Thursday, September 07, 2006

Got my kicks at Cybcon '06

Cybcon 2006, the premier Upper Pacific Northwest Unofficial Transformers Collector's Convention was held in Tacoma, Washington this past weekend on Saturday September 2nd. This year was the first time I'd ever attended a Cybcon. I've been making the attendee exclusive figures since 2004 but because I was overseas for the past two years I was never able to attend. Now that I'm living in South Dakota I really wanted to go to the show to see what it was all about. I've been to all sorts of different TF conventions from Botcon to OTFCC to Auto Assembly to Iacon One, blah blah blah. What intrigues me about Cybcon is that it's the longest consecutively running unofficial fan convention in the US, and it's in Washington. How is that possible? Who were these people? What did they do all day? I was going to find out.

Since I've known the convention organizers for a few years now I parlayed this behind the scenes connection into a job at the show. Early on I wanted to have some sort of staff position to keep me busy, so Greg made me the show documentarian. My job was to take as many pictures and as much video as I could. It was the first time I had a big role as convention staff at a TF convention. In the end I took 589 pictures and at least four hours of video (I think) so Cybcon 2006 is well documented. I think many of those pictures will be available online at some point in the future and as soon as they're made public I'll link to them here. Greg's been doing post convention retrospective videos for past Cybcons so all the footage I took will be edited into a movie, too.

The Staff:

This year's Cybcon staff was made up of five people, four of which were at the show. The Reverend Allen G. who made the character art for the exclusive packaging was not in attendance. The four of us that did show up got to wear cool eletronic billboard style nametags that had scrolling LED displays. Greg programmed each nametag to display our staff titles. According to our nametags, Greg Gaub was the "Cybcon Coordinator", Richard Mistron was "Number One Super Guy", Zeatha Mistron was the "Attendee Coordinator", and I was the "Toy and Video Guy". Greg let us keep our nametags so I'm going to wear mine to Botcon after I figure out something cool to reprogram it with. Thanks Greg!

The Venue:

This year Cybcon broke from tradition and was held in Tacoma, Washington instead of in Auburn as with previous years. The King Oscar convention center in Tacoma was perfectly suited for the number of people that showed up. To put it into some sort of perspective, the room Cybcon was held in was about the size of a large panel room at Botcon. The dealer and organizer tables ran along the walls on three sides and the fourth wall was used for the pizza tables and to project cartoons and video games on. In the middle of the room were seven large circular tables where people could sit down. That's a great idea. It would be awesome if at Botcon there would be an area of the dealer room for people just sit down at. I'd say attendance was in the high 60's to low 70's and it seemed that there was always at least 40 people in the room at any given time. It was constantly full but there was enough room for everyone so it never seemed cramped.

The Dealers:

The dealers brought a lot of stuff. I think there were around 15 six foot long tables. The dealers had lots of stuff-Binaltechs, Galaxy Force, E-Hobby stuff, reissues (both Takara and Hasbro), statues, busts, comics, Alternators, G1, RiD, SCFs, Car Robots, Robot Masters, Microman and I even saw Kiss Play Convoy. There were tons of loose G1 and figures from all eras. It was a great selection if you wanted to blow a lot of money.

They were mostly fan dealers but one dealer was an actual store from Seattle named Kicks that had a ton of japanese stuff. The always in attendance Joebot was there with his Soundwave cassette player that he's had for sale during just about every Cybcon. I met Peggy who had lots of stuff for sale and who I sold a 6 inch Titanium Prime to for $10 before the show started. I finally got to be in on the legendary pre-show dealer action! It really does happen!

Hal Zucati was there with pictures of his prototype Cyberfemme Jet and hardcopies of just about every kit he's ever sold except for the Master Mover. He had a prototype War Within Bumblebee that was at least Mega sized but it was just for show. The prices on his stuff were cut pretty drastically. At one point he was selling recasts of the MC Axis Arcee kit for $15! He's a fun guy to talk to. I consider him the most controversial person in the fandom because whatever he does seems to ignite firestorms of hellacious commotion. It was fascinating hearing him explain his experiences with Hasbro and the terms he's come to with them.

Kevin Hurd was also noteable because it was through his efforts that there was promotional movie merchendise like posters and T-shirts at the show. He had a really cool inspirational print featuring 20th Anniversary Prime which I'm not sure if I can discuss outside of the show so I won't get into it here. Just know that it was awesome and he had it for sale. Kevin has lots of good ideas for more Cybcon style fan gatherings and I wouldn't be surprised if more popped up in the future through his efforts.

