So, we went to Europe’s largest Transformers convention, Auto Assembly 2015, and all we got was…. this lousy T-shirt? Well, I did get a T-shirt, two in fact, but neither of them is lousy. How about what we got was an absolutely wonderful experience, some amazing memories and, uh, a rather large haul of plastic figures (more on that later).
We’re going to write up our thoughts and observations from the weekend as a series of three jointly written posts. So here we go with part one… which predominately features the Friday night, fangirling over Sumalee Montano and quite a bit of shopping and toy talk.
Journey and arrival
R: First up, as neither of us drive, a million thanks are due to our friend Sadie who very kindly agreed to give us a lift up to Birmingham and to collect us on the Monday. We could have made it up there by coach or train easily enough, but in this case getting a lift made the difference in terms of allowing me to take my Slipstream costume. There’s just no way I could have managed the two huge bags of foam robot pieces on public transport and it was a dream come true for me to cosplay at Auto Assembly, so I’m hugely grateful to Sadie for helping to make that happen.
B: Sadie was an absolute star. We’d never’ve been able to take your costumes (or buy all those toys) if we hadn’t gotten a lift.
R: When we arrived we knew we’d rolled up at the right hotel because there was a massive replica movie Optimus Prime truck parked outside, and a load of people in Autobot and Decepticon shirts. I was hugely nervous (I’ve talked before about how difficult I find it to initiate conversations with new people) but at the same it was hard not to grin just seeing so much Transformers love concentrated in one place. It felt a bit like coming home. I know the Hilton Metropole is a very big convention hotel so chances are guests staying there for non-convention reasons must see quite a few odd sights there, but it was funny noticing the bemused looks we got from business people and regular holiday-makers – and that was even before the cosplayers started rolling out.
R: The convention opened on the Friday evening with the chance to buy some exclusive figures before the full dealer tables opened up the next day. We didn’t fancy any of the convention exclusives but judging from the long snakey queue to get them, many people did, and it was nice that they were on offer. And don’t worry we made up for our restraint the next day by buying other toys instead!
B: To be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed with the convention exclusives. The double-pretender was quite cool, and obviously it was amazing that left-over exclusives from other conventions had made their way to the UK and to be sold at reasonable prices for AA, but none of the exclusive toys really spoke to me.
R: The convention kicked off properly with a pub quiz. I have to say one of my very few gripes about the weekend involves this. Quizzes are great fun, but as the room was set out theatre style, it wasn’t a great way to help newbies like ourselves find our feet. I know it would have been difficult to accommodate with the numbers involved, but if there had been tables it would have made approaching people, sitting down and forming teams feel much more natural. As it was, sat in in lines, it was hard to get talking and it felt like all the teams were AA regulars who already knew each other from past years. There must have been other people like us around who were new, a bit shy and nervous, but as teams had to be formed very quickly we didn’t get the chance to find them, so we didn’t end up taking part in the quiz. So that was a little bit of a shaky start for me, and I did feel rather overwhelmed as it seemed everyone we spoke to on the first night was a real old timer.
B: The Auto Assembly veterans were out in force during the first night, but that’s to be expected; they were all looking for their AA friends to meet up. Of course, we missed out on this — what with it being our first AA, and all.
R: As this was set to be the last Auto Assembly I did feel at times like we’d missed out on such a lot by not having come before, and that although everyone was friendly it wasn’t quite as easy to make friends as there wasn’t that sense that the people we were meeting would be folk we’d definitely meet again this time next year. But we still met some lovely folk and had some good chats over the course of the whole weekend.
Friday Night Panel & Screening
B: There was a panel on before the inevitable film-screening about the history of Japanese-only Transformers cartoons, like The Headmasters, Super-God Masterforce & Victory. The speakers were Andrew Hall, Chris McFeely and Jim Sorenson. It was pretty entertaining, and quite informative — none of these cartoons have ever screened in this country, but they might be worth finding online. There was a lengthy discussion of the complex differences between Transtectors (large non-sentient robots which become active when a smaller sentient robot transforms into their heads), binary-bonded western-style Headmasters (a symbiosis between a large sentient robot and a smaller sentient robot or cyborg who transforms into the larger robots’ head) and Brainmasters (small robots who contain a downloaded copy of the consciousness of a much larger sentient robot and are used to interact with smaller life-forms like humans); probably you have to be me to find that as interesting as I do. In a universe where both Transtectors and Brainmasters exist, one might wonder when talking to a robot-pair which member of the pair was actually conscious. With whom should you be making eye-contact?
