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Giant robots — and their collectors — to invade Charlotte

Charticon convention offers nostalgic look at Transformers toys



When separately asked what makes Transformers so popular, fans Eric Warren and Jacob Waller quickly provide the same answer.

"It's two toys in one."

That, and nostalgia, the two maintain. Other reasons follow, but that initial, singular vision may be one reason the pair is pulling off a first for Charlotte: a Transformers-exclusive convention. Charticon, an unofficial celebration of the "Robots in Disguise," comes to the Crowne Plaza Charlotte Executive Park hotel on Aug. 9-11. The convention pays tribute to the brand born in the '80s, with characters that have infiltrated across mediums of television, film, comic books, novels and those nifty toys. Warren, 32, and Waller, 22, may both be adults, but the event doesn't aim to indulge only toy robot enthusiasts of drinking age.

"Our goal is to provide a fun and unique experience for fans of all ages," Warren said, "and bring something to the table that people haven't seen before."

Warren and Waller have been planning the event since July 2012. During an eBay transaction for — you guessed it — Transformer figures, the two discovered their real-life proximity to each other, opting to tackle the geeky deal in person. Their friendship formed quickly. Local meet-ups with other Transformers fans followed, and as the group grew, it became obvious that the Charlotte area may be a prime place for something big.

Charticon (pronounced "SHARK-ticon," like the Sharkticons featured in the 1986 animated film Transformers: The Movie) was born. It would provide a chance for fans on the East Coast to come together, much like the massive BotCon, a Transformers collectors' convention that takes place on the Western Coast. Charticon is the new con on the block, but with a staff of 10, it's likely that the event will have a certain amount of organization rarely seen in other first-time conventions.

That could be partly attributed to the self-described "perfectionist" qualities of Warren, a property manager with a background in business management. He traces his beginnings with the toy line to a point three decades ago. "I started when I was really young — like 3 or 4," Warren said. "I took a break from it around high school, but just got back in and I couldn't let go."

For Waller, one of the youngest members of the whole Charticon team, it was more of a family tradition. He recalls sneaking into a closet to play with his father's Transformers figures. Waller owns Retro Reboot, a store in Pineville that sells and buys video games and toys from days past. His family isn't just supportive of the Charticon cause; they plan to partake.

"They're coming down from Ohio," Waller said. "We're all a bunch of geeks and nerds in my family."

Charticon does seem to provide something for practically every demographic, from adults wanting to meet the actors behind the animated incarnations of the Transformers characters to a kid with a simple desire to dress up like an Autobot. Hal Rayle, a voice actor who supplied multiple voices in the original cartoon, will make his first-ever convention appearance. Other guests include prominent voice actors and creators of the countless comic books based on the brand. The robot-packed event will feature panels, signings, costume and trivia contests, special guests, and, of course, vendors.

Danny Jattan, co-owner of online collectible toy store Lostreasures, is one Charlottean who comes to the convention with multiple perspectives. His company is a sponsor, but he's also been a fan himself since the 1980s, having amassed nearly 1,000 Transformers in his collection. "The moment I was told there were people trying to create a Charlotte Transformers convention, I knew I needed to be a part of it, and being a sponsor was an easy decision since we are a Charlotte-based business," Jattan said.

According to the event's Facebook page, convention-goers and vendors will be coming from as far as West Virginia and Kentucky. Hundreds have signed up for pre-registration and follow the event's presence on Twitter and Facebook. It's a gathering of geeks from across the East Coast and beyond, and Jattan believes Charlotte is the right place for something like this.

"There is a large Transformers following in Charlotte," Jattan said. "The Queen City has all types of events, and this event is no different than any of the other special events that take place here. Charlotte is filled with all types of people, and it just happens to have a community of robot fans."

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