Keep Believing – In defense of small conventions

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Keep Believing

Sometimes we need to fight. Not out of anger, or against some grand enemy but for what we are passionate about. We need to fight because sometimes we’re the only one that will and because if it’s our passion and our dream it’s worth fighting for.

Too often we hit road blocks, drop our heads, and wander off to something else. That’s fine…but there has to come a day when you are willing to fight for something you are passionate about or you’ll be left with nothing but regrets.

That’s a hell of a way to live.

It’s an empty way to live.

One of the things I am willing to fight for are small shows. As you know, I guess, I created and was part of the Flint Horror Con, a one day show here in Flint that brought horror and fun to folks for a low price. We created the show knowing that we were doing something most folks don’t do – a convention – in a place they don’t do them, and as a one day show and not a weekend. The odds were against us but we did it. We lived our dream. It didn’t last forever but nothing does and we ended things on our terms. Not many can do that. One of the things I loved about our show was that we knew what we were and were OK with it. We weren’t a mega show and we didn’t try to be. We grew when it made sense but stayed true to what we were – an intimate show about the fans and put on by fans.

Our show folded but there is still a place for shows like that.

There is still a place for small shows.

I believe this.

I believe it but not many do.

We are in the era of the super-con and that means that the smaller shows are losing interest, funding, and hope.

But hope isn’t lost.

Hope is never lost.

I get the interest in super cons because as a vendor and fan I like them too. From a vending standpoint you see big cons as a chance to potentially sell to a LOT of fans. Makes sense. As a fan you see all the guests, the dozens of guests in most cases, and think it’s a perfect chance to load up on autographs, pictures, and casual celeb encounters.

Alas, life is not as we usually think it will be.

Mega conventions bring in a lot of people but they also cost a lot to get in, to park, to stay near, and the celebrities and the photo ops eat up most of the spending cash people have leaving vendors to fight over the few people who still have money left over. It would seem as if the mega con would be one of those Oh My God sort of shows that you attend once a year but there are so many big shows now that they are starting to feed on one another. This one has THAT guy, that one has THIS guy, this one has THAT exclusive, that one has THIS exclusive and each show is billed as a can’t miss event. Which is what you’re supposed to do if you run those shows. Except, with so many huge shows, and all of them with huge guests you get two things – a plethora of lower rung guests who end up not drawing attention and vendors who don’t make their table fees back. The economics of the large shows has created a killing field where shows are dying left and right because they can’t compete. This is a war that is only going to harm fandom.

But fans are partially to blame.

And so are vendors.

Naturally I am both.

I LOVE big shows but the fact is that I don’t really go but to one or two celebs, and maybe one or two vendors. I just don’t have the money to do more than that. So it ends up being huge costs for everyone when I don’t even take advantage of it all. At the big FLASHBACK show in Chicago I ‘met’ Robert Englund and my wife and I got our pic taken with him in makeup and I did the whole package so that was great. After that I met Robert Kerman from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and talked with him for a bit, and I met and we got our picture with Lance Henriksen and got an autograph but that was it. There were about, well, twenty guests I didn’t even say hello to. Which is not to say they didn’t do anything, as I am sure fans turned out to some degree for everyone, but the fact is that these shows are so big and so expensive that many of the guests end up as little more than filler. The bigger problem is that the shows are so pricey to attend and the guests so expensive that fans can’t keep up and vendors don’t have people with money to spend on their stuff. When everyone is a mega show the whole eco-system suffers. Every other week is another ‘CANNOT MISS’ show and eventually fans will have seen all the big names and won’t care enough about the smaller names and then even the big shows will start to falter.

This dragon will eat its own tail.

There are ways to make the big shows work but the way they are growing, and with as many as there are it just doesn’t feel like this is something that can sustain itself.

Think small.

There is a charm to a small show that is desperately absent in the large shows. An opportunity to chat with fans, to meet and speak, even for a moment, the guests, and opportunities to not feel rushed from here to there to get this or that. I have vended at big horror shows and comic shows and everyone seems rushed and not relaxed. With small shows you don’t feel that same push, push, push. Which isn’t to say that the small shows can’t get good guests, they just get different guests. We focused on more cult personalities and props, things that created moments for people. You can still get ‘big’ names, you just don’t populate your show with so many people that they are the only draw. You also can’t create a show so big, so costly that it collapses in on itself.  That’s something a lot of people forget – the show has to continue so don’t break the bank. And then there’s the shows that WAY over-extend themselves and harm not just themselves but the whole convention circuit. Shows that want to be too big, too much, and want to compete on a national level with other shows when this ISN’T A COMPETITION. If you do it right you don’t compete, you accentuate. You can’t always avoid other shows but if you can you should. There’s no reason to compete when there’s an entire calendar to use. There’s no reason to be snotty and snippy and childish, as many promoters can get.

This is supposed to be about the fans and guests.

The one thing that sets horror apart is that we’re all family, of a strange kind.

The more we fight amongst ourselves, the more we harm one another the worse the scene gets.

We need big shows. We need the shows that can afford to bring in the superstar guests that make your mouth drop and eyes go wide. Only at genre shows do you get the biggest names making time to meet fans. Only at these shows do they want to meet the fans. But not all the shows can or should be mega cons. As soon as that happens fans get unrealistic expectations – Why isn’t THAT person at the show? How lame? – the vendors get unrealistic expectations – I paid that much money for THIS sort of show – and the fun factor falls.

The fun of a convention is in discovery as much as it is in going in with a plan. I have made so many friends at shows, and have met so many incredible people and the bigger the show the less that tends to happen. Not every show should be small, and not every show CAN be small, but they can be intimate, they can be fan-focused, and they can be fun.

And that’s the key, fun.

