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Requiem for a roBOT CONvention

This weekend is Last BotCon, they say.  One last go for the stalwart of the Transformers fandom.  As the great scribe William Joel once penned, “Stack the chairs on the table tops, hang the sheets on the chandeliers.”

BotCon was life changing for me as I suspect it was for many of you.  The friends I have made, the places I’ve gone, the things I’ve done thanks to this convention — it’s astounding when I step back and think about it.

I wasn’t at the first BotCon; no, silly me thought it was stupid to drive six hours to a town I barely recognized to be with people I only knew of online to talk about Transformers.  Surely, it was pure folly, something I didn’t need to go to.

I was stupid back then.  (I’m stupid now, too, but for different reasons that are irrelevant to this discourse.)  After reading how much fun it was, I decided I would have to go to the next one, if there was one.  So in the summer of 1995, I and several online friends packed my old Dodge Caravelle and made the trip to Dayton to meet more online friends.  We planned to leave early Sunday, but I dragged my feet and we stayed longer because I simply Didn’t Want To Go.

Not wanting to go is how most of my BotCons ended.  Sure, 1996 was rather pathetic in terms of professionalism, but that’s where I met a good many people who I’m still friends with today. The weekend was fun because of my friends and in spite of the foul ups.

BotCon 1997, the first 3H con, truly set the high bar.  Guests! A comic!  PETER FRIGGIN’ CULLEN!  VINCE FRIGGIN’ DICOLA!  (Front row seats, too.)  The first MSTF! (Hey, it was important to me.) This con the standard for all BotCons — heck, I’d say most unofficial Transformers conventions — to come, including Last BotCon.  If there hadn’t been any more after 1997, the fans would have had a great final BotCon.  But instead we got more.  We got the East Coast.  We got a multi-year story.  We got more intricate toys and packaging.  We got more guests.  We got more activities. We got me as a performer in MSTF. (Again, important to me.)

We got The Split.

Ah, yes, the 3H/BotCon/OTFCC rupture, one that did kind of tear the fandom apart in ways.  Some sided with the Hartmans, some sided with Glen.  I went to OTFCC and BotCon.  I had considered all of 3H friends, or at least good acquaintances, and I wanted to support both.

The OTFCC years were interesting.  I won’t go into everything because this is about BotCon. Yet, a lot of BotCon was in OTFCC, and I must say that if it weren’t for Glen, I wouldn’t have had one of the highlights of my life — playing a duet with Vince DiCola at OTFCC 03.  OTFCC wasn’t called BotCon, but it felt pretty much like BotCon.

And then came BotCon 2004 which was, at the time, thought to be Last BotCon, a celebration by the Hartmans again, done out of love to the fans.  We knew the Hartman BotCon was going away, later we knew OTFCC was going away, and we didn’t know what was coming.  It’s very similar to today’s uncertainty.

In some ways, BotCon 2004 should be considered Last BotCon.  When Fun Publications took over, BotCon changed. The focus shifted.  Toy output increased… and so did the prices.  We heard all about the collector, and little about the fan. But FP did good, as evidenced by BotCon growing by leaps and bounds.  Having a big budget movie helped, sure, but FP didn’t squander the opportunity, and having BotCon 2007 at Hasbro, with a tour, and guests, and the movie, and Generation 1 themed toys — it also set a high bar.

These high points came at a price, though.  And in this case, I’m being both metaphorical and literal.  The cost of attending BotCon went higher and higher.  Many of my friends were priced out of attending, and those that could afford it now were older with other priorities.  Today, we have box sets tickling the $400 mark, Golden Tickets at even more insane prices, and walk-ins get a cheap price but virtually nothing more than a handstamp.

Hasbro has said this is the last BotCon in this format, and I feel sad, but not just because it’s done.  I feel sad because in a way I’ve been saying goodbye to it for a while now.  I was at nearly every BotCon through 2008, including ten in a row.  I stopped going because of finances or distance until last year.  And I was amazed at how small the convention was, and how few of my friends were there.

