Debrief: Dragon Con 2019

Debrief: Dragon Con 2019
Atlanta, GA – August 29 through September 2, 2019

 

 

Dragon Con 2019 is in the books! I had a better time this year despite the larger crowd numbers. It’s hard to predict how the crowds are going to ebb and flow from year to year, but you could feel the 85,000 attendees like the pulse of the con this year.

We also did tons of good works this year for the Atlanta chapter of the American Heart Association. $110,000 is a lot of money, and I hope it goes a long way to helping a good charity with a good mission.Read More »

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Twitter Thoughts on “Reylo”

Twitter Thoughts on Reylo

 

Remember, I’m on Twitter as @womprat99. I sometimes muse there.

 

Toys, Collecting, and a Review of Hasbro Pulse

 

Toys, Collecting, and a Review of Hasbro Pulse

 

I don’t talk a lot about my toy collecting hobby except when I’m hanging out with Michael French and the RetroBlasting crew. I had quite a few toys as a kid, mostly consisting of small LEGO sets, die-cast and plastic military aircraft, and a plethora of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. I had a couple of playsets – specifically the 1979 Hot Wheels foldaway service center and the Racing Champions SkyBirds USS Enterprise aircraft carrier – but playsets were bulky and expensive, so most of my play time was emulating car jumps from ’80s television shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, and The Fall Guy on the living room furniture.

 

I still have the Enterprise, though it is well-loved and the box is hanging together by a thread. I wish I still had the service center playset.

My sister and I got part of the first wave from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure line circa 1988, but we were limited to the four turtles, April, and Splinter. I remember the weapons being easy to lose and our enemies being invisible forces hiding around the couch. The Foot Clan are sort of ninjas after all, right?

My grandmother found two G.I. Joe figures in her neighborhood – a 1983 Blowtorch and a 1984 First Sergeant Duke, both stripped of accessories – and she kept them for me to play with at her house. I literally had no idea what they were until last year when I recognized them in Michael French’s collection. I also had a few vinyl toys like Gizmo from Gremlins, one of the small the LJN E.T. figurines, a Playmates Darkwing Duck figure that I won from a local TV station, and a whole bunch of things over the years that I know I’m forgetting about… but the point of this introduction is that I didn’t have access to a lot of action figures when I was growing up.

When Hasbro acquired the Star Wars license in the 1990s and released the new Power of the Force (POTF2) line, I spent a good portion of my salary as a part-time elementary school custodian on picking up everything with a 3.75″ figure in it. Part of it was the ignorant belief that these toys would be just like the vintage Star Wars line and be worth gazillions of dollars within the next twenty years. The other part was a self-taught course in budgeting, bargain hunting, and personal responsibility.

Long story short, I stopped collecting one of everything mint-on-card around the same time that Attack of the Clones came out. I finally picked up my collection from my parents a couple of years ago and started paring it down. The philosophy was simple: Those toys were doing no one any good inside giant Tupperware totes, so I needed to enjoy them or get rid of them.

I decided on both. I chose certain characters to keep for future display and the rest have been trickling onto eBay ever since. (Check the Tip Jar page for the link.)

To that end, I was pretty excited about the action figure news from Star Wars Celebration 2019. When they came available on Hasbro Pulse, the toy company’s online shopping portal, I jumped on the chance to order them.

 

Let’s take a minute here to talk about my experience with toy collecting and shopping.

Since 1995, I have enjoyed the toy hunt. It’s a sport that involves bouncing from store to store, walking the aisles, and hoping that the figures you want are dangling from the pegs. Before the internet was so widespread, it was a test of patience and luck amplified by magazines like ToyFare, which was Robot Chicken before Robot Chicken was Robot Chicken.

The biggest problem I have in the internet age is distribution. I watch the news about new Star Wars and Marvel releases, but I often have problems finding the figures after the published release dates for each wave. Some of them – usually the ones that I don’t want – have flooded the toy shelves, but others never materialize. To wit:

  • I bought the Black Series Captain Rex at Toylanta 2018 because it never arrived at the mass of Walmarts and Targets in my area. It was found en masse at Ross stores in the first quarter of 2019.
  • I found one of the Ahsoka Tano releases at my local Target. The rest were eBay and Amazon purchases.
  • The Black Series Qui-Gon Jinn only appeared at the ThinkGeek store that is nearly an hour away.
  • I finally found the Black Series Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus at Five Below, a local discount store, well after Rogue One hit Blu-ray.
  • The Walgreens exclusives are hit and miss.
  • The GameStop exclusives are consistent and readily available. They also have new waves earlier than most, but they’re also more expensive.
  • In the week or two before the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, I found zero Legends hero figures on store shelves.
  • Walmart’s Captain Marvel exclusive, the Binary Mode figure, never arrived at the five stores in my area. Instead, a friend and I both paid nearly double the shelf price to order them internationally.
  • Target’s Captain Marvel exclusive, the Starforce figure, materialized months after the movie premiered. A friend who works at Target later elaborated on the problem: The box of four figures all comes in under the same number. They don’t know until they open the box which figures are in the batch, or which box has the exclusive figure. This is determined at the manufacturer level, not the store level.