Cons are not as fun anymore.

They feel bulky, expensive, and jaded.

We need the small shows to bring back the wonder and fun of conventions and to remind fans that it’s an honor and privilege to be able to meet these people, to have merch like we have now, and the acces to indie horror like we have now. This is a special time to be a horror fan. Let’s not screw things up.

Keep it small and let the big boys fight amongst themselves.

And YOU CAN DO IT!

If I can put on a small show with friends so can you. With careful planning, favors, and a great concept anyone can do it.

Anyone.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

Pulling Down The Tents

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Pulling Down The Tents

The thing you never think about when you do your little dreaming is – what happens if you get to live that dream? What then?

Good question.

Though first, let’s take a moment and appreciate the dreams when we can live them. It’s not all the time, unless you have very narrow focus and dream small, which is fine, but sometimes, SOMETIMES it’s the big dreams that really push you. Sometimes it’s the big dreams that make you stretch. If nothing else it’s the big dreams that keep our hope alive. Even if it’s a dim and distant hope. Hope’s what drives us through life, and without it things get awful bleak.

We recently decided to put an end to my baby, the Flint Horror Con. This was a decision made for many reasons but for now, and maybe for good, it seems that it’s an idea that has run its course.

I have had many dreams throughout my life but as an adult one of the ones I had was to see a horror convention in Downtown Flint. This is a story that anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows so I won’t go into it again. It was thanks to some amazing friends, the trust of some great folks, and a lot of hard work but we pulled it off and the Flint Horror Convention had four fantastic years. We had our bumps and bruises, we had our stress, but we did what very few manage to. We did it our way, and we did it following our rules.

For me, and for the group that did the show, we started things as fans and remained fans throughout. And as such, it was about the fans. Too many conventions focus on hanging out with the celebs or on everything but the fans. It’s the fans that are the reason to DO a show. It’s the fans that make horror so special. And in Flint, there are a lot of fans. The thing is, we were a one day show, with a limited budget, and we weren’t going to try to drain every last dime from those fans. I figured ten bucks was a good price to get in. It is low enough for casual attendees to try and leaves people money for celebrities and vendors. And the thing is that you can do as well as you want at the gate but if the celebs and vendors don’t do well you’re screwed and the show was a bust. It’s a hard line to walk. But if you don’t walk it you don’t do future shows. I am sure we could have charged more, but I am glad we didn’t. Same goes for vendor tables. I have vended shows for twenty years and the costs are outrageous. I get that most shows are huge these days and that you have to charge according to cost of the show and the size of the guest roster but for smaller folks like me there was just no way I could make the table cost back. I would love to say I could but two hundred and fifty to three hundred dollars for a small writer like me is a LOT of money. I still did the shows, so I am not complaining that loudly but I also was keen to that when we did our show. For many vendors this is their livelihood and they have to be able to make money. For us, by treating the vendors well we got a LOT of good will from them and in earning their trust and respect we earned a lot of allies. That’s worth much more than money. Each of the four years we had to turn vendors away, something you hate to do but which happens…if you are lucky.

We built a community, and I am happy about that.

Not everyone loved us. Not everyone was happy with us. But that’s the way of the world. We did things our way and we stuck to it.

We built a show that we hoped was family friendly and tried to stick to that because every monster kid has to get their inspiration from somewhere and from something and we hoped we’d be part of that inspiration for some kids.

I am really happy at the work we did in the community. From the start we wanted to partner with charities and people in need to help as much as we were able. I am not sure what kind of impact we made but for four years we did the best we were able to bring in some extra funds. We tried not to beat that drum too loudly because charity shouldn’t be about taking credit but about helping people in need. We tried our best.

Unfortunately in the kind of business like cons you have to beat the drum a little because you need the attention and the exposure. You need the help. We had a LOT of help from people. From fans, to celebrities, to vendors, to friends, and to some local sponsors we had a LOT of help. We were never able to bring in much sponsor money but that’s blame I’ll take because I am sure there’s more I could have done. What, I am not sure, but there had to be something. As it stands we had more support than I could ever have dreamed of having. This began as my dream and became a dream a lot of people began to share. That’s what’s so humbling to me – that so many people believed in what we were doing and supported it. We had never put anything on of that scale, I know I never had, and we did it. For four years.

For four years we put together shows large and small where were able to showcase artists, musicians, and movies many would never have seen. We had an outdoor movie night at a local park. We helped other events with their shows. More than anything we tried to create fun, inexpensive things for fans to do.

Doing the convention I learned a lot. We all did. Sometimes you can build it and ‘they’ don’t come. Just how it goes. Sometimes people don’t care, don’t have time, and don’t have the information they need to come out. Sometimes things don’t work. All you can do is learn, learn, learn and move forward.

I believe in conventions and more than that I believe in doing small shows like we did. Shows that can be intimate and affordable and fun and family friendly. I believe that you can do some amazing things with shows that size. I think the super shows have their place and have their importance but not everyone can make it to those, or afford them, and those fans still deserve to get the benefits of going to a show on a budget. Heck, small shows can build a love for conventions that makes them want to go to bigger shows. Sadly, I think the days of DIY shows like ours are coming to an end but if we can do it, anyone can do it. All it takes is a little money, a lot of heart, and a lot of trust.

I am honored that we got the opportunity to do our show for four years. I cannot believe we did it. It’s sad to let it go, but we’re not letting go completely.

We still plan to do locally produced shows focused on horror that will be smaller but just as fun and just as passionate. This will allow us to be more experimental and still remain active. We are no longer the Flint Horror Con but are the Flint Horror Collective and we aren’t done, not hardly.

If you supported our show, or me, or us, or even gave half of a damn about any of it we thank you. We truly couldn’t have done it without you.

