Monsterpalooza 2009 report

FULL BLEED SPECIAL: THE TINDERBOX (OF A HEART)

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Kirby might be King of comics, but Karloff is King of the monsters.

Burbank was clammy cool, tacky to the touch and resting under a layer of perpetual cloud-blanket that meant nothing more than Springtime in Southern California.  It’s one thing to say, “Sure, it’s cool here, even in all but the warmest days of Summer” but it’s another thing to be reminded of your ignorance.  You can go home again, but you’ve forgotten what home is all about.  And at that point is it really home anymore?

Home is where the kids are, home is where your other is.  Home isn’t the place that you stayed in or imagined it was.  Home is mutable, moveable and entirely portable.  You just have to remember where you put it.

Tired.  It’s been a long weekend with a lot of being sociable (some of it trained, some of it natural) and steeped in not only the past but the present that past has led to, whether by intention or by accident.  I had a chance to see two old friends (one of but ten years or so and another of the near-unimaginable gulf of nearly thirty) and attend a monster show, which by its very nature was very much a nostalgia trip.

All the really famous monsters seemed to be in black and white.  The Universal trinity (Frankenstein, Dracula Wolfman) with its auxiliary members in the wings (The Bride, The Invisible Man and the Creature of the Black Lagoon—Invisible Man sadly omitted due to clashes with the HG Wells estate) are holy ghosts in monochrome, flickering across television screens on a thousand lost Saturdays.  I’d bet good money that most of the crowd there hadn’t seen any of them on any screen larger than twenty-one inches or on celluloid.  Television brought me my monsters, well that and print.

Don’t get me wrong.  I had a fair bit of fun at Monsterpalooza, more than I thought I’d have going into things.  Within a hour of the doors opening, I got to watch Simon Pegg walking about, gladly signing autographs and posing for pictures with the fans.  I was able to share a shuttle and a brief chat with Michael Berryman, though I never asked him what he thought about his most famous role, that of desert cannibal and face of an entire subgenre of horror film.  Nice guy, though.  I’d have shot a game of pool with him, had there been a table anywhere nearby.

And perhaps geek peak moment, I was able to give a copy of MURDER MOON to the Godfather of monster magazines (not to mention scary comics and suppressed war comics) James Warren.  Imagine this, ‘cause he actually approached my table unbeckoned, just wanting to investigate the offerings for himself.  I guess I did something right.  He deferred all calls of “sir” and the like, but did insist that I inscribed the book “with respect”, smiling broadly.  I did so happily.  After all, I felt I’d traded on his name, stating that some of the inspiration for STRANGEWAYS came from the magazines that he published.  To say that it was an honor would be an understatement.  Of persons living, I can’t feel that I owed respect any more than Mr. Warren.  His gracious acceptance of my book was certainly the high point of the show itself.

I had a nice chat with Bernie Wrightson, who is unreasonably nice, and suggested a couple more shows that I might want to add to my itinerary, Mid-Ohio on the top of that list.  Flying east of the Rockies, though, does seem a dicy proposition.  And not just because the farther I fly, the less likely it is I’ll get out of the hole.  The truth of it is, that going to shows just to sell books is pretty short-sighted.  And unless you sell like dynamite, selling enough to cover plane, table, hotel and food, isn’t a real likelihood.  I’m beginning to accept that now, and doing shows to generate opportunities, and maybe to have a good time while doing so, clawing out an audience one reader and one five-minute-story at a time.

But still, you have to look at the bottom line.  And the bottom line is that there’s plenty of shows on the left side of the country to keep me busy.  So Mid-Ohio will likely have to wait.  And maybe even Baltimore this year.  Not when there’s a new show in Long Beach starting up, and perhaps a second bite at the Stumptown apple with Bookstock.

But back to Burbank.  Friday afternoon and night was easily the quietest of the show, even with the addition of the aforementioned Mr. Pegg.  I set up pretty quickly (since I can pack my setup into one suitcase and a carry-on).  Afterwards, I talked with Anthony Leano (chief zombie behind BRAINS and head honcho of the Sac Con and Land Beyond shows) while he set up.  Also chatted with Emonic, a San Jose-based artist who I met last year at the Super-Con.  They’ve both been at a lot of the same shows I’ve done this year, so it was nice to see a familiar face (or two) setting up on the other side of the hall from my humble table.

