One thing we can say with certainty after covering conventions for LA Weekly for the past two-and-a-half years is that whether we're at small events like MacrossWorld or something as large as San Diego Comic-Con, most of the people we encounter are from Southern California. BotCon 2011, the Hasbro-sponsored annual event for Transformers fans, is the exception to what we thought was a rule. Inside the Pasadena Convention Center, the groups from Northern California and Arizona had some of the shortest distances to travel. We met a mother and son who traveled from Kingsport, Tennessee, two brothers from Virginia Beach and women from Marlbrough, Massachusetts and Philadelphia.
BotCon began in 1994 and, although this wasn't the first time it's been held at the Pasadena Convention Center, it's not exclusive to the city. The weekend-long event has been held everywhere from Rhode Island to Florida to Texas. It's designed for out-of-towners as well. This year the convention took play from June 2 through June 5. However, those who arrived on the first of the month could take part in a Transformers customization class or head out on a group trip to Universal Studios. The first day of the convention, which seemed to be a registration day, featured a group trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain."While the allure of meeting people involved in the creation of Transformers lore, merchandise, and media is a big draw for many, this convention is also a huge social event for a great number of us," says Chris Ho, aka Vangelus, a Victoria, British Columbia podcaster and video blogger who has been attending BotCon for 12 years. "In my case, I am connected to many circles of friends who span the entire globe, and all try to converge at BotCon to meet and hang out face-to-face. In the long-term view of things, BotCon's greatest draw is its social aspect."
The "social aspect" of the convention was evident Sunday afternoon, when we attended a Transformers costuming panel. The session was led by Rosemary Ward, who traveled from Philadelphia from the event. Ward, who blogs about '80s pop culture on Retro Screamers, was joined by friends from various cities across the eastern United States. They met online, the friends said, and often meet up at conventions like Otakon in Baltimore and Dragon*Con in Atlanta.
We saw a lot of socializing in BotCon's exhibit hall, where people showed off purchases, autographs and tattoos, while discussing all things Transformers. The crowd was large, ranging from children to those who were children when the toys were first released. The epic battle between Autobots and Decepticons first captured the imagination of children in the 1980s, but Transformers are no relic of a specific era. With animated series, toys, comic books, video games and those blockbuster Michael Bay films, there are a lot of aspects to the Transformers fandom. The BotCon exhibit hall represented all of this.