Thanks.

Chris Arrr

www.flinthorrorcon.com

www.meepsheep.com

Con Game

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It was on the second day of the Motorcity Comic Con that I realized that that show marked twenty years of doing conventions and indeed twenty years of doing the MCC.

Crazy, I know!

A lot has changed in those twenty years in that con, cons in general, and in me. SO this is sort of my further adventures and most recent thoughts. I am not going to dissect this show because it’s a well put together show and any issues I have are either minor or just come with doing these bigger All Encompassing shows and over the twenty years I have done their shows they have been consistently good with the rare hiccup. I mean, you can’t get upset if you don’t think people are coming by your table if 30K people came to the show. I mean, you can only do so much. But, having helped to put on a show for three years and having done shows for twenty, I do have my opinions on some things.

Every Show Is Different

For me, I have done comic shows, art shows, horror shows, and random shows in between and if there is one thing that is certain it’s that every show is different. Each one is run by different folks, for different reasons, and with different goals and it serves you well to know what the show is about before you do it. Know what to expect lets you plan accordingly, stock accordingly, and to have your expectations in check. The two biggest shows I have ever had was this past comic convention and the close runner up being a weekend long art festival. If you were to ask me I would say I would have done better at the horror shows but so far, that hasn’t been the case. Usually a lot of comic con folks don’t care much for books but I think the one I just did has reached so many people that more open minded folks are turning up, which is pretty great. It’s best to know what you’re getting into though so checking what the other vendors have, who the guests are, and how the show is being promoted will really help you get a feel for what to expect. There are always surprises but some surprises you can control.

Friendliness Counts

Speaking as someone who does, has done, and has gone to cons no one likes a pushy merch bully. No one. Sure, you may be able to bully someone into buying your gear but do they really want it? And do you need the sale so badly that you want to become a carny barker? Really? I may not always sell when folks come check my stuff out but at least I know I didn’t pressure them and accepted that sometimes you just don’t have what someone is looking for and that’s how it works out sometimes. I’d rather someone leave curious about me and my books and with my name on their lips and the knowledge that I was polite and friendly than to badger someone and give them a poor impression of my work and myself. I have seen that time and again and it drives me batty. I have worked shows and have been stuck next to the loud mouthed barkers and it drove me up the wall. Sure, they got sales, but mostly it was to people familiar with their work…and people who just don’t have the ability to say ‘no’. Again, I’d rather not bully for sales. Just how I am. It’s disappointing to get someone that’s interested but won’t pull the trigger but welcome to the fun of putting your work out there for the world. Welcome to retail.

I Hate Convention Economics

This is just a personal aside and not meant to reflect any one con or all cons, just something I see and dislike. I am tired of conventions that load their shows with SO many guests that it increases their costs SO much that all other costs go up dramatically. I love going to shows with a lot of guests, I do, but not when it costs me money to park, a load of loot to get in, then a lot of money for autographs. It’s crazy. There is only SO much money to go around. As a vendor you have to factor in the cost to DO the show into what you have to make and then it makes the show that much more stressful. If you don’t make your initial investment back then you feel like you didn’t work hard enough.

I get that costs rise. Believe me, with the small-ish show we put on here in Flint I get how much things cost, can cost, and will cost, but there are ways to push back against that and dumping the expenses on fans and vendors just seems like a lousy way to do it.

The economics of a con, to me, is pretty simple –

It has to be inexpensive enough for you to be able to put it on, pay your bills, and have money for the next year.

It has to be affordable enough to DO the show that vendors can make their money back and hopefully a profit. Look, if you don’t set the table for vendors to at least have a chance to re-coup their money then they won’t come back and will not speak well of your show and that can be death to what you are doing.

Fans have to feel as if they can afford to not just come to the show but can get some things as well. The show is about them. They want to spend money. Let them. If the guests and vendors do well, even if you don’t do AS well, then it means you can do another show. Sure, you need to make enough to keep doing shows but if you make it so no one does well but you then no one will come back.

One thing you can never forget if you do shows – it isn’t about you. Ever.

 

GUESTS

I hate that autograph fees go up and down from show to show based on the show.

I hate that we are on the verge of pricing cons into oblivion. ESPECIALLY since so many celebs doing shows act as if doing a con is beneath them. Trust me – I am sure it pays more to do terrible film that embarrasses you but is it really that shameful to spend a couple days meeting fans of your work?

THOUGH…in saying that I will also say that the cattle call shows don’t really do much for actors past their prime. It really is sad when you see well like character or background actors at huge shows and NO ONE is going to see them, speak to them, or even acknowledge them. I cannot imagine how embarrassing that must be for them. Sure, they are being paid to be there but dang, no one likes to be ignored and when you are among a lot of your peers and you are ignored it has to hurt even worse. Me – I’d lower my prices and up my fun. Have fun, make sure the fans have fun, and if you are affordable enough – like ten bucks an autograph – then even the casual person is willing to pop for that signature and photo op. (Though as I write that I have to wonder if the reps decide on the prices for shows and keep them to that, hmm…)

Nothing makes a con more memorable than a celebrity that you really like and admire opening themselves up to you, having fun, and being kind. And nothing ruins a show faster than a rude, bored, or indifferent guest. It’s one of those things that can make or break an experience. I don’t get why guests would do a show they don’t want to do or will have no fun in doing but people don’t always make sense.

Don’t Forget!

Bring change. Small bills. Lots of it. And keep it safe.

And bring signage. Clean, clear, and easy to read.

And bring personality. You don’t want TOO much going on at your table but you want enough to show your personality and your work’s personality. This is your store so treat it that way.

Have fun! If you aren’t having fun then why do it? And if you look miserable then no one will buy from you, just a fact.

