Monday, 18 August 2014

Review: Auto Assembly 2014

Auto Assembly, Europe's largest Transformers convention, is over for another year and I have, more or less, now recovered. Adjusting to back to life outside after being, essentially, trapped inside a hotel for 3 days is a little weird. For that brief time you're trapped inside a little bubble, free of the troubles of Reality, where only the next talk, toy purchase, or chatting to some person you've never met before is of any concern.

I may come across as overly critical for the rest of this review, but I assure you I had a great time and will, more than likely, be attending again next year. It does seem that each event is better than the rest, as you get to know the system, learn a few tricks, and get to know the regulars.

You may remember last year that I mentioned one of the reasons why it was such a loooong time between my 1st & 2nd Auto Assemblies was the quiz. In AA #1 there was a quiz in which I was thinking "what the hell?" as each question was read out, while there were shouts from others in the room claiming the quiz was too easy. Bearing in mind AA #1 only had 31 people attend, it seemed as though everyone else there knew a lot more about Transformers than I did and it really put me off going again.

Well, the first 'event' of AA 2014 was, yup, a pub quiz. And, yes, it featured a bunch of questions that I couldn't answer (I got 2 out of 30) while a load of other people were shouting it was too easy. Again, I found it off putting and, while I'm sure many people enjoyed it, I don't think it was the most welcoming way, for more casual fans attending for their first time for the 30th anniversary, to start the convention.

Afterwards there was a 'from fan to professional' panel, which basically involved the current Transformers comic creative team gush over Simon Furman. I really enjoyed this, and was a lot more interesting than last year's Friday evening panel when Nick Roche and James Roberts went panel by panel through Last Stand of the Wreckers.

Finally there was the traditional showing of Transformers: The Movie, although I was heading home by then.

Next morning, bright and early, everyone was stood queuing outside the main convention room, waiting to be allowed in to spend their hard-earned money on little plastic robots. The doors, in what would be a regular occurrence during the weekend, opened almost precisely on time. This was a shock to everyone!

Last year, the initial hour(ish) of everyone squishing round the dealers' tables was the only part of the weekend that was hot and could lead to the dreaded Smell. This year was no temperature issue whatsoever. The air con performed its job perfectly and the room was pleasant the entire time. And thus there was no sweat and thus no foul odour.

The surprise was that, other than a bit of a jam around the Kapow table, it was relatively easy to wander round the dealers, even first thing. Despite the massive queue outside the room, once inside the crowd split amongst the various guests and dealers and thus no one part was overly crowded.

I was kind of disappointed after a quick first pass of the dealers' tables. I'd gone with a list, only to find the convention devoid of everything I wanted. It was only a little later, after a more careful inspection, that I managed to track down much of what I was after. But more on the purchases in later reviews.

The talks were interesting, even for people whose knowledge of Transformers was little to none. As evidence, I give you my wife who'd attended for the simple reason of not wanting to spending the whole weekend on her own at home. She'd booked herself into the hotel spa on the Sunday, but after enjoying herself on Saturday, she was in two minds as to whether to actually go.

Besides the voice actors and comic pros, in a first for AA there was a 3rd Party panel (see the glossary if you don't know what that is!). This was the one panel I was disappointed by. Not that it was bad, there were a number of reveals of upcoming products and the attendees were asked a few questions about what they'd like to see in the future, but I was hoping that it would be a discussion around how characters are chosen and the process of making the toys. Plus the Hasbro factor.

The big problem for me with AA are the 3 hours between the day events and the evening. There's not a lot to do in and around the hotel so there's a lot of sitting about, waiting. You can make eating take up an hour and then sitting in the bar for another, but that final hour is basically one long wait. I think pushing the evening event forward an hour would be preferable. Even if the room was simply opened for people to get drinks (people seemed to spend a looong time queuing), you could get settled ready for what was to follow.

The evening began near enough exactly on time. Upon entering the hall, everyone was given a little birthday card. The tables were really nicely decorated, with hats, beer mats, and cakes. The cosplay was fun, though a little lengthy. On the one had, people had gone to a lot of effort to make the costumes and thus they deserved to be shown off properly, however it did start to drag at the end.

For the script reading, we made our way to empty seats right at the front of the room for a perfect view of the action. To be perfectly honest, I can't remember exactly what happened in it, though I do remember laughing.

With that over, by far the vast majority of people left. Those who didn't leave got to wait an overly long time for the band to start (an hour later than billed). The mistake here was the lack of background music. I know it takes time to remove the tables and set up instruments but why something couldn't have been projected on the screen to watch or at least some background music played while we waited, I do not know.

Sunday is where everything running to schedule proved to be, surprisingly, very annoying. Due to a lack of trains, I almost completely missed the fans vs pros quiz. Later, things got a little busy, maybe even overly busy. On Saturday, while there was a panel almost every hour, there was a 10-15 minute break between each one, to allow a leg-stretching and wander round. On Sunday, each panel lasted an hour and the following started almost immediately afterwards. You therefore had the choice of either missing something or sitting in your chair constantly. Even a brief break for lunch would have been nice.

Announcing/reminding people of stuff happening in places other than the main room of the con would have been a big plus over the weekend. I know this happened once or twice, but constant schedule announcements throughout the day would have been useful reminders about things such as the Death's Head talk, the movie cars outside, the art classes etc.

Sadly the usual postcards didn't happen this year (due to lack of sponsorship, I believe). This was a shame as they are really useful items for signing purposes. I was thankful my pass featured Depth Charge so I could get David Sobolov to sign that and I bought the Turtles Anniversary book a couple of days before AA for Townsend Coleman signage.

Instead of the postcards, there was a fan-created anniversary comic which, although generally nicely done, to be honest I don't really care much for due to it's fan-createdness. I know this sounds like an insult to those who worked hard on it, but without some kind of 'official' Hasbro/IDW approval it does just seem like any of the other 000s of fan comics available online.

The other item, an A3 poster, was, again, nicely done but I just didn't understand it. There appeared to be no logic behind the characters who appeared. It would have been nicer to have a battle scene featuring the characters the 2014 guests voiced which could then be signed by them all. I don't know, maybe I'm missing something and it really does make sense?

I was applauded during the closing ceremony. Well, not just me, but those who attended the first Auto Assembly 14 years ago. There was a look of disbelief from some, presumably because I'm not Big in Transformers circles and thus no one knew who I was, but I assure you: I was there!

Which brings me to a close. Next year Auto Assembly will be undergoing a Rebirth. This was a tad confusing, to say the least, when it was announced. This is basically because, despite the Big Buildup, nothing is really changing. The location will be the same, the people will be the same, the only difference is that it'll be moving to a larger room. Oh, and it won't clash with Quilt Con!

See you there!

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