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Last April, I found myself at a convention not as press, or
as a fan, but as a vendor, proudly standing behind the FANGORIA table at the
very first Shock Stock in London, Ontario, Canada.
Now that I’ve seen how that half lives, I can truly say that
I’ve experienced every dimension of the horror con experience (other than
running one myself or being a featured guest—and don’t hold your breath for
either of those). What probably should have been a modest, unremarkable little
first-time event ended up being a fantastic weekend for everyone involved—with
the exception of maybe a vendor or two who were hoping to line their pockets
with more lucre than actually came their way.
But hey, a convention is like any other business venture:
There are substantial start-up investments, and you never make money within the
first couple of years, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other rewards to
reap. Last year, despite the low attendee turnout, friendships were formed;
people networked, bonded and enjoyed each other’s company on the con floor and
after hours in the restaurants and bars. It was a party populated with cool,
like-minded souls determined to make the best of these new beginnings. I
personally feel that the investments have already seen dividends; the few
attendees who did find the door, as well as many of the vendors and several of
the guests, had a blast and have been plugging Shock Stock with positive word
of mouth ever since. Sure, a few of the guests were somewhat financially
disenchanted, as they do rely on picture and autograph sales for extra scratch,
but they still recognized Shock Stock as a fun, energetic event, organized and
run by some pretty decent guys.
Friday, April 29th, 9 a.m.
With the back of my family van piled high with crates filled
with FANGORIA back issues, several huge boxes of old VHS (and Beta) tapes,
spare clothes, camera gear and assorted horror paraphernalia for the booth, I
started down the highway on the two-hour-plus journey to the convention hall. I
had a detour on the way—to pick up Jason Hooft (of 3 Killa Bytes), a friend of
fellow Fango scribe Lianne Spiderbaby who was helping out at the booth, as well
as shooting Lianne’s interviews for her FRIGHT BYTES YouTube episode. Jason
ended up being a super guy and was great company, but unfortunately he was a
ticking time bomb of hyperdisease that got the better of him early Saturday
morning, and forced its way past my own immune system by Sunday night. Ah,
We hit London around noon and found the hall with no
trouble. It seemed abandoned until we went out back to the loading dock, and
found a flurry of activity: Cars and vans were pulling in, fellow vendors
unloading their wares and greeting each other. Several of these folks have already
been on the convention circuit for many years, and I was excited to be part of
the “inner circle” for the first time and see what the view was like from the
other side. I felt a bit like a carny—only cleaner, and with more teeth.
We unloaded the van and began to set up our tables. One of
the celebrated features of Shock Stock was the VHS tape swap. People were
encouraged to bring cassettes they wanted to trade, and I thought, what a
marvelous way for me to get rid of the boxes of tapes in the garage that I’d
had stashed away since replacing them with DVDs or laserdiscs. I don’t have the
same nostalgic love for VHS that seems to be a swiftly growing phenomenon as of
late, and is a huge component of Shock Stock, but that doesn’t mean someone
else shouldn’t indulge at my expense/relief. So I dropped of everything I
brought at an area they had for the tapes, and watched mouths fall open.
Apparently I had misunderstood—where most people brought three or four tapes to
keep at their own booths to trade, I filled both of their big tables, and then
some on my own. A lot of what I had was fairly rare, evidently, but I was
totally cool with my old cassettes finding the right appreciative homes.
I said hello to James Bialkowski (pictured right) of
Vagrancy Films, one of the event’s main organizers. I’d met him a few times in
the past at Toronto’s Fan Expo, selling dodgy DVDs in his own booth. James was
hustling around making sure all the puzzle pieces were falling into place, and
through him, one of the crew sourced a TV set to play old VHS horror tapes at
my table during the con. I can’t recall if I officially met Jake Grimbo, James’
business partner/pal, but I would spot him from time to time, hollering into a
microphone like a deranged WWE announcer.
While making our booth presentable, I managed to wreck the
corner of our Fango banner trying to stretch it between two support pillars,
but with a little duct tape I was good to go. Before long, we were ready—the
TV/VHS playing an old Halloween tape, some rubber body parts scattered among
the stacks of Fango magazines and my two personal prize possessions splayed
across the table: a giant centipede and a slug that I picked up from Ottawa
filmmaker Brett Kelly from his 2008 ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES remake. For
some bizarre reason, these two king-sized creepers turned out to be immensely
popular with women all weekend, so they’ll definitely be making a return
engagement at Shock Stock 2012. Hey, they’re cheaper than a puppy and quieter
than a baby.
With time to kill before the doors opened, I wandered around
with my camera, snapping the vendor tables and saying hi to the ones I knew,
like the Suspect Video boys (I’ve seen Luis Ceriz at every Fan Expo I’ve been
to—where he takes all of my money within the first 10 minutes of my walking through
the doors), as well as Darryl and his lovely wife Bounmy of Twisted T’s. I’d
also seen them at Fan Expo in the past, but got to know them a lot better as a
result of Shock Stock. Ron and Cathy Makay were there, of course, representing
Troma. A fantastic bunch of people. As far as I was concