The night before I had gotten a brief glimpse of the exhibition floor through an open doorway as we were leaving. That glimpse gave me plenty of fuel to think about what we’d find during the weekend’s adventures. I was tingling with anticipation. The doors to the exhibition floor opened at 9:00. 

I wanted to be there at least an hour early so we’d have a good place in line and time to get through security. Plus I wanted time for breakfast, a shower, and to make sure I had any and all books I wanted to get signed by creators tucked away in my bag. Needless to say, the start of day two came very early for Lug Nut.

While somewhat sleep deprived, Lug Nut was in good spirits. He’d never been to a convention before (Transformers or otherwise) and was eager to see what all the buzz was about. He understood my sense of urgency to get in line when we got to the venue. Even arriving as early as we did there were still at least 100 people ahead of us in line.

The time until doors opened was easily passed with people watching and talking about the different cars we could see in the parking lot. Lug Nut was identifying the electric vehicles while I scanned the are to see what people would dress as for cosplay. 

Then it dawned on me. How would one go through peace bonding or security in general if they were wearing a costume that transforms or has a lot of metal parts/batteries? As it turned out my question was completely irrelevant. There was no peace bonding. There were no security checks. The closest thing to it we had as we walked in was an employee shouting at us to keep our wrist bands visible as we entered the venue.

As soon as we hit the exhibition floor I had 360 degrees of eight foot tall shelves filled with Transformers figures. They went from as far back as 1984 to as recent as convention exclusives released the night before. I was in sensory overload. Which vendor should I start with?

To make sure nothing got missed I decided to mentally divide the room and half and do a serpentine through the aisles. I saw something that before that day was an urban legend to me: The Haslabs Unicron. This is a crowdfunded figure of the planet that devours anything in its path. The figure of the planet is approximately the size of a basketball. It has a hoop that is about two and a half feet in diameter that goes with it. Unicron is intricately detailed and I would love to give him a good home. Between the cost and amount of room he would command I couldn’t pull the trigger on him.

Artist alley has always been my favorite part of any convention. Getting time to talk to writers and artists about their work is what it’s all about. If push comes to shove I can order a toy online. There’s nothing that can replicate the bond between fan and creator that is found in Artist Alley. 

The layout for Artist Alley at TF Con: Los Angeles was unique when compared to other conventions I’ve attended. Generally Artist Alley is a collection of booths in a row in one particular area of the floor. Here Artist Alley was a series of booths that lined the perimeter of the exhibition floor. 

When I got to the end of the first aisle I was perusing I found Livio Ramondelli sitting at a table taking commission requests for the weekend. Livio is on my short list of personal favorite Transformers artists, ever. I had to hold back to keep myself from sounding like Blurr as I talked to him about his new series, “The Kill Lock: The Artisan Wraith”, as well as some of his other works.

With lines for the artists and writers being nonexistent at this point, I changed strategies from shopping at all the vendors to meeting all of the artists and writers I could. I got to have fun conversations with Josh Burcham, Casey Coller, E.J. Su, and Jim Sorensen about all things “Robots in Disguise” without the pressures of a line building behind me. It was glorious.

With everything that I could get signed until the next autograph session taken care of I resumed going down the aisles in search of that one piece of perfect geeky goodness. I wasn’t hunting for one piece, per se. My wish list was about ten items long. The challenge was seeing if I could find any of these items without obliterating my budget for the trip. 

There were several Starscream figures from the original (G1) line. None that came in at less than $200 though. My goal was to stay under $50 for any one figure. That made things more challenging; but not impossible.

GEEK ON A BUDGET CASH SAVING CON TIPS: #3 

If you’re interested in an item that is relatively easy to find, do comparison shopping. There was a Studio Series Sharkticon figure, Gnaw, that I wanted. This figure was at 7 different booths with prices ranging from $20-$40. Same figure, different prices with different vendors. Also don’t be afraid to haggle a little. Vendors will usually give up to about 15% off in negotiations, especially if you BUY MORE THAN ONE ITEM from them.

Aside from a handful of comic books and my Sharkticon figure I had been relatively shut out on the floor. Lug Nut wasn’t doing much better. He’d found one Transformer figure that he really liked. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to pull the trigger. I suggested that we grab a bite to eat and mull over options.

At home there aren’t many Mexican restaurants that are worth mentioning. I insisted that we eat in at least one authentic Mexican restaurant while we were in Southern California. A little hole in the wall place called Taqueria El Tapatio more than fit the bill. It was only about a six minute drive from the venue. It was cheap. It was delicious. I ordered a chicken quesadilla that was enormous. It’s like they decided to try to make a panini out of a chimichanga. Between that and the horchata, I was too full to eat it all.

After lunch we hit the floor with a new sense of vigor. Lug Nut pulled the trigger on his Transformer, Lambor, and added it to his acquisitions of the weekend. This figure was literally a Masterpiece. Masterpiece is a line of Transformers figures that all of the stops have been pulled out for. The attention to detail is mind blowing. To get something that exquisite on a Lamborghini Countach…. Words can’t begin to describe how beautiful this figure is.

Up to this point I hadn’t seen anything that I felt MUST come home with me. Okay, more accurately I hadn’t seen anything that I wanted to make the financial commitment to. Rather than making an impulse buy out of boredom, I suggested we go check out the panel before the costume contest so we’d have great seats for viewing all of the cosplay.