R: The main event on the Friday night was a screening of a certain 1986 movie and I have to say, though I’ve seen Transformers the Movie plenty of times before, watching it on a big screen with an avid crowd like that was a great experience. Everyone was singing along to the songs, applauding or booing when new characters appeared and shouting out funny remarks. I was glad to find I was far from the only person whose response to the annoying human kid Daniel falling over was “leave him behind!” Man, I’m such a Decepticon at heart.
R: By the time we’d had breakfast (yes the Hilton buffet was all kinds of calorific goodness) and got ourselves ready there was already quite a big queue waiting for the doors to the Monarch suite to open. Most of the full rig robot costumes didn’t start appearing until later in the day but there was a fun Skeletor in the queue as well as a lot of very inventive “humanised” Transformer characters, everything from people cosplaying as the robots’ holomatter avatars to just imagining what a certain character might be like were they human. I was seriously blown away by the love and creativity that went into these, and I was sort of jealous too of the people who had costumes they could actually sit down in and wear all day.
R: When the doors opened most people rushed to the dealer’s stalls. We had a list of figures we were hoping to score but as none of them were ultra rare or sought after we didn’t feel too much pressure when it came to the shopping, so instead we took advantage of the rush for the stalls and made our first port of call meeting the voice actors. The convention guests of honour were James Horan (the voice of TF Prime Wheeljack “Wreck and Rule!”), Peter Spellos (legendary voice of the “sharkiest of sharks” RID 2001 Sky-Byte) and Sumalee Montano (the voice of TF Prime Arcee). I wanted to meet all the voice actors but, given my love for blue Arcee, and the hours I’ve put into cosplaying her, I was especially excited to meet Sumalee. And oh, she is wonderful! She remembered my Arcee cosplay from the pictures shared on Twitter and was so enthusiastic about it that she said it was an honour to meet me. We had a big hug, a good chat (and I wasn’t nervous to speak to her, although I was bit shy with the other guests) had our photo taken together, and she wrote a very lovely thing on my convention postcard:
B: Sumalee Montano is a real sweetie as well as a truly brilliant voice-over talent. Strangely enough, I could talk to her and Peter Spellos easily, but I could hardly speak to James Horan. I don’t know why my shyness didn’t hit me whilst talking to the first two voice actors.
Going to pay our respects to the voice talents first thing was a smart move, because the queues to speak to these people got kind of crazy later on. Of course, the queue of twenty-something continental European women, waiting to meet Nick Roche and Jame Roberts was consistently enormous. Those dudes have the most fangirls ever.
R: Not all conventions have an opening ceremony, but Auto Assembly does (did *sigh*) and I thought it was a really nice touch. This just kicked things off in a formal way, playing some clips from previous years, introducing the convention team – who worked so hard and did an amazing job – and calling all the guests to the stage. This was helpful because I previously didn’t know what all the artists and writers looked like, so it was good to have them introduced. They also articulated what would be the theme of the whole weekend: that although this was the last Auto Assembly there was no reason to be sad because the amazing sense of community would continue without the convention. I get that and I’m sure it’s true, but like many others (and especially as first and last timers) I did feel that it was hard not to be a little wistful. Knowing AA was bowing out made the whole atmosphere of the weekend a little more intense than it probably would have been otherwise.
R: We sat in on most of the panels running across the weekend, and I thought there was a really good mix of coverage of Transformers comics, shows, Q&A with the voice actors, third party content and, with the presence of Japanese artist Kei Zama, a particularly interesting focus on the brand in Japan.
B: The first guest of honour to talk was Sumalee Montano, so I’ll hand the reins of this post to R, since she’s Sumalee’s biggest fan.
R: I loved hearing her talk, not just about playing Arcee but about her life in general. Sumalee is a really inspiring role model since she undertook a complete career change, bravely leaving what sounded like a successful and lucrative but soul-sucking career in finance to follow her heart into acting. People always spout platitudes about following your heart but to hear from someone who had done so in such a radical way, had made a success if it, and was obviously so passionate about what she now does, was truly moving. It was also great to hear Sumalee’s enthusiasm for Arcee: all the detailed work and preparation she’d done getting into role as the character (which really comes out in her performance) and some of her anecdotes about working with the other Prime actors. Transformers Prime was already my favourite TF show to date, mostly because of the intensity and depth of the characters but after meeting Sumalee and James Horan, I think I’m going to have to watch it all through again from the start!
