5. The Amount of Transformers That Exist Is Mind-Boggling.
Transformers has been around for 30 years now. Over that time, Hasbro released multiple iterations of a pretty hefty stock of characters. There are originals and reissues, exclusives and more. Plus, there are the versions that were released in other countries, most notably Japan. That's a lot of Transformers.
Beyond that, there are the toys that were released as something better than a souvenir at Botcon or another similar event. Some of the priciest items you'll see at Botcon are called "Lucky Draw" toys. Anthony Preto, from Tempting Toys and Collectibles in Santa Clarita, CA, had a few of those at his booth. Lucky Draw items are exactly what you think they are. The super limited edition items went to those who were lucky enough to score them through a magazine or store promotion, usually in Japan. Preto's big item is Convoy, the Japanese version of Optimus Prime, planted in black with red highlights. There were only 50 of these given away through a magazine contest. This one is now marked at $4,500.
It's hard to imagine the kind of frustration that comes with being a Transformer collector, unless you collect something yourself. When do you stop? Is there point where you have to admit defeat, tell yourself that you'll never obtain every version of Optimus Prime/Convoy out there?
4. The New Toys Are Popular Too.
It's not just vintage finds at BotCon. In recent years, the Transformers: Masterpiece line of high-end toys was frequently cited as favorites here. Year of the Snake pieces have caught fans' attention as well. "The hardcore collectors really love this stuff," says Dennis Klegin of Big Bad Toy Store. "They'll check the package for any dents and and creases and whatnot, find the most perfect box that they can for a shelf or storage. Then there are the people who just really want to buy it for display and to play with."
Many of the first generation of Transformers became collectible by happenstance. These days, though, there are a lot of collectibles by design. I can't help but wonder if even beautiful pieces like these will hold the same sort of weight that those early releases do 30 years from now.
3. Sometimes, a Weird Toy Catches On.
Cory Koeppen, a vendor from Nebraska, came out to BotCon armed with Pretenders. These aren't your basic car-robot hybrid. Instead they look like humans or unusual creatures. "Robot in disguise in the best way possible, right?" says Koeppen.
Pretenders are kind of odd. They seem like a terrible idea, but are interesting-looking in person. Koeppen is a fan. "They did a good job of representing some of the original characters in a new way," he says. There are other Transformers collectors who are right with him. Koeppen says he runs into a lot of people who want these. The Pretenders come with a lot of accessories, which makes the collecting aspect difficult. It's hard to find a complete piece.
2. BotCon Is Mostly About Collecting.
There are a lot of different aspects of the Transformers fandom, but the collecting aspect is overwhelming. You'll see cosplayers and some of them have done an amazing job at creating costumes based on famed Transformers. However, that's a very small segment of the audience at BotCon. There are artists selling prints, but the artist section here doesn't even come close to matching that at a small anime or comic book convention. The panels, ranging from Transformers art to flashback sessions to voice actors, do draw a really good-sized crowd, but you're not going to spend all day in line for them.
The collectible booths inside the exhibit hall, though, rarely lacked crowds. If one seemed a little empty, it was only for a matter minutes. It makes sense. Transformers, from the get-go, was part of that '80s wave of cartoons-to-sell-toys. Plus, collecting can be an all-consuming hobby. If you're spending years trying to track down the perfect addition to your G1 team, you may not have time to make a costume or draw some fan art. Everybody has priorities.
1. Vendors Who Are Collectors Make Us Excited to Buy Stuff.
Plenty of the vendors I met at Botcon are also collectors. Some sell to fund their own habits. That's the case for James Szewczyk. He has spent just about a decade on the hunt for a Diaclone piece, one of the Japanese toy lines that Hasbro used to create Transformers. Twice, he came close to getting the toy that inspired Sunstreaker, but missed out on the opportunity. On Friday morning, he finally got it for $650. It's not a complete piece. There are a few parts missing, but he has some spare Hasbro parts that can fill in those gaps. After so many conventions, dealers get to know each other, which is how Szewczyk came into this gem. The vendor's excitement about his own purchase was contagious. I don't collect Transformers, but, if I did, I would want to buy from someone who could gush over the awesome, hard-to-find item that just came into his or her possession.
Previously by Liz Ohanesian