Convention Review: Auto Assembly 2015, Part Two

This is the second of three jointly-penned posts about our recent, amazing, experience at Auto Assembly, Europe’s largest Transformers convention.

This part predominately features Transformers art and artists, lots of cosplay, and the convention’s Saturday evening entertainment.

Drift, Slipstream and Optimus Prime

Drift, Slipstream and Optimus Prime

Artist’s Alley

B: Lots of conventions site all the Artists attending close together to make an “Art Station” or “Artist’s Alley”; it’s a nice way to make sure that people interested in commissioning some art get to see all that’s on offer at once. In Auto Assembly’s alley there were artists with a wide variety of styles and Transformers connections, all sketching, colouring, selling their work, signing and meeting fans all weekend. The Artist’s Alley was a big L-shape, with the IDW artists round a corner from the rest, in a line with the IDW writers’ signing tables. We forgot to take any issues of More Than Meets the Eye with us to get signed, so we didn’t go to see the IDW comic talent at their tables. They were doing a panel that evening, anyway, so we figured we’d listen in to that.

R:  One artist I was really keen to meet was Kat Nicholson not only because she’s worked on the Transformers Animated comics, and done some stunning Prime fanart, but also because I’m a backer of the Silicon Heart comic, which Kat draws, and which was successfully funded earlier this year. It was great to meet Kat. We had a good chat about Silicon Heart and how much I appreciate the contrast between the sweetness of it and the darkness that is clearly bubbling away under its surface. She confirmed my suspicion that issue 2 is set to get darker too. I’m looking forward to receiving the next comic and it was great to hear that writer Sam Roads has plenty of ideas to develop the world of Silicon Heart.

I also managed to pick up a print of this: Kat’s stunning art of one of my all time favourite Transformers characters, Knock Out, which she also signed for me. I’ll be getting this framed very soon.

Knock Out art by Kat Nicholson

Knock Out art by Kat Nicholson. She really captures his smugness.

IDW Panel

R: The last panel of the Saturday was the IDW comic panel featuring James Roberts, Alex Milne, Andrew Griffith and Nick Roche. This was one of the most popular panels of the weekend and understandably so. As with Prime, it’s character-driven stories that really shine in this franchise and nowhere is this more apparent than with the much loved crew of More Than Meets The Eye‘s The Lost Light. I just had to look around the convention hall at all the fabulous holomatter avatar Cyclonus and Whirl cosplays, and all the people wearing their Rod Squad badges & patches to see this.

One look at James Roberts' majestic eyebrows tells you instantly whence Rung owes his facial design.

IDW Comic talent panel

I really enjoyed the panel. It was very witty with a lot of jokes – including plenty about which beloved characters are likely to be killed off next (for the uninitiated, George R. R. Martin ain’t got nothing on Transformers comics!) It was also really fun to hear about all the easter eggs and fun little details the artists include in their panels, such as public toilet signs on Unicron and interesting characters sneaked into crowd scenes.

B: I love the Easter Eggs that IDW’s artists cram into their work. This panel was pretty fun, although I haven’t caught up entirely with MTMTE, so some of the references to recent story-lines sailed right past me.

Saturday evening entertainment

R: Food and drink at the Hilton is pricey. That’s definitely something to keep in mind if you come to an event here. Fortunately there was “street food” on offer (burgers, noodle bar, curries in takeaway boxes) which was less expensive than proper bar meals (pretty tasty too) and we also had our own bar: The Warwick Suite (renamed Swerve’s Bar for the duration of AA) where we got a discount, which definitely helped make the cash go a bit further.

No Guns, No Swords, No briefcases

Detail from the Swerve’s banner outside the bar area

There were non-alcoholic cocktails, too.

Swerves had a fun selection of on-theme cocktails. The Blurr’d Vision was good.

R: We spent a bit of time chatting in Swerves (it’s funny how amongst the ambient noise of chatting, laughing and glasses clinking there was always this funny clicky sound of plastic toys getting transformed) then went back to the room to give me time to get ready for the cosplay parade.

B: The Rubik’s-cube click of ratchet joints was a constant backdrop to the quiet times at AA. It’s a nice sound. I remember that one of the times we sat in Swerve’s to eat a quick snack from the “Street Food” vendor (they sold these small rice boxes topped with lush chicken curry. I strongly recommend the food at the Birmingham Metropole), there was a chap on the other side of the table patiently building a Combiner Wars Menasor — transforming legs first, the central torso figure before converting the last two robots into arms.

R: I’ll admit, I was utterly terrified about cosplaying at AA. I knew the overall standard of costumes was incredibly high. I didn’t have any illusions of winning but I felt I’d be happy if I could hold my own and if people liked my costume. But once I had the helmet on I felt much more confident (Slipstream is so much cooler than I am) and by the time I got downstairs in it I was having a blast!

I definitely achieved my aims: there was a lot of love for my costume and I had a great time. I’d put in quite a lot of work upgrading my blasters and gloves and making a new sign to hold (it’s a protest sign, complaining that one of the Autobot Minicons in the new RID 2015 cartoon is called Slipstream which is clearly a grave misuse of a name that should be reserved only for the most awesome female Decepticons.) So yes, a super nerdy joke but I was confident that I was in the right company for people to get the reference (they did) and somehow or other I mustered the courage to make my protest in character when I got called to the stage. I was proud of myself for that.