Look at people. You’re there to work, so work.

Make friends! The people around you are usually pretty good folks that are in a similar boat as you. You are with each other for the duration of the show – get to know them.

Be clean. For the love of Pete, clean up after yourself. Seriously.  

Look Out For Each Other

I never noticed, consciously noticed, how many straight up creepers are at cons until the last few years and it’s chilling. I think it’s fair to say that anyone – man or woman – who dresses in a revealing fashion is OK with being seen in that state. I think that’s fair to say. For SOME reason people at cons – again, men and women – take that when someone dresses in a costume, or is scantily clad, that they must really, truly want to be touched, fondled, and peeped at by strangers. Not quite sure where that thought comes from other than a broken view of people and a twisted way of looking at the world. I feel for the people that just went to a show to have fun, to dress up in an outfit, and to let their freak flags fly among peers only to have people make lewd comments, try to get grabby, or snap creepy pictures when they aren’t looking. Heck, I am still dumbfounded by the crazy things people just say to you at shows. Me, I just get the random insults to my art – which are infrequent, thankfully – so I cannot fathom what it’s like to be told you look like someone’s favorite porn star – which a vendor I know told me she has been told by a fellow vendor time and again.

What. The. Crap?

Aren’t we all supposed to be safe together?

Not really.

At our first show we had a vendor who approached someone with the con in an elevator and propositioned them. This vendor was at the show with their wife. People are nuts. Absolutely nuts. The person who was propositioned came to me, told me, and I contacted the vendor to clear things up and they apologized…and disappeared. Never to be heard from again. But still…

We’re nuts, right?

It’s as if folks want to live down to the stereotype people hold of them.

But we gotta look out for one another and make sure we’re all safe. If we can’t take care of our ‘own’ then what the heck good are we?

Give A Damn

One last thing that I admire when it happens and hate when it doesn’t is when the con promoters, creators, and show runners are actively involved in the show. When they care about it and the folks who are part of it. Most focus their attention on the guests, and I get that because that’s where the money is and those are the ‘stars’. Some will even take into account the fans who are coming to support the show and will do their best to make sure they are happy. This year the MCC did just that and addressed what had been a huge issue in 2013 and made it much, much, much less of an issue. That shows they care. Very few shows indeed get so involved that they check on the vendors. Usually it’s a Green Room that may or may not have much to offer and that’s about it. To me if you wanna have not just a successful show but a great show you have to spin all three plates and keep all three factions happy.

Guests came here because they trusted you’d take care of them so you need to take care of them. It shouldn’t take a contractual obligation to do that.

Fans should always be in your mind when you build and populate your show. These are the folks that will drive you crazy with what they THINK you should do but who you need to take into consideration as far as what you really NEED to do. If the fans don’t like your show then why are you doing it in the first place?

Finally, and not lastly, come the vendors. Again, if they love your show they will tell everyone they meet and thus promote it more than you ever could. If they hate it they’ll make sure the circuit knows it. Treat them well, feed them well, and give a darn when they give you feedback. They are the spine of your show.

                I cannot believe it’s been twenty years. I can’t. It’s crazy. I started doing shows with the ‘zine my friends and I did and I have done shows since. They are fun, frustrating, scary, and some of the best experiences I have ever had. I have made so many friends over the years and have seen some crazy, hilarious, and strange things. It’s funny because I have done shows long enough that I don’t take as much pleasure in just GOING to shows anymore. It isn’t nearly as much fun. I have had some crummy experiences at shows but many were because of my expectations, though some were due to the show runners. What matters was that, for me, I have kept at it. You learn a lot about yourself, your product, and how to sell and promote your product by doing shows and that sort of experience is more valuable than words can hope to capture.

My next scheduled show is in August. Wish me luck!

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

Reign It In

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There’s a lesson you need to learn, and learn quickly, as you go out and start doing art shows, book shows, conventions, or get involved in putting together events – the need to reign it in.

What you find, in all of those scenarios, is that you are entering a world that while new to you has existed for a while, and because you are entering it you are suddenly disrupting things.  This doesn’t mean you are trying to do anything bad, or wrong, or will ill intent, but that in all of these areas there is a lot of passion, a lot of investment (personal and financial) and a lot of time has been spent to establish these things and people so as soon as you start joining the party it creates a ripple effect.  And some people will welcome you and others won’t, and you just have to roll with it and understand – the quicker the better – that any poor reception to you and what you do may be simply because you’re new, and not because you are You.  The Arts are very volatile, and things have gotten very compacted.  People don’t look to a great variety of the Arts for entertainment right now and there is not much funding for it so it makes things difficult to find places to sell, promote, and to connect.  You joining the party just makes it that much more compacted.  So there are bound to be some colored feelings towards what you are doing.

The thing is though, people need to get over it.

No one owns the Arts, or any arm thereof. There needs to be new artists, writers, conventions, art shows, movies, music, everything. We need the inspiration and outlet.  We need to keep pushing our universe outward.  An example is that a lot of traditional writers hate/d e-books.  They’re a perversion of the Art.  Well, the market changed.  Tech changed.  People’s needs changed.  And unless we’re willing to let literature and stories disappear we all need to accept that the Times change and we need to evolve with them.  The wise writers stopped fighting and the rest, well, the rest are waiting for the asteroid to finish them off with the rest of the dinosaurs.

With so many of us using social networking to promote, sell, and connect it also makes things much more pressurized because comments are instantaneous, feedback is immediate, and grudges can form and become arguments and spin out of control in a matter of moments.  The temptation to return fire when someone starts calling your work, your professionalism, and what you are doing into question is too strong sometimes to resist.  And once you respond you can easily forget that you’re online, that what you are saying is being seen by the world, and that what may have been a mere disagreement or misunderstanding can suddenly become a caustic war that damages both sides. You get so wrapped up in the pettiness that you lose sight of the bigger picture and that is your reputation.

