Greetings, Programs. It's time for another of my rambling rhapsodies. This one's about Auto Assembly [AA], the Transformers convention in England. (Not Alcoholics Anonymous.)
Yes, David, it is better than Botcon.
There are a whole host of people on the opposite side of the Atlantic whom I love unrestrainedly. But the odds of my ever making it over to glomp them in person were pretty much nil. So as far as I'm concerned, the person who basically grabbed me by the face, thrust a plane ticket into my hands, and dragged me to AA deserves a Free Ticket to Heaven.
There have been a lot of posts around the internet recently about what Auto Assembly means to people. Let me just say that even the most hyperbolic-sounding statements are all perfectly sincere and accurate. There was a love and acceptance at AA that was more universal and inclusive than anything most of us get outside of a really good family reunion. It was ridiculously egalitarian. I mean, there was next to no sense of stratification, of some people being above other people in terms of coolness, fame, job-description, or privilege. Even the "famous" people got to be Just People. I have to imagine that was as much a relief to them as it was cool for us. For someone like me who operates with a permanent sense of everyone else being vastly more worthy than I am, the whole dealio was AWESOME.
I wandered up to the "welcome desk" on Friday afternoon, where Peter Spellos, a voice actor who was so loved last year that fans pooled their cash to bring him again, was manning the place like a regular volunteer. I made some comment about hearing how well-loved he'd been last year, and how happy I was to have finally made it myself. He greeted me with this immense, whole-hearted hug, and told me in all sincerity that AA had changed his life and the way he saw himself, and that I was in for a treat. (He'd been in that "I'm old and no one loves me" funk, and AA peeps pulled him out of it. I get the sense he wants to give back.) That's AA in a nutshell -- the special guest back for a second year, manning the volunteer table and making the newbies feel loved and important. I ran into him one or two other times over the weekend, and always got the same full-hearted hug and contagious joy from him. Wish I'd been able to tell him how much it meant.
James Roberts was also hanging around the welcome desk, talking with people. He hugged and remembered me. (squee!
) He listened to some of us airing our concerns about MTMTE S2. It was very cool to be able to express the things that have troubled me, but I also tried to make clear that the whole is still very positive. (Decent-Bloke Megatron!!<3) I hope I never become a pest to him. But by Primus I love and admire that man. He commented that he hoped I'd stick with the comic, to which the only response is, "ARE YOU KIDDING???!? I'M IN THIS TILL #332 AND BEYOND!" I hope he doesn't feel like we've turned on him when we speak up about things we're not quite as fond of. I trust that he knows how to take critiques. But I'm sure it's no fun to have people dislike things he's worked so hard on.
The James-loot I got was three more annotated MTMTE scripts: #11 (Shadowplay pt 1), #16 ("I love you"), and #28 (S2 ep1). I read the #16 script in the hotel room one afternoon when I needed a bit of quiet, and BOY, it can still get me. The art never galled me, but reading James's notations to Alex had me visualizing how different the issue could have looked under the Hand of Milne, and I have to admit I wish he could have drawn it. Sorry, Augustin Padilla. I know you did your best. (I wonder how issue assignments are doled out? Should ask about that next time I get the chance.)
I brought my MTMTE-inspired carousel animals, and showed them to James so that he could choose one as a gift. He enjoyed the concept, which made me happy (most people just go, "What in the Pit??"), and chose Tyrest the Lion. A wise choice -- I really like how that one turned out.
The only things I brought to have signed were not comics. I have his big fanfic Eugenesis printed on almost a ream of paper in a thick binder. I brought the title page and asked him to sign it. And then I showed him my book and asked if he'd please write me some encouraging thing on the inside please, one fanfic writer to another. He put in a loong moment of thought, and then wrote a VERY encouraging thing. I got a bit misty.
[Funny sidenote: James Roberts is the only person in the history of the world who's ever said that I have good handwriting.]
It should come as no surprise to any of you that I go to conventions not to buy more toys, but to worship the Art Gods. And Alex Milne's the Zeus of the group. The toy booths, artists, and panels are all on one big room, but they do have a few smaller panels in a separate classroom-sized room. One of these was Alex giving a how-to-draw-transformer-joints class. It. Was. Awesome. I am aware that some people believe Alex has an outsized influence on how fanartists draw TF's. We also have Livio and Sarah Stone, and everyone in between, and I am grateful for their contribution. But yes, perhaps everyone looks to Alex for how to draw the FUNCTIONALITY of TF's. Her's why: The Man Went To College To Learn How To Draw TF Joints. By which I mean, he has a degree in technical drawing. That's part of why he's so darn good at knowing how things transform, and how they actually WORK. So he basically asked us what parts of transformers we found hard to draw, and showed us ways how to do it. Suuuuuuuuper good stuff.