I think a lot of this has to do with supply and demand. Hasbro puts a lot of figures on shelves at once, and not all of them sell at the same rate. But, since a store cannot just order more of the high demand ones and less of the low demand ones, they’re hesitant to put more undesirable products on the shelf just to move an extra item or two.

For some reason, the DC Comics figures are usually on time and in the right proportions to minimize stock on clearance shelves. Figures for Shazam!, Aquaman, and the new Multiverse line are on shelves and moving at a decent pace. Very few of them even get to the clearance aisle.

The exceptions, of course, are the Multiverse figures from the time of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s theatrical release. Those things breed like roaches on the pegs, and not even a rock-bottom clearance sale could move them out of one South Carolina Walmart that I visited.

The McFarlane Toys Game of Thrones line is another shining example of success: There are very few left on the pegs, and I have seen none of them on clearance. The majority of the peg-warmers are Jon Snow figures. Arya Stark has (fittingly) vanished into the night and the Night King is a lonely spirit if you can find him.

It’s obvious that the problem is with Hasbro.

I’ll come back to that later, but it’s a problematic statement to make in some collecting circles. Michael French regularly and objectively makes points like these and many others, and with similar regularity, he gets attacked by collectors who think he’s just out to take down a major toy manufacturer. Except that critics have nothing to gain from making these arguments, and we’re certainly not competing for any kind of market share.

We’re not even in the same market space. Michael reviews toys and pop culture on YouTube, and I review pop culture in writing and podcasts.

But, I digress.

 

I was excited about four of the figures announced at Star Wars Celebration 2019 that were available on Pulse. My wife is ecstatic over astromech heroes, so the Black Series Chopper (from Star Wars Rebels) and the new dingy Vintage Collection R2-D2 were easy to say yes to. Ezra Bridger (Rebels) represents a large hole in my character collection from that fantastic series, and I am one of “those fans” who actually liked The Last Jedi, so the astral projection form of Luke Skywalker was nice to see. When they came available, I decided that it was a win-win: First, since the figure waves are unpredictable in stores, it guaranteed that they would come to my collection; Second, it offered me a chance to try Hasbro Pulse.

(Aside: The Star Wars Rebels Black Series line still has a huge hero hole with the absence of Zeb Orrelios. I’m also holding out for Ezra and Kanan from the later seasons. I think Kanan became a far better character after he lost his eyesight.)

I got notified that the figures were shipping, as promised, in the first week of July. The Black Series figures arrived first, followed by the Vintage Collection figures soon after.

There were quite a few advantages to using Hasbro Pulse. The pre-order system was easy to use, and they limit purchase quantities to prevent people from gaming the system and scalping fellow collectors.

(Of course, Hasbro is responsible for creating a scalper’s market with super limited releases like the Retro Collection, but again, I digress.)

Pulse’s prices on the six-inch figures are comparable to Target’s price points – that’s typically between Walmart and Walgreens/GameStop – but the 3.75″ figures are closer to the Walgreens/GameStop level. At some point, I was able to get free shipping based on my purchase total, but nothing on the site indicates what that threshold is. I’m assuming that it is around $50, but it should be more clearly marked on the site.

The shipping boxes were fairly well packed and protected, but that also opens the door for the downsides to the Pulse experience. The first is that each figure was shipped its own box, which seems quite wasteful in terms of cardboard, packing materials, and FedEx manpower. There are pictures in various collecting groups from people that bought entire waves of new figures and ended up with plenty of spare beds for a clowder of cats.

There’s also a question of quality control. I’m not a mint-on-card/mint-in-box collector, but I’d be upset if I was since the Crait Luke came with a bent and creased card. Unless it rolled off the line damaged, which is a serious QC problem from square one, then it was bent in shipping.

(One more aside: It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a quality control problem given how many figures my friend and co-host Gary Mitchel has found that are in the wrong boxes. Unless Director Krennic has been moonlighting as a Scarif Stormtrooper, there’s no excuse for finding that many mispackaged figures.)

