So, seeing as it appears to be the done thing, here's my big rambling write up of Auto Assembly 2014.
Yes! I made it there. Which is nothing short of miraculous in itself. Regular readers will know that the convention has been a massive strain on me over the last few years, both financially and personally. I'll be completely honest, I've had thoughts about not attending future AAs as the logistics of getting there and making sure I'm even in a fit state to be around the public have been getting increasingly difficult to manage. In fact, this year, I wasn't even planning on being around during the daytime or attending formally at all. However, a few things coincided and hitherto unseen, mystical forces conspired to get me there. It was all a bit tricky to juggle, and very much came together at the last minute. But my thanks go to Nick Snowdon, who managed to arrange a weekend pass for me, and Simon and Trish Plumbe for being accommodating enough to swap the previous owner's name out for mine.
I arrived at the Hilton just after 6:00PM on the Friday and, as luck would have it, bumped into Mr. Snowdon almost immediately, who just happened to have my pass on him. So I was pretty much able to access all of AA as soon as I got there. Nick was heading off for dinner (if I recall correctly) and I was nursing a bad case of beer withdrawal, so I headed to the bar for a pint and soon found Kris Carter, ace colourist and co-creator of 'Lou Scannon' (which I letter) who was aleady intently sketching at a table opposite Simon Furman. So, having absolutely no compunction about social graces, I joined them for a while and chatted about this, that and the other. Cheers, fellas - you made my arrival feel really effortless and worry free.
From there, the weekend went by in such a blur that I can't actually remember the actual sequence of events. But I do recall that I caught up with Paul Vromen (seriously THE artist in the fanbase that you should all be keeping an eye on) and his buddy Bjorn. These two guys are ALWAYS great fun to hang out with, and real gents. It's amazing how a year apart between friends seems to dribble away into nothing at AA, and we were soon picking up from where we'd left off last year. We also quaffed quite a bit of MANLY BEER together. You think the bacon and regret crew are cool? They have nothing on the MANLY BEER massif. NOTHING, I say!
Having arrived late in the day, it was pretty much a given that I'd be spending the night around the bar area. This turned out not to be such a bad idea, as I quickly caught up with a huge chunk of the AA regulars, including friends old and new. I always arrive at AA thinking 'oh, I must catch this person or that person' - and yet, when I get to the venue, I remember that I'm almost guaranteed to see them within minutes of arrival. This year was no exception. Within the hour, I was chatting with James Roberts at the bar, then Nick Roche, and regulars such as Temple, Isa Unpronouncable-Surname and Andy Senyszyn (now and forever dubbed Snysh, because it's easier to remember - and spell) as well as the ever-dependable Razz and Jamie Harris. There were laughs, commiserations, celebrations, ruminations and liquid libations, all in good measure. It says a lot about the frenetic social atmosphere of AA that I REALLY cannot recall much of what happened or was said... just that I had a lot of fun before I had to taxi back to Solihull for the evening.
On the Saturday, I had a few tasks I had to do back home (more accurately, at my aunt and uncle's in Solihull) before I could even think about returning to the Hilton. At one point, I had visions of not making it there until well into the afternoon, but good fortune and serendipity (not to mention some seat-of-the-pants taxi driving from my new pal, Rubber-burnin' Javid) allowed me to get there just after 12:00 midday.
I'd briefly met up with Jim Sorenson at the bar on the Friday night, but had more of a chance to catch up with him and our mutual friend David Bishop, an all-round nice guy and one of the most eloquently spoken, gentlemanly fellows I've ever met. These two guys were among the first people I ever got chatting to at AA way back in 2010, and it's always a pleasure to enjoy their company anew. Genial, stimulating conversation ensued, as it would again with these guys several times during the course of the convention. Oddly, David and I found ourselves talking about the Alien movies (again) more than we did anything robot or comic-book related... although we certainly went there. This is what I love about AA - the simple pleasure of being able to converse with friends about stuff we all love. I don't get a lot of that back here in Devon.
Mr. Sorenson had a mighty jonesing to be photographed sitting inside the replica Barricade car parked outside the hotel, which, seeing as I owed him for several cups of coffee from last year, I indulged him in. Let me tell you, there's something oddly fitting about the sight of this guy behind the wheel of a car bearing the slogan 'to punish and enslave.' Keep an eye on him. None of us are safe. You know what they say about guys in cowboy hats. I mean, they don't actually say anything about guys in cowboy hats, but if they did, there's a fair chance it would be sombre and cautionary.
Saturday night brought with it the big highlights (for me) of AA: The cosplay parade and the live script read! As it turned out, these were to be literally the ONLY items on the convention scedule that I managed to take in properly. But, if that was to be all I got from the event proper, I still got a good deal. The cosplayers outdid themselves with a range of ingeniously put together costumes. There honestly wasn't a single one that was less than top notch. My personal favourite was Sunstreaker (okay, I'm biased - he's a fave character of mine since the early IDW books) but there was so much great stuff on display. The Chromedome with the little Rewind... I was in danger of shedding manly tears! The amazing Windblade! There was a classic Ravage complete with furry rockets, who menaced David Wallace rather amusingly on stage, as well as the now expectedly awesome efforts of Isa and Tori O' Regan, who cosplayed as the Sparkeater and Brainstorm from the 'More Than Meets The Eye' comic series respectively. It was great to see both of them recognised for their efforts in the judges' final results - very well deserved. Why does it have to be a contest, again? So much cool stuff. I hate that there are 'winners', when everyone puts so much effort in.