The Activities:

Holy crap! It turns out there was a ton of stuff to do as an attendee. It seemed like the con was totally packed with something going on every minute of the day. As the documentarian guy I was constantly running around trying to capture it all on film and with pictures. I was really impressed with how much the kids were involved with this show. There were both adult and kid transforming and trivia contests. The transforming contests went smooth with the kids competing head to head in races to see who could transform Cybertron Armorhide and the adults competing to transform Cybertron Defense Hot Shot. One of the kids made me laugh. His idea of fast transforming had little to do with changing the vehicle to a robot and more to do with rapidly moving his hands and rotating the toy around in a mad flurry. He looked good doing it, but he ultimately lost.

The trivia contests were a lot of fun. As part of the convention staff I couldn't participate because I was busy filming, but I swear I would have killed if I participated in the adult trivia. If I ever have a shot at the trivia I will wipe the floor with those Cybconners. The adults I mean. The kids were something else altogether. Although I was filming, Greg needed me to help out with questions to throw at the kids. The kids' trivia contest went a little rough when Greg and I found that their area of expertise was the Cybertron line and cartoon and we didn't have questions that were on their level. In short, these guys who were all mostly under ten knew more about Cybertron than us. We were two old G1 fans and these kids were expecting us to come up with something challenging about Cybertron-the new hotness. I was stunned at how well these boys were versed in the cartoon. I came up with the idea to ask the name of the three robots in the Cybertron Defense Team. Greg thought that would be too hard so he only asked for one. The little boy who got that question named all three CDF members easily. I wondered if I was like that when I was a kid. Thankfully we recruited a knowledgeable kid or two from the audience to help come up with questions for the final round.

One of Cybcon's strengths is how much kid participation there is in the show. I don't know of any other TF convention that gets kids involved in the convention activities as much as Cybcon does. They really had a good time instead of just being there because their parents brought them. It's really a family affair. Greg even brought his dog.

Throughout the day there were raffles and auctions for TF items. I won one of the promotional posters for the upcoming movie. It was all black with a slightly subdued Deceticon logo on it along with the slogan "Their war our world" and "7.4.7". There were so many posters that Greg eventually gave them all away without raffling them. There were also several promotional movie t-shirts with the same design auctioned off. I think one went for $25. My WTF auction of the day was when the lot with the first six issues of the Collector's Club magazine and the Skyfall figure went for just $25. The club charges $10 each for just the issues! The guy who won was really lucky-I can't believe this stuff went for that little. Is it just me or should that have gone for more? Is there not much demand for the club stuff? Later on a set of Cybertronian guides (minus the Beast Wars volume) went for around $80, which is approximately half off the cover price. That was another good deal. They also auctioned off two loose Energon Rodimuses, one of Kevin's Prime prints and a lot of comic books.

There were also four tables set aside for art items and toy displays. Richard brought his extensive collection of Jazz figures and memorabilia. It was the largest gathering of Jazz stuff I've ever seen in one place. He also had on display every Cybcon toy exclusive ever, plus early prototypes of a few of them. I brought my oversized G1 colors South Korean Bruticus and gold plated Snaptrap. While everybody loved Bruticus a lot fo people thought Snaptrap was just plain ugly. Lianne Elliot brought lots of boxed Japanese figures like Victory Leo, Overlord, Star Saber and others. The displays were pretty nice.

The Food:

Greg had about 20 Domino's pizzas and multiple sandwiches delivered halfway through the show. This was another thing that made Cybcon different from any other convention I've ever been to. Having lunch delivered to the show was great. I think it's also a big reason why so many people stuck around. Since this is a local convention there's nothing stopping people from just leaving after half an hour and going home, but the room was always full of people the whole day. I guess it was because of the activities and the pizza. A couple of people told me that for them, Cybcon is their Botcon. So I can understand why they would want to stay as long as possible.

The Attendee Stuff:

Each attendee got a goodie bag. It had a rubber bracelet engraved with "Cybcon 2006" on one side and "Slag Happens" on the other. Also included was a pamphlet with a show schedule, and art show voting ballot, instructions for the controls to the Playstation 2 Transmetals videogame and a Kranix bio. But the real star of the goodie bag for me was the DVD. Greg made DVD that contained videos and picture slideshows from Cybcons from 2003 through 2005 for every attendee to take home.

The DVD is a celebration of Cybcon's past. If you saw the Botcon 2004 retrospective video then you have a good idea of what the movies on the DVD are like. The majority of the DVD material focuses on the three shows from '03-'05 but there are also a few bits here and there from the 2001, 2002, and even 2006 Cybcons. You can see from the videos how much this show has grown thanks to all the convention footage Greg managed to put together.

