Monday, June 23, 2014

Con-Man: BotCon

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Transformers, BotCon and Hasbro put on one heck of a show.  Starting on Friday with a group outing to the Transformers Experience at Universal Studios followed by a live performance by Stan Bush (!), the three day extravaganza was live streamed via Shout! Factory's booth from the lovely Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Conference Center.  Being a smaller show, there weren't tons of people walking around outside letting you know you were in the right place but a few strategically placed signs got us to where we needed to go.  Surprisingly, the show didn't offer programs.  At least I didn't see any or see anyone carrying one around.  Instead, there were blown up schedule of events around the area and staff members told you where to go for panels.

The exhibition hall boasted over 200 dealer tables in a decent sized room with oh so many toys from the various lines over the years.  Starting with the original metal figures all the way to the cheap, kiddy looking new series, there was about every kind of toy, model, figurine and statue a Transformers fan could want.  I was snooping around for something Hot Rod or Jazz related but at $60 bucks a pop for a loose figure, it just wasn't my day.  Many fans had armloads of boxed figures and many booths had spare parts for sale.  Hearing some die hard fans speak about variants, international versions and custom figures made me realize how much of a creative culture Transformers can be.  Not only do you have cartoons and comics but the toys are there for you to collect, play with and make your own versions of.  BotCon hosted a build your own Transformer contest which saw entrants designing their own characters or staging scenes with dioramas.  There were prints, buttons, postcards and posters galore from various Transformers artists as well as t-shirts, hoodies, hats and the like.  Besides Transformers, several booths were selling fellow Hasbro product G.I. Joe while I read a blurb about Bronies being present at the show as Hasbro also produces My Little Pony.  Suffice to say I did not see much My Little Pony merchandise for sale or a Brony.  While walking the floor I stumbled upon Stan Bush's booth and nearly seized up as the guy's music is literally the soundtrack of my life.  Dare and The Touch from Transformers: The Movie, Streets of Siam and Never Surrender from Kickboxer, Fight to Survive and On My Own from Bloodsport?  I thought I should just throw money at him to say thanks for making such honest, upbeat and rocking tunes that have kept me going for decades.

There was one room designated for panels in another wing of the center so we checked out a G1 Retrospective, G1 for Generation One, the original cartoon series from 1984.  To little fanfare or set up, our panel was trotted out:  Hal Rayle from Transformers, G.I. Joe, Bionic Six and The VisionariesJem of And the Holograms fame herself, Samantha Newark.  From Robotech, Transformers and G.I. Joe, Michael McConnohie and lastly, totally awesome old guy Jack Angel from Joe, Transformers and Voltron.  There was no moderation, at all, and the panel started taking questions from the audience.  I must say, I've seen a lot of panels but this one was a keeper.  Without prodding each guest had plenty to say answering questions and telling stories about the good ol' days of voicing animation in the 80's.  Angel was the diamond today and told many great stories, one of them concerning his ranking in the world's most popular actors.  Along with Tom Cruise, Hanks and Samuel L. Jackson, Jack Angel has appeared in so many films that he was number 4 on the list at one point.  In an interview, Jackson stated Angel and fellow voice over actor Frank Welker weren't "real" actors but Angel says he'd meet Jackson anytime in a studio to see who could do some real acting.

Many of their shows' voice direction was done by former World War II tank commander Wally Burr who had a studio all of the actors would perform from in the same room.  That way they could feed off each others energy, mannerisms and camaraderie.  Writers and animators present would take note of actors' physicality and traits then use them to flesh out their characters.  These days, much of voice over work is done alone in a booth with a director or engineer outside which just doesn't deliver the same level of performance.  The panel told fun stories about Muppet Babies, Real Ghost Busters, Duck Tales, Transformers and G.I. Joe vet Frank Welker who could produce white noise and drive engineers crazy in a studio or imitate the sound of a door opening to make people look up.  The panel joked that they figured Burr could have done their job since everything was run through a synthesizer for Transformers.

The panel was hilarious, gracious and even inspiring as Angel told the crowd that life is a game so play it fast and if you're not having fun, you're not doing it right.  After being discharged from the Army, Angel never had a real job as he was a disk jockey for 18 years where he would have to work 3 hours without lunch before segueing into the voice over business.  Each panel member seemed very pleased and happy to be there as none of them expected to be talking about cartoons 30 years on and thanked the crowed for being so passionate and crazy.  They also provided an inside glimpse into the business of all of these syndicated cartoons as Sunbow and Marvel Productions canceled several shows and regrouped after fighting a losing battle with Barbie.  Jem and The Holograms was a number one rated show for several years but government regulations stipulate that a show cannot advertise for itself, thus risking a 30 minute commercial.  This opened the door for competitor Mattel to use the popularity of Jem to advertise it's Barbie line and come Christmas, the blonde doll flew off the shelves in comparison to the pink haired Jem. 

All in, BotCon was a fantastic day.  It was great to see so many dedicated fans show up for something not movie or celebrity related and the surrounding area was excellent for a show as several restaurants were right across the street.  Parking was a little frustrating as the door we came out of, we couldn't get back in and elevators didn't lead back to the structure, etc.  But now we know, and knowing is half the battle...oh wait, wrong show...I hope BotCon stays on the west coast next year but if it moves back east, maybe we'll go check out G.I. Joe con.  Now Transform and roll out!

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