In 1999, Rob “Tengu” Gerbracht and I talked about how BotCon was our family reunion.  Today, that family has found other ways to reunite, and I have to admit: 

BotCon isn’t BotCon any more. 

I write this with no malice intended, but now that Fun Publications’ time is over, it’s time to take a long and hard look at what we received. I personally experienced higher prices, long lines, dismissive statements by those in charge, insane delays in registration, credit cards not being kept safe, and a variety of other issues — and that was just me! These and other things drove my BotCon family away, and I can’t be okay with that.

Still, I wish I was at Last BotCon, because, well, it’s BotCon.  Some of my best friends in the entire world I met at BotCon, and I wish I could be there to spend one final weekend with them at BotCon.  Because whatever comes next, it won’t be BotCon as we know it.  Even if there is a fan convention, it may not be called BotCon, and even if it is, it may not be, you know, BotCon.

We’ll keep you alive, BotCon, in that unknown future.  Because no matter how much the convention structure changed, the core essence of you was still there.  It may have been hiding deep, but you could still see it peeking out every now and then when the BotCon family got together.

For the people you allowed me to meet, for the experiences you allowed me to have, for allowing me to be on stage two hours making jokes with friends — thank you, BotCon.  To the friends I met at the con, the friends I spent a long weekend with every summer — thank you for being a part of that.

Good bye, BotCon.

From the ASM Archives: The Birth of Online Transformers Fandom

in_the_beginning[On this, the 20th anniversary of the creation of, I am reposting the long article I wrote when ASM wasn’t a daily blog site.  I’ve done some editting here and there, but when you read it, remember that the references to people or places are many years out of date; this was written about a decade or so ago, long before ASM had its daily blog.  I never wrote articles detailing what happened after the events of this article occurred, and that’s a shame — I really should do a follow up to this piece…. Anyway, enjoy this trip into the past! –Phil]


With respect to the online portion of Transformers fandom, I’m in a unique position here. You see, I’ve been here a while. Many of you may not know me; I hardly think of myself as one the most well known TransFans online. Heck, when I heard someone refer to me some time ago as an “ATT Elder”, I was shocked. I certainly didn’t think of me being that big in the Usenet scene.

But, in a way, it’s true. As Steve Stonebreaker, the keeper of the FAQ, once said, “Before ATT was, Phil was.” Several years ago, Steve asked me for a brief history of the beginnings of online Transfandom, something he could put in one of his FAQs. I happily agreed, and I wrote a small essay detailing my memories. After I sent it to him, he replied that it wasn’t quite what he needed, so I wrote something shorter and more to the point. But I asked him if he please not post the original version in any fashion, as I had an idea I might use an expanded version of it at some point in the future.

Now, finally, I’m going to share the results of that original essay with you. I’ve got a unique perspective on online Transfandom, because I’ve seen many different pieces of it come and go. While some of this article is written purely from a fact-based background, I will admit that a good portion of this first installment comes directly from my memories and is not a purely historical and factual account.

So come along for the ride. See the birth of online Transfandom — and its many branches — as I saw it. Read more

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Wizard World Chicago Comic Con: A New Look for 2013!

Wizard World Chicago Comic Con sported a new look this year, taking over a completely different area of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. As attendees of the con for over a decade, it felt odd to walk in through the main entrance and turn to the right to enter the show rather than the hall(s) to the left that used to host the con.

The most notable change in 2013 was that the con was spread out over two levels of the convention center. The ground level show floor hosted the celebrity autographs, the photo op area, Artists’ Alley, and a few vendors. The second level hosted the majority of the vendors and the fan groups/clubs. The total floor space definitely seemed to be more square footage than the old layout. Aisles were much wider, and there was much less congestion than prior years. This really helped with the ability to browse, as you didn’t feel like you had to keep moving in order to not hold up the traffic flow in the vendors’ area. The room temperature in most spots felt much less oppressive than some prior years. It almost felt like a different con at times just because the layout was so different. There were several times we had to stop and figure out which direction to head for the main lobby and escalators, but that is to be expected for the first year of such a large change in floor layout. Overall, I think the change in location and layout was a positive change. There was more floor to cover but it was worth it for just the lessened congestion alone.