Because I love having this ongoing joke now, I called out "Draw something girly!" when he walked in. The entire room turned on me with eyes of daggers, and Alex threatened to kick me out, but then everyone realized it was a joke, and relaxed. Note to self -- consider the environment before cracking wise.
Alex had brought this amazing sketchbook for sale, and it was the top of my purchasing list. But when I got to his table, they were already sold out! (The sign said, "No More Sketchbooks. I Like Making You Sad.") This honestly started ruining my whole day. I knew I shouldn't let it; but it was a massive disappointment. I was hating myself for not getting in line for his table sooner. But then -- I went up to Ladywreck's room to get the Clutch-Munching Piston-Licker t-short I'd reserved, and she had Several sketchbooks on her table. I asked if there was aaany chance I could get one of them from her -- you know, shaft someone else because I am that selfish. And she said, "You know what -- I actually got one extra. I just had the feeling I should." So I ran back to Alex with it for a signature. But it got Ladywreck in trouble because Alex thought she was scalping books. Oops! Happily, they got things straightened out between them. Anyway, Alex made my day by sketching this suuuuuuuuuuper kawaii Windblade in my book, with the caption "Girly enough for you?" All my squee are belong to him.
I gave Alex a copy of the Megatron commission from him that I'd colored, and a horsie version of him being hounded by phoenix-James.
Such Art Gods. Very Talent. Back when I first started getting into TF comics, I used to sometimes weep and wail and gnash my teeth at Simon Furman, for "Writing my liiiiiiiife!" Up till he jumped on Regeneration (which, sorry, I don't 'believe'), I tended to take everything that man wrote as gospel. Or at least apocrypha. I write/am the War Within Librarian!Prime who's had his spark crushed by Escalation!Megatron. Loooots of the tentpoles in my ficverse are from War Within and Simon's earlier Marvel stuff. I'd had friends send me things they'd had signed by him for me (Thanks, TC!), but I'd never yet met him. So I walked up to his table, bearing War Within and Infiltration (my favorites of his), and asked for his signature. I thanked him for all his writing over the years, and told him how I appreciated what he'd created. And I showed him my book and thanked him for his role in instigating it and getting me writing. He gave it a good looking through as I described its themes, which was awesome and terrifying and embarrassing and neat. So yeah, I met Simon Furman.
Another of those little side-forums was by him, and it was REALLY cool. It was on the fall of Dreamwave and the transition to IDW. We packed that room tight -- as many people standing as in chairs -- and it was H.O.T. I came close to passing out. But it was so worth it because Simon told us all sorts of behind-the-scenes stuff about the stories that never made it to publishing. We got to see art that never saw the light of day. We heard all KINDS of interesting things about the process in both DW and IDW. He was remarkably sanguine about the whole DW collapse -- always positive; never snippy. Go Simon. Great example.
Another person whom I finally got to meet was Andrew Wildman. He had some really cool lineart prints. I bought two -- a gorgeous spy!Mirage and a Prime -- and told him how much I like his thin-line hatching. He said that style has not always gone down well. Huh. I'd always thought everyone loved his artwork, that he was one of the unassailable ones. Just goes to show no matter how good or popular you are, there will always be people who don't like your stuff. And I suppose that's actually good impetus to art better.
I reminded him that he'd let me color some of his artwork in the past (he apologized for not remembering; I said I hadn't expected him to). I got to show him the Prime&Megs back-to-back one that I'd neeeeeded to color so bad I got brave enough to email him for permission, and the Megatron I'd done. He liked them -- especially the orange bg on Megs. Looking at it now, I'm wondering if I ought to redo the Prime&Megs -- it's so pastelly and desaturated... Hmm. Anyway, another really cool real-life meeting.
Nick Roche. Of course I asked him to sign Wreckers for me. He asked who my favorite Wrecker was -- how could I choose? But when I said Pyro because we both want to grow up and be like Prime, Nick sketched in a little Pyro in the book for me! Squee! I also asked him to sign the Megatron spotlight, with many a declaration that it was some Messed Up Awful Slag and he should be ashamed.
(Honestly, if you take everything that Nick has done, and everything that James has done, I think Nick wins in the Disturbing Stuff department. Sure, James toys with our feels. But Nick tends to Actually Do unsettling and horrible things. In stories, I mean, not in real life -- but who knows?
