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 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.
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!