Artists’ Alley had a different feel to it this year. There seemed to be more traffic in this area than in prior years. I think much of this was due to the fact that there was more space. The booths were arranged in shorter aisles with more “cross aisles” in between, and this seemed to allow more movement. The booths themselves looked larger, but that is something an artist would have to confirm. I think positioning Artists’ Alley by the celebrity autographs also encouraged more traffic as well. In the old floor layout, the artists were in the back of the convention hall behind the vendors. Read more

Joliet Public Library’s Fourth Annual “Star Wars” Day This Saturday

Image via Joliet Public Library

Image via Joliet Public Library

If you’re around northern Illinois this weekend, head over to Joliet, IL as the Joliet Public Library presents its fourth annual Star Wars Day!   From 10:00am to 4:00pm, you can experience sights and sounds from that galaxy far, far away as the city of Joliet, the staff of the Joliet Public Library, local businesses, and members of the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion join together to provide Star Wars-themed fun for the public.  This event is free, and there will be costumes, fan-made props, pictures, and events for all to enjoy. Read more

Michael Bay Provides First Look at “Transformers 4″ Vehicles

Principal production on Transformers 4 has begun, according to Michael Bay via his website.  As a treat for fans, he provided three images of vehicles that are being used, all of the Autobots.

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Follow Up Into Darkness

Or, “Where Some People Take Phil To Task”

Image via

Image via

Last week, I posted my review of Star Trek Into Darknessand then I shared it on my personal Facebook account.  That started a whole discussion in the comments, with people agreeing with me and others saying I was completely wrong.

Never let it be said that I won’t listen to criticism.  I will quote some comments with permission and summarize others.  (Again, FULL SPOILERS after the jump.)

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“Star Trek Into Darkness” Delivers Conflicting Emotions. Very Un-Vulcan-like.

[Full SPOILERS Below]


Image via

After months of waiting, with J.J. Abrams giving out information excruciatingly slowly so as to increase anticipation, Stark Trek Into Darkness finally arrived in theaters this past weekend.  The previous movie in the Trek-reboot universe was hugely successful, and this new installment had the chance to top it and provide an even more entertaining experience.  But did it?

Hoo boy.

Spoilers after the jump!

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Iron Man 3: So Awesome. Or… Not.











(Original Subheader: SO AWESOME!!! Wait… hold up… did I just see that, let me think…. Oh… wait.. not as awesome as I thought! *GASP*)

Ok gang, so it’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a film, and yes you’ve probably read a million reviews on this film.  But this one is FULL of SPOILERS, cursing, and full on hate for this film,  so consider yourself WARNED!

Overall I give Iron Man 3 a C- ….  Yes that’s right, a C-.

Forget the fact that this movie made $700 Million so far, REMEMBER it opened up in EUROPE A WEEK EARLY!  Which I’ve learned that Europeans have no taste in good movies.  I mean the Europeans spent nearly $300 Million on the last Resident Evil installment when the US only spent $25 Million… Tells ya something.

This movie is honestly the worst in all the three Iron Man films, because of a number of details which I will mention here….


C2E2 2013 Final Round-Up, Best Costumes, and Post-Convention Thoughts

Another C2E2 has come and gone, and with it comes the long wait for it to return. This was the fourth iteration of the spring Chicago convention, and it has grown exponentially since 2010. I remember going to the first one in 2010 and easily needing less than a day to see everything. Fast forward three years, and we now spend a weekend at the show. It now feels like there’s always something that we have to miss when we leave on Sunday.

Hit the jump to see our final thoughts and the best of the costumes! Read more

C2E2 2013 – Saturday Costumes Impress Us

C2E2-Logo-Horizontal-Hi-ResAfter being surprised at the smaller costuming contingent at C2E2 on Friday, we hoped Saturday would bring us more costumes.

We were not disappointed. Hit the jump to see a bunch of pictures, or head to our full Saturday Costumes Gallery! Read more