There's slideshows of the exclusives including finished production art used on the packaging for every Cybcon toy since 2001. Zobovor's Scavengers, Spychanger Prime and Brawn, and Cyclonus are all there. Also on the DVD are behind the scenes photographs of the production process for the exclusives I made. Seeing all those pictures from the various stages of construction for Bumblebee, Jazz and Kranix sure brought back memories. The DVD is a really awesome commemoration of the show and it gives anyone who missed out on previous Cybcons an idea of how it was like to attend them. It's awesome. It'd be nice if the Botcon 2004 retrospective could be put on a DVD for their attendees but I understand that can't happen.

The Exclusive:

As the guy who made the toy I can tell you that with this year's Cybcon exclusive we wanted to do something commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of the animated TF movie. The character that immediately came to mind was Kranix, so I made 50 Kranix figures out of resin at a scale slightly larger than HoC/SCF size. The packaging was created with the combined efforts of Reverend Allen G.'s character art and Richard's skills with package design and character bio writing. I think we totally sold out of them because by late afternoon there were only two left and I know Hal bought one of those. So for once I felt like it was mission accomplished and everyone who wanted one, got one. That was the goal.

When we initially unveiled Kranix I posted some comments on various message boards about the thinking behind it and why we did what we did. Since I guess this is a good place to repeat those I'll include the highlights here:

"We initially thought about doing four movie themed different figures in quantities of 20 each-the Allicon, Kranix, Arblus, and another we hadn't decided on. Then we decided to just choose one character because we didn't want to make people have to choose and then feel left out when the most popular characters were exhausted early. This way everyone gets a Kranix, which I'm betting would have been the most popular one anyways. If we'd made people choose and we got left with a bunch of Arbluses, that would have been a waste of my figure making efforts. I think what we chose was interesting enough and the best compromise all around.

Also, it's tough to reconcile the choice and amount of figures when attendance numbers can't be predicted with any certainty. We had to balance our estimated attendance based on pre-reg numbers against what would be practical in terms of cost and time to accomplish. So in the end we felt the smartest thing was to go with one character and make it in enough numbers that we could almost guarantee each attendee would have a chance at owning one, along with all the dealers.

Time constraints and other considerations prevented me from engineering a transform for it. I wanted to make more of these than there has been of any other Cybcon exclusive. One of the major valid points attendees have had is that I don't make enough figures to go around. Adding the transformation would have involved extra complexity that I didn't have the time to deal with at the quantity we wanted produced. So as a compromise for the extra numbers produced I scrapped plans for the transformation.

Also, when I was designing it I came to the conclusion that the TF Universe profile alternate mode wasn't correct. I spent a lot of time going over every little detail of the character and I came to the conclusion that he turned into a car instead of a jet. I think the guys at Marvel made up the jet transform but it isn't actually what Floro Dery had in mind. I can't imagine what would've happened if I engineered it to transform into what I thought it should. People would have said 'Kranix wasn't a car!'"

The Haul:

I'm not much of a collector so I came away with only two toys-an Alternators Decepticharge I got from Kevin Hurd for $20 and a Binaltech Dead End I bought from the Kicks guys for $35. I was really happy with Decepticharge because I never saw it on the shelves and the cheapest I could find it at Iacon One was $39. Kevin wasn't really selling TFs, but after the show during teardown I told him about how I almost bought one from the Kicks guys. I held out because Richard told me I could possibly still find a Decepticharge at a Wal Mart in Tacoma on clearance. Kevin politely listened to my sob story and then surprised me later when I saw a Decepticharge all alone on one of the tables where one had not been two minutes before. He put it there when I wasn't looking and I was shocked when he told me it was mine (for $20)! It was like Christmas, except this Santa wanted twenty bucks. Still, I was greatful. Thanks, Kevin! There's the poster I won in the raffle and Greg also gave me an iron-on transfer of the Kranix character art.

In the end I had a great time. Cybcon packed a lot of fun into a short amount of time. In the future I'd like to see it go longer. There was only one activity we didn't get to do because we ran out of time (the Armada board game tournament). I don't think anyone was disappointed by that so it really wasn't a big deal. As the staff video guy I was able to experience everything the show had to offer and it was a lot. I couldn't believe this sort of show was possible but now that I've been to Cybcon I wonder why there aren't more fan gatherings like this all over the place. It's always been obvious to me, but Cybcon proves you don't need big name guests and official Hasbro panels to have a great time.

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