 

Overall, using Hasbro Pulse was a good experience. If there is another must-have figure or two, then I’ll probably use them again. But I have to address the elephant in the room here: The service does nothing to incentivize Hasbro to fix their distribution models. The company still makes money by giving collectors a faster, guaranteed avenue for buying toys, and they make even more by offering a $50 per year “premium” plan that provides free continental shipping, access to promotions and contests, and select extras at conventions and more.

Hasbro Pulse doesn’t fix the problem of not having new figures on shelves, nor does it fix the problem of supply and demand for store shoppers.

Hasbro could easily have it both ways. When I talk to toy collectors about their childhoods, most of their original toys were bought by their parents. I believe that Hasbro could bring back that feeling for today’s kids by selling the mainstream 3.75″ lines on store shelves and putting their more collector-driven lines on Pulse.

Look at the quality, the lines, and the price points. With their limited articulation and lower prices, the smaller scale figures are meant to be played with. The smaller figures are more timely – the shelves are filled with 3.75″ scale toys for recent movies (Avengers: Endgame) and television shows (Star Wars: Resistance) – and more accessible for smaller hands. This scale is built for impulse purchases.

The Black Series and Marvel Legends lines are designed for collectors. They have more articulation and posing potential, they have better paint jobs (in general), and they command the higher $20 price point. Hasbro Pulse is the perfect venue for more collector-focused offerings.

This is basic marketing. Build a supply, serve the demand. I don’t know many kids or adults who are excited about a comic-accurate Malekith, Black Bolt, or Namor. If Hasbro still wants to sell a piece of the premium market on shelves, they could limit them to the characters that kids see on screens. People will want a Spider-Man toy after they leave Far From Home: Make it easy to get one.

Or, even better, figure out how other companies are doing it right. Build a supply, serve the demand. Basic marketing.

Look, I’m far from a “Hasbro Hater.” Being critical about the company doesn’t mean that I’m trying to destroy them or that I don’t appreciate what they currently do. It just means that I’m a frustrated pop culture fan and collector, and if my discussions with other toy fans are any indication, I’m not alone.

I want to find the figures I want without resorting to discount stores or online scalpers. I want an influential and nearly century-old toy company to be better.

I want the collecting hobby to be fun, not frustrating.

 

Debrief: Dragon Con 2018

Debrief: Dragon Con 2018
Atlanta, GA – August 30 through September 3, 2018

 

 

Dragon Con 2018 is in the books and, as always, it was a fantastic show. Crowds were a little lower this year, coming in at an estimated 80,000 against the anticipated 85,000. The vibe seemed a little off this year, but it still provided a chance to catch up with some friends and family.Read More »

Dragon Con 2018

 

Dragon Con 2018
Atlanta, GA – August 30 through September 3, 2018

 

Logo_no_background

 

Dragon Con!

It’s an annual tradition for me, and this year will be my tenth time attending. (Tenth year? Where did the time go?) This will also be my third year as an attending professional. If you plan to be there, these are the places where you will be able to find me over Labor Day weekend.

Fourteen program events in five days? Come find me and say hi!

 

The convention app is available now – look for Dragon Con by Core-apps in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store – and contains the current schedule of events. The list of confirmed guests, performers, artists, and attending professionals is available on the official Dragon Con site.

Dragon Con itself takes place in downtown Atlanta spanning five hotels (Sheraton Atlanta, Hilton Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Hyatt Regency Atlanta, and Westin Peachtree Plaza) and the AmericasMart Atlanta exhibition center. The convention draws approximately 70,000 to 80,000 attendees annually, and showcases one of the city’s most popular parades on Saturday morning at 10am.

Dragon Con prides itself on contributions to charity and the community. You can find more information about those efforts on their webpage.

If you’re new to the convention, consider stopping by the Dragon Con Newbies group on Facebook. It is run by Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony, and me, and is an in-depth community resource for information about this massive (and sometimes overwhelming) event. Memberships (tickets) for this year’s convention are also still available.

If you want a printable copy of my schedule, I have a convenient PDF.

 

Note: All Dragon Con schedules are tentative until the convention ends on Monday. Even then, things are a bit suspect. As things change before the convention, I’ll update this post.

    • 10 August 2018: Updated panelists for ESW Presents: 12th Doctor Retrospective.
    • 21 August 2018: Updated schedule based on official release.
    • 28 August 2018: Removed Saturday Roll-a-Panel due to other commitments. Added link to printable schedule.

