Nerdbot Exclusive Interview: Scott Zillner of the Power Morphicon Convention
I first met supreme robot collector and toy expert Scott Zillner at Comic Con Revolution. We had an amazing conversation about…wait for it…toys and robots. I quickly learned through our discussion that he was the person behind the Power Morphicon Convention. I needed to know more! Between putting on shows and expos, working conventions since childhood, and dedicating his life to collecting (and creating) statues, figurines, and art, Scott is without a doubt an overlord in the world of fandom.
Hey Scott! Thank you for giving Nerdbot this interview. We’re super excited to have you. Before we get started, is it okay if we link any of your previous interviews in here so our readers can truly understand how extensive your toy collection is?
You can always link the Mark Hamill interview because it makes me look even cooler. It wasn’t hard because we got along so well. They were literally trying to force us to stop. They called time and said they needed to get the next guy in. One of those “No, but really…seriously…you guys have to stop.” They had to pull us apart because we would have just kept talking about Godzilla and robots and Japan forever. Mark’s a really great guy in person. On a Henry Winkler scale he gets at least four thumbs up, because The Fonz has five thumbs up.
Your robot room is like basically where I want to live and die forever, please. How did you start collecting and selling toys? How did you know this was the industry for you?
It was a long and hard road with many missteps and falls. Most of my collection now is from after 2000 before that I had to sell everything I had to live at a couple of points of lows. As a kid, I knew I really loved my toys more than my brothers did; they grew out of them and I kept going along. I never knew I would make a living on it. I was also very into building models and painting miniatures. I want to say 2006-2007 I went to San Diego Comic Con and got a job. I showed off some of the models I was building and got picked up by a statue company to do some side work. That in turn became full time and I moved to LA and have been working in the toy and statue industry ever since. Plus, the conventions I do as a dealer and promoting my own shows…all of that lets me indulge my collecting beyond most people’s abilities due to what I do and who I meet on a daily basis.
On a personal level really quick, what is your favorite anime? Are you more attracted to mecha anime or do you have a secret favorite genre?
As far as best looking mecha or robots go, Five Star Stories KOG Knight of Gold designed by Mamoru Nagano is at the top of that list. It is an amazing work of art and mecha. On the Megazord side, it is hard to beat the Mighty Morphin’ Megazord designed by Tsuyoshi Nonaka.
My single favorite anime is Akira, hands down. 1988 at Wonder-Con in Oakland California I got to be one of the few in the states at that time to see it at a special showing. I was already into anime from a friend and this was mind blowing. I am also very connected to the Gundam universes for my mecha fix. Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket and Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory as my top two. I’m still into anime to this day, but back in the 80s I would buy anime at conventions. Sometimes you wouldn’t know what you were getting. I’d go to Japanese markets and try to match the Kanji. And sometimes it worked, and sometimes it was like “Nope! But we’re going to watch it anyway because we already spent five dollars!”
Talking about random anime VHS is really special for me. I started collecting bootleg fan-subbed animes back in the 90s. It’s how my spiral into anime fandom started.
Yeah, and by the late 90s I was selling those bootleg anime VHS you’re talking about at conventions. I would make copies of tapes in my bedroom all weekend prepping for conventions. I’d go to San Francisco to get copies of tapes so I could keep selling them at shows. I found this shop in Japan town where the guy would make a copy if you paid extra, like more than the rental fee. I’d then go back and make my own copies to sell at conventions. I think I was selling them for $15-$20 each. Two for $30, three for $45, something like that. But that’s how the bootlegging worked, because there was no internet yet. I competed with a couple other bootleggers at the time and the only way I knew how to make my business better than them was to make and design my own labels. Brand new clamshells, colored copies, a shrink wrap machine. It made them look like the tapes you saw at stores. The guys selling them next to me were selling black and white labels, written in Sharpie, like “Ranma ½ Part 2 or something” and mine looked nice. I did it better.
On that note do you have any secret fandoms or hobbies that people might not expect and what do you like to do in your free time?
I don’t really have any free time. I keep myself booked from like 9am-Midnight and that’s my work day. I love to get up at the crack of 8 or 9am and work into the night. I used to work even later, until like 2am. But lately I’m getting old, so I’m only up until about midnight. But I do a lot. I’m a professional toy artist, and toy designer. I’ve been in that industry for about 10-12 years and have worked for a lot of big companies. Disney, Star Wars, Mattel and more. I’ve done a flood of action figures from video games, to Star Wars statues. You name it, I’ve worked on it. I designed a line of transforming robot bugs for a company, with their initial looks. It was greenlit into a series and everything.
I collect video games from retro consoles to modern ones, all working. I have games for every consoles US Versions, Japanese versions. I have arcade games, I have a pinball machine. I collect robots, I collect G.I. Joes. I build models, I design spaceships, I’m a fully trained artist for both graphic and classical arts. I keep myself busy with all that, plus I run conventions and go to conventions about every week.
I spend a lot of time watching 80s shows and knowing my lore from them. 70s live action Japanese shows. I love working in my office and just having The Rockford Files on. But there’s no strange niches. I collect toys. It’s where my time and effort goes and I try to know as much about those toys as I can.
Before we talk about Power Morphicon Convention, which is very much a big deal, let’s talk more about the Power Rangers. What is your personal history with Power Rangers and when did you fall in love with sentai shows?