After the script reading shenanigans, I loitered for a bit in hopes of grabbing a drink, had a very pleasant few minutes in the company of Amber, one of this year's new volunteers, and then wandered off to grab a plate of curry at Swerve's Diner. Disappointment set in as soon as I realised I wouldn't ACTUALLY be served by the real Swerve, but perhaps sleep deprivation was setting in and playing a part there. One tasty truckload of meat and spices (and a few Trebor mints, in the interests of remaining sociable) later, I returned to the bar. And that's where it all gets blurry.
It was great to catch up with Aimee Morgan, Matt Clark, (Admiral) Ian Pyett, Adam Nicol (who I had my gut-bustingly hilarious convention moment for 2014 with - it's not for young ears) and Livio Ramondelli. Livio is possibly one of the nicest guys I have ever met in comics, a real gent, and it was a real pleasure to chat with him again. Sigh... whatta guy!
The Sunday was a real highlight, though, and a stellar example of why I wish real life would go away and we could just have AA forever. It was possibly the most fun single day I've had at the convention ever.
I started the day in rather surreal fashion by gulping down a whole carton of orange juice, a goodly sized portion of cooked pig meat and eggs, and then wailing away in a huge, empty room on my Gibson Les Paul for an hour. All days should start this way. Then, after a few short errands, I hopped into a cab and made my way to the Hilton, with the riffs to 'Tie Your Mother Down' and 'Spirit of Radio' still tormenting my back brain and making my fingers twitch. I was, believe it or not, pretty tired out by that point already, so I grabbed a coffee almost as soon as I arrived. It was slow to kick in, but that gave me a chance to kick back in the hotel lounge and chat with other attendees.
The social vein of this year's con continued with an entirely-too civilised chat with Aimee, Paul, Bjorn and a couple of their buddies about the state of the anime industry, and anime in general. This gave me the reminder I needed to go and chat briefly with Michael McConnohie and Melodee Spevack in the main hall, who both proved to be every bit as lovely in person as I had been told they were. Also in attendance this year (and I'd spoken with him the night before) was Peter Spellos, another oft-heard voice in anime. I'm really obliged to mention Peter. He proved to be a warm, funny, unflinchingly honest guy - the sort you find yourself instantly wishing you could spend more time with. His attitude to life is infectiously positive - and I've never seen anyone so grateful to receive a hamburger in my life.
I was accosted later on by a young guy brandishing a copy of the Shahrazad trade by Big Dog Ink, who was keen for me to sign it. That blew me away. I've been asked to sign a few things at AA over the last few years (Wreckers hardcovers with 'Escape' and 'In Word and Deed' in them, mostly) but this one came out of left field. It's always great when somebody is appreciative enough of lettering that they ask for my pawprint on their book. I'd honestly thought if I'd get that at all this year it would have been at the ICE show of the previous weekend. Conventions, eh? They keep you on your toes!
Wandering back into the main hall, I made an effort to chat with some of the guests and attendees I hadn't had a chance to catch up with so far. There are always a few people I manage to miss completely over the course of any given Auto Assembly, which is sadly unavoidable. As much as I try, some people just slip through my grasp. I managed to speak briefly to Joana Lafuente, but missed her at the bar later - a real shame, as she's super nice. Likewise, I pretty much missed John Paul Bove and Alex Milne - the latter of whom I literally managed to say 'hello' to just minutes before the convention wound down completely, and nothing more than that. Ah, well.
The upside was the number of people I managed to speak to for the first time, as well as those I managed to deepen association with somewhat. It was wonderful to finally speak to Phil Scott and his wife Kim, and to speak to Simon Skey for more than five minutes. I NEARLY missed Casey Coller completely, which would have been a crying shame considering how encouraging he was to me in my first days right here on DA submitting Transformers Mosaics and whatnot. Turns out he's just exactly as I expected him to be - down to earth, friendly and humble to a fault.
Indeed, this year more than any, it was the personal side of AA that made things worthwhile. People sometimes tell me that friendships don't exist in comics, but the Hilton bar area soundly disproves that. Whether it's a chance to kibbutz around with Liam Shalloo, or to kick back and chat about personal fortunes with Jason Cardy, I'm reminded every year that there are folks in this biz that I genuinely have a lot of fondness for. I wish I could be in your company more, guys.
Special mentions must be made of James Roberts, whose expressions of friendship really made the whole con worthwhile for me (because I'm a massive sap) and Michael McCarrol, who is about to embark on the kind of adventure I wish I had the balls to attempt. Wishing you every success, guys! You're both amazing.
Extra special mention and thanks to AAs unsung heroes and uber-fuhrers David Wallace and Billy Edwards. You guys rock, and the work you put in is never, I fear, really truly appreciated by everyone who attends. Great to see both of you, and I'm glad that, by accounts I'm hearing so far, you guys had a good AA too.
And there it is. Over... finished! For another year. I have literally no idea if I'll make it to AA 2015 as yet. I certainly want to, if only to catch up with all of the aforementioned folks, and hopefully make new friends. You're all brilliant. So many of you made a point of telling me how pleased you were to see me, and I got so many hugs (many of them manly ones, with added 'grr's and talk of football) that it was honestly a bit overwhelming.
I really hope I didn't leave anybody out. You may notice there' a distinct lack of discussion here about giant robots in this journal, and that's not by accident. AA is about you guys more than anything else. You made it a GREAT con for me, even better than last year. I salute you all, and I hope we cross paths again in 12 months... or sooner.
Listening to: Too much music
Watching: Captain Harlock
Drinking: Root Beeeeuuurgghh! I HATE it!