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VOLTCON 2019

https://imgur.com/gallery/Uw5ccc6

By Ainsley Hargus

I say Volt, you say
tron Con!

35 years ago, just a few months after I was born, the US was introduced to the animated series Voltron: Defender of the Universe, an amalgamation of Japanese cartoons Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (spliced through the wonderful world of creative editing; but more on that later). What could have been an unremarkable show, as GoLion was in its native Japan, Voltron was a smash hit from day one, capturing the hearts of children everywhere. Three and a half decades, a motion picture, three follow-up series, and a total two-hundred and fifty-four episodes later, Kevin Clark of Indianapolis decided to celebrate by creating and hosting the first ever Voltron convention.

I’ve been fortunate to have been able to attend an inaugural convention once before, and let me just say, this was the Little Con That Could. The event itself was held in a Rodeway Inn hotel, which came with the convenience of accommodations built right in- a boon to those who traveled from places like Delaware, Texas, and the gentleman who came all the way from Birmingham, ENGLAND, in order to attend. The staff was not only friendly, but invested and interested in the goings-on and those of us participating. I’ve been to mega-cons with house staff that were apathetic and dismissive, and while it doesn’t seem like something that should be factored in (since coordinators can’t exactly do anything about built-in employees), those interactions are part of the overall experience, and it served to make this one that much better.

Passing through the foil party curtain hanging up in front of the registration room (with no small amount of flourish, I must admit), I was pleasantly surprised with the set-up. Princess Allura of Voltron: The Legendary Defender was greeting people at the table in front of the custom VoltCon banner and some exceedingly cute prop lions. They had custom badges for everyone who had pre-registered with lanyards in all 5 lion colors. They had gift bags which contained among other things a stunningly well designed program, including the convention overview, staff listing, guest bios, venue map, and full schedule. And along the adjacent wall, THEY HAD SNACKS. I’ve been attending conventions for 20 years, and I have been to exactly one (1) other that provided refreshments on the house. I know that something like that would be a logistical nightmare for events like Comic Con or GenCon with attendance in the tens of thousands, so it’s not the most reasonable aspect to glom onto. That being said, this was still one of the infinite number of things Kevin did just right to make this con so enjoyable.

The opening ceremonies provided us with a little bit of backstory directly from Kevin himself, an intimate touch that is often missing from big conventions. He spoke candidly not just about his enduring love for Voltron and the decision to take on the monumental task of running a full weekend celebration for the 35 anniversary, but the trials associated; the tears, the support of his fellow coordinators, and the joy that literally had him jumping up and down with every ticket that got sold. After that, Savannah, the stupendously capable master of ceremonies, led us in a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” to Voltron while bouncing balloons out into the audience. The atmosphere was light, silly, fun. Kevin said he planned this to be a small deal without an abundance of pomp and circumstance because, and I quote, he “wanted this to be a place where you meet your friends in real life.” And even though the vast majority of attendees had never met before, that’s exactly what this place was.

Slipping out of the 'Castle of Lions Main Bridge' (each area had a show-themed name; this was the designation for the panel room), I didn't quite make it to the dealer's room before I came upon a table laden with various collectibles and one-of-a-kind art which had been donated by vendors and individuals for a silent auction. It turns out Voltcon had partnered with a local animal shelter, Cats Haven, which provides a no-kill, cage-free environment for special needs and elderly cats, and was running this auction to raise charity funds to donate toward the cause. It may not seem like a big deal to a lot of folks, but charity auctions are actually one of my favorite things about small conventions, and I can't imagine a better recipient from a bunch of people gathered for a show about flying lions. (For what it's worth, at the end of the event, Kevin raised $490 for the kitty cats. I am not ashamed to admit that my bid on a watercolor painting made up apx. 30% of that total.)

When I finally managed to pull myself away, I finished the short distance to the ‘Space Mall’. As I mentioned earlier, I have been to an inaugural convention once before, and had a relatively set idea of what to expect in terms of artists and vendors. That idea fell so far short of reality. The first thing that greeted me upon entering was the expansive booth occupied by the official Voltron Store, and that in and of itself had already exceeded my aforementioned expectations. There was a Voltron-themed band selling albums, toy traders, several brilliant independent artists offering content across a wide variety of mediums, a family making custom plushies, and representation from a local comic shop. I won't discuss how much money I spent here before I escaped.

Just past the dealer’s room, at the end of the hallway, was a screening room (‘The Explorer’), where episodes of new and classic Voltron, GoLion, Dairugger, and other giant robot shows were playing from open to close both days. I love love loved that, for such a small con, between the panels and the theater, there was always something to do.