People pay far more attention to petty squabbles than we think.  Our minor wars that we may get over in a matter hours or days will leave a stain that lasts far longer.  So for the price of our frustration, for the price of letting someone get to us, or for our own hubris in thinking we have the right to attack others we have damaged our own cause.  Perhaps fatally wounding it and all the work you’d done.  And that is what people forget – that the good things we do last but that the bad things seem to last forever.  At least as far as forever can last in this digital age.  Mounting a campaign of hate on someone, what they do, who they are, or what you think they are saying about you will only lead to damaging your own credibility and all of the work you’ve been doing.

Reign it in.

You have to.

The internet and social networking is not the place for vendettas, grudges, or romantic drama. It can’t be because our social networks are our new faces to the world.  That’s why we post happy things, happy pictures, and all of the great things we do in our lives and not the struggles we have, the sadness, the sorrow, and the frustrations.  Sure, some of us are less filtered than others but even then we must be aware of what we’re putting out there.  And that is even more important when it comes to professional work.  A loved one or friend may forgive our temporary madness but the world often will not.  So we must reign it in and always remember that in business of any sort, even in the Arts, you have to treat everyone better than they treat you because you never know when you’ll need a friend, a favor, a job, or a new client.

It’s hard.

It sucks.

But if you can’t keep control of your temper and cannot watch what you put online and out to the world when you are upset then maybe the focus needs to be more on that, and less on what dream projects you may have stirring within.

…c…

BOOKS!

(e-books only .99 cents!)

www.meepsheep.com

How We Got To Where We Went

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It feels slightly pompous to act as if putting a horror convention together , a FIRST YEAR horror convention, is anything of great importance and in all honesty, it isn’t THAT important but for those of us directly involved in the long process of doing it it was, and it became our lives. As personal as this story is I really do feel though that the story, as much as can be remembered and told, of how we got to where we ended up warrants telling. At least in part.

We’ll see if you agree.

As I have said before, in older blogs, the dream of doing a convention in Flint, specifically a horror convention, is an old one for me. The dream began in the early nineties with the Fangoria WEEKEND OF HORRORS that happened in Dearborn, Michigan. They did two, and only two, of these shows in Michigan and I went to both and they really deepened my love for the genre and its creators. I loved the atmosphere of unadulterated nerdery and the way we were all embraced by the people who made these films we all loved, as well as the pure ability to get movies, posters, shirts, autographs, all of it in one place and all of it for one thing – horror. I cannot stress enough how important this atmosphere of belonging was. That set the tone for me. I wanted to be around other fans that saw horror movies and loved the story, the effects, the direction, the writing, the acting, loved all of it as much as I did. After that con I attended comic conventions, did comic cons, did a ‘zine, did a magazine, started writing, and started doing other conventions, and got into art and art shows. Every con I did, like it or not,  was always judged against the WEEKEND OF HORRORS and none lived up to it. None save the WORLD HORROR CON felt like friends met and unmet getting together and just enjoying their passions for the genre. And there are other cons, comic, anime, DIY, all manner of cons that will give the fans and people into that stuff the feeling I had at the horror con, I know they are out there, I know they exist, but my feeling had been that they were not in Michigan and certainly not in Flint.

Growing up around Flint and then moving to the downtown several years ago I was shocked at how much passion there was here for horror, Halloween, and for all things weird and creepy. It shocked me that for all the haunted houses we have in the area no one had tried to put together a horror con, something I had seriously wanted to do since the late 1990’s. It just seemed like a natch. It was funny that another spark that lit this fire was when a big horror con was set to finally come to Detroit after we had only had DIY cons put together by Michigan people. Finally a larger scale national show was coming here…until they cancelled that is because essentially the Michigan market was dead. WHAT? Really? I didn’t believe that at all and wanted to prove it, desperately. But all of those thoughts were dreams and like all the dreams I had had that were bigger than me I let the dream of a con go because I had no money, no experience, and no plan. What happened over the years though was that the dream didn’t truly die but sat dormant, waiting for me to return to it when I was ready.

At every con I did or attended I took mental notes of what I liked, didn’t like, what could be changed, should be changed, and what should be added. I don’t know how many times over the years I would complain to friends about how I would have done things differently at this show or that, going so far to tell how I would do things  in reviews of cons in this blog and others. The thing was that I had ALL these ideas but no guts (or resources) to implement them.

That all changed, as things tend to, and changed without me even noticing.

In 2005 I became heavily involved in the arts scene in downtown Flint. I worked with an arts group called the Creative Alliance, I did art shows, I helped put shows together, and I began to really get my stories out and around to people. And getting involved with Flint, with the arts, and with all these impassioned artists  it was like a great fire was lit in my heart and the world was suddenly different. We could do anything. I could do anything, if I’d just give myself a chance to do it. As my dreams returned and new ones formed I realized that it was time for me to focus more on the things I wanted to do and less on what others wanted and felt it was time to see what I could do alone so I eventually I left the arts group and began working on my own projects and art shows, working with other friends who were just as passionate about Flint as I was but who were not otherwise involved. Together we built a base for other indie art shows to build on and we did it in ways the bucked an established system and network of contacts that had existed for years. And we had our stumbling blocks, had our first huge show fall apart under the stresses of balancing friendship with a working relationship, but in the end it was the seeds of those ‘guerilla’ shows that the convention truly sprang from. It was from being around other creative people, amazing people who didn’t wait for others to do events but who did them themselves that inspired me the most. Seeing what others could do made me question why I wasn’t doing more.