I gave Nick the Hot Rod pony, of course. He declared it "Mental -- in the best possible way." I also showed him the MTMTE #34 cover I'd colored, just to get his permission/approval. He really liked it. He liked that I'd given the helmet on the floor just a bit more shine and attention-grabbingness. (Of COURSE I did -- I live in MY fic-verse! That helmet's Important!) I told him about my whole back-and-forth with Josh Burcham about the colors and the lamp. I even told him how I tend to tell the story of my first Botcon by saying with a sly nod, "I had breakfast with Nick Roche." He grinned and said, "Well, maybe we'll get to share breakfast again sometime." The Next Morning, we did. But I think he was too tired to remember me. Still funny/winning, though.
I bought FIVE prints from Nick. Because his art is awesome and when else am I gonna get the chance to do that? To be honest, I kinda wish I'd bought six.
When I bellied up to John-Paul Bove's table, I had a moment of panic. Because the awesome propaganda-style prints I've wanted for years but had to hold off buying from him back at Botcon weren't in evidence! But never fear -- he pulled them out from under the table. JP is one of my favorite human beings in the world, but I never feel like I get the chance to just hang out with him and play. Such is the nature of conventions. He always makes me feel like a million bucks though. I came away from his table in the end with 4.5 prints (the .5 is a totes adorbs little thing of Rung playing marriage counselor to CD&RW), and he wouldn't take my money for two of 'em.
I'd made and brought perler-bead Matrixes in case people wanted one. I had made one square green Marvel comics style one, all because I kept thinking JP would love one like that. I gave it to him because it seemed silly to let anyone else have it.
I gave Andrew Griffith the Starscream-raptor. (I really liked how it turned out -- it was my favorite of the TF-as-animal things I made.) And I asked him to sign Foundation. I have his permission to color that AMAZING spread of Prime and Ironhide in the acid rain. Now I just need to get brave enough to start on it. Psyched, though. That's still some of my favorite TF art.
I've always heard Andrew described as a straight-up, solid-good dude. Well, at AA I saw it in action. He was -- just a solid, good dude. Always kind, never seeking attention, always wanting to build up others. He probably doesn't even know he's doing it. But I was impressed. Go Andrew!
Kei Zama, aka Golby, had a table. Her artwork is PHENOMENAL. Enough so that I bought her sketchbook online -- you know, sent money to someone I don't know in Japan in exchange for a book of pictures. I'd brought the book with me, just so I could get her signature on it. It felt good to get to show how much I love her work.
(I want to buy Koch's Overlord-Trepan book as well, but missed her at Botcon
So many great new Japanese artists! More on that later...)
So many great artists! Cannot list them all! Liam Shalloo was markering in the bar that evening, and poked me enough that I went and got my markers out. It was fun talking shop, but so weird calling someone "Liam" who is not my oldest son!
I'd say the one thing Botcon has over Auto Assembly is that I seldom had to wait in line to worship Art Gods there. This might be because the Botcon crowd cares less about Art Gods (this reflects poorly on the Botcon crowd) or because there's just more going on. But on the plus side, while waiting in line to see Nick or James or Alex, we were still in the same room with whatever panel or shenanigans was going one. So it wasn't boring by any means. (Especially not during the ABSOLUTELY INSANE third party panel!)
I really liked how AA was run. It was more like being at a big party with a thousand friends, than at a toy-buying event. Whoever chose the music was inspired -- it was thumpin' and fun, but not obtrusive, and consisted of quirky fandom-based things from both Transformers and other cartoons most people there would like. David Wallace was a great MC -- always brought the sense of fun; kept things on track but loose enough to be real. There were enough panels to be interesting, but not so many that you get overwhelmed. And only once were there three things going on that I wished I could have gone to at the same time. The opening and closing ceremonies were a nice touch; they kicked things off -- and sent things off -- with a good bang. (That closing ceremony -- I had never been to AA before, and STILL I was crying my dang eyes out!!!) Having the main room close for suppertime, and then the partytime resume on Saturday night was another great thing -- there was always something fun to do even if you were on your own. And every single dang thing was open to everyone with a weekend ticket.
No matter where I was, I always found someone to pal around with. This is important -- palling around is much better and more comfortable/fulfilling than awkwardly chatting to pass the time. There were tons of people whom I met, had fun with, and then (SUPER IMPORTANT!) would later run into again and instantly be able to fall in with like real pals. It was awwwesome. And rare.
Here's a list of people who made my day better, in no particular order:
--The girl who turned around in Alex's art workshop, and asked me, "Are you on the Underbase podcast? I recognize your voice."
