Event Report: ZomBCon: Carnell's Diary of the Dead
A unique event - a convention centered solely on the undead and “zombie culture” - took place here in the Emerald City. Organized by promoter Ryan Reiter (of “Red, White, and Dead” fame), this was an undertaking the size of which would have been bold for even an already established convention. For a first-time con, the scope of it was impressive, to say the least.
The guest list alone was one that would cause most promoters to lay awake at night fitfully worrying over logistics: George Romero, Bruce Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, Chuck Palahniuk (author, FIGHT CLUB), Max Brooks (author, WORLD WAR Z), John Amplas (MARTIN, DAY OF THE DEAD), Terry Alexander (DAY OF THE DEAD), Scott Reiniger (DAWN OF THE DEAD) Ted Raimi (SPIDER-MAN), The Ladies of THE EVIL DEAD (Theresa Tilly, Betsy Baker, Ellen Sandweiss), Danny Hicks (EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN), Timothy Patrick Quill (ARMY OF DARKNESS), the Zombie Research Society, and many, many others. All had come to Seattle to be a part of something very special: ZomBCon.
Added to that was the staging of a “Zombie Wedding” (officiated by Bruce Campbell where real couples in zombie drag would be legally married while others would be simply renewing their vows), a “Prom of the Dead” (imagine your high school prom after the zombie uprising), multiple screenings of seminal zombie horror films and, of course, the seemingly ever-present zombie walk and you had one very eventful convention.
I had been invited to participate in the goings-on and to moderate a few of the panels since my novel, NO FLESH SHALL BE SPARED (review here), was being premiered at the convention. After several meetings with Reiter and learning a bit about the extent of his vision, I whole-heartedly agreed to not only attend and participate, but to document the goings-on for Dread Central in the ensuing journal. What follows then are my impressions of the events I was a part of as the days went by.
Be reminded, this is a detailing of my ZomBCon experience.
Other people’s mileage may vary.
I arrive at the Seattle Center and get my badge and booth assignment. After some initial hiccups about getting signed in, we load our stuff into the booth and get things set up. Inside the Exhibition Hall is a kind of organized chaos as vendors haul product in and finalize their presentations. After about an hour, an announcement comes over the public address system that the doors are being opened. Almost immediately, the zombie hordes – in other words, normal folk dressed in tattered clothing, splattered with fake blood, many with vicious latex-sculpted wounds – stream into the auditorium. They are a motley bunch who shuffle their way down the aisles moaning and groaning, but they’re also friendly and eager for fun.
Before long, it’s 10:00 AM and I’m whisked off to the Seattle Center’s Northwest Rooms (or NWR) for my first panel. The Zombie Research Society is hosting a discussion which focuses on the likely outcome of a real life zombie outbreak. The ZRS is a group of academics and enthusiasts who investigate the idea of a zombie uprising from every conceivable angle through the eyes of hard science and logic. They are, in my opinion, most interesting entity attending the convention. These are renowned scientists, medical people, and sociologists who are all experts in their respective fields. This particular panel is being moderated by Max Brooks and is made up of Daniel W. Drezner (author, THEORIES OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS AND ZOMBIES), Steven C. Schlozman, M.D. (THE ZOMBIE AUTOPSIES: SECRET NOTEBOOKS FROM THE APOCALYPSE), and myself (I have an extensive background in Mortuary Science and work in the medical field). The discussion ranges from the socio-political blowback of the dead rising to the logistics of how the plague would spread and which countries would be most likely to survive (the US was named due to the availability of guns and the pervasiveness of its communication infrastructure) and which one was probably screwed (consensus: Pakistan whose density of its population, religious leanings, and lack of widespread health care pretty much seal its fate). The conversation is a fascinating look at the premise and the audience really seems to enjoy it.
Afterward, I return to the Exhibition Hall and that find even more con-goers have arrived. The majority of them are gathered around signing tables patiently waiting for the cast of the EVIL DEAD films and Malcolm McDowell to sign their photos, posters, and DVD covers. There is a more moaning and spontaneous outbursts of “Braaaaains!” heard. Some of the costumes are both inventive and absolutely hilarious: a zombified Bob Ross (“happy little trees!”), an undead Gumby, some shuffling STAR WARS Stormtroopers, a dead Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, to name but a few. Suddenly, word spreads like wildfire: George Romero is in the house.
