Well, wow. That was... intense.
A few months ago, Billy Edwards from Auto Assembly contacted me and asked me if I'd be interested in donating anything to their charity auction. Since I'm a big fan of a: charity and b: small conventions, I said sure, and Bill and I scrounged up some of the original artwork that he had drawn up for the AllSpark Almanac II. In the end we wound up donating three pieces, headshots of Overlord, Impactor, and Sunstreaker & Sideswipe. I thought that was the end of it.
A few weeks later, they wrote back to us and asked us if we'd be interested in making some sort of flier for the convention book / CD-ROM, so we said sure. Bill drew up this piece, and they seemed very taken with it, and we thought THAT was the end of it.
Not too long after that, Billy starts asking me what my availability is for the weekend of Auto Assembly. As it turns out, I was free, but I couldn't quite believe that they'd seriously consider flying me out. I mean, sure, the books I write are pretty awesome, but even still, it's a long and expensive way from Los Angeles, California to Birmingham, England. Nevertheless, a few days later, I get an email from Steve Mapes from the Transformers at the Moon website. He asks me if I'd like to come over. I replied that I'd be thrilled, but added the caveat that all the stuff donated so far had really been more Bill's doing than mine. After all, he's the artist, I'm the writer. (Though, as has been frequently noted, there IS some crossover both ways.) Steve asks if we'd BOTH like to come over, and in pretty short order, we gave him a definite yes. It seems that he and his brother really want us to come out, and are sponsoring us above and apart from the regular convention. I can't think of a nicer compliment anyone could give to us than that.
There was also a little communication flub about what we should be doing. I misinterpret something Billy (or maybe Steve and Dave) wrote to me as them asking for a presentation, rather than a traditional Q&A. When I mention that I have quite a lot of rare artwork that might be interesting, they practically began salivating and in short order it was determined that I'd be giving a brief show before the Q&A began. Unfortunately, I was super busy, so I only had time to scan in the pieces I was considering and not put it all together in context.
Cut to Wednesday morning, 5:00 AM. We've got an 8:30 flight, and it's actually pretty brutal to get to the airport in LA from the valley. The alarm blares and I wearily get out of bed. This will be a recurring theme over the course of the next few days. I stagger into the shower, get my last minute toiletries stowed away and stumble down to the curb to wait for Bill. The plan is this: Bill will swing by in his motorcycle, load his stuff into my suitcase, then use my car to drop me off at the bus station. He'll then return to my place, drop off the car, pick up his bike, and ride to the airport where he can park for free because it's a motorcycle. It sounds overly complicated but it's actually a LOT cheaper than taking a cab or a shuttle bus would be, and doesn't add all that much time to our trip. Thankfully, everything works out fine and the security lines are pretty minor, what with it being 6:30 AM when we get there. (I beat Bill to the airport by about 20 minutes, find a place to charge up my laptop, and get to work on that presentation.)
The second leg: Philadelpha, PA to Zurich, Switzerland. This is a seven and a half hour flight, and it turns out there are three movies, two of which star Queen Latifah. Ugh. The middle movie is Date Night, so at least I get that out of the way. I get very little sleep on the plane. Fortunately, I charged up my battery a bit in Philadelphia so I watch some more of my own programs. In Zurich, we exit the secure area, going through immigration in about 2 minutes, and enjoy some brief shopping. I get some Swiss cheese, Bill gets some Swiss chocolate. Ultimately, he eats at a Starbucks and they're amazed when he orders two rolls for himself.
The final leg: Zurich, Switzerland to Birmingham, England. This is a short little flight, uneventful except for the tasty chocolate they give us on disembarkation. We stand on the line for immigration, which is fairly short and also fairly slow, but within half an hour we're through. The train station is easy to find, and some 20 minutes later we're walking onto the streets of Birmingham at about 2:00 PM, Thursday. Yes, with the 8 hour time zone difference we've lost more than a day from when we started. Ah, well.
I called up to the room around 6 and collected Bill for dinner. We bumped into the incomprable Mr. Wyatt and the three of us had a nice Indian dinner. Well... the service was pretty slow, actually, but the food was tasty. Great conversation was had, though sadly Derrick forgot his camera and so couldn't document our splendid feast. After that, not too much more. A few more bar shenanigans, but by midnight or so I was asleep.
Friday comes, and Bill and I enjoy a very nice English style breakfast buffet. I enjoy the thick English bacon, a banger, some packaged cheese, some peeled grapefruit, some orange juice, tea, hash browns, toasted whole-wheat bread, beans, and fried eggs. It's all very nice. There's fried bread, but it's a bit too much for me.
We've got several hours before the convention starts, so we spend about 4 hours walking around Birmingham. We see a nice statue of Lord Nelson, an architecturally interesting building that turns out to be an electronics store, we meet a nice policeman who's driven from San Francisco to San Diego with a stop in LA on the way, we walk though a park / tiny graveyard, find an outdoor market, and enjoy one of the malls. It's not a lot, but at least we got out of the convention hall for a bit.
My friend Bish arrives at around 2:00 or so, so we collect him and enjoy some lunch. We then rest up for a bit in the bar, which is getting more and more crowded as things progress, before finally it's 5:00 and we make our way to the convention hall. Apparently most of the dealers are still setting up, so the dealers and the guest area is roped off. Really, not too much going on Friday night. At least, nothing official. We wind up going out to dinner with HdE and Sprite from the IDW boards and her sister Janna after the fire alarm drives us out. Sadly, we miss out on Bish, who's nowhere to be seen. Dinner is at Wetherspoons, and is decently tasty English cuisine.
As the evening wore on, I got to spend some time talking to folks like Nick Roche, who I'd met a few times before. It never gets old, though, he's one of the sharpest guys I know. He was kind enough to introduce me to James Roberts, who I'd corresponded with a bit but had yet to meet in person. He, too, is a lovely fellow. But the highlight of my evening was getting the chance to spend three or four hours chatting with Simon Furman, one of my heroes, first at the bar, then over by Bill and Bish in the fairly comfortable chairs they had set out for us. I first met Simon at BotCon 1997, though I was just a young kid then and didn't have too much to say to him beyond 'could you sign my books, please?' Since then I've been fortunate enough to have a few dinners with him at various BotCons where we were both guests of IDW, but this was by far the longest we'd conversed. There's no feeling quite like sitting down for a beer (or three) with one of the people whose work has helped shape your life, especially when that person has as much class as Mr. Furman does. I get to bed at around 3:00 maybe.
Saturday, the REAL fun begins! Most of the guests, excepting voice actors, get down by about 10:00. (Bill and I are a few minutes late, thanks to breakfast with colorist Kris Carter, but we quickly get set up and begin to sign our share of the autographs.) Opening ceremonies are set to begin at around 10:30 or so, but don't kick off till maybe 11:30. Once they do, though, they're a lot of fun. Each of us walks into the room with some appropriate theme music, culled from both Transformers (such as the BW theme song for Garry Chalk or the Animated theme for Derrick) and popular culture (What's New, Pussycat for Kat Nicholson... see what they did there?) Bill and I walk in to the strains of Lion's The Transformers theme music, which is pretty flattering. You can't quite see it on the video, but I stumble over the 'E' in TRANSFORMERS, which Bill then attempts to pick up only to cause more damage. Ah, well.
After a very warm welcome from Birmingham, we go back to our table and proceed to sign a good number of books. We also get quite a lot of interest in our prints, which is gratifying. They were a good idea; they gave something for people to look at and converse about, as well as providing an opportunity for something unique to get our signatures on. We even brought free black & white Burger Bot placemats for folks on a budget. Billy had sat me next to Simon when he found out how much I admired him, so I got to chat off and on with him throughout the con.
Plenty of people came up to us and introduced themselves, which was really nice. I know that people like the books, I hear that often enough online, but it's different to shake someone's hand and hear it in person. Around 2:00, we were all getting pretty hungry, so the con staff came around and took some orders for us. We got some pretty dinky ham sandwiches. The shame of it was, there were some lovely burgers on the menu that looked terrific! Ah, well, maybe next year.
5:30 rolls around too soon and we head upstairs to rest for a bit. I finish up the last of the presentation (thanks to David Mapes, who lends me a power adapter for my laptop) and then Bill, Bish and I head out to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner. The veal was terrific!
We get back in time for the script reading, which is of course hilarious. Given the presence of Scott and Garry, Simon went with a Beast Wars plotline. Some highlights included Andrea Tang's Blackarachnia, Simon William's Wheelie, and Nick Roche's Beast Wars Megatron... yeeeeeeeeees! I duck out to give the Mapes bros a sneak preview of the presentation and go through some TV Magazines with them, looking for some specific lucky draw material. Alas, I don't have the material in question. Still, I get back in time to see Garry Chalk on the guitar, which is great.
Following this is the karaoke night. Foolishly, I'd agreed to sing backup vocals on Transformers: Evo, the Japanese version of the Animated theme song. Chris Evans, who's the real talent here, put our names in, though it seemed to take forever for them to come up. I went to the bar to wait it out, chatting with Chris McFeely and Simon Furman, when the call came. I bolted out of my seat and ran down the hall, apparently knocking someone over. (Whoops, sorry! Excited, is all.) Fortuantely, Chris Evans, the bloke I'm singing with, is very talented and carries the song. I, however, contribute by getting the crowd good and riled up with my enthusiasm.
BTW, you'll notice that the fez has found its way back to me. No matter how many times I gave it away, it always seemed to find its way back to my head. Ah, well, fezzes are cool!
The evening goes on and on, and by about 3:00 AM we head back upstairs... only to wind up talking for a couple of hours as one tends to do when one gets riled up. Bill, Bish and I covered a wide range of subjects, from BSG to philosophy to religion to, perhaps unsurprisingly, Transformers. We go to bed as the sun starts to rise.
TFW2005. As a footnote, I got an email from Hasbro asking me if I could provide them this material for their archives, which made me feel pretty proud. We get asked some great questions, including how we feel about our work getting dissected by the wiki (we love it) and what our thoughts are on Alignment (we declined to comment, on the basis that authorial intent shouldn't play much of a part in the debate on these things.) I think we wound up running just a little bit long, which is far preferable to running out of questions and going short.
