Tuesday, 30 August 2016

TFNation - Day 2 & Toy Haul

Sunday got off to a better start despite not sleeping especially well again, but at least I didn't have another anxiety dream to ruin my day. I didn't bother with breakfast that day as I wasn't feeling at all hungry, but equally didn't make a beeline for the day's only purchase - the two-pack of DX9's War In Pocket G1/TransFormers: The Movie homages Leah and Toufold (aka mini-Arcee and mini-Kup). In fact, I ended up taking a walk around the hotel grounds and the nearby lake before even heading in to the main hall. After that, and having checked the day's scheduled panels, I decided to deal with checking out of teh hotel straight away, rather than risk missing the noon deadline sitting in one of the halls or wandering around the retail area.

Today's panels were of far more interest (no offense or disrespect intended to Paul Eiding, but Richard Newman was much a more engaging guest... though that could easily be because I'm personally more invested in Rhinox as a character than Perceptor). After Mr Newman's panel, I jumped across to the smaller panel room for Nick Roche discussing his new series/book, Sins of the Wreckers and, again, it was very engaging despite the fact that I've read neither Sins nor the previous book, Last Stand of the Wreckers, much less any of the other series mentioned during the course of the panel. There was a funny moment toward the end when, after all the warnings at the start about the potential for spoilers, one member of the audience was very vocally taken aback by an element of the story that came up in the panel. On the strength of this panel, I'm actually now quite keen to read both Last Stand and Sins of the Wreckers (possibly All Hail Megatron as well), as it sounds as though quite a bit of thought went into them.

This brought me to a convenient lunch break (another hot dog - I know how to eat well... I simply choose not to sometimes) and, after that, I took another turn around the lake to get a bit of fresh air, taking a quick look inside Resort World, just to see what was there... The answer being lots of high end boutiques that were of little interest to me. Nice weather, though, and the lake does seem to attract a variety of wildlife.

I also took the opportunity to pop out the front of the hotel for a few quick photos of the five TransFormers-style cars out in the car park - a red Lamborghini Countach, a yellow VW Beetle, two yellow Camaros from the 2007 movie and the Ford Mustang/Saleen police car. I was surprised by how ugly the inside of the Countach was - very boxy and completely at odds with the external appearance of the car.

In the end, I wasn't back in time for the toy design panel with Emiliano Santalucia, but wasn't overly fussed at the time... In retrospect, I think I should have tried a bit harder to get back for the start, or at least headed in when I got back to the hotel - I think I'd only missed about 10 minutes at most by that point. Instead, I took several more leisurely turns around the retail section, but didn't change my mind about any of the things I was on the fence about buying. All this continual rebooting of Generation 1 is beginning to lose what lustre it had to begin with and, while Combiner Wars turned out to be better than I'd expected, Titans Return is and easy pass (bar the couple of TT Legends versions I'd like to grab). Aside from Feral Queen/Nero Queen, Scorpinator and Leah/Toufold, there weren't many third party figures - let alone any that I was interested in - available to buy, but the Display Room warranted another look for a few (terrible cellphone) photos.

While I was in there, merrily snapping away, the guy who designed Mastermind Creations' Jaegertron (aka Lockdown) was there, explaining that Lockdown was basically invented because Death's Head was a Marvel character and couldn't be brought back into TransFormers. When he had the opportunity to create a third party figure of Lockdown, he begged to be allowed to turn it into Death's Head as a variant and, as you'll see even in my terrible photos, the result is pretty awesome. I wasn't much interested in Jaegertron, but a Mastermind Creations transforming Death's Head might just make it onto my wish list. Unfortunately, his discussion of this and his Thunderwing design were cut short when one of the other punters took him off to the bar for a drink.

After one last, somewhat desperate turn around the retail area, I ended up collecting my luggage from the concierge and leaving the hotel almost two hours earlier than I needed to, and spent over an hour in the waiting room at Birmingham International station jotting down a few notes about the weekend in my phone.

In retrospect, one thing I really regret not investigating was The Forge, where all the customising and arty stuff was going on. At the time, it really didn't occur to me to wander in there, which was a bit silly considering my occasional habit of attempting to spruce up some of the duller figures that Hasbro put out.

Overall the inaugural TFNation was, for me, not as positive an experience as RORC, though whether that was to do with the former-AA people doing the organising, or the simple fact that there were more people there, making it more crowded, or the fact that I had to travel there and stay overnight in the hotel... or even just the lingering effects of Saturday's early morning panic attack, I don't know. What I will say is that TFNation was - as one of the hosts pointed out - all about the community, with everything else coming second. Many of the attendees spent as much time on their social drinking as they did on the event, and that really ain't my scene.

Right now, I feel that I probably won't attend next year's unless there was another compelling reason, such as a particular guest (I'm still a bit annoyed at having missed the last AA as Sumalee Montano was one of the guests) or another exclusive figure. Even then, I might prefer to attend for one day only, depending on the location of the show (in that I'd have to consider travel and accommodation costs as well as budget for any purchases if it's held anywhere outside London). Perhaps it might have been better if I'd brought company, so perhaps I'll discuss it with my girlfriend next time, to see if she feels like coming along.

The venue itself is generally great and very convenient - it's a comparatively short trip from London, and the hotel is very close to the station (when you know the route!), the room was very nice (compact, but well planned and with a comfortable if strangely high bed - it's been a long while since I last had to literally climb into bed!). The problem, for me, was the event itself - it needs better planning (particularly where entry is concerned) and a more sensible layout - all the panels need to be in their own rooms, kept apart from the crowded retail area. If the main stage can't be in a different hall to the retail area, they should at least partition it off to minimise interference.

Also, being someone who works in publishing and has designed several event guides, I had quite a few gripes about the 'Souvenir Magazine', ranging from some horrific and completely unnecessary hyphenation, over-the-top first line indentations and some generally odd layout choices (such as single-column pages featuring small white text on a black background). The worst part - having worked on many a timetable over the last three or four years - was the schedule in the centre spread, which is afflicted by more strange hyphenation choices, inconsistent alignment of the text and a layout that is just plain ugly and unhelpful - colour coding is all very well, but it could just as easily have been split between rooms all the way. I also feel that the map could have been made larger and clearer. On the upside, it's interspersed with some excellent artwork (my favourite being the Sky-Byte image at the back), the print quality is excellent and the basic template for the magazine is pretty good... it's just the way it was populated that lets it down to a degree.

It was clear, generally, that a lot of effort (and money) went into presentation at TFNation, from the large, free-standing TFNation logo panels dotted around, roller banners at the Panel and Display rooms, and the Energon Cube table lights at the Saturday evening event. Those operating the convention clearly care... but some of their decisions strike me as misguided.

Disappointing as the retail was for me, there was a decent range of stuff, just not much that I hadn't seen last month at RORC. I think I tend to get my hopes up a little high when it comes to third party release schedules - I was hoping to pick up Iron Factory's 'Pink Assassin' but, despite turning up in loads of photos online, it's still only a pre-order at most webstores. The temptation to buy some of the new Masterpiece figures was pretty strong, and I almost caved in an picked up Road Rage (being a lovely Corvette and a femme-bot). Likewise, the Soundwave tablet was almost tempting, but I've seen enough photos to put me off, even for novelty value.

On the way back, the train I'd booked my ticket on was cancelled and, despite the best efforts of the station staff, I was only allowed onto the later train which was, of course, crowded due to other passengers from the cancelled train piling on at earlier stations. I managed to get a seat, though (unlike a certain British politician who recently complained about Virgin Trains) and had a smooth journey back into town, followed by a swift journey home. Didn't sleep much better, though, and was a wreck for most of last week at work, which explains the length of time it's taken for me to sort these posts out...

Slim pickings, but a decent package... and I even got it slightly cheaper just by holding out till the Sunday to buy it!

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