George is seated at a set of tables on the other side of the Hall. To one side of him are more signing tables manned by Romero compatriots John Amplas, Terry Alexander, and Scott Reiniger. The hall is buzzing with excitement now and, despite the crowd… well, they are after all zombies… so they’re eating it up.
3:00PM I go to a stage setup in the main Exhibition Hall for my Ultimate Zombie Fighting panel. Since my book deals with a world where modern day gladiators fight in an organized sport against the undead, the con organizers have paired me and UFC competitor Nate Quarry together to talk zombie pugilism. The panel is moderated by Geekscape’s Jonathan London (who adds a much needed degree of levity to the proceedings) and offers for consideration another dimension to the living dead paradigm. The ensuing discussion is lively and well received.
The day progresses and I take an hour or so to walk around the Dealer’s Room where a multitude of zombie related books, movies, tee shirts, games and trinkets are available for purchase. While the crowds are still somewhat sparse (it is, after all, still midday on a Friday afternoon), the shuffling dead in attendance are not only hungry for flesh… they’re in the mood to shop. More interviews take place on the stage at the far end of the hall and panels continue non-stop in the nearby NWR. The mood in the hall continues to be light and the spirit of fun is pervasive. I go back to my booth and literally bump into Chuck Palahniuk who is here both as a guest and because he is writing an article for ROLLING STONE. His subject – what else? – the zombie sub-culture. We take a quick picture together and it’s not until later that I see what’s he’s up to behind my back. “The first rule of Zombie Club is you do not talk about Zombie Club”
Finally, the hour arrives when the vendor space is to be closed for the day and the zombie masses disperse to nearby eating and drinking establishments. The inherent humor in the sight of normal people waiting for their tables while rubbing elbows with the blood and gore covered con attendees is not lost on me. Soon, even the most stoic Seattleite is being included in the fun. I see an elderly lady on the street getting her picture taken while surrounded by a group of zombies. As the undead snarl and grimace for the camera, the smile on her face tells the story perfectly.
Abruptly, I run into organizer Reiter (who, for as busy as he is, looks like he’s having the time of his life). He asks if I have time to run over to the SIFF Theater to introduce Romero before a screening of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Laughing, I say, “‘Do I have time?’ Dude, I will MAKE the time… are you kidding?” I run off and make it to the theater in time to stand before a packed house and introduce George to an adoring audience. Romero steps out onto the stage and the audience goes nuts. Once the film starts, I hurry out of the theater and rush off down the rain-covered street to the nearby Maxwell Hotel where I’m escorted through the lobby and downstairs to The Zombie Research Society’s VIP lounge. Fellow Fangoria and Dread Central writer, Sean “The Butcher” Smithson and I are to do an in-depth interview with Romero at a sort of fireside chat which has been dubbed “An Evening at the Apocalypse.” I walk into the room and notice that the place is PACKED. An uncountable number of people are pressed into the space and gathered around three chairs set against a far wall. The lighting is suitably low and drinks are already being served in abundance. The mood in the room is electric and I catch con-attendee and celebrity alike continually glancing expectantly toward the door. Finally, Romero arrives and he’s escorted through the crowd to his chair where Sean and I stand waiting.
We all sit down and proceed to talk… just talk… about Romero’s early years, about him growing up a film fan, and some of his ideas about genre filmmaking. We quickly go “off notes” and just ask him questions as they come to us. We talk about growing up in the Bronx, whether he played Stickball as a kid, his love of such films as TALES OF HOFFMAN, THE QUIET MAN, ON THE WATERFRONT, THE THING and many others. The interaction is congenial and Romero seems to be having a good time. Midway through, I look over at the crowd (who are gathered mere feet from us) and they are all held rapt as Romero talks. They are like children sitting at a beloved family member’s knee, drinking in his wisdom as if it were mother’s milk. Everyone gathered here tonight senses how special the night is and we are all on the edges of our seats as Romero regales us with one story after story. All too soon, we get the high sign that our time draws to a close. It’s late and there are still two full days ahead of us. We get some last minute details on upcoming projects like the DEEP RED remake (he’s not involved), the rumor he is producing a version of Bob Clark’s CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (he’s not – but Fangoria is), and he gives us an idea of his plans for a couple more DEAD films (all are to be based on the characters introduced in DIARY). A standing ovation resonates through the room and the feeling of love these people have for this man is obvious. I look over at Sean and we are both grinning like kids at Christmas. The import of this night is not lost on either of us.