Convention Recap: The 2019 Augusta Toy and Comic Show

NOTE: After coming back into work after ten days off, there was no way I could get July’s Previews post done by today. So that’ll be up next week.

As regular readers know, Phantom, Jr. and I attended The Augusta Toy and Comic Show a couple of weekends ago. It was an absolutely fantastic experience, so I wanted to share some of the highlights with you guys.

The convention was hosted by the Augusta DoubleTree by Hilton. I’m a Hilton guy and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a factor in my decision to attend. I’ve never had a bad experience in a Hilton hotel.

The DoubleTree did not change that statement, despite the bizarre setup where our room window was facing a hallway. I’m sure all hotel chains have this now, but the ability to choose our room and check in the prior day is great. I was able to get a first floor room – my preference for cons or “working” trips – and it just so happened to be “138”. I forgot to make a big deal out of that on social media.

The room itself was comfortable and clean, as was the rest of the hotel. The staff were courteous and attentive, though we aren’t exactly needy guests. I tend to check in, hang the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign, and keep things tidy myself until I check out.

65730883_2745903045439794_2200560445822074880_oThe con staff seemed to be very on top of things. After checking in we headed over to the registration area where I got my badge quickly and efficiently. Thanks to a short trip from Atlanta to Augusta we were too early, so, being the professional toy hunters that we are, Phantom, Jr. and I checked with Waze and headed across the street to the local Target.

It was there that I scored my first purchases of the weekend – the new Laurie Strode and 2009 Jason Voorhees figures from NECA. Not con finds and not retro or vintage, but must-haves for my collection. I also grabbed another Escape from the Death Star board game since mine somehow got damaged. That thing has a lot of sentimental value to me, so I wanted to be sure I had a pristine version.

After Target we were ready for dinner. We had passed a restaurant called Twin Peaks. It seemed ridiculous to me that there would be a dining establishment based on David Lynch’s whackadoo TV show in Augusta, GA, but it looked like a big-ass lodge (though not black) and the sign seemed to me to resemble one of the forms of the TV show logo.

I couldn’t not check it out.

Unfortunately the place was much stranger and more off-putting than any Twin Peaks episode. The wait staff looked like extras from an 80s Skinemax movie and were all clad in bikinis that might be appropriate for somewhere like France, but seemed scandalous here in the good ol’ US of A. I stopped in my tracks and looked over at Phantom, Jr., who was absolutely mortified.

“We should probably go somewhere else, huh?”

“YES”

I didn’t feel like finding another place, so we went to The World’s Worst McDonald’s, which is located just down the road from the DoubleTree. When I decided to go there I had no idea we were headed for a place with such a distinction, but it became apparent shortly after we placed our order with the robot menus situated just inside the front doors.

I’m not here to review The World’s Worst McDonald’s; suffice it to say it lived up to the name. You guys – it was so awful that I actually went online and filled out the survey. I never do that. Who the heck needs a medium order of fries that badly?

Back at the DoubleTree we both agreed that we didn’t feel great after our disgusting meals, but that a little toy hunting would soothe our ills. So we donned our packs and set off for the business conference area of the hotel.

My number one priority was to find the greatest toy/professional wrestling legend of all time, Sgt. Slaughter.

Slaughter was the first celebrity I ever met and interacted with. It was at an Electronics Boutique managers’ conference back in maybe 1998 or ’99. I had never been to anything like it. Todd McFarlane was there with a bunch of free toys, some of which I still have. He seemed like a genuinely nice and enthusiastic guy and I always feel bad when people are mean about him.

But the first face I saw was Slaughter’s. I had no idea famous people would be there, let alone the WWF wrestler who had been immortalized not only as a WWF figure, but also as a GI Joe!

66335381_2745904522106313_8046116536038981632_nHe was very nice and easy to talk to and appreciated my love of WWF and GI Joe. I got a picture signed and it is one of my most prized possessions. I even brought it to Augusta to show Sarge. I just thought it might be neat for him to see something that someone had held onto for twenty-ish years.

Slaughter was once again absolutely great. He told me he probably gave me some good advice and that I must have listened to him because I seemed great. He included Phantom, Jr. in the conversation and was just as amiable and courteous as could be.

65845925_2745903172106448_1762923370216685568_nUntil he put me in the Cobra Clutch, anyway! HEEL TURN!!!

I was floating on Cloud 9 after that meeting. Next up, though, was another legend and one that I did not have a close, personal friendship with like I did with Slaughter.

