ever was, with guests, panels, Hasbro presentations, and special activities spread over five days for me to want to keep going back, but a number of issues that occurred outside of the Convention (that I won't go into here) has unfortunately meant that the support for the Convention has become a casualty. BotCon as a brand is still iconic, but at the moment it is not the "must do" event for Transformers fans like it was during its first 15 years.
I love going, but it isn't as much fun having less and less old friends or Australians going each year.

(BotCon 2011)

Each BotCon I rate with a score across 10 categories, and from that my three best BotCons were 2004, 2009, 2011... while my three least favourite BotCons (and Official Cons) were 2003, 2012, 2015.

It's now been 10 years since we last tried to have an Australian Transformers convention, so maybe this year would be a good time for another attempt, especially with the 20th anniversary of the Ozformers club this year. Something I'll have to look at soon if I want to do something about it before the end of the year.

I could literally go on for weeks about my BotCon adventures, so for extensive coverage of the last ten BotCons (except 2006), with more photos and written details than any other website, including the BotCon website, check out my BotCon fan archive here -

For names and numbers of the various BotCon exclusives, check out this resource website -

Tomorrow... it's Masterpiece time.

(Newsletter banner from issue 47 in September 2000, submitted by Paulbot.)

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