The cosplay was split into 2 categories: full robot and humanised. We went first, for which I was grateful (my visor kept misting up in the heat, which has never happened before) but it did mean I missed seeing a lot of the humanised entrants as I was busy getting de-roboted afterwards, so that was a bit of a shame. There were some great humanised entries I didn’t get to photograph including a super-shifty TFA Swindle and a hilarious Michael Bay / bag-over-head Shia LaBeouf double act.

B: I was pleased to see the human Swindle throw a brick-sized pile of monopoly money at the judges. That’s the most Swindle-ish way to guarantee victory. I was also pleased that the Bluestreak cosplayer took the announcer’s microphone to waffle on at length about nothing in particular — a great homage to the character.

R: In the full robot section I felt like I held my own comfortably in the middle in terms of costume quality but – although the overall winner, an incredible Cyclonus that actually transformed, was fully deserving of every accolade –  it really wasn’t about the winning, it was definitely about the taking part and so I’m proud to have been part of it. I had a lot of compliments on my costume and met lots of people who share my love for Slipstream, which was great. I was really surprised because about 5 separate people came up to me and asked if I’d been “the awesome Windblade from last year” so I had to explain that no it was my first AA. I guess there are a lot of similarities between the two characters, though, especially given how the forthcoming Takara Slipstream toy is actually a Windblade retool. Perhaps I should cosplay Windblade in the future? Hmmm….

Anyhow. Here are some of our shots of some of the cosplay. There was no photography during the competition itself so most of these are from before, after and the next day. I do have the official shots of me taken by the AA photographer, but I’m going to share those in a separate post another day.

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Lockdown & Movie Sentinel Prime

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Ratchet, Arcana and Powerglide

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Amazing Blurr cosplay

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Me as Slipstream (now with added protest)

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Slipstream and movie Ironhide

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I was so excited to meet a fellow TFA female Decepticon cosplayer. She made a fab Blackarachnia!

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Superb Cyclonus cosplay. Just wow.

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Another shot of the Ratchet. Because Ratchet is awesome.

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Here’s Drift!

Seeker corner! Humanised Starscream (complete with crown) & Slipstream

Seeker corner! Humanised Starscream (complete with crown) & Slipstream

There were so many more cosplayers we didn’t manage to photograph and one thing that really amazed me was how little repetition there was among the characters people chose to portray! Do check out this video which shows quite a few more of them (you might spot me in there too).

R: It was a truly fantastic night, and I really enjoyed being part of the event although I was glad to be able to slip on something a bit more comfortable for the second half of the evening’s entertainment, the script reading.

Script Reading

B: The script reading was awesome. The voice artists and some of the more outgoing artists sat at a raised table on stage and gave a live performance of a script written for the event by Simon Furman (!). They were joined by Rasmus Hardiker of Thunderbirds Are Go! fame. Of course, Furman’s signature character Death’s Head was heavily featured, played with aplomb by a dude whose name I should really remember, because he gave a great performance; whilst Sumalee Montano, James Horan, and Peter Spellos reprised their roles as Arcee, Wheeljack and “a vast predatory fish”, respectively.

R: It was so much fun. I loved how they got in so many different types of jokes: from nerdy continuity references right through to the obligatory Erector puns. All the performers did a great job. I think the official video of the reading will be going up online soon and I’ll be keen to revisit the moment!

B: Likewise; I believe that the video will be on the official Auto Assembly YouTube channel when that launches sometime soon (within a month, allegedly).

Musical entertainment

R: The evening events were rounded off with two very different musical performances. First of all James Horan treated us to a very special cabaret performance. I’d never thought of Wheeljack crooning some Elvis before but it turns out James is seriously multi-talented and shortly after wrecking and ruling his way through the script reading he was back at the mic singing “Walking in Memphis” and other classics of that ilk. It’s not the sort of music I’d normally listen to but James did an amazing job and hearing it sung live like that especially for us felt really special.

James Horan performing at AA 2015

James Horan performing at AA 2015

B: Cabaret is not normally my thing, but James Horan has a rather amazing voice, and his affable stage manner really draws the listener in.

R: After that one of the artists, Jason Cardy, took to the DJ decks and threw down some beats remixing some classic Transformers songs and soundtracks. We didn’t dance but it was good fun and though it’s a little blurred if there’s one photo that really sums up the atmosphere of the whole weekend it’s probably this view of the awesome RID 2015 Grimlock cosplayer getting down on the dancefloor while the 1986 movie plays in the background!

Aint no party like a Grimlock party

Aint no party like a Grimlock party

B: So yeah, it turns out the awesome Grimlock cosplay was actually someone we knew from home, and his awesome cosplay was a heavily modified Godzilla cosplay we’d previously seen in Exeter.

Coming up in the third and final part: movie replica vehicles, third party toys, James Horan and Peter Spellos Q&A and (tearful) closing thoughts!

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