Con Report: My First NecronomiCon (Part 2)

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Previously, I posted a summary of my first two days at NecronomiCon Providence (actually the two days before the con proper). TLDR version: Day One was awkward and uneventful, due mainly to my terminal shyness and a wicked case of imposter syndrome. Day Two started much the same, but took a sharp upward turn when I ran into fellow up-and-comer David B. Busboom, which helped make me fell less like an outsider. I’m happy to report the next three days followed the trend of skyward ascent, ultimately culminating in a peak of awesomeness that leads me to respond now to all the naysayers: NecronomiCon is alive and well, and if you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and/or weird fiction in general, I can hardly think of any event more deserving of your time and money.

There you have it, con organizers, an official endorsement from William Tea, a legend in his own mind. I expect payment in full by Monday morning.

Without further ado, let me tell you about my Necro weekend…

FRIDAY (8/18/17)

After indulging in two of the proverbial three S’s (a shit and a shower; sorry, but you don’t get a manly beard like mine from shaving), my bleary eyed self attended two panels; first, “Wereweird: Lycanthropy, Animism, and Animal Transformation in Weird Fiction” (with Stephen Graham Jones, Cody Goodfellow, Sonya Taafe, and K.H. Vaughan), then “Machinations and Mesmerism: How Middle European Fantasists & Romanticists Informed Modern Horror” (with Anya Martin, Jon Padgett, Steve Mariconda, Leslie Klinger, Sean Moreland, and Michael Cisco). God I’m such a nerd.

Sidenote: Not to get too far ahead of myself, but I think it speaks to how friendly and down-to-earth everyone at NecronomiCon was that by the end of the weekend several of the people mentioned above would go from being panelists I looked up to and saw as separate from myself to folks with whom I shared post-con meals and casual conversation.

Following that, the vendors’ room was open at last and howling for my hard-earned moolah. More importantly, it was beckoning me to find the Muzzleland Press table so I could pick up my contributor’s copy of Terror in 16-Bits, a new anthology of horror fiction inspired by classic video games, featuring stories by yours truly, Matthew M. Bartlett, J.R. Hamantaschen, Orrin Grey, Amber Fallon, Sean M. Thompson, Brian O’Connell, Alex Smith, Jonathan Raab, Jack Burgos, Richard Wolley, Julie Godard, Thomas C. Mavroudis, Adrean Messmer, and Amberle L. Husbands.

I was lucky enough to get to meet Bartlett, Thompson, Smith, and Raab in short order (we talked about the games that inspired our individual tales, among other things), and I also ran into both Steven Rosenstein (who co-hosts the Microphones of Madness podcast) and Scott Dwyer (who runs the weird fiction website The Plutonian). Dwyer was kind enough to hook me up with a free copy of Phantasm/Chimera, an anthology he edited and published on his own, and which features fiction from some of the most singular talents in horror and dark fantasy today, including the aforementioned Bartlett and Padgett, as well as Livia Llewellyn, Christopher Slatsky, Brian Evenson, John Claude Smith, Jason A. Wyckoff, Mike Allen, Clint Smith, Thana Niveau, and Adam Golaski.

Two more people I met in the vendors’ room and had memorable encounters with were Jim Dyer and Tim Vigil.

Dyer is the grandson of C.M. Eddy, Jr., a pulp writer who contributed to the legendary Weird Tales Magazine back in the 1910s and ‘20s and who was a close personal friend of the man himself, H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, the two famously collaborated a few times, most notably on the notorious necrophilia tale “The Loved Dead” (which was so controversial it actually got issues of Weird Tales pulled from shelves) and an unfinished manuscript commissioned by Harry Houdini called The Cancer of Superstition. Dyer honors his grandfather’s legacy through his company Fenham Publishing, which maintains the rights to Eddy’s stories and keeps them in print all these years later for pulp junkies like myself to discover and enjoy anew.