Ron Rudat designed every GI Joe figure released from the Real American Hero line’s debut in 1982 through 1986. These are the key years when I was at the height of my Joe fandom. Rudat also had a hand in Hasbro’s later WWF line. He has an amazing eye for character design and unparalleled skills at translating ideas to toyetic perfection.

I’ve met and interviewed legends and heroes that I never imagined I’d share space with, let alone speak to. I’ve met Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy. I wrestled Colin Baker. I moderated panels with Sting, Ric Flair, Kane, and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. I’ve been threatened by Luke Gallows and shared restaurant tips with Mike Patton. I’ve shared so many panels with William Stout I’d be comfortable at dinner with the guy. Heck, I’ve done panels with Larry Hama.

But I was nervous to meet Ron Rudat. While Hama crafted the personalities and stories that made me love GI Joe, Rudat created those looks that caught my eye in the first place and have kept me engaged for almost four decades. Duke might act a little different in the comics and the cartoons, but he always looks like Duke. And the same goes for all of the Joe and COBRA forces.

Ron Rudat was at a table with his wife and they were both fantastic. They reminded me a lot of Eric and Julia Lewald, actually. I told Mr. Rudat how much I loved GI Joe and how it was one of the few things that connected me and my father. He was easy to talk to and happy to be there. After buying a print of Firefly (my favorite Joe character) and a DVD of a documentary about A Real American Hero I thanked the couple and got a picture with Mr. Rudat.

65742439_2745904578772974_4073736957966942208_oI could have gone home happy at that point, but obviously there were toys to be had. After dropping all of my signed stuff off in our conveniently located first floor room, we finally made our way back to the actual toys. Phantom, Jr. was very patient about me talking to all of these people that he, being 11, didn’t really care about, so I wanted to make sure we got to some stuff that would engage him.

There was one massive ballroom, plus three or four other, smaller rooms and they were all full of toy vendors. And I mean real toys. Not Pops, not just stuff you can find in any Walmart or Target; but also not stuff that looked like people had just dug their junk out of the attic and thrown it on a table.

Don’t get me wrong – there was some of all of that, too. It was a toy show, after all. But the bulk of the product was carefully curated vintage toys, along with a healthy assortment of customs and independent creations. For the most part we were looking at professional toy dealers. These were people who knew their stuff and had a passion for plastic. I ended up in conversations with a lot of the folks that were there selling and they were all knowledgeable and enthusiastic. These weren’t just merchants, they were fans and collectors themselves.

Most of them, anyway. There was one guy who seemed to be loudly uttering profanity every time we walked by him, but otherwise the atmosphere was great.

My first official purchases were a few Hasbro WWF figures and a very nice LJN Hillbilly Jim complete with his hat. Finding LJN WWF figures with their accessories is uncommon.

I had a few lists of specific things I was looking for, but it quickly became apparent that GI Joe – 80s GI Joe, specifically – was the overriding presence at this show. And that was A-OK by me.

Phantom, Jr., like most kids of his generation, isn’t particularly big on GI Joe. The military isn’t as glamorous now as it was in the 80s. People in modern cartoons hug and fart pretzels and clean public restrooms. They don’t shoot lasers and blow stuff up. But being in the middle of all of the beautiful GI Joe stuff and seeing just how many amazing toys that line produced seemed to grab him. I was thrilled to see my son swept up in the Joe-mania that permeated the DoubleTree.

66198782_2745904865439612_6901995990652289024_nWe spent Friday night and all day Saturday digging through bins, looking for deals, and trying to collect specific figures. It’s probably the best time I’ve ever had in my life.

One of my Friday night purchases was something of a holy grail for me.

The GI Joe Killer W.H.A.L.E. isn’t just my favorite Joe toy, it’s my favorite toy of all time. I specifically remember buying it at a Service Merchandise in Wilmington, North Carolina when I was young. It was the main vehicle for my GI Joe missions. I don’t think there has ever been a better toy released to the public, and that includes the Big Millennium Falcon, the Big AT-AT, Classics Castle Grayskull, and the Khetanna.

My childhood W.H.A.L.E. was lost long ago to a hot attic that went through several Georgia summers. For the past decade or so I have been idly entertaining the idea of getting a new one, but mint-in-box samples are outrageously expensive and even loose but complete hovercrafts are prohibitively pricey. Until that weekend in Augusta I had never found one that was just the right combination of complete enough and affordable. But after browsing all of the other rooms, the very first thing we saw in the last vendor area was a W.H.A.L.E. that was just right. It was clean. All of the stickers had been removed, or had never been applied in the first place. The rotor function worked. The sled ejector worked. It had depth charges and missiles and most of the little pieces. It had the pilot, Cutter!

20190703_065054I was going to have to piece together a few things like the windscreen, a rudder, a cannon piece. But this was the bulk of a W.H.A.L.E. for a price I could justify. On top of that I managed to talk the seller down a bit, as well. That difference would probably pay for the windscreen.

That purchase was the game-changer for our weekend. Phantom, Jr. was invested in that purchase and got to see me not only make a decision based on all of those factors, but talk the seller down on price. I think he was impressed. And he totally understands how awesome the Killer W.H.A.L.E. is. Our main pursuit the rest of the show was finding as many aquatic-themed Joes as we could.

Of course, if you’re going to have the Joe Navy, you’re going to need COBRA’s naval forces, as well. Or better yet, an evil analog to the amphibious W.H.A.L.E.

20190703_065111This was my big splurge for the show. I never had the BUGG when I was a kid and I’ve always wanted one, but I had never entertained the idea of buying one; never even looked at pricing because I assumed a complete BUGG would cost as much as a W.H.A.L.E. and without the nostalgic attachment I could never justify that kind of price tag.

Unless, of course, my son and I were at a toy convention and needed an opposing force.

I first got a little bit of a BUGG itch when we passed a beautiful, complete one at the back of the big room. It was a smaller vendor who was more focused on complete, clean toys. He had a truly impressive selection of figures that looked like they’d fetch top dollar. There were only a few vehicles on his table, but the crown jewel of what was there was that BUGG. It caught my eye and it called to me.

But I wasn’t there for a BUGG. Not yet, anyway.

The BUGG itch struck again at another table with a ton more product that was in less desirable condition. Nothing bad, but just the kind of stuff you dug through bins for and haggled over the prices. Phantom, Jr. spent a good long while digging through bagged figures to pick out four Vipers and a few other guys. He also got a SHARC in great condition for ten bucks. I added a Pogo Ballistic Battle Ball to his pile because I always loved that ludicrous thing and it was also in great condition, though we would later learn it was in dire need of a good old-fashioned #figbath.

When we brought our loot up to the guy to pay, I spied a pristine-looking BUGG on the shelves behind him. Phantom, Jr. and I had already discussed the need for a bad guy vehicle and this looked like the perfect candidate. I asked for the price and the price was right (having checked eBay since then, the price was really right).

Then the guy told us he could only take cash.

Earlier in the day I had been quite proud of myself for remembering to hit up an ATM before we got to the DoubleTree. I always forget to bring cash, so I was feeling pretty badass for having a pocketful this time. So badass, in fact, that I made all of our initial purchases with cash without even asking if the vendors took cards.

So by the time we got to this vendor, I was almost tapped out, and definitely didn’t have enough for our pile of goodies.

I have to say – I was quite surprised by the number of vendors who could only take cash. One of the guys that I talked to said that a lot of them were purely hobbyists and didn’t bother to or possibly didn’t even know to get the free card readers that almost every financial institution provides free of charge now. He said they just deal in rolls of cash and go home on Sunday.

We didn’t have a roll of cash, so we had to leave that pile of loot behind.

Me being me, I was annoyed by the unreasonableness of a businessman in 2019 being unable to accept non-cash currency. By that time I had even used PayPal at a couple of places! It’s how I had bought my beloved Killer W.H.A.L.E. To not even be able to take PayPal seemed absurd. The more I thought about it the more determined I became to give anybody else in that entire hotel money for a BUGG. Which is when I remembered the pristine beauty that we had passed at the back of the room that was surely out of my price range.

Only it wasn’t. It cost a bit more than the cash guy’s, but it was also much cleaner and complete except for the missing pilot, which neither of us cared about (and who apparently fetches upwards of fifty bucks by himself). I asked if the gentleman could take plastic and he said I could pay however I wanted.

Done deal. Phantom, Jr. and I were now the proud owners of a COBRA BUGG, and I have to tell you, it is a wonderful vehicle that I was right to lament not ever owning.

There’s much more to tell about the amazing Augusta Toy and Comic Show, but most of that will be shared in upcoming podcasts and future posts. For now I just want to leave you with this summary:

It was an absolutely wonderful experience. I can’t recommend this show highly enough and there is no way we won’t be back in 2020.

Be sure to join the Needless Things Podcast Facebook Group and let us know what you’re watching!

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Hungry for more movies, music, and pop culture? Visit the Needless Things Archives for a decade of dorkery!

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