 

Based on some personal scheduling changes, I wont be downtown until Thursday morning. I’ll probably snag the Hard Rock Dragon Con gear then.

I will be around starting Wednesday, pretty much wandering the hotels, picking up my Hard Rock Dragon Con gear, and catching up with some friends.

 

2:30p-5:00p: Dragon Con Newbies Walking and Rolling Tours (2.5 hours)
Main Programming
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602
Want to learn your way around the hotels? Did you know there’s a food court? Come on a tour & meet other newbies. Tours leave every 30 minutes.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

5:30p-6:30p: Dragon Con Newbies Q&A (1 hour)
Main Programming
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602
First Dragon Con? Confused or overwhelmed? Savvy con attendees will share tips & tricks.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

 

10:00a: Dragon Con Newbies Q&A (1 hour)
Main Programming
Regency V – Hyatt
First Dragon Con? Confused or overwhelmed? Savvy con attendees will share tips & tricks.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 30 Years of Speech Impediments and Burning Biscuits (1 hour)
Rescheduled to Saturday at 11:30a

Social Media and the Impact on MSF Media (1 hour)
Removed due to scheduling conflict

2:30p: Classic Sci-Fi Remakes: Westworld, Lost in Space, Planet of Apes (1 hour)
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105

Remakes of classic sci-fi can be incredible, terrible, or terribly incredible — discuss which is which when we look at recent remakes such as Westworld, Lost in Space, and more!
Panelists include: Bethany Kesler, Mark H Wandrey, Andrew E.C. Gaska, Shaun Rosado

4:00p: Admiral Holdo – A Fan Discussion (1 hour)
Star Wars
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A706
Has there ever been such a polarizing character in the Saga? From her background story in Leia, Princess of Alderaan, to her battle prowess in The Last Jedi, we discuss the character and her decisions and how they may have forever altered the galaxy.
Panelists include: Sue Kisenwether, Bethany Blanton, Thomas Harper, Sarah Dempster

8:30p: The Greatest Michaels and Michelles in Classic Sci-Fi (1 hour)
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
A panel consisting exclusively of people named Michael presents a tribute to Michaels and Michelles real and unreal from classic sci-fi TV and movies. All Michaels and Michelles welcome!
Panelists include:  Mike Faber, Michael R Bailey, Michael Gordon, Michael D. French, any other American Science Fiction Classics Track Irregular named Michael

 

11:30a: Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 30 Years of Speech Impediments and Burning Biscuits (1 hour)
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
Guys. In this movie, Daffy Duck and Donald Duck had a piano battle. Other stuff happened too, but come on.
Panelists include: John Hudgens, Jonathan Williams

2:30p: Lost in Space: Welcome Aboard the Jupiter 2.0 (1 hour)
American Science Fiction and Fantasy Media
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M301-M303
Netflix brought us a big budget upgrade to a beloved classic, with some new twists and some gender bending, and a touch of stunt casting. It set us up for a new series that will continue to be Lost on Netflix for some years to come.
Panelists include: Clay and Susan Griffith, David Boop, Will Nix, Lindy Keelan

4:00p: Classic Sci-Fi Roll-a-Panel: 1978 and 1998 (1 hour)
Removed due to scheduling conflict.

5:30p: Fandom Toxicity: What Can We Do? (1 hour)
American Science Fiction and Fantasy Media/Star Wars
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602

How dare they have a female Starbuck or a black stormtrooper! Are we too entitled or too possessive? We’ll discuss the bad aspects of these behaviors that are alienating people, and what we can do to encourage more positive interactions. How can you express your dismay without “nerd rage”™?
Panelists include: Brian Larsen, Britnay Ferguson, Shaun Rosado, Swara SalihSue Kisenwether

7:00p: Jurassic Park: Hanging On To Your Butts for 25 Years (1 hour)
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105

Inflatable T-Rexes and shirt-open Ian Malcolm cosplayers welcome!
Panelists include: Alex White, Sue Kisenwether, John Hudgens

8:30p: Classic Sci-Fi Remakes: Westworld, Lost in Space, Planet of Apes (1 hour)
Rescheduled to Friday at 2:30p

 

Classic Sci-Fi Court: Defending Star Wars Holiday Special, Mac & Me, LXG (1 hour)
Removed due to scheduling conflict. Panel has been rescheduled to Monday at 11:30a.

