Event Report: ZomBCon: Carnell's Diary of the Dead
Is there a better way to spend Halloween than at a zombie convention? Yeah, I don’t think so. My crew and I arrive at the booth and do our initial setup. We’re all tired, but still stoked as hell to be here. The convention has been slightly under attended, but those who have come are exuberant and respectful and are showing their support in the best way possible: by buying stuff from the vendors. I keep reminding myself that this is the con’s first year. Its organization and scope is so ambitious that one can’t help but be impressed by it. I’ve been a guest at a lot of cons and I’ve seen ones with a good deal more experience (and half the vision) fail and fail miserably. Whatever minor things have gone wrong at this con, they are far outweighed by what’s gone right. It is truly a testament to Reiter and his group to have been able to pull something this large off with as few hitches as have occurred.
10:00 AM I run over to SIFF and meet up with screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick and Smithson. Jeffrey wrote the much maligned DAY OF THE DEAD remake script and it’s interesting to hear him speak about the film, what its initial vision was, and how that vision was changed during production. Reddick is an affable guy and a good speaker. He offers a lot of solid insight into the oftentimes trying screenwriting process.
I leave SIFF and head back through the Exhibition Hall and on to the NSW. I am scheduled for two final panels with the Zombie Research society: Zombie Anatomy and How to Survive the Zombie Uprising. The panels together end up running almost three hours, but remain absolutely fascinating. Gathered for the Anatomy panel are myself, Zombie Research Society founder, Matt Mogk, and Timothy Verstynen who works as a neuroscientist at the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition in Pittsburgh and is someone who specializes in human brain imaging and neural network modeling. What follows is an examination of death, decomposition, the neural anatomy of the living dead. We cover everything from post mortem lividity to the potential effects of rigor mortis on zombie motility to the relative effectiveness (and ineffectiveness) of “shooting them in the head.” The conclusions reached are mind-bending. The audience (many of whom are medical professionals who have come to the con seeking a good time) are highly informed and their contribution is every bit as interesting and relevant as those on the dais.
All too soon, time runs out for this panel and we slide straight over for a look at survivability odds for such an outbreak. First up, a group of statisticians show a computer model of how the plague might spread across the city of Seattle as well as its surrounding areas. As they run their computer model, several things are made pretty clear, most important of which is that the sooner we were to get a jump on the outbreak, the better we’d all be. The second is... the more guns that are available, the quicker containment would happen. One reassuring thing though is that the model offers the hope that we would - eventually - get a handle on things and containment would eventually be achieved. A lot of lives would be lost, but normality would be returned.
The rest of the panel focuses on more specific aspects of survival – how would climate affect the dead, how readily available would food, water, ammunition be to the average person, would (as is detailed in Max Brook’s WORLD WAR Z) heading north to the frozen wilds of Canada or Alaska really be the best idea or would hypothermia claim just as many of the living as it would the dead? Again, fascinating stuff and not what one would expect from your typical genre convention. We close out with some debate about weaponry. As the discussion progresses, there is a lot of talk about guns… guns and knives. What’s interesting is how wide and varied the rationales are for each person’s choice of weapons. The crowd – as expected – asks some very insightful and informed questions and all too soon our allotted time is over. As I sit there ruminating and watching people file out of the room, I’m struck by how different this convention is from other genre affairs. Yes, there are the standard fanboy events and “get your picture taken with the celebrity” photo-ops, but it is panels such as the ones I’ve just participated in that makes this gathering utterly unique.
My last scheduled obligation for the day is a welcomed one - Sean and I are to do a final Q&A with Romero, John Amplas, and Terry Alexander before a screening of Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD. Ryan Reiter meets up with us at the SIFF Theater and we enter an already packed auditorium. Reiter presents Romero with an engraved – and very deadly looking – machete which Romero graciously accepts. The Q&A begins and we are treated to anecdotes about the making of the film, how cold it was in the mine where the film was shot, and generally about the challenges of truly independent filmmaking. As Romero speaks, once again I notice the rapt faces of the crowd. These people LOVE this man and there are genuine smiles that can be seen breaking through all the latex, fake blood, and green and grey pancake makeup. Once more, I feel honored to be a part of all of this and to be given the chance to work alongside these people.
I walk back through the rain – it is, after all, Seattle - to the Main Hall where vendors are already beginning to pack up. Abruptly, one of the promoters comes over and explains how there is one last thing needed: the video game Scene It is putting on a “Trekkies vs. Zombies” trivia battle. “Are you in?” she asks. “Hell yes, I’m in!” we go to the main stage where The Trekkies have already gathered. They are a formidable group. I look over at The Zombies and immediately smile. There are five spots for players. Two people I don’t recognize. Two I do: Sean “The Butcher” Smithson and Justin Giallo. Both are people I know have an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre. Yeah… We got this thing knocked. Sean is chosen as our captain. The Trekkies surprise everyone by pulling out a captain of their own, one who is an obvious ringer. I look over and see Malcolm McDowell (who played Dr. Tolian Soran in STAR TREK GENERATIONS) mount the stage. What follows is a heated and chaotic battle of wits between the geeks and the ghouls, the nerds and the necrotic. In the end though, it is the undead that are victorious.
I go back and finish packing my merch with my crew and it’s with no small amount of melancholy that I realize that ZomBCon 2010 is officially over. Sitting down on a pile of boxes, I pick up one of the programs that were handed out and leaf through it one last time. I am amazed at how many things I missed out on – the dialogue between Max Brooks and Chuck Palahniuk, Malcolm introducing a showing of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Chuck introducing FIGHT CLUB, THE EVIL DEAD Wedding, the Prom of the Dead, THE WALKING DEAD premiere… demonstrations of how to fight off a zombie with THE ZOMBIE COMBAT MANUAL’s author, Roger Ma, multiple readings by authors like S.G. Browne (BREATHERS), Max Brooks, Steve Hockensmith (DAWN OF THE DREADFULS), and Stacey Graham (HUNGRY FOR YOUR LOVE)… and so much more. In the end, there was just too much to see and do, not enough time in a day to take everything in.
Looking forward, no word has been issued from Ryan Reiter’s camp as to whether ZomBCon will return next year. I’m pretty sure it will though. In the days after the convention, posts on Facebook were universally positive and people are already offering up ideas for next year.
As I write this, I decide to check Reiter’s Facebook page. Having gotten to know Ryan a bit during the run up to ZomBCon, what I find doesn’t surprise me:
November 2 @ 7:47 PM
Ryan Reiter: … so Werewolves anyone? They don’t have their own con… yet.
Then, a few days later…
November 6 @ 3:30PM
Ryan Reiter: is ready for his next project…
I, for one, am looking forward to whatever that is.
Got news? Click here to submit it!
Celebrate your dead in the comments section below!