! I didn't even know I HAD a recognizable voice! I thought I sounded just like everyone else 'merican! And someone who'd listened to the few podcasts I was on!!
--Speaking of podcasts: Adam White made me feel special by stopping on his speeding way to get Important Things done before the con started, and turning around to hug me. Chris McFeely, who's kinda my podcast hero, also made my day by walking up and hugging me. Sprite and Isa welcomed me with literal open arms. You gotta understand, these are people I think are waaaaaaaaaayyy cooler than I am. I feel like a stalker around them. So when Aimee seems actually glad to have me around, I'm inwardly biting my nails and wondering when the not-cool-enough police will kick me out! I got to meet lots of my podcast peeps, and it was very very cool. I've listened to these guys and gals for ages, but never been in the same room. Still missed out on a few though. Sadface.
--Thew. AKA The One YouTube Reviewer Whom I Watch. He was walking around gleeface the whole time, because it was his first convention. I'd brought Dropshot for the express purpose of having him sign it. Because "Dropshot Found Wepon." <-YouTube it. I handed the black Sharpie over, and Thew proceeded to label "His Other More Bigger Gun," and "Other Side Rocket Pods." GLEE AND WINNING. I was like, "OMSP, I'm standing here with Thew!" Meanwhile, he was like, "OMSP, I'm standing here with people watch my stuff!" Totes adorbs.
--Joe Teanby, a fellow non-digital TF artist I've known of on DA for ages, found me and made my whole day. I showed off some of my art; he showed off some of his, and Gave Me An Original with permission to color it. Squee! We ended up staying up way late markering stuff together at the bar. Super awesome!
--Many times, someone would come up to me and say, "I know you from Facebook! Hi, I'm so-and-so." I was sitting alone after the tear-jerking closing ceremony, and a FB pal did just that, and pulled me out of the post-con blues.
I had a great time hanging at the bar area with FB pal Andy 'SEN-ih-Shen' (<-- see? I remembered) and new pal Gareth Watson. It's weird that people I automatically call "kids" can have kids of their own. (It's an oldest child thing -- I call everyone kid.) Gareth made my entire year by flipping out when he saw my work on DA. He all but threw the phone. I honestly still think of myself as a dabbler. So having him swear blue at me for calling myself that was kinda awesome. Basically, those guys were yet another example of people I felt instantly comfortable with.
--I roomed with Razzie, and we got into the predictable amount of trouble.
We took turns averting our eyes from the glass shower and the open bathroom area, took turns sleeping on the single bed, and sneaked me into the massive free breakfast. (I was the Roommate Who Wasn't Technically There.) We once got let into the super-secret fancy lounge by a pal of Razzie's. He gave us delicious lemonades that healed the burnt-out husks of our overheated souls -- there is no Air Conditioning in England.
Cool Stuff/Fun Stuff:
--CAN WE ALL TAKE A MOMENT TO APPRECIATE THE COSPLAY TALENT AT AA. Hooooooooly buckets of biskit. And, like whoa. My camera is defiantly bad at taking pictures, so I am of no help to you in sharing the glory. But other people are posting them on Facebook and things. Look around. Your jaw will drop. They had a contest, and there were so many entrants that they had to divide them into two categories: Regular Robotty and Humanized. The judges (who were the Art/Writing Gods!!) sat at a table on a stage in front, and all the entrants would come in down an aisle toward them, where they would be interviewed by the MC. Dude. Can I just say. My throat got sore and my voice weak from screaming my approval. I was applauding with my entire being... especially once the MC's showed up in Spike and Carly[
There were, as I've said, tons of amazing cosplays. My favorite was a full-on Mistress of Flame, whose costume was amazing and who owned the hauteur of the role.
But then Tarn and Vos showed up.
Picture this: two guys in black suits and black gloves, one sturdily-built, one Inhumanly Skinny, who are both way over 6 feet tall. They each had very realistic helm-heads on. As they loomed over the poor MC, he squeaked, "I'm genuinely intimidated now." Somebody joked that Vos should take his face off. At Which Point, HE DID, and shoved it right onto the poor MC's face!!! I lurched back and screamed in actual real terror (and I'd thought I was all screamed-out by that point!). It was like Slenderman+DJD. EPIC CREEPYWIN.
(I so wanna do that for Halloween now!)
-- On the first night, they had the "Pub Quiz," which was loads of fun. Our team of cobbled-together people didn't win, but we weren't complete crap either. It was fun (and surprising!) to see how much esoteric knowledge we collectively possessed.