And speaking of panels, let me talk about the highlight of Saturday, as far as I'm concerned: Jeremy Corray and Bob Koplar from World Events Productions, now WEP, LLC. The two of them, largely led by Jeremy, ran a panel about Voltron Force, the third incarnation of the property, for which they were both producers, and Jeremy held writing credits. (It’s worth mentioning that Voltron Force premiered at #1 on the day of its release.) I don’t know how the small venue was able to fit this guy’s personality; he was so animated and passionate, and dropped entirely too many quick-witted one-liners for me to catch (though the one that tickled me the most had to be, possibly referring to Toei and WEP’s acquisition of the source properties, “They sold the rights for 25 cents and a corn dog.”) Aside from just a fantastic presentation, the panel contained some of the best content; the two of them shared unreleased toy concepts, original character designs leading up to the creation of Voltron Force, and what got the largest reaction, 3D printed prototypes of the series’ lions. The big deal about this was that Force, unlike its predecessors and successor, had custom-tailored the robot designs after each pilot’s personality, which gave us 5 dynamically different lions rather than the usual generic palette-swap. I know Voltron Force was geared toward a significantly younger demographic, but these lions looked so cool, and on a personal note, I wouldn’t mind seeing something like them again in a future installation.

Bob actually sat down with me after the panel and let me pick his brain for a few minutes. Before I go into what we actually discussed, I have to say that he was such a cool guy, super laid back, and way more humble than someone in his position ought to be. During the course of our conversation, he brushed off a compliment with the argument that he doesn’t provide any of the creative content, to which I reminded him that choosing who to entrust with creating is just as important; imagine if he had said no to Dreamworks and yes to Justin Marks.

We talked about Voltron from the origin; how WEP had purchased the American rights in 1984 as they were working on providing new kid’s programming. How the only thing they brought over was the animation and how Franklin Cofod spearheaded editing and writing an entire 124-episode series based solely on the animation from GoLion and Dairugger XV (all scripts and soundtracks were original works). How in 2000, WEP contacted Toei and bought the property outright. My favorite part of the talk focused on what Bob called his “sacred cows,” certain details and ideas that were absolutely non-negotiable regarding the franchise. They included:

-A story that focuses on teamwork; Voltron at its core must always carry the message that we are greater than the sum of our parts, and that we’re better together.

-The lions can NEVER talk (I appreciated this one more than he could have known.)

-Epic stakes. Voltron isn’t meant to be a romcom. It’s good vs. evil on a galactic scale.

-The theme of technology vs. magic. I really enjoyed this one and the implied philosophies behind it, since this is a theme we see often throughout speculative and popular fiction.

Drawing to the end of our chat, I went for broke and asked Bob to talk about the future of Voltron. Dreamworks still owns the license for animated episodes, and could conceivably produce another series, though they don’t have anything in the works as of now. He did predict that if they go for another installation, unlike Legendary Defender, it would probably be geared toward a younger audience. However, the main focus for WEP regardinging the property, is, in fact, a live action movie.

I regrettably don’t have any more information than that, but you can keep an eye on official Voltron social media for updates!

Other panel highlights included Ken Applebaum sharing the video of his TedX Met talk, in which he candidly opened up about how Voltron helped shape his life from a difficult childhood. He gave us my favorite quote from the entire event, describing Voltron as “A knight made out of skittle kitty cats. It was Rainbow Brite with a sword.” He talked about studying the religious symbolism spattered throughout the series, drawing ties to Vishnu, Hercules, and St. Michael, which offered me an academic introspection I wouldn’t have considered on my own. Marc Morrell and Gregory Tyler, who run the official Voltron podcast, gave us a very cool history of Voltron toys. Tiffany Ilardi represented The Voltron Store with a presentation on products and some neat trivia for which she awarded prizes. I was disheartened to learn that they no longer provide Voltron boxer shorts, but I’m holding my breath, for the sake of my son, that they become available again in the future.

Saturday culminated in the evening with a cosplay contest and pizza party, which I am very sad to say I wasn’t able to attend, but for which I will again sing the praises of Kevin and the other event coordinators. I can’t imagine a better way to wrap up a day of revelry, informative and entertaining panels, movie-watching, and shopping than with free pizza. Unless you added a live concert to it, which, of course, they did. Music was provided by a fantastic band called The Shake Ups, and the following dance party set by DJ Neko Boy. I had the privilege of seeing The Shake Ups a few years ago in my hometown of Lafayette, and I can tell you they are wonderful performers, playing in full cosplay regalia. I’m confident a good time was had by all.

Sunday brought my favorite portion of the entire weekend: the trivia contest. Having limited exposure to the various installations of the franchise (and the questions really were well-balanced between them), I couldn’t believe how many answers I knew, largely in part to just having attended the panels from Saturday. The energy in the room was palpable. Everyone was having fun. People were interacting. My son walked away with two new friends.

I loved everything about this little convention. Following the closing ceremonies, event-goers were encouraged to fill out feedback forms (they had feedback forms! Brilliant!!) and literally the only criticism I could make in the ‘What would you improve?’ box was lighting in the panel room. It’s only been four days since Voltcon, and I can’t wait to go back next year.

Hope to see you there!!


https://voltcon.org/
http://wep.com/
https://store.voltron.com/
http://www.theshakeups.net/
https://www.letsvoltron.com/

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Check out the rest of the con pics here

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