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(In the above I’m working on my Wonder Woman feature pitch.  No, you can’t read it.)

Aside from that, it was quiet.  Perhaps even very quiet.  Perhaps even “aw, geez, why did I come down here?” quiet.  Luckily that feeling would only last through Friday night.  After a few hours of twittering and only a couple sales, I took a stroll around the floor, not really looking for or at anything in particular.  It felt to me like most of the people buying things were dealers buying or horse-trading with other dealers.  I put in for an early night of not sleeping (surely you know this already) and reading more of GANG LEADER FOR A DAY.  Surprisingly, I did not dream of street gangs.

Saturday morning was cottony gray and still.  That part of Burbank wasn’t actually heavily traveled, being mostly office parks and construction.  And all I had offered to me for breakfast was the tender embrace of McDonalds or the loving grasp of Denny’s.  I’d love to say I made the right choice, but I can’t honestly say that I did.  If I’d had a car, I could have driven to Sitton’s over in North Hollywood or really anywhere but here.  As it was, where I could walk was where I could go.  Which didn’t leave a lot of options.

At least I could smother my breakfast in Cholula sauce.  “No Tápatio,” the waitress explained, smiling a little sadly behind her horn-rims.  Other than that, it was Denny’s.  The same Denny’s breakfast I had in San Francisco and Fairfield earlier that year.  I ate and hoped that Saturday at the show would be better than the day before.

It started fairly slowly.  There was no hurry into the monster mausoleum as there was a crush into comic cons earlier that year.  Maybe this love breeds a more patient variety of fan, who knows.  There was a great deal of passing out cards and reeling in passers-by with promises of cowboys and werewolves, which did a far more effective job of bringing people in than talking about what the book was really about.  Look, if your fast pitch isn’t going to intrigue them enough to pick up the work in the first place, you’re not going to seal the deal with a finely nuanced and morally ambiguous view of history.  Ahem.  If someone asked “so, what’s it about?” and the quick answer wasn’t enough, then I’d add “It’s about the obligations of family and friendship.”

Yeah, that didn’t work very often.  You have them at werewolves or you don’t.  What I loved best were the people who didn’t say anything more than “How much?” or “I want one.”  I’m shallow.  I revel in my shallowness.  And I’m trying to make my table costs at least.

One thing I noticed was that there was a lot more of the wallet chains and leather, ducktails and hot-rod culture, tattoos and Social Distortion or Johnny Cash crowd at play.  Not sure what it is about horror that brings out that particular strain, but it most certainly does.  Bettie Page bangs, black skirts and striped shirts seemed pretty much mandatory amongst the ladies.  And yes, Ed Hardy is this year’s Von Dutch, or was it last years’ too?

The crowds were certainly better than the last show I’d attended, and there were even folks in a buying mood, but it wasn’t gangbusters business.  There were plenty of people just looking, and plenty of people who weren’t interested unless I was selling latex appliances (make-up, you perverts) or monster memorabilia.  I did get to witness a shouting match between rival T-shirt designers, one pair of chunky white guys accusing a skinny, pork-pie hat-wearing T-shirt seller of ripping off their designs.  You never see that sort of stuff in comic conventions.  Well, not unless you go to the bars after the show closes, or so I hear.

Had an interesting conversation with a middle-aged gentleman who was interested in the art in my book, and we talked about Warren comics and the EC books, which I’m just really appreciating now only fifty years too late.  Turns out it was Kerry Gammil, who’d worked for Marvel and DC through the late seventies and into the eighties.  He seemed surprised that I knew his name, pleasantly so.  He mentioned that he might be working on a horror anthology in the future, so hopefully something comes of that.

It was around that time that I was hearing Twitter chatter about reviewers getting copies of Darwyn Cooke’s/Donald Westlake’s THE HUNTER from IDW.  Insane jealousy.  I review comics.  Where’s my copy?  I review comics.  Sometimes.  But maybe they know that I’ll eagerly line up the day it shows in stores to get mine.  Bastards got me right where they want me.  It ain’t fair.

I did noticed that there were a few indie comics publishers, Studio 407 and one other whose name escapes me, but other than that, not very many.  Sculpture was a bigger deal there, lots of monster creating studios, lots of special effects creators there.  At comic shows, people want to be artists.  At monster shows, they want to be special effects or monster creators.  I guess that makes some sense.  Ten-year-old me twinged a bit, but it’s far too late for me to contemplate that path.  Just like it’s far too late to contemplate getting an armful of MICRONAUTS tattoos.  Luckily some other guy did it so that I didn’t have to.

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Detail of…something in the museum.

Took a stroll through the Monster Museum, or whatever exactly they called it.  I have to say, that was a lot of fun.  In some ways, it was like best haunted house display ever, only without the cheap scares and shaker cans and fluorescent facepaint.  As someone told me, these were “living room” displays.  The effects guys would make this stuff, and it’d get shot in film, then they’d take them home and keep them in their living rooms, rather than banishing them to the oblivion of prop rooms or the ignominy of off-site storage.  And what better place than a living room, for these creatures out of living room and cable TV nightmare?  There were plenty of critters that I didn’t recognize, but could only marvel at without knowing their names.  I guess I have some catching up to do on monster movies.  But it was also a welcome break from the reverence of the Old.

And then something occurred to me.  That’s kind of the funny thing about zombies, isn’t it?  They’re supposed to be anonymous, faceless.  Sure, there’s some exceptions.  “Tarman” from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (designed by William Stout), the Krishna zombie from DAWN OF THE DEAD, the young Karen from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  Not many zombies in the monster museum.  Too generic, I suppose.  But that’s mass production for you.

I’ll note that grindhouse also seemed to enjoy an edge over torture porn.  Make of that what you will.  Ultimately, and this is the kind of statement that gets me into trouble, grindhouse seems to be a kind of backwards-looking subgenre, wallowing in the excesses of a decade thirty years past.  Yeah, I know, the door’s that way.  I can show myself out.

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My humble room, or at least an interestingly-lit corner of it.

As the afternoon wound down, I was joined by a friend from my animation days, one who’s gone on to do not only VFX production but actual production production and direction.  Has he got some stories.  I liked the one about the actor who showed up to a shoot badly and obviously hung over one morning (probably not the first time, but certainly the first time it was that glaringly, blindingly obvious.)  The solution?  Not a browbeating, not public humiliation, not even plain old guilt.  The solution would be having them shoot the scene where the actor in question had to fire off a clip of five shots from the prop pistol (which does indeed make a pretty loud sound and palpable concussion).

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG

“Okay, well, that was okay.  You wanna do it again?”

Inaudible grumbling.

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG

“You know, I’m just not feeling it.  Once more.”

Barely inaudible grumbling.

This went on for five takes.  He went full Robert Altman on the guy.

After the fifth, the actor beckoned him over.  My friend the then-director leaned in and received in a grated whisper.

“Okay, I get it.”

“What?”

“I get it.  I won’t show up like this again.”

“Good,” my friend the director whispered to the guy, slumped and trying to hold down breakfast.  Then to the crew.  “Okay, I think we can move on to the next shot.”

So yeah, a pragmatic guy.  Which often puts him at odds with the entirety of the entertainment business, yet he continues to soldier on.  Anyways, we talked for the better part of the night, the details of which I won’t bore you with here.  However, we did eat at Mo’s Burgers, a venerable Toluca Lake institution which I haven’t been back to since I worked here.  It also happens to be right next to the original Bob’s Big Boy, as in the OBBB.  Solid hamburgers, thick enough to still be juicy and they’re brave enough to let them leave the kitchen medium rare.  I do get tired of trying to choke down a hamburger that’s cooked past well.  I believe they refer to it as “toast.”

Paid too much for a Knob Creek.  There was enough ice in it to sink the Titanic.  Went back up to the room and toyed with watching QUARANTINE, but couldn’t track effectively.  I really should stop carrying that around and watch it sometime.

Sunday is mosty a blur.  Granted, a fairly slow blur to start out with.  Though it did pick up quite nicely, enough so that my total sales for the weekend were substantially greater than the last show that I’d sold at.  Think I even made my table, or pretty close to it.  I even got to write a five-minute-story for someone, the first and only one of the weekend.  I can’t say it was my best effort, but they seemed pretty happy with it.

During some of the slower moments, I poked at some of the books in the vendor booths, but wondered how much of this I could actually look up online instead or really would I even have the time to read what someone else thought about Every Zombie Movie Ever Made.  I passed, eventually.

Spent most of the afternoon with a very old friend of mine, one Matthew Selznick, who I’ve known since junior high, starting in…get this…1979.  That Smashing Pumpkins song, yeah, they didn’t quite get it right.  He’s a podcaster and author, of BRAVE MEN RUN (which has some spillover with comics fans, so you might want to check it out), in particular, which has the distinction of being one of, if not the very first book to have both e-book, podcast and print editions available simultaneously.  I guess that’s more common now.  See, that’s one of the advantages prose has over comics.  You can do a reading as a podcast, which would be kinda, I don’t know, stupid should you try it with a comic book.

Spent a lot of time talking process and the grind, how to choose projects and the different experiences that these different forms have in their online lives.  Interesting stuff, if you’re a process junkie like myself.  It was a good talk, and actually helped me wrap my head around a project that I’ve been either unwilling or unable to wrangle effectively, that being the oft-promised EATERS.  Well, it seemed to help at the time.  I start thinking about it now and the gears begin grinding and not meshing.

After a long dinner at Zono Sushi in Burbank, which no longer looks anything like I remembered it (or photographed it, as below), and more talk about life since Middle School, it was time to get lost on the way to the airport and catch my plane.  Too short a visit really, but the fact that it even happened was welcome.

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Zono Sushi in 1999.  The pink and neon are gone, replaced by dark wood.  Place looks small now.  Still tasty, though.

I was missing home pretty badly by that time.  Like I said up at the top, LA isn’t home and really never was.  And I’m to the point now, only a couple years after, where Southern California is no longer home, either.  Is that progress?  I don’t know.  But when I landed and left the airport, the night air was reassuringly cool and smooth.

4 comments to Monsterpalooza 2009 report

  • It was a real pleasure hanging out, Matt — there’s always that fear, despite a couple of years of online communication with an old friend, that the in-person experience will lack something, like a candy bar you used to love as a kid but now just tastes… wrong. Happily, there was none of that in our afternoon together.

    Also, it’s great to talk shop with someone you knew when the shop itself was just a dream. We’re livin’ it, baby! (Insert frantic, slightly desperate “whoop” here…)

    Thanks for dinner, man! Maybe I’ll see you if you hit Long Beach, and I’ll return the favor. I know this bar with nothing but punk rock on the juke box…

  • I DO NOT TASTE WRONG.

    As for living the dream, well, I’ll let you know when I get there. Feels like I’m…I don’t know…leasing it.

  • […] Conventions | Strangeways creator Matt Maxwell reports from last weekend’s Monsterpalooza horror convention in Burbank, Calif., where he met Warren Publishing founder James Warren: “Imagine this, ‘cause he actually approached my table unbeckoned, just wanting to investigate the offerings for himself.  I guess I did something right. He deferred all calls of ’sir’ and the like, but did insist that I inscribed the book ‘with respect,’ smiling broadly. I did so happily.” [Highway 62] […]

  • Matt,

    Here is more information on that horror anthology comic book that Kerry Gammill mentioned that he was working on. By the way have you seen Kerry’s MONSTER KID MAGAZINE website or his beautiful book on FAMOUS MONSTERS cover artist and illustrator BASIL GOGOS?

    Sam F. Park
    Associate Editor

    BELA LUGOSI’S TALES FROM THE GRAVE.

    After more than fifty years, iconic horror film star Bela Lugosi will live again as the undead host of a new horror comic book!

    The Monsterverse is proud to announce BELA LUGOSI’S TALES FROM THE GRAVE, a full-color anthology in the classic EC and Warren tradition, presenting weird and fantastic tales to keep you awake long into the night. In a special arrangement with Bela G. Lugosi, son of the famous actor, Bela Lugosi will act as host and commentator for each terror tale.

    Comics professionals Kerry Gammill and Kez Wilson are returning to the field for this special series. As editors and publishers, they will be bringing the finest artists and writers available to the book. In fact, the very first issue will feature a cover from Basil Gogos, perhaps the most famous monster artist of all time. Marvel/DC alums Gammill and Wilson will also be contributing their own considerable talents to several stories throughout the series.

    Look for BELA LUGOSI’S TALES FROM THE GRAVE to premiere in early 2010.

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