TF Con 2016!

It’s time to take a break from cheesy horror novels to talk about something even nerdier.

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog, it’s no secret that I’m a Transformers fan. A really, really big transformers fan. It’s pretty much my ‘first love’ as far as merchandise-based franchises go, a very cornerstone of my geekdom. Really, the old transformers cartoon is what gave me my lifelong interest in laser-blasting space opera science fiction.

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And possibly a thing for girls who turn into cars.

With this in mind, it’s … actually somewhat surprising that I’ve never been to a Transformer-focused convention before. A lot of it boiled down to matters of time and opportunity and such. But, a couple of weeks ago, I realized ‘oh hey, TF Con is in Chicago this year. I have family in Chicago I could crash with. I should go there!’

So I did.

I rolled into Chicago on Friday, at which point I stayed up late boozing it up with said cousin (who I will note is totally awesome, if she’s reading this) which was pretty fun except for the part where she had me do a shot of Malort, which as far as I can figure is absinthe that’s been brewed in a garbage can. Seriously. It hurt. Then again, I suppose masochism may be part of Chicago’s character as a city. Case in point: being a Cubs fan.

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Cubs Fans, as of Saturday night.

I wasn’t anywhere near Wrigley Field on Saturday night, but around 10:00, once the 9th inning wrapped up, things got apocalyptic. Between the frenzied yelling in the streets, the honking horns, the exploding fireworks, and the occasional helicopter, it sounded like the background noise you hear at the beginning of every zombie movie.

But enough about that, how about some robots?

TF Con is a small con … but a focused one. It was pretty much just the one dealer’s room and a ballroom for various panels … but all the dealers were selling transformers toys (along with a smattering of other stuff like GI Joe, Voltron, etc), so there was pretty much something to catch my interest at nearly every booth.

Likewise, the panels all focused on one aspect of the TF fandom or another– they had Michael Bell and Greg Berger, two of the voice actors from the original cartoon, along with Garry Chalk and Richard Newman from Beast Wars, and even a couple of dudes from the new Combiner Wars minseries thing. Though possibly the most interesting guest was Bob Budiansky, the guy responsible for the transformers being a ‘thing’ to begin with.

See, back in the 80’s, Hasbro turned to Marvel Comics to come up with a story for their new toyline of transforming car-robots. After Jim Shooter hammered out a quick six page treatment, and after a couple of other writers turned down the job, Bob Budiansky wrote up names and personalities and even ‘stats’ for over two dozen different toys over the course of a long weekend. These little blurbs went on to become the ‘tech specs’ on the back of the packaging.

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Once Transformers took off in popularity, Budiansky started writing the ongoing comic book, as well as the profiles for the dozens of new characters that would be rolled out ever couple of months when Hasbro had new toys to sell. It came to the point where Budiansky wrote over two hundred of these tech specs. Crazy stuff.

Apart from Budiansky’s stuff, my favorite panel-thing was an audio play they did with the various voice actors in attendance. Fans could audition to read for some of the other characters, which, naturally, I did. Sadly, I didn’t make the cut (my Wheeljack is pretty good, but my Hound voice was terrible), but it was still fun to audition and it kind of makes me want to go do some more theater stuff again.

Once you got past the whole robot focus, TF Con was pretty much the same as any other convention. I actually busted out my Swindle getup that I wore to Comicpalooza that one time, and a couple of people actually got it! But then I started feeling kind of warm and self conscious since I didn’t see very many other cosplayers roaming around, so I swapped out for normal people clothes. But then a bunch of cosplayers showed up later in the afternoon, so I guess I just got the timing wrong. I saw some really impressive outfits (including a solid Carly I wish I got a pic of) and even another Swindle!

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I’d be jealous if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t NEED a mask to look that smarmy.

Also, another observation: Whirl is like the Harley Quinn of Transformers cosplay. Seriously, I saw at least five of them roaming around. It’s canon, too! Transformer stuff can get weird.

I was actually somewhat surprised at the demographics at the con– I was expecting a somewhat neckbeardy crowd, but things skewed a lot younger. Plus, there were a bunch of young women there as well, which makes me wish that the TF fandom looked like that some 10 years ago. (Or heck, maybe it did, and I just never knew ’cause I never made it out to Transformer cons ’til now).

The Transformer franchise has gone on for over 30 years now, in over a dozen different incarnations. I grew up on the original toys and cartoon, but not everyone can be so lucky. It was pretty fun to see other ‘flavors’ of fans. There was a guy looking for Energon toys, or the young lady looking for (and finding!) an Animated Rodimus Minor, and so on. Of course, the best ones in the mix were the little kids running around with their various finds going ‘pew pew pew!’ So, y’know, the target audience.

There was something for everybody at TF Con (or at least something for everybody who likes robots who turn into trucks and dinosaurs and such). There was a bunch of high-ticket stuff like boxed Japanese exclusives or crazy third-party toys. Those third-party ones are kinda interesting– they look great, but they usually go for 80-100 bucks a pop, if not more. And if you’re patient, Hasbro often turns around and makes actual new toys of a lot of those characters anyway, so … yeah. It’s odd, but if there wasn’t a market for it, there wouldn’t have been so much third party stuff at the con. Speaking of high-ticket stuff, it was kind of cooky to see some guys I have propped up on my shelf going for “oh hey I could pay rent with these if I really needed to” prices. I may be bragging a little bit there but still.

Thankfully (especially for my wallet), not everything the dealers had was going for hundreds and hundreds of dollars. There were a lot of loose toys available, many of them falling easily into the $5-$20 range. Plus, digging through a big bin of stuff looking for hidden gems is loads and loads of fun.

I wound up walking away with a respectable haul, picking up a couple of dudes I’ve had trouble finding for quite awhile now. Didn’t break the bank, either, which is always a plus. Bob Budiansky even signed an issue of the old Marvel comic for me– even though I really don’t collect signed comics and thus I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Seems a bit silly to just slide it away in a longbox, I guess.

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I am absolutely going to take all these dudes out of their boxes and wave them around making robot noises. 

All and all, TF Con was pretty fun. Depending on where it is next year, I’d definitely go again. And heck, I might even volunteer, as that seems like a fun way to get more involved with stuff and have other people to argue about what color Frenzy is (red, for the record) with. Or heck, if I get really ambitious, I might check out the recently-announced HasCon, which includes all their IP’s– Transformers, GI Joe, My Little Pony … as well as stuff like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering via Wizards of the Coast.

That’d be a heck of a crossover fanfic, I tell ya.

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