We caught the tail end of a panel about the 2001 rendition of “Transformers: Robots in Disguise”. The panel had voice actors Sandy Fox, Daniel Riordan, Lex Lang, and Dan Woren. They were already to the point in the panel where they were fielding questions from the audience when we got there. Someone had asked them how to get into the business. 

Surprisingly, they were a wealth of knowledge. Each person on the panel had suggestions on what to do to get a foot in the door and get noticed in the industry. I found this to be exemplary. I’m not sure I would be so eager to give out pointers that could help someone else attain something I’d worked so hard to achieve while simultaneously putting me in the unemployment line.

The next panel was another group of voice actors. This panel consisted of Eric Bauza, Josh Keaton, Jeff Bennet, and David Kaye. These gentlemen were part of the team that gave us the 2015 rendition of “Transformers: Robots in Disguise”. These guys enjoyed working with one another and it showed. 

Everyone was having such a great time that it seemed like Mr. Bauza had taken of moderator duties for this panel. 

When it came time to open up for questions from the fans we got a level of humor and honesty that we seldom get to see.

Fan: “What did you do the first time you saw Peter Cullen working as Optimus Prime?”

Eric Bauza: “I pissed myself.”

It was that way throughout the entire panel. Everyone had fun, without taking themselves or the work too seriously. Most importantly, the actors on this panel made sure that the fans were enjoying themselves.

It was now 3:00 P.M. The eagerly anticipated costume contest was about to begin. Having seen some of the cosplay on the floor earlier in the day I was very curious to see how the judges would see things. They got the ball rolling with the children’s division. We had children dressed as Jetfire and Scorponok. These costumes were terrific!

When we got to the adults we had some stiff competition. There were a lot of good costumes. Galvatron, Swindle, Stars, Kickback and Grimlock all made their way across the stage. There was only room for one victor though. Starscream took third place, Swindle took second place, and Grimlock was declared the winner. 

By this time I was very eager to get back to the exhibition floor. There were some new guests in Artist Alley to meet and get signatures from. Tyler Bleszinski, Brandon Easton, and Flint Dille were at the top of my list. 

Tyler Bleszinski was sharing a booth with Livio Ramondelli. That was fitting since they had been the creative team behind the Constructicons’ origin story in the first four issues of “Transformers Galaxies”. In fact they were selling copies of the four issue story arc with both of their signatures on it. I purchased a set for Lug Nut in hopes that seeing how far comics have come will help bring him to the dark side.

Brandon Easton was the writer for issues 10 and 11 of “Transformers Galaxies”. He also wrote the “War for Cybertron” Transformers series on Netflix. Mr. Easton’s work completely changed how Transformers fans see Ultra Magnus. He went from being a wimpy character to a great warrior that is worthy of respect for everything he does when he’s not in combat.

Flint Dille was slated to have a 4:00 signing. I had looked forward to having my first issue of “Transformers: The Movie” signed by him and discussing some of the events that occurred in the movie. Alas, Mr. Dille never showed. After thirty minutes of wandering the floor I gave up trying to find his booth.

Fortune had smiled upon me with regards to merchandise that I had found on the exhibition floor. I stumbled across a shirt with an homage to the cover of “The Killing Joke” with Megatron holding the camera. As happy as I was with that find, it paled in comparison to the exhilaration I felt when I found a mint in box Starscream from the 2006 Transformers movie. 

That particular character holds a special place in my heart. When I find versions of him that I don’t already have that are in my budget I’m quick to acquire new ones. I had begun to fear I was going to be shut out for the weekend when it came to my favorite seeker.

At this point Lug Nut and I decided to pack it in for the day. We both had items that we were weighing the pros and cons of buying. Removing ourselves from the situation made it difficult to make an impulsive purchase. Besides, Lug Nut looked dead on his feet. All of the excitement from his first full day at a convention had left him in need of a nap before we met my friend Justice for dinner.

Justice and I have a very interesting dynamic. We work for the same two institutions; but have almost never worked directly with one another. We’ve known one another for a few years and before this meal we’d never been in the same room together. So we’re like Bruce Wayne and Batman…. Except he’s better looking.

We met for dinner at an establishment called the Roguelike Tavern. The name had just enough Dungeons and Dragons charm to it to make me shout, “This is the perfect place for us!” Full disclosure, while the name was cool the real reason we ended up there was the fact that the place we’d originally picked had a two hour wait because I didn’t think to make a reservation.

The Roguelike Tavern specialized in burgers that were more like sliders. We had those as well as some bacon and nacho cheese fries. Ordinarily I don’t care for fries. These were rather impressive. The three of us destroyed our sliders and a couple orders of fries while discussing how to solve the world’s problems and the most iconic covers of the last 20 years.

Justice had to work early the next morning so he ducked out before it got too late. Lug Nut stuck around to finish off our last order of fries. It was about that tine that a jazz band started getting set up. Feeling refreshed from the power nap he had earlier, Lug Nut wanted to stick around for a few and enjoy the ambiance.

I’ve never been too big on jazz. All of the times I’ve seen it played live it’s been so loud you have trouble hearing yourself think. I always found that off putting. That was not the case with this group. It was perfect. You could hear the music clearly ; but it wasn’t so loud that it make having a conversation impossible. After an hour and a half we decided to call it a night and headed back to the hotel.