This was followed by a screening of the '86 Transformers film. It's not my favorite TF thing *prepares to dodge thrown fruit* But I had only seen it on YouTube pixel-o-vision, and I knew that watching it with an audience like that would be amazing.
Such glee. Everyone quoted all their favorite lines, everyone groaned when their favorite bots died, everyone sang the songs. Everyone cheered. It was great. And hey -- when it's not in pixel-o-vision, that animation really is impressive.
--There was a super-interesting panel about the incoming Japanese artists with Golby/Kei Zama, Andrew Griffith, and this other Andrew who's lived in Japan and now (as "Phase 6" for the win) facilitates relations between IDW and Japanese artists like Golby and Kotteri and Sakamoto. I felt spiffy for cheering at the mention of Yamaishi, a new colorist whose work is now second only to Josh Burcham's in my personal pantheon. I was the only one who did, however, so I hope others soon come to appreciate her. Apparently, she's only 19 and can drink the grown men under the table!
Some other interesting things I learned: In Japan, there's a separation between professional artists and fan artists. The fans throw big conventions, but usually don't invite the pros because of being in different strata, and because they are a little embarrassed to have their idols see their slash art. Slash art is waaaaay more normal and accepted there. (I still don't know how to feel about that. While on the one hand it might be nice not to have Attitudes about what people create, I do still feel odd about wangs on robots.) When Livio and Andrew and Josh P. go to Japan, they are treated like royalty. Everyone's SOOO grateful that they've come, because unlike here, their presence is not taken as a given. We maybe ought to appreciate more what Art Gods do for us at conventions. (Let's be honest though -- I already appreciate their presence and the work they do A LOTTTTT!) The sad thing I learned about all this stratification is that when someone like Golby or Kotteri breaks into the pros' world, there's a bit of pushback from the fans' world people. A bit of "Who do you think you are, missy? Are we not good enough for ya any more?" So I tried to give Golby extra love for that. (She is awesome. Her art is phenomenal. And her hair is BOSS.) Andrew Griffith turns out (in another instance of his being a Decent Chap) to be a main guy in the finding and directing IDW to great Japanese artists. Go him! Go everyone! The more great artists we have, the better! (We're so darn lucky right now!)
--There was a special script-reading, of course. Simon Furman wrote it. All the voice actors were in it, along with Nick (who was HILARIOUS) and Sprite and John-Paul Bove, who about killed me with laughter. I had no idea he could do so many voices! I think the reading's up on YouTube -- go find it. You'll DIE. My favorite script-reading ever.
Simon gets points because he totally lampshaded the whole Arcee controversy in a non-mad way. Meeting him in person as opposed to reading things he's posted online, I am very impressed with his way of letting things run off him where he could have stayed prickly about them.
--I did not haunt the voice actors much, but Sumalee Montano (TFP Arcee's voice) seemed to really be a neat person and fit right into the AA swing. She got weepy at the closing ceremony too, so it wasn't just me! James Horan (TFP tough-guy Wheeljack) SANG CABARET on Saturday night; and I STILL don't know how to feel about that. (Does not compute! *bluescreen*)
--Speaking of the closing ceremony, I'm sure a lot of people have heard by now about The Proposal. A guy and a gal who've been together for years made further commitment when he knelt, held up a ring, acknowledged this was "probably the nerdiest thing ever," and asked his ladylove, "Bah-weep-grahnah-weep-ninni-bong?" She was surprised all right. But she responded with an affirmative, "Bah-weep-grahnah-weep-ninni-bong!" And we all cheered our heads off. It was just that kind of party.
--I made it into the Survivors' Photo around 2:00am on Sunday morning. So that's one life-goal achieved! (You think I'm joking. I'm not.) On the flight home I found out that I can function astonishingly well after staying awake 24 hours on only 2 hours of sleep. Razzie and I took a bus (coach -- I learned all sorts of new word-usages in the UK!) from Birmingham to Heathrow, so I had a little chance to see the real England. But I mostly fell asleep. I did see Coventry Cathedral, though, all tucked into a tight cluster of more modern buildings. It was eye-wateringly beautiful. Everything in smaller and feels older than things in the US -- even things that are the same age as the town I live in now. 1856 is a lot longer ago there than it is here, for some reason.
I'm so grateful that I got to go! It'd make me almost tear up when people I loved would ask me if I was returning next year for TF Nation or Roll Out Roll Call. Because it's almost certainly not happening. It's a painful thing to try and press 1, 5, or 8 years worth of love into a few minutes' encounter with a person. But I did my best. I hope all the people I met understood a little of how much they mean to me. People, you make a difference in the world. You make a difference to me. THANK YOU. Thank you all!