So I had a network of friends I could trust, and who were as passionate as I was, I had a plan, or the seeds of one, and the last piece fell in to place early in 2011 – money. When all was said and done and I looked at my tax return I realized I would have eight hundred dollars more coming back than I had before and it was money I could do whatever I wanted with. Needless to say I was thrilled at this concept and a million thoughts formed as to what I should do with the money. All of those ideas boiled down to two in the end –
1. Go out of town to another horror convention, a big one, and try to sell some art and books.
2. Do a horror convention in Flint.

There were pros and cons to both. I really wanted to focus on my writing and art more and wanted to give myself a chance to reach a different market and different people, hoping to create a buzz that as yet hadn’t existed. I truly believe in my writing and just feel that if I can figure a way to get it out to more people then perhaps I”ll move more books and start to get my work out more. The problem though was that for the grand-ish of money I spent I would never re-coup that. I would have fun, I was sure, but I wouldn’t re-coup that money at the con which would just make me regret doing it in the first place.

With doing a convention here, sheesh, where do I begin? How do you find guests? How would we pay for guests? Travel? Venue? Promo? And would people even care if we did do one?

With both ideas what kept coming back to me was why not? Why not do one here? Why not try? Heck, time and again we or others had proven that there was a lot of interest here in the arts when people would consistently call Flint a Blue Collar town and act as if we’re all uneducated louts. Who knew what could be done here if no one tried it And so I made the choice, I would do that con, and that changed everything. I immediately confided in my girlfriend and my friends Justin and and we began spit-balling the where, when, and who of it all. We really wanted to do it that year so we focused on October, thinking that since it was February we had plenty of time to plan and put together this thing. I know, we were optimists. Next we needed to figure out WHO? The first person who came to mind was our good friend Mac, who is better known as Wolfman Mac and who we had met a few years earlier on the set of his syndicated show. (Side note, Mac is one of the nicest, most welcoming and gracious people I have ever met. I read a short piece in a Detroit free paper about his new show that mixed old B-horror films with weird horror skits and immediately tracked him down and wrote him a ‘fan’ letter, which he responded to by inviting me down to his studio to watch a taping. WHA? Ever since he has been a great friend to me and he was someone I wanted involved with this.) Mac was extremely excited by the prospect of the convention and began looking at his schedule to see when he was free. October was his busiest month but he thought the 8th looked good so we focused our attention on October 8, 2011. We had other ideas for guests but wanted to find a venue first, now that we had a date and a main attraction (initially Mac was going to do a live version of his show, something he does in Detroit and we felt he could translate here. He was going to hang out for the day then do a live show/movie to cap the event) and now we needed a venue.

By this time the group’s core was me, Geary, Justin, and our friend Steve. We had all loved horror, loved cons, and all wanted to do something like this in the area. Each of us brought something different to the table and each of us had different ways to help and promote the con. We were a really well put together team and each with our own ideas to add. I remember our first meetings where the sky was the limit. We could do anything. We just needed to figure out what we wanted to do specifically.

While we looked for a venue we learned that another Flint group was doing a horror themed event the same day as the convention and I was thrilled. They had done their event a few times and were established and we were the new kids but it seemed like it was only natural to partner up and with Mac serving as bait to link us I began an email conversation with the other group. We were immediately met with skepticism by the people in charge of the other event and with attitude and immediately they wanted more info about us, and who we were than they would give about what they were doing. I was ok with this, despite the misgivings of the others, because it just made sense to work together and not against one another.  Having two horror events on the same day, in the same city, that were not even going to acknowledge one another just seemed petty and silly. We needed to work together. This would not prove to be the case though as again and again I was rebuffed by the other group, who felt they were too far along in their planning to partner up, and finally it reached the point of childishness when they cut all ties to Mac, who knew these people and had worked with them in the past. It was felt that he had chosen sides against them. I was mortified and repulsed and was finally done and walked away from the notion of working together and we focused on our event. It might look weird not to be working together but better that than selling your soul and the soul of your event for nothing so we moved on and went back to focusing on the venue.

From early on we  knew how we wanted this to be set – vendor/guest room, and a movie room, the general layout of a convention these days. That was the plan and that was how we approached venues. I began asking friends for ideas of venue and looked at some places online and it was not easy finding spaces we could rent for $800. Now that there were four of us that were heavily involved there was talk of some of the others putting money in for a venue if the need arose so we started narrowing our focus. We came up with a spot in downtown Flint we wanted and it seemed perfect. It was a banquet/conference center and was big, looked great, and they wanted to work with us. Best of all they would work within our budget.
We were amazed and excited at once.

I sat down and fleshed out a deal with the conference center for two rooms to be combined and used as a movie room and we would use the open hallways for vending, something the booking person at the venue suggested. Great. We also were going to rent a side room and see if Tom Sullivan, a friend of Geary’s, would come and set up the entire Evil Dead museum in there. I was so excited with how easy it was to work with the conference center, how willing they were to work with us that I put the deposit down and we began soliciting other guests. Tom Sullivan signed on, as did artist Mark Bloodworth and with Mac we had a good core. We then began mulling names for our convention and logos. We really, really, REALLY wanted a clever name for the convention. We all struggled over it for a while, going through a lot of possibilities that never quite worked but the best and easiest thing was what we first came up with – Flint Horror Con. It was simple and to the point. Perfect. Next was the logo. I really thought an axe and chainsaw crossed would be awesome as a logo but while no one outright hated the idea it didn’t feel right so Steve, a really talented artist, took a crack at it and came up with two chainsaws crossed . We loved it. While we loved it though it wasn’t really right until another guy, a graphic designer friend named Marcus, took the art and added circles around the ‘saws, then added a distressed look that sold the whole thing. That was when, for us at least, it was perfect.