R: My ethos as a TF collector is almost entirely character-driven. I mostly aim to buy figures of the characters I like best. This is why I have altogether too many Starscreams, a smattering of stuff from various continuities, and then a heavy focus on characters from the IDW comics and from Transformers Prime. It’s not terribly ordered but it makes me happy. For me, my main wish list aim was to fill in the gaps in my Prime collection, and I’m thrilled to say I’ve achieved this and now have all the Prime characters who actually feature in the show with the exception of Airachnid, who I could have bought but sadly she is a truly horrible toy who doesn’t do the character justice at all so I’ve decided to leave her out. Sorry Airachnid.
B: My wish-list contained a smattering of Prime and Fall of Cybertron characters, and the third-party “not-Dinobot” Columpio from Fansproject’s Lost Exo-Realm. I found him on the fan-sales table, and he’ll be getting a review post soon.
As I wrote above, we didn’t even bother going to the dealers’ tables until we had met all the voice talent. Once the rush at the dealer’s tables had died down it was much easier to rummage among the unboxed second-hand stuff than in the early hours, so that was more satisfying. Fun surprise finds are most easily had by this method, at the cost of reduced odds of getting in-demand “chase” figures.
R: It was great to see all the new and rare toys on sale at the convention – and I found it adorable to see all the people wandering round clutching their newly purchased Devastators like he was some kind of luridly green newborn baby (he’s about the right size).
B: I was delighted to see a Devastator propped up in some dude’s rucksack, with his head and upper torso poking out of the top, like he was looking over his new owner’s shoulder.
R: We picked up a few new figures: Generations Tailgate, and Combiner Wars Cyclonus and First Aid (all for MTMTE reasons), but I had the most fun rummaging though the boxes and boxes of pre-owned figures and it was here that I found the Prime Soundwave and Megatron that I’d been looking for.
R: We stuck mostly to our wishlist, but there’s always at least one thing that you don’t realise you need in your life until you see it. For me, that toy was Transformers Animated Soundwave. previously the only TFA toy I owned was TFA Starscream (because Staaarscreeeam) but I really love the cartoon (it’s my favourite after Prime) and since Slipstream is a character from this show I’ve devoted quite a number of hours to it. Actually when chatting to folk across the weekend I found myself flying the flag for TFA quite a lot. I think I ought to write a bit more for this blog about what an underrated show it is. Anyway, I spotted TFA Soundwave in one of the rummage boxes – well actually spotted Laserbeak first seeing as he turns into a massive guitar here – and just fell in love with him. Soundwave only turns up in two episodes of the TFA cartoon, but he rules when he does. Like most TFA designs, he’s a bit of a departure from the character’s usual aesthetic but he’s a fun character and a fun figure, and certainly proof that Auto Assembly ROCKED!
B: My biggest surprise find was a third-party figure Keith’s Fantasy Club’s Mugan Scope 2. I was looking for a Reveal the Shield Perceptor (for both G1-related and IDW-related reasons), and I hadn’t really paid much attention to third-party alternatives. I saw this chap on the Ceno’s Kibble stall (I think) next to the fan sales table for half of what the official Perceptor was going for, and thought I’d take the chance. Turns out, Mugan Scope 2 is a nice little homage, with some lovely complementarily-coloured teal bits, a choice of 4 heads with different facial expressions and monocles — Choice of Monocles might sound like it should be a text-adventure game, but it’s a pretty cool feature to have on a toy robot.
R: I would play the hell out of a text-adventure called Choice of Monocles.
B: Despite being boxless, Mugan Scope 2 came with all his kibble, instructions and paper bits; he was kitted out with a long-nosed sniper-rifle, a fat pistol and two kukri-style knives. He’s just a jar of piss away from being perfectly equipped as a sniper. A lucky find.
R: Regular AddAltMode readers will know that my most wanted figure of all is the Prime Arms Micron Breakdown, if you think I’ve been suspiciously silent on the subject of him then I should probably tell you this: I do now have him, but I didn’t buy him at AA. He popped up on Ebay about a week before the convention in great condition and at affordable price. Considering I’ve seen him selling for £140 it was so exciting to see him going for about a third of that, and even better to have won the auction without it spiraling much higher. It’s a good job too because nowhere had him at Auto Assembly and so I would have been hugely disappointed if I hadn’t got him already. So yes, Breakdown is mine. He’ll get his own post (because he’s a seriously nice figure) sometime soon.