CON STORIES (3): AUTO ASSEMBLY 2011

My third major Transformers convention in just four weeks was the UK’s premiere Transformers fan event — Auto Assembly, in Birmingham (over the weekend of August 12-14th). This is possibly the most sustained/concentrated convention-ing I’ve ever done, following C.O.N.S. in Germany and TFCon Toronto (not to mention Wales-Con, Kapow!, Roll Out and assorted Comic Marts), and I was feeling a little travel/con-lagged. But at least this was just drive up the M40, and with Geoff Senior for company the two hours or so it took to get there on the Friday passed very agreeably. Got to the Holiday Inn City Centre around 4.30PM and checked in. And with very little preamble headed straight for the bar to meet up with Matt and Sid – oh, and Nick and James and Andrew and Alies and Kris and Jason and Kat and… well, you get the idea. AA is a very social event, and all the better for it. For once, and a bit shockingly, I had official duties to perform on the Friday of AA, and (after Chinese food) at 8.30PM we (myself and Geoff) were ushered on-stage to be interviewed (by none other than fellow pro Nick Roche) on the subject of the defining TF-UK story Target: 2006. All very pleasant and chatty, nothing too testing, though Geoff’s memory of the time, let alone the story, is um, sketchy to say the least.

Saturday: this, as always, is the most full on day of AA, and I was up bright and early, setting up my table in the dealer/guest room. As always, I came loaded with original scripts, Transformers comics, Death’s Head comics, Graphic Novels and even two Masterpiece toys for raffle. Quick hellos to anyone I hadn’t seen the previous evening, especially the wonderful Gregg Berger (voice of G1 Grimlock) and David Kaye (voice of BW Megatron) – two of nicest people you can hope to meet. Busy, busy morning of signing, selling and chatting. As always, the AA crowd were very welcoming and warm, and after a couple of hours all guests were ushered out of the hall so we could come in again — to the accompaniment of music. And, as always, there was an awful lot of hanging around before we started trooping in. Oh, and the music didn’t happen (phew!). But nevertheless, one at a time, we ran the gauntlet of a packed auditorium to get to the stage and say hi to the huge crowd gathered there. Simon Williams, replete in feather boa, stole the show (in volume terms more than making up for the absence of music), and in the process clearly damaged something internally – as he later had to retire hurt from the script reading. Then it was back to my table for another stint, until it was time for my second on-stage appearance of the day, this time a comics Q&A panel featuring myself and Andrew Wildman, Nick Roche and James Roberts (creative team on one of the two new IDW ongoing titles). And once again, Andrew and I had to find ways to say things about the impending (well, next year) Transformers #81 without actually saying anything much at all. Still, it was a lively session, with some good-natured one-upmanship going on between the creative teams of #81 and the new ongoing.

The afternoon was pretty much all centered around my table, and by 5PM it was time for a very quick drink before rushing off to sit in on the rehearsal for the evening’s live script reading, for which I had supplied said script. Pros and enlisted vocal talent were equally impressive and I looked forward to the live event later. Then it was a quick curry across the road and back (just) in time to judge the Cosplay competition. And once again, we (myself, Nick, James and G1 cartoon writer David Wise) were simply amazed by the sheer level of inventiveness, creativity and, yes, time that had gone into the costumes, which ranged from the first prize-winning Blackarachnia to multiple Optimus Primes and beyond. Then it was directly into the live script reading, as Gregg, David and Nick took to the stage. Highlight for me was the dual duelling – with David and Nick out ‘yess-ing’ each other (and comparing the size of their rubber duckies!) and David and Gregg as Animated Grimlock and G1 Grimlock respectively, both ‘Me, Grimlock’-ing until their throats were raw. Outstanding! As always, I’m immensely relieved when people laugh where they’re supposed to, as comedy is not my natural oeuvre as a writer. But it seemed to go very well. On a more serious note, David Kaye was recovering from a throat infection, which to a voice actor is career if not life threatening, but soldiered on with the evening regardless. Bravo! Then, as I’m sure no one will be surprised to know, it was back to the bar until the wee small hours. Fun, but… oh dear!

Sunday: a slightly more relaxed day, thankfully, but still official duties to perform. Inconsiderately, the organizers had scheduled an 11AM Death’s Head panel with myself, Geoff and Simon Williams. It was now 10.50, and no sign of Geoff. I phoned him – and clearly woke him up. One mad scramble and a half hour delay later, we were fielding questions from the audience on everyone’s favourite freelance peacekeeping agent. To his credit, Geoff was pretty on the ball for someone who’d only hiked himself out of bed a short while before. That done, I had one more official duty – a light-hearted pros vs fans quiz based on the show Eggheads. The pros team comprised myself, Nick, James and Kris Carter, and thankfully my team-mates had enough knowledge to see us through to emerge as the winning team. I was utterly clueless on 99 per cent of the answers, and the 1 per cent I did know always seemed to fall to the opposition. Even with categories like Target: 2006 and Death’s Head, I failed to do more than get the answer long after everyone else had. Oh well.

The afternoon was pretty quiet, and I even found time to go for a wander around Birmingham city centre, which was still showing the raw scars of the recent riots. That done, and my raffle prize (Movie Masterpiece Bumblebee) in the grateful hands of the winning ticket holder, it was time to say my farewells to everyone and Auto Assembly 2011 itself. This convention has really grown (from humble beginnings) into something very special, and with a large line-up of guests (including voice actors and writers imported from the US), live script reading and many attendees (though I was slightly disappointed to learn that, by a whisker, the attendance failed to break the record for a European convention set by AA last year), it seems to have outgrown its homespun origins and evolved into a bone fide “event” in the Transformers calendar. The whole weekend was lively and great fun, with a big emphasis on the social side of conventioneering, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Next year, AA moves to a bigger, plusher, more purpose built venue. I hope to see even more of you there!

Back soon with my thoughts on last weekend’s Nor-Con in Norwich.

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