Now that we were really moving on some things we set up the Facebook page and started leaking info. We were stunned by the immediate response. We had never known what people would say to the notion of a Flint based horror convention but wow, so many people added us and began getting excited for the idea of what we were trying to do that it really solidified our resolve and made us really want to make this something special. So while Steve began working on the website I began nailing things down with the venue…something that would never really happen.

Everything we had agreed upon was torn apart not a few weeks later when I got a frantic and rude call that they needed to move us because they were booking the available spaces around us, they also needed to know our times, something we had not worked out yet, and when we did give them times were told that would not work – that they only rented in four hour blocks. WHAT? We had just started to discuss whether we should rent more space as we were putting the feelers out for vendors and now they were trying to move us and screw us around. We worked the times out and I took the move well enough, we all did, but it was the way they were booking around us that troubled me. The space we were gong to use for vendors, the halls, were being chewed up, as were the tables we were told we could use. Suddenly this location wasn’t so ideal. We had already announced a date and the venue and had printed up promo material so we didn’t want to pull away from that but it was becoming clear that the waters were changing. After we changed our spaces we approached the venue about more space, possibly renting the large convention hall area which we were lead to believe we might get for a little less than their cost since we had already been inconvenienced. What we were quoted was that the biggest space there could cost us anywhere from $1500 to nothing, depending on the whims of the chef, who was the last word on space rental negotiations. We had to speak to him though. Frustrated but resolute I made an appointment to meet him – two weeks away. Suddenly we were getting into April and had not been able to really move forward on things. While we were getting a lot of vendor interest in our one day show – something I felt necessary since I just don’t think Flint is ready for a two day show yet – but I didn’t want to take people’s money without things more solid on our end. It just felt wrong. The day before the meeting I got a call to re-confirm it and things were right on course…until the next day when I got a call from the booking person to cancel because the chef wasn’t available. Ok, so I made another appointment that summarily got cancelled again. Beyond frustrated I went to the property owners and sent them an email, pleading our case and building a case against the booking person, who had gone from very helpful to rude, condescending, and inconsiderate. The response we got was essentially – if you don’t have the money for the space then you will have to go somewhere else.

Money.
Money and nothing else. That was what this all came down to, like so much other stuff in Flint. Money.

After my email I got a call from the booking person, very unhappy with me and this was when things reached a head. They were very indignant and rude and I had had enough of their attitude and games and requested my deposit back. We had already discussed in our group what the plan was if things didn’t work out here and had been told from the outset by the booking person that the deposit was refundable. PHEW! Cut to the phone call and the person INSISTING they had never said that and that the deposit was not refundable going so far as to call me Christopher, as if they were my parent and scolding me. Mind you, we were six months out from this event and the deposit wasn’t refundable. What? I was outside of the downtown Flint bus terminal after just getting a pop for lunch and was starting to have a meltdown on the phone. These people didn’t really think they were going to keep my money did they? Things came to a head and we both got very angry and the contact told me they would speak to the chef and see what he said and they’d contact me later. I was fuming. Enraged. We had worked so hard on things and had begun the long work of getting the word out and getting people booked and here it was all falling apart right before our eyes. If I didn’t get the money back I felt like we were sunk. So we waited, we waited, we waited until I got a call telling me I could come pick up the deposit as soon as I was able.

VICTORY!

Now, it wasn’t a real victory but it was a start. It was a good sign. I retrieved the money, was far nicer than I had reason to be – kill ‘em with kindess, as they say – and then the real work had to begin.

Where the hell were we gonna do this thing now?

The next several months were pretty bleak ones for the con. There was still a lot of excited talk of guests we’d like to pursue (reality sets in once you begin to see appearance fees and all that) and ideas for how we could put it all together but in essence we were stalled out. Without a venue we couldn’t book vendors, and without vendor fees we couldn’t book guests, and without guests we couldn’t entice fans to come out or get sponsors. The days became months and soon the summer was on us and there was no movement. We looked into several venues but as we’d get deeper into negotiations talk would turn to money and the money was always far more than we had. Anyone we approached about sponsorship rebuffed us because no one had money. Well, not quite everyone. A college was interested, very interested, and I even met with some of their people and students hoping to get the convention there as well as a sponsorship in place. We negotiated until September when I was finally told that there were no more funds and that the convention wouldn’t work on their campus. There was one sponsor though that stood up and was almost as excited as we were and that was our friend Amy Warner from Sweet Harvest Bakery, one of the first people to really believe in us and champion us. She pledged support from the outset and stood by that and went far above what we could ever have asked at the con but in July, we were a million miles from doing a convention. The website and Facebook had not been updated save to tell people info was coming and we would go add the new people but that was it. I had gotten a lot of emails from people interested in the convention, one of them from Ken Sagoes who had played ‘Kincaid’ from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and all of these people were interested in the convention only, what was there to say?
Uh, uh, uh…we’ll get back to you.

It got embarrassing.
I was confronted at the Motorcity Comic Con by a potential vendor who wanted an update in May and I was embarrassed that we were stuck where we were. I felt responsible. It was my big idea, my dream, and here it was floundering and by the time Summer was inching toward a close it was dying. I did my best to keep everyone together, and to keep everyone believing but the hope was running out. Kids, I am not an optimist but I play at one really well sometimes but it’s hard to hold onto hope in the face of odds that were not just overwhelming but which were becoming insurmountable. Time was against us and money was no ally. If we had money nothing would be an issue but we didn’t, we had my eight hundred bucks and a lot of high hopes and that was about it.

