While the Transformers fandom’s feelings on the recent movie are mixed, thankfully TFcon (July 11th-14th 2014) celebrates any and all aspects of the now-30 year old brand, from the theatrical portions, to the most obscure licensing. This is TFcon’s 11th year, and the 4th at the Delta Meadowvale Hotel and Conference Center and each year it attracts new attendees, while the regulars who keep growing closer together are excited to see each other again.
As always, the first aspect of any toy convention which must be discussed are the exclusives. The primary exclusive figure being the “Masterpiece Shafter” figure which is fully articulated, chromed, and looks like any authentic Transformer. A fortunate defect in the design gives it something of an auto-thrust when it’s stood upright, which is okay. Revealed at the show was the Pestilence figure, and the Nintendo-inspired Bluster and Trench, because in the 80s, any nerd who wasn’t playing with toys was playing videogames. The TFcon exclusives were fun, fitting, and not offered in excess. Years ago there weren’t many 3rd party toys to functional as templates for TFcon exclusives. Now 3rd Party Toys are a whole (controversial) industry and the quality design and engineering on them is evident.
Money not spent on the exclusives could be used in the dealer’s room, with thousands of old Transformers for sale, all over the range of prices from $1 to $1000. Imports, vintage, loose, bootleg, you name it, you can find it. Sunday had more variety, with Transformer supply deleted, vendors sold anything 80s like loose WWF or Avengers figures. Just make sure to check the whole room first to compare prices.
If you want the best deals on the most exotic items, the best opportunity was shortly after the (barely existant) opening ceremonies, when the Charity Auction which raised (estimated) over two thousand dollars for the Make A Wish Foundation and seeing how much the custom Transformers and donate Shaq figures and hundreds of other items was more entertaining than expected. Not as fun as watching people fail at the Transformers Famicom game, but that would get old after two years.
High profile guests doing Q&A, and signing autographs were returning fan-favourites Gary Chalk (Optimus Primal), Greg Berger (Grimlock), and Neil Kaplan who voiced Optimus Prime during the “Robots In Disguise” series. Although Neil’s the Lazenby of Optimus Primes his panel-presence was entertaining. Of course the star of the show was Susan Blu, not letting a broken leg stop her from skyping into the convention from California to share her story about Gary Chalk throwing up root beer. I can’t imagine Botcon ever skyping in a guest. Also making an appearance at an unofficial convention was Aaron Archer, formerly a lead designer on the Transformers brand, now released from professional association and free to be a perfect fit for an unofficial convention. Making an appearance was internet mini-celebrity “Mr. Optimus Prime”, a fan known for legally changing his name to Optimus Prime and thankfully he isn’t as crazy in person as he is completely crazy on message boards.
Guests and vending aside, the toppings on the TFcon sandwich are the extra events like the script reading, the Trivia contest was low-tech but the best chance to hear iconic fan “Guber” make his voice heard from Istanbul.Toy customizations and fan-art contests challenged creative fans, but the real masters used their bodies as the media for the Transformers cosplay contest with a great framework and okay hosting. A whole cast of Rodimus Prime’s crew from the Lost Light (featured in the More Than Meets The Eyes comic), and a lot of giant robot outfits. Anime fans might be known the masters of cosplayer, but a 99% accurate princess schoolgirl costume isn’t as cool as a 70% accurate giant robot costume.
To see costumes in action, the one destination was the late night performance by Cybertronic Spree, a band made of Transformer cosplayers who, in-character performed refined covers of songs from the soundtrack to Transformers: The Movie. While it sounds like a gimmick on paper, the band is actually made up of skilled musicians working as a team. And there’s no question there was more excitement and fury at their concert at TFCon than Stan Bush had when he performed at Botcon and videos on Youtube don’t effectively capture the experience of watching them perform live, so the obvious homework for all music loving Transformer fans is to check out the upcoming Nerd Noise Night performance.
Despite so much going on, TFCon is still a chilled event. There’s lots of energy, but not much stress. Botcon’s haunted by their own standards history they struggle to live up to, TFCon just keeps it real and lets good looking people meet each other and maybe have some reasonable fun with Nerf guns. And if you have a serious issue with the way TFCon is run or paying $20 for an autograph from an icon of the brand, remember that at no point did TFCon staff beg for $17,000 to cover a supposed hotel fee. Regarding venue, the hotel bar’s service often dragged behind and was overwhelmed by the large crowd. Oh well. They were apologetic about it and I’m sure they’ll bring on more staff next year, and the food was pretty delicious. Otherwise the hotel was able to hold the convention with room to move, although the far corner of the dealer’s room could use more open doors for air circulation.
The organizers of TFCon are also putting on an American TFcon in chicago, for all the East Coast fans who are denied the Botcon and are now treated to something which could be even better, hopefully they have the success there that they had with TFCon 2014.
–Michael S Ryan, July 16th 2014
I am so broke right now.