Vigil, meanwhile, should need no introduction. How things should be, sadly, is not often the way things are, though. Despite being a highly influential comic book artist with an intense, surreal, hyper-detailed style reminiscent of Bernie Wrightson, Jack Kirby, and Richard Corben, Vigil remains mostly a cult figure to this day. He’s also one my own personal favorite illustrators of all time (as if my effusive praise thus far hasn’t already given as much away). Over the years, Vigil has done art for Heavy Metal Magazine, the Frank Frazetta-inspired sword-and-sorcery title Death Dealer and the zombies-in-Vietnam series ’68 from Image Comics, several titles from Glenn Danzig’s Verotik Comics, a whole bunch of damn titles from Avatar Press (including the long-running Webwitch, Threshold, and Raw Media Monthly), and even a couple Green Lantern and Wolverine books for The Big Two.

Despite all that, Vigil remains best known for Faust: Love of the Damned, a groundbreaking and controversial independent epic that took more than 20 years to complete, and which spawned some fantastic miniseries spinoffs (including the Stoker Award-nominated Faust: Book of M) and even a movie adaptation directed by Frank Yuzna (the b-movie maniac behind such cult classics as Bride of Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead 3, and Society). Almost aggressively, actively noncommercial, Faust is a gothic, brooding, philosophical masterpiece of antiheroic, genre-bending horror awash in explicit violence and graphic sex. It is without a doubt, the most iconic series to come out of the post-TMNT black-and-white indie-comics movement of the 80s. The same things which made Faust such an incredible piece of work, however, are big reasons for Vigil remaining so much a fringe personality. Of course, the man’s casually confrontational fuck-the-mainstream do-it-yourself ethos might have played a role in that, too. Gotta love it.

As you can tell, I have a huge amount of respect for Tim Vigil, so it was an exciting opportunity to meet  in person. We actually hit it off, if you can believe it, which directly led to an amazing experience I got to have on Saturday evening, but we’ll get to that soon enough. As of Friday, I was content to merely gush all over him like a swooning schoolgirl. I also commissioned an original piece of art from him (a rendering of Jack Kirby’s Etrigan) which I plan to be buried with when I die.

20915662_265576717262825_5069277433062088082_nFollowing that, I attended a few more panels: “Writing Non-Stale Mythos Tales” (with Kij Johnson, Darrell Schweitzer, Peter Rawlik, Alex Houstoun, Tom Lynch, and Vincent O’Neil), “Women Directing Weird” (with Gemma Files, Andrea Wolanin, Heather Buckley, Izzy Lee, Diana Porter, and Gwen Callahan), and “Erotic Lovecraftiana” (with Paul LaFarge, Livia Llewellyn, Peter Rawlik, Sonya Taaffe, and Joe Zannella). Those last two were especially insightful and entertaining, with Erotic Lovecraftiana bringing out the ribald best in both the speakers and the audience, leading to discussion of everything from Lovecraft’s own sexuality to the pornographic pastiches of Edward Lee, to the fetishistic possibilities of Deep Ones not needing to breathe, to a sex-ed demonstration in which rubber tentacles stood in for the usual bananas. Nice.

After the con I met Jonathan Raab and a bunch of other people at a local pub for some artery-hardening bar food. While there I finally got to meet Jon Padgett, Tom Breen, and Scott R. Jones in person. I told Padgett how much I enjoyed his brilliant collection The Secret of Ventriloquism and we talked about the recent Dark Tower movie adaptation (which, dammit, I still haven’t seen) and the familiar experience of growing up as geeky kids made fun for loving books about monsters and alien worlds, only for us to age into adults and find the rest of the world now reflecting decidedly similar interests. Later, me, Jones, and Breen bitched about the state of U.S. politics, while Sean M. Thompson and I bonded a bit over our mutual affections for Goosebumps books and the old Nickelodeon T.V. show Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

Trump-bashing and ’90s children’s television, truly the kind of high-brow conversation you’d expect from us snooty literary types, eh?

I can’t believe I’m technically an adult.

SATURDAY (8/19/17)

Right off the bat, the first event scheduled for Saturday morning was one of the ones I had been anticipating the most. Horrorstor and My Best Friend’s Exorcism author Grady Hendrix presented a special preview of his upcoming nonfiction book Paperbacks From Hell, shining a light on all things good, bad, and utterly insane from the ‘70s and ‘80s horror novel boom. Though it was early morning, Hendrix sure as hell was the right person to wake my ass up, blazing a mile a minute through an enthusiastic, hilarious, and, frankly, loud survey of the trends, tropes, clichés and ridiculously lurid cover art that defined the era. The dude even sang a pair of original songs he wrote about cheesy paperback covers. It was a blast.

I got to say, as a nostalgic bargain-hunter whose personal library consists primarily of used books rescued from flea markets and secondhand stores, I’ve had the Paperbacks From Hell preordered since it was first announced. During the presentation, though, I got so excited that I actually went online with my smartphone and hunted down a few of the zanier titles Hendrix mentioned. I’m especially looking forward to getting my grubby mitts on William H. Johnstone’s Toy Cemetery, which reportedly features killer dolls, vampire-werewolf hybrid ghosts, and, of course, tons of incest. Be still my beating heart!

I attended a couple more panels later, including “Editing Horror (with Ellen Datlow, Peter Straub, Douglas E. Winter, Michael Kelly, Leslie Klinger, and Mike Davis) and “Teatro Grottesco: The Bleak Universe of Thomas Ligotti” (with Jon Padgett, Matthew M. Bartlett, Michael Calia, Michael Cisco, and Alex Houstoun). The former was especially eye-opening, not in the least because of the presence of ELLEN FUCKING DATLOW, as well as PETER FUCKING STRAUB and DOUGLAS FUCKING E. FUCKING WINTER.

Winter, if you’re unaware, edited two of the most essential tomes any horror fan should have on their shelf. First, in 1985 there was the World Fantasy Award-winning non-fiction book Faces of Fear (which includes must-read interviews with some of the all-time giants of the genre: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Robert Bloch, Charles L. Grant, Richard Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, William Peter Blatty, T.E.D. Klein, Michael McDowell, Alan Ryan, Whitley Strieber, David Morell, James Herbert, Dennis Etchison, John Coyne, and V.C. Andrews). Then, in 1988 there was the classic fiction anthology Prime Evil (which includes original, never-before-published stories by King, Straub, Barker, Campbell, Grant, Strieber, and Morrell, as well as stories by even more genre giants like Thomas Ligotti, Jack Cady, and Thomas Tessier).

Straub, meanwhile, is probably best known for his two novel collaborations with Stephen King, The Talisman and Black House. The man has also won a frankly absurd number of awards over the years (including six Bram Stoker Awards, three World Fantasy Awards, one Locus Fantasy Award, and one August Derleth Award, not to mention numerous nominations) for such classic books as Ghost Story, Shadowland, Koko, and, my personal favorite, Floating Dragon. A gleaming highlight of my NecronomiCon experience was getting to shake Straub’s hand and tell him how much that novel meant to me, the impact it’s having on the novel I’m writing now, and the role his work played in making me want to be a writer to begin with. In all honesty, he probably hears that kind of thing all the time, but how often do I get to be the one to say it?

Naturally, I made a total fool of myself, babbling and shaking his hand no less than three separate times in the span of about two minutes.

It was worth it.

Less anxiety-inducing were my encounters with three talented artists who I managed to strike up conversations with: Nick Gucker, Liv Rainey Smith, and Yves Tourigney. I went home with art from every single one of them, because how could you not? Seriously, click Google their stuff and tell me its not eye-poppingly gorgeous. Tourigney in particular I had to hunt down; he and writer S.L. Edwards have been collaborating on a weekly webcomic called “Borkchito: Occult Doggo Detective,” which combines two of my greatest loves: paranormal investigator stories and doggo memes. Not only did I need to meet this mad genius, I needed to snag myself one of the limited-run print editions of the collected Borkchito!

As the day came to a close, I wandered back over to Tim Vigil’s booth to check on my commission and bullshit some more. As I mentioned earlier, we kind of hit it off earlier in the weekend. Even still, no way was I expecting him to say “Want to hang out later?”

One of my all-time favorite comic artists wanted to hang out with an absolute nobody like myself? Gah.

I somehow managed to put my inner fanboy back in his box long enough to say “sure” and suggest we grab something to eat. We went to a nearby restaurant and, over burgers and mac-and-cheese (classy artsy types, ain’t we?), we talked a good long time about the convention, his art, my writing, European horror movies, the current state of the comics industry, and porn. By the end of dinner it, he asked to read some of my stories and even offered to illustrate something of mine someday (like say if I ever put out a chapbook, hint hint).

My mind had basically blown out the back of my skull by this point. Fortunately, I was able to gather up enough pieces of my splattered gray matter to make my way back to the hotel so I could get ready for one thing I’d been waiting all day for. As part of the NecronomiCon festivities, the nearby Columbus Theater hosted a special concert featuring the bands Magic Circle, Beastmaker, and Coven.

20882366_266033790550451_8404608010217385461_nYes, that Coven.

The Jinx Dawson Coven. The “One Tin Soldier” Coven. The “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls” Coven. That Black Sabbath-before-Black Sabbath Coven. The satanic-psychedelia occult-rock doom-metal prototype Coven. That fucking Coven.

Live.

In a beautifully restored 1920’s theater.

With two kick-ass modern-day doom bands opening.

Formed in 1968, Coven were one of the first rock bands to not just be associated with satanism and occultism, but to embrace and even enthusiastically flaunt such things. Their shows were half-concert and half-black mass, full of diabolic chants and theatrical rituals. Every single goth-rock witch-pagan, black-metal church-burner, shock-rock devil-worshiper, and doom-n-gloom bong-ripper on Earth owes a debt to Coven.

I’ll let you speculate which of those categories yours truly might fall into.

Honestly, this is not a band I ever actually thought I’d get to see live. It was a truly otherworldly experience. Icon frontwoman Jinx Dawson still knows how to dominate the stage; emerging from a black casket wearing mirrored mask, bathed in hellish scarlet light and surrounded by dark-robed druids, she demanded every last drop of the audience’s attention. And she fucking got it. True to Coven’s reputation, the performance felt as much like a transcendent, blasphemous, magic ceremony as it did a rock concert. By the time I got back to the hotel, my body was soaked with sweat, my ears were ringing, my head was pounding, and my godforsaken soul was at least 666 shades blacker.

Evil me then ordered cheesecake from room service and went to bed.

SUNDAY (8/20/17)

After weathering the demonic assault of Coven’s sinister occult rites, I felt like hammered shit, so I slept in on Sunday. This resulted in me missing a panel and a reading I was interested in, but, hey, them’s the breaks. Once I finally regained my strength and sanity, I emerged from the shadowy tomb that was my hotel room, hissing and recoiling from the light like a centuries-old vampire. The housekeeping lady may or may not have the sign of the cross as I passed.

I attended a few more panels on Sunday: “Small Press in the Weird” (with Cody Goodfellow, Derrick Hussey, Dragana Drobnjak, Mike Davis, and Dwayne Olson), “Faithful Frighteners” (with Richard Stanley, Bracken MacLeod, Tom Breen, Douglas Wynne, Izzy Lee, and Heather Buckley), “The Bleak Oblique: Aickman’s Influence on Contemporary Horror” (with Simon Strantzas, Michael Cisco, Paul Di Filippo, Jack Haringa, and Steve Rasnic Tem), and “The Future of Weird Fiction and NecronomiCon Providence” (with S. J. Bagley, Ellen Datlow, Sam Cowan, Ruthanna Emrys, and Michael Kelly).

I also ran around the vendor’s room like a chicken with its head cut off in a mad scramble to buy a few last minute items (I say “a few” here, when really I mean “a bank account-eradicating shit-ton”). Among the individuals I ran into while in the grip of this consumerist frenzy were author and con organizer Sam Gafford, German illustrator Fufu Frauenwahl, and artist/zinester Michael Bukowski.

I’d actually been looking for Bukowski on and off all weekend. He’s the prime mover behind the Illustro Obscurum zines, wherein he and some other artists bring to life the bizarre beasts and crazy creatures depicted in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, Clark Ashton Smith, and more. Issues are often hard to get a hold of, because they comes in extremely limited quantities and often sell out fast. Thankfully, I was able to snatch up some of the few remaining copies Bukowski still had, including the Manly Wade Wellman issue, the Chuck Tingle issue, and the special Stories From the Borderland issue (which, for the first time in print form, compiles illustrations by Bukowski and essays by author/podcaster/grave-pisser Scott Nicolay, taken from the titular long-running blog series in which the pair rediscover forgotten gems from lesser-known pulp writers of yesteryear).

I also finally got to talk to author K.H. Vaughan for longer than three goddamn seconds, which proved a lot trickier than it sounds. Over the course of the weekend, our paths crossed many times but always when one or both of us was on the way to something else. Near the end of the final day of NecronomiCon,  we were able to sit for a while and properly get to know one another. I told Vaughan about my convention experience thus far and mentioned a few other cons I’m interested in checking out, and he pretty much sold me lock-stock-and-barrel on the upcoming 2018 Camp Necon. So, hopefully, you’ll be reading another rambling, long-winded con report from me about that event next year.

As the con came to a close, I ran into Sean M. Thompson and Scott R. Jones again, and they were nice enough to invite me along for dinner. Good thing, too. If it had been left to my antisocial ass, I probably would’ve ended up holing up in my hotel room, supping on cheap vending machine snacks. Instead, I accompanied them to a nearby restaurant, where we partook in that most holy of sacraments, delicious coal-fired pizza. Alongside Jones and Thompson, Cody Goodfellow, Alicia Graves, Liv Rainey Smith, Fufu Frauenwahl, Sam Cowan, and a few others were there. We talked about everything from Mick Foley’s infamous Hell in the Cell match to the politics of lady Ghostbusters to the cooking and consumption of human placenta. Y’know, typical chit-chat.

20914712_266221307198366_2915333657839673597_nGoodfellow, I should mention, is just as insane in real life as his fiction would have you believe. I first became a fan upon reading his novel collaboration with John Skipp, Jake’s Wake, back in the days when Leisure Books was still a thing. Seeing his mind work in-person was a great and terrible thing; at times he talks faster than light moves, his bearded pie-hole constantly overflowing with colorful anecdotes, philosophical asides, and outrageous factoids about fringe beliefs, such as the theory that human evolution is the direct result of ancient man engaging in brain cannibalism! At one point he briefly fell silent and spent a good five minutes staring off into space. When he returned to planet Earth, he brought back a fully formed story idea that was simultaneously deranged, ingenious, and way better than anything I could come up with in five days, let alone five minutes.

The pizza was damn good too.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Parting was, as the Bard once scribbled, such sweet sorrow. I was bummed to have to say adios to all the cool and kind and brilliant and funny and altogether amazing people I’d met over the course of the convention, but I was happy that I’d gotten to meet them, that I’d somehow stumbled my way into some great new friendships, and that I can look forward to seeing these weirdos again in the future.

I spent the next few days staying with some friends in nearby Massachusetts, where we hunted for seashells along the shore and visited infamous murderess Lizzie Borden’s resting place. Hard to imagine a more perfect way to cap things off.

As I returned to rolling hills of Pennsylvania, so to did NecronomiCon return to the eldritch bowels of New England’s witch-haunted underbelly. I do not mourn, however, because I know, just as Cthulhu’s alien priests know, that eventually the stars will be right once more. In 2019, the shadow of NecronomiCon will fall yet again on the winding streets of Providence, Rhode Island, and I will certainly be there, lending my own darkness to that mammoth shadow’s deepening tenebrous black.

Especially if there’s more pizza.

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