We had inquired at places, had emailed places, had looked into everything that made sense and we were down to few cards to play. It was the end of July and I promised myself, and the other guys, that if something didn’t give by August we would let it go. There would just not be enough time to put things together. It was suggested we let it go this year and focus on next year and I refused. We couldn’t announce, come out all guns blazing and promoting this thing then cancel and hope people cared about our next attempt. Too many people do that and it drives me crazy. It is sketchy and dishonest.  And my feeling was that if we didn’t do it this year I had other things I needed to do with the money. It was now or never.

Out of other options a friend recommended we talk to the Downtown Flint Masonic Temple. I loved the venue but had looked into the space before as a spot for my girlfriend’s surprise 30th birthday a couple years back and it was out of our price range but figured I’d ask just in case. There were not many other places to try. I sent them an email and they got back to me immediately and I set up a time to go in and meet them. The place was beautiful and they were willing to work with us on price, heck, more than that, they were willing to help sponsor and promote us, the comic paper they did there at least ( Flint Comix). Suddenly we could rent two of the floors for the con and we could afford it. I was stunned and went back to the guys to tell them we were close. We were so close. The fly in the ointment came when we learned that if we wanted to do it there we’d have to move the date. And if we moved the date we lost the guests we had but better to lose the guests and keep the event was what I figured.

I went back to the guys to plead my case. I knew it wasn’t ideal, that we would have to start over, but I felt we could do it. Steve and Justin didn’t feel like they could ride the roller coaster any longer and chose to walk away – they had other projects to work on, things to focus on, and it was time to let me and Geary see what we could do with this. I turned to two friends and asked their advice – what do I do? My friend Messy told me not to give up but to really weigh things and to get advice from someone who had dome this before. And there i was – Do I go on or let it go? My friend Charles Shaver said to me – go for it. I smiled. I went to Geary and presented the case and immediately he told me he was in and we were gonna do it. He was as confident as scared as I was and that was what I needed.

The clouds broke.

We had all lived under this horrible darkness and uncertainty for so long, the four of us, and the clouds finally broke. For two of us it was the freedom of not being saddled with an event they could no longer pour themselves into and for me and Geary, it meant we could finally see what we could do.

Things moved pretty fast after that. With the new venue confirmed, a date confirmed, and a deposit down, we had to rebuild this. We hit Facebook hard and re-announced the con and put the new date out there and now we needed to get some guests. Each of the guests we had confirmed previously couldn’t do the new date so we started looking at the in-box and lo and behold we had a lot of great local and regional people interested in coming out and being a part of this thing so we began booking. Then Mac proved again why I hold him in such high esteem. Knowing what we’d gone through for the con he felt awful not being able to be there and he called me to talk to me about it. He wanted to see what he could do. He worked his calendar like only a wolfman can and was able to find time early in the day to come out for the con. Then someone asked whether Tom Sullivan was still going to make it. Geary is friends with Tom but wasn’t having luck getting through to him so I sent Tom a message on Facebook and he immediately agreed to come out. Things were starting to turn around. I kept hitting the PR side and Geary worked guests and volunteers. As we began releasing names the vendors got interested again and we got flooded with interest for the vending. My plan of a low cost show and low cost vendor fees was paying off, now we just needed to make sure we kept OUR costs do to make it all work. We had a lot of guests interested in coming out but it all came down to money and risk and reward – if we spend X on this person will we get Y in return for that investment? Someone I was determined to book was actor Ken Sagoes, who had been a supporter and friend since our first contact and he was someone I felt we owed it to to bring out. Slowly the pieces began falling into place. While we were not getting monetary sponsors we were getting a lot of places wanting to work with us and willing to do in-kind sponsorships, which in many ways was far more valuable to us. The biggest break came in monetary support from author Heather Brewer who became our only financial backer outside of us and who, just at seeing what we were trying to do in an area she had once called home, was willing to support and encourage us. That last boost really helped create what would become Flint Horror Con 2011. She believed in us and didn’t really even know us. It was an amazing gesture and one that strengthened our resolve.

With the support we were getting there was also an overabundance of interest from artists and filmmakers and I hated turning people down, we just didn’t have space to fit everyone into the con. Thus rose Art Fear – a name that came from my landlord Joel Rash, who is damn clever for that one – and It Came From The Kiva! I began to gather all these great artists and filmmakers and asked if they would let us showcase their work at lead in events and they all graciously accepted and that allowed us to spread what was a one day con into one full day and two nights. We had always talked about doing lead in events of some sort, our indie art mentality coming into play here, and it worked, and it showed how much fun you can do if you are open to ideas in how you put these things together.

The support we found was so amazing that all of those months of work, all of those sleepless hours where we doubted the convention and ourselves was suddenly worth it. All of it. And when friend after friend volunteered to work the convention for hours and hours to help us, when the guests told us time and again how much fun they were having and how happy they were to have come out, and when the vendors told us the same everything came into focus. This was our dream but it was one shared with so many people, share BY so many people that the dream was no longer ours alone but was everyone’s who came to believe in it.

I cannot say enough how honored and lucky I feel to have the friends and support that I had and this con had as we put it together and put it on. So many people gave their time and volunteered with us, promoted us, and encouraged us that without them, without the trust of our guests and vendors, without the faith our sponsors had in us, and without the support of our friends and family this never would have happened. It was not perfect. There are things we can tweak, can improve, and given the chance we will. For now I am happy with what we did, and what we built, and am willing to leave the future to the future. A day will come to look at 2012 but it is not today and I am thankful for that. Whatever lies ahead though, I know that we can tackle it because we have already done the seemingly impossible – we lived a dream and shared it, and that’s pretty rare indeed.

Here’s to 2011!
Now gimme a sec before we talk Flint Horror Con 2012.

(My books, art, and stuff —-> MEEP!

Motorcity Nightmares 2011 – In Pictures

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