A Summer of Conventions
by Bethany Rose
When I was younger (ahem—I won’t say how much younger), my summers were filled with concerts, particularly all-day affairs where a small group of friends and I would spend morning, noon, and night in the sweltering heat, pooling our money to get drinks and breadsticks. Those concerts left us dehydrated, sunburned, and hoarse, and I loved every minute of it. But a few years ago I chose a different summer pastime—a convention—and soon I found a new love.
This summer I went to three conventions: Wizard World St. Louis, and Days of the Dead and Pop Con, both in Indianapolis. Wizard World was the first, and I was fortunate enough to get an invite to a pre-party at the Hard Rock Café in St. Louis. The show’s headliner was Christian Kane, known for recent roles in The Librarians and Leverage, but he will forever be known in my house as Lindsey McDonald from the show Angel. What I didn’t know is that Kane is also a popular singer. His followers, “Kaniacs,” definitely knew, and it was fun to watch them gleefully sing the lyrics to each of his songs (one fan even got a hug from Kane after it was announced how many shows of his she’d been to. I believe it was over 70!). I also got a chance to meet some of the other artists and talent who would have booths at the Con, including Epic Ink’s Chris 51.
The Saturday of the Con, I got to see many of my favorite names in pop culture. I ran into most in the actual convention hall. There, I saw Joey Lawrence, Naomi Grossman, and the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson). Autograph booths and photo-op sessions drew lines of eager fans. Merchandise booths offered something for everyone. There were stands filled with t-shirts for fans of just about any sci-fi show created in the last 20 years. There was new and old memorabilia from films, television, and literature. Art work varied from the macabre to the brightly funky. There were even specialty stands like a place to hold corn snakes and a booth discussing sugar gliders. Leading up to the main hall were side rooms that featured smaller Q&A sessions, panels, and activities. The hall’s main entrance was filled with some movie memorabilia, including my personal fave: the Mutt Cutts car from Dumb and Dumber. The fun day ended on a high note. After eating lunch at a restaurant down the street from the convention center, I ran into Giancarlo Esposito. I just nodded and gave a friendly smile (I make it a point not to bother celebs when they are just going about their everyday lives), but an eagle-eyed fan noticed Esposito as he walked by the gentleman’s store. He ran out of the shop and yelled “School Daaaaaaaaaaaaaze.”
Last year was the first time I went to Days of the Dead, and I loved every minute of it. It’s a horror convention that won’t disappoint die-hard fans of the genre. I was worried that the newness of last year might have clouded my judgement, but this year’s convention was just as exciting. I have a list of a select few celebrities I absolutely want to meet. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy meeting ones not on the list, but there are a few who take priority, who I might break my “don’t bother celebs going about their everyday lives” rule if I actually ran into them while they were going about their everyday lives. Kane Hodder was on that list. While most kids idolize superheroes or PBS stars, my childhood heroes were horror icons. Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street were the three series I watched the most. I knew who Robert Englund and Kane Hodder were before I knew the names of the New Kids on the Block. If you read my Friday the 13th article, then you’d know how much I love the often-maligned Jason Takes Manhattan. And you’d know that Hodder played Jason more than any other actor. So to not only meet the Jason Voorhees in my book, but the Jason of Jason Takes Manhattan, has long been a dream of mine. Days of the Dead allowed that dream to come true. I cannot think of any other way to describe the moment than “Magical.” I was definitely star struck. I of course had him sign a photo from Jason Takes Manhattan.
I was also excited to meet Felissa Rose, the original Angela from Sleepaway Camp. Last year I got to meet P.J. Soles, and I took a moment to tell her about my master’s thesis that analyzed gender differences in roles of power in slasher films. She genuinely seemed interested to hear about it, and asked me a couple thoughtful questions, so I made sure to mention the same to Felissa. And let me just say that Felissa is a firecracker. She is so fun, and so kind, and so unpredictable. When I was in line to meet Kane Hodder, she would pop over from her table and tell Kane about a fan she’d just met (only kind words, of course.) She seemed genuinely excited to meet each of her fans. And I got to get a picture with Angela!
Tony Moran, the original unmasked Michael Meyers, was set up in a booth right next to Felissa. So I stood and looked at Michael Meyers, Angela, and Jason Voorhees all at once. That’s horror nerd heaven, right there. I also got to see the twins from The Shining, and Jack Noseworthy (did I almost yell, “Almodovar” at him, yes … almost), and Ric Flair, because really, like any other horror fan raised at least partially in the ‘80s, I was raised on horror films and wrestling. I was also fortunate enough to see Angus Scrimm, Phantasm’s Tall Man. And the merchandise booths had me running around like a kid in a candy store. I do believe I visited every booth three times, carefully planning out my budget. I left with lots of cool horror memorabilia and gear.
I only went for one day this year, but last year I stayed the whole weekend and it was epic. There was a fantastic costume contest, a VIP party, and I worked out with Tom Savini. So I definitely recommend horror fans add Days of the Dead on their to-do lists (Indianapolis is not the only city you can find a Days of the Dead).
Pop Con was an unexpected surprise convention for me. It just so happened to take place the same weekend as Days of the Dead (I don’t think that’s the case for 2016), so I decided I had to check it out. I’m glad I did. Pop Con was similar to Wizard World, in that it covered a variety of pop culture. There was a similar set up of autograph booths, panels, photo-ops, and merchandise. I got to see Zach Galligan from Gremlins, Rupert Boneham from Survivor, and Face Off winner Rashaad Santiago.
The best part of Pop Con, and one of the summer memories that is sure to last a lifetime, was meeting Lloyd Kaufman. I didn’t even know he was there. I just happened to see a Troma booth, and of course that means I headed in that direction. At the booth, I found a great Toxic Avenger shot glass, and a set of Toxic Crusaders trading cards. And then there he was. As soon as he saw me at the booth, he asked if I wanted a picture. I’ve often heard great things about Lloyd, but I was still so incredibly surprised and charmed by his kindness. Right before we posed he asked, “Should we get Toxie in the picture?” I literally had to pinch myself.
I hope my love for conventions is a lasting one, and if these three experiences are any indicator of what’s to come, I think it will be. Conventions are a place where you can wear your Return of the Living Dead shirt and likely run into someone wearing the same Return of the Living Dead shirt, where you can wear your most outlandish jewelry and receive smiles and compliments rather than curious stares. Most of all, conventions are a place where you can make lasting memories and experience things you only dreamed would happen. At least that’s what my summer of conventions has taught me.