2:30p: ESW Presents: 12th Doctor Retrospective (1 hour)
BritTrack
Hilton, Galleria 5
The Earth Station Who podcast crew host a retrospective of the Twelfth Doctor from the introduction of the Angry Eyebrows to his struggle to be a Good Man to ending where he began. Sonic sunglasses optional.
Panelists include: Mike Faber, Michael Gordon, Sue Kisenwether, Mary Ogle, Robert Bowen

 

11:30a: Luke Skywalker, Hero? (1 hour)
Star Wars
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A706
In the Original Trilogy, Luke Skywalker worked his way through The Hero’s Journey. But we see a very different Luke in The Last Jedi. Did he make it back to being a hero? Did he ever stop?
Panelists include: Bryan Young, Nanci Schwartz, Thomas Harper, Bruce Gibson, Riley Blanton

1:00p: Lois & Clark: Super-Romantic 25th Anniversary (1 hour)
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
This panel will last an hour, the same time it took us to download Teri Hatcher photos when the show was on.
Panelists include: Michael R BaileyMichael D. French, James Palmer, Michael George Williams

 

Star Wars Experiences: #SWSExperience

Star Wars Experiences

 

 

On the January 31, 2018 edition of The Star Wars Show, hosts Andi Gutierrez and Anthony Carboni asked for fans to submit their favorite Star Wars experiences (#SWSExperience):

 

I took the opportunity to chime in with mine via Twitter.

 

It’s Not About…

It’s Not About…

 

 

It’s not about me.

Somewhere in the vicinity of twenty years ago, I watched the Star Wars prequels as they were released. To a fan who came up in the pan-and-scan VHS era of the original trilogy and experienced those films in theaters for the first time in 1997, the prequels were a big deal.

They were new official tales in the Star Wars mythos.

What started my journey of understanding my place in fandom was the backlash. Writers and filmmakers and storytellers and fans hated the prequels, and I didn’t understand why. At first, I stood sword and shield in hand, defending the franchise that I loved against the storm. After all, how dare anyone attack the best stories ever put on screen?

That defense was disingenuous. No work of art, regardless of value or price, is perfect, and to disregard the flaws because of love is intellectually dishonest. Even The Empire Strikes Back has flaws, and not recognizing that screams of blind faith.

Countless lives have been lost throughout history because of blind faith.

Later I reflected inward, inadvertently reaching toward the polar opposite. If these artists and fans whose opinions I valued so deeply could find so much fault in this franchise, why couldn’t I? How was it that I could enjoy these films when people I respected so obviously did not?

All I found down that path was self-doubt. I convinced myself that if I could not understand successful and intelligent artists and writers whom I respected and idolized, there was no way that I could ever be as good as them. My art and my writing had to be worthless.

To be completely honest, parts of that mindset still plague me to this day.

The greater lesson was that art is subjective. Even the greatest works of art are not universally loved because everyone sees them differently. That led to the more personal lesson: It’s not about me.

I can review a work and form an opinion (educated or otherwise) about it, but that doesn’t make my word the absolute truth. The same holds for you. Art alone cannot harm a person or infringe on rights: It requires a human hand to push into that territory – ask any mob who has burned books and censored artists to save their children from “the devil’s influence” – but regarding the art alone… all viewpoints are valid.

But I draw the line at attacking people for their opinions on art.

In order to form an opinion on the book, I read Twilight. I did not like it, but I’m glad that people who enjoy the work do so. Doctor Who fans call The Caves of Androzani the best serial in the entire history of the show, but I was unimpressed.

I didn’t have the best time at Batman v Superman, but the two young women sitting next to me were moved to tears by the end. They were invested. They are fans.

Even Manos: The Hands of Fate, a film that is more often than not called one of the worst in history, has a clear minority of up-votes on IMDb.

Being part of the majority who hate a film doesn’t make you right.

It’s clear that we have reached yet another inflection point in a major fandom.

I know Bond fans who despise everything after Connery’s time. You know what? That’s okay in my book as long as you also respect that some consider Brosnan as their gold standard. They’re Bond fans too.

I know Trek fans people who never got into The Next Generation because Kirk was the only captain for them. That’s okay, but the women who work in STEM fields now because Janeway provided them a beacon of hope as Trek fans too.

The Matrix has two live-action sequels. The Doctor has regenerated fourteen times. The Indiana Jones trilogy has a fourth film. Star Trek has seven series and thirteen films.

Star Wars is headed toward its tenth official live-action chapter. And it’s okay… You don’t have to like the films after 1983, but don’t let your dislike become a malignant tumor of hatred toward the people who find value in the art.

Sometimes the story moves to a place where you cannot follow. Sometimes the art evolves beyond your taste. It’s okay for people to enjoy things that you do not. It’s okay to let go.

Your heroes can die. Their legends remain.

It’s not about you.