The next big event (for us) is part two of the charity auction. The aforementioned original artwork Bill donated was auctioned off by Garry chalk. The first piece, Overlord, raised an impressive 40 pounds for charity. The next, Impactor, generated 80 pounds despite being on a lesser grade of paper. The final one, the pair of Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, managed to generated an amazing 150 pounds for charity. My word, that's 270 pounds. Bill recorded the last auction, and though you can't see much, you can hear the excitement in the crowd.
As 5:30 rolls around and the convention comes to a close, we head upstairs to an interview with Chris McFeely. Obviously, we'd been very keen to spend some time with the gentleman who spent 11 days decoding all the hidden messages in The AllSpark Almanac II, and I think the interview went fairly well considering how exhausted we were. Hopefully you'll see that up soon.
We said goodbye to Bish, who had to head back to his real life, and then went to dinner with Steve and David Mapes. By this time, we were getting accustomed to the accents and we had a very nice conversation with them, once again fairly far-ranging. They're great guys, and I hope to see them again in Pasadena this year if they can make it out for BotCon.
We've got a 6:30 AM flight, so we need to leave for the airport by 4:30 AM. Since I've never left the bar before 3:00 AM, though, it seems foolish to attempt sleep and so Bill and I decide to tough it out. As the evening wears on, we get more and more punch drunk. I come up with the idea of writing a letter to my wife, since when I lived in England I'd send her two or three a week. (Yes, I'm an incurable romantic.) I write it out, THEN think that it'd be fun to try to share the spirit of the con. I get as many people as a I can to sign a napkin for her, then include it in the card which is to be airmailed to the states. Kat and Jason agree to mail it off for me as they head up to bed.
There are inevitable shenanigans, including much hilarity when a fellow named Colin Paul fell asleep in the mens room. As the evening gradually became morning, people would leave and there would be heartfelt goodbyes. When 4:30 came around, it was our turn. Bill and Nicole Hale and I (we were sharing a cab to the airport) sort of tearfully said goodbye to everyone, hugging and waving and shaking hands and whatnot.
We were, of course, exhausted. 3 hours of sleep the day before, none this day, and still 20 hours or so before we land in LA. The trip to Charles De Gaulle airport was uneventful, landing some 1.5 hours before our connection to Charlotte, NC was to depart. There was some hiccups at security since we didn't have a boarding pass nor an itinerary showing Charlotte as our destination, but the flight number was enough to convince them to let us through. One inside, though, we had to wait to get our tickets. What followed was a beurcratic nightmare of standing on one line to get a piece of paper to fill out, standing on another line to hand them that paper to get a passport stamp, and then standing back on the first line to get our boarding pass. There were maybe 5 families in front of us on the second line... the first one took 20 minutes. Oh, and the line didn't even open till 10:00. I thought Bill's head was going to explode. We got our boarding pass while the plane was still boarding, but for a while it felt like a pretty close thing.
The plane ride to Charlotte was much nicer than the one to Zurich. We had our own entertainment systems, so I watched 500 Days of Summer (good movie) and Alice in Wonderland (OK movie.) I kept trying, and failing, to sleep, and eventually turned to Clash of the Titans, which was pretty mediocre. I didn't get through it before it was landing time, though.
In Charlotte, we had to clear immigration and then customs. The agent questioned me about the fez (yes, I was still wearing it and yes, my answer was the same: fezzes are cool. In fact, I wore the fez all the way to my front door) and let me through after a moment. I breezed through customs, Bill had his bag searched. Soon I was plugged into the wall, recharging the old laptop for the final leg home.
Charlotte, NC to Los Angeles, CA was a six hour flight. I watched True Blood and Futurama on the laptop, though once again no in-flight movie. Really, US Airway, 6 hours and no movie? I'm slightly chagrined to realize I've left Report on Planet Three on my previous flight, but then I'd only had one more essay to go anyway, so no great tragedy.
We land, I take the bus back to the depot near my house, Bill takes the bike back to my place to get my car to pick me up, and before we know it the journey is over. It's 8:30 PM on Monday; the 8 hour time difference has worked in our favor this time. I do... something.. for an hour and a half, since I won't go to bed before 10:00. (That's just asking to get your schedule screwed up for days and days.) I honestly have no recollection of what I did Sunday night. Facebooking maybe. In any event, I'm asleep before my head hits the pillow.
Overall thoughts: what a fantastic convention! I met so many fans and pros, made so many friends and business contacts, and had such a good time that this'll be hard to top. Don't get me wrong, I love BotCon, but the atmosphere here is indescribably different. I can't thank Steve and David Mapes, Simon and Billy and David, and everyone else responsible for the con for both bringing me out and for throwing such an excellent shindig. My facebook has been distracting me every 5 minutes for the past three days with messages and friend requests and comments and photos I've been tagged in. It was exhilarating, exhausting, and exciting. Thanks for having me, guys.