It’s just a few days until TFNation 2017 in the UK and I’m making my own preparations to once again be an attendee from another country. Not since BotCons 2006, 2007 and B.O.T.S. 2011 have I experienced attending a Transformers show from abroad. Why would anyone go to that much trouble to attend an event in another country about Transformers in the online age? Hopefully I can highlight a few advantages to the whole TF convention experience this week.
For a start, it’s a chance for many enthusiasts to spend a weekend away from work and responsibility, in the company of like-minded fans and friends they meet maybe once a year from different parts of the country, or different countries altogether. It’s a place for people to make friends with others who share their passion for Transformers, and not just generally, but in very specific aspects of the hobby. Cosplayers can hang out together, customisers and artists can spend time together, comic and toy enthusiasts can share drinks around the bar or go toy hunting at dealer stalls in groups etc. I have always loved the feeling of being in a bubble all weekend at these shows, almost like an extended sleepover with mates where we spend every meal and activity together having fun.
Another aspect of the shows that can be wonderful for attendees is access to guests. These can vary from Generation 1 cartoon voice actors and writers to IDW Publishing comic artists and toy designers. At TFNation, these guests are usually very approachable and spend time with fans chatting at their stalls – and even afterwards into the small hours in the lobby or at the bar. I’ve gotten some unforgettable art commissions from the artists who attend these events throughout the years, as well as comic covers and original toy box artwork. Just getting to communicate my appreciation of their contributions was an honour, especially when done in a non-invasive and time-conscious fashion! You can see what it means to the guests themselves, as well. The atmosphere and mutual appreciation can be very heartening.
A large aspect of these conventions is the dealer hall. Multiple individual sellers and online retailers set up their stands and sell a wide variety of official and unofficial (assuming it’s allowed) Transformers. There are brand new toys – Masterpiece, 3rd Party, Generations and the like – as well as older figures. You can even find speciality sellers with lots of Generation 1 Transformers, plus the odd person hawking pre-Transformers! You’ll probably find comics, artwork and merchandise for sale too at some stands. Attendees inevitably spend more at conventions than even they expect, as it is quite the special event feel where nobody likes to go home without a souvenir or decent show find. People set budgets and it’s extremely wise to stick to them, especially with bar prices being what they are in the hotels these things can take place in! It’s also a good opportunity for collectors to establish positive relationships with well known toy retailers – and cut out the postal service!
Speaking of toys, at most Transformers conventions nowadays there are show exclusive toys. For TFNation, it will be 3rd party stuff like the Lost Light-coloured “Calidus Asterisk”, a debut for MAAS toys and “Rune”, a Diaclone-themed repaint for Ocular Max with “Terraegis Rally” etc. This is a nice way of attracting people to attend, but I’d wager that it’s not anyone’s principal motivation. Maybe it was, once upon a time at BotCon with their box sets and specials, but even with the attendee prices for the official Hasbro Convention this year and the early access to Titans Return Arcee, you’d really have to weigh up the worth of such expense versus the toy reward.
Then you have all of the events and panels. Guests are invited to speak on their area of expertise – be it comics, cartoons, toy design or a community contribution – and they will answer attendee questions. Bob Budiansky’s attendance will be a massive draw for Generation 1 Transformers fans at TFNation 2017, I’ll certainly be looking to attend that panel! There will be script-readings, a quite phenomenal cosplay contest which blows my mind every year and presentations on specific aspects of Transformers history. I’m very much looking forward to Sid Beckett’s panel on Takara Brave toys at TFNation this year as well. Last year’s Rock Lords display was phenomenal. We have also, in the past, had quite comprehensive 3rd party panels with exciting new product reveals. MakeToys even came along and did focus groups where select attendees were able to sample upcoming product and give opinions. The raft of prototypes and test shots on display never hurts attendance and enthusiasm either.
To go back to something I said earlier, the biggest draw – in my opinion – is the people. What I look forward to the most at conventions is the time spent together with other fans and enthusiasts after the dealer hall has closed and panels have finished. Long hours of chatting, laughing, socialising and catching up take place every evening, far into the early hours. Sure it’s expensive when there’s a hotel bar and restaurant involved, as well as international (or even national) travel, but there are always other options nearby and the journey to the convention can be an event to look forward to, I’ve certainly enjoyed it immensely over the last 3 years.
I’m of the opinion that the hobby and community always needs conventions, points of the year to look forward to where the pursuit of being involved in Transformers is focused into one be-all, end-all annual event. These things always end up being greater than the sum of their parts. So, if the opportunity is there for you to attend a fan-run event, an official convention or something in-between, do make the effort because chances are it’ll be the hobby highlight of the year!
Many kind thanks to TFNation for use of official photographs.
All the best