I fell in love with super sentai as a kid. I was able to get Japanese TV from the Bay Area. I was all about this amazing thing of giant robots fighting monsters. Later on, in the 90s I saw Power Rangers and wondered why the kids where in it but still watched for the fights and robots. That said, SPD and Time Force were really well done. I think Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is overrated and doesn’t hold up. It is a kids’ show and it holds more power for nostalgia than content.
Now then, tell us about Power Morphicon- how did you end up running that show?
My personal history…well, I was friends with the Prop Master from Power Rangers, Mark Richardson. I started helping him sell a lot of things from the show that he had left over. A show came up called Power Morphicon where I was his agent, just kind of selling his merchandise because he wasn’t able to go. It was a charity event by Maureen Dawson and the sponsors pulled out leaving her with the bill. But I did well at the show. It was great and after, I talked to Maureen and said “We did fantastic! I can’t wait to come back next year.” And she said “Oh holy god, no. I will never do this again.”
And I understand now why she said that, and how she said it and that same look on her face I’ve (now) seen in the mirror. But I said “If you’re interested, I would always take it over and continue doing the show.” And unfortunately for me, she did give me the show a year later in 2008, and in 2010 I put on the second Power Morphicon Convention in Pasadena, Ca.
What goes into putting on a show like Power Morphicon?
A lot of work from a team of volunteers. It is a fan convention for the fans. Their love for the fandom is the only reason I keep it going year after year. It is so exhausting and difficult to do with such a small crew doing the work of a very large show. We make it happen, but it is really, really hard. The most difficult thing I have ever done…and then still get told by people it isn’t as good as other shows. Um yeah…those are million-dollar events with paid staff we are like seven people working on the weekends to make it happen. It is hard to get across that we can’t do everything a Wizard World show does.
You’re already known for running toy expos and conventions in the Southern California area where you sell merchandise. How did obtaining and being the face of Power Morphicon affect your visibility within the convention circuit?
I had already been doing conventions since I was fourteen or fifteen years old. Early on, my mom would have to drive me and drop me off with my box of toys and comics, set up at the show and then at the end of the day I’d have to call her on a pay phone. For you kids out there, that where you put coins, actual money, into a phone on the street and then you could make the phone call! There were no cellphones for a long time. Then she’d pick me up and I would go home. And then I was doing conventions as a kid.
Doing Power Morphicon definitely upped the level. Now it’s more like “Yeah, this is that Scott guy, he does that Power Rangers show.” And I grew the Power Rangers show from 250 people at the first one, and now we’re expecting 8,000 to 10,000 people for the next show. We were definitely doubling and more than doubling the convention every other year that we ran it.
In addition to Power Morphicon, you run a few other shows, namely Robot Toy Fest and the Pasadena Comic and Toy Show. Do you think that working conventions as a vendor from such a young age has given you an advantage into the inner workings of the industry, or that your natural next-step would be running shows?
Certainly, it is for a lot of people. Anyone running shows has probably been doing them for a long time. You kind of know what you need to do. Anytime you see one of those “fly by night” shows that show up one day and are closed down a few weeks later, those are people who have never ran a show and but suddenly thought it would be a really good idea. Like “Yeah, I’m going to do my own comic book convention. I’m going to hold it on this day and I’m just going to have guests come out and I’m just going to pay for all of this and it’s going to be fantastic!” And suddenly they realize they’ve betted on Pre-sale tickets to be so great that they wouldn’t have to put any money into it. Realistically, doing a convention means you’re going to be losing money for years and then maybe after so many years it starts to pay off and then it finally pays for itself. And that’s what a convention is. It’s throwing money out a window and hoping that it will look nice in so many years. Very much like boat ownership. But I run conventions. I don’t have extra money to throw away on boats.
On the subject of conventions and Power Morphicon, what changes blow you away and where do you think there’s room for improvement?
When I first did the show in 2007, it was 250 people, the guest just came and hung out. They hung out like it was a reunion and they were just signing scraps of paper in the hallways and left. And that was it, that was the day. They went to a bar and hung out and Power Rangers people just walked around going “I love Power Rangers, do you?!?!” And by 2010, we made it actually a solid convention. People showed up from all over the country, all over the world, to meet a large collection of Power Rangers in one spot. They were selling autographs, they were doing photos, and it was the start of the convention circuit for every Power Ranger ever since.
After 2010, they were doing shows on a regular basis. You can’t have a convention without having a Power Ranger there, and that’s because of the success of Power Morphicon. And because the show is only every other year, you really don’t want to miss it. And you make sure you don’t miss it. It’s not like you missed watching The Flash last week and you’ll catch it next week. It’s like “I missed watching Firefly, when can I watch it again?” The answer is never.
What is the most exciting part of Power Morphicon?
As it is for the fans seeing how happy they are and hearing how much fun they are having. The fans will say “We waited so long for this” or “We look so forward to it!”
Really, seeing them have fun is why we do it.
Keep up with Scott and his shows Robot Toy Fest, Brick Boutique, or the Pasadena Comic and Toy Shows. He has items for sale on Planet X Toys. You can also follow the Power Morphicon Convention on its official website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Follow Loryn on Twitter. Her debut novel My Starlight, a young adult novel about anime, cosplaying, fandom, love, loss, and friendship will be released August 3rd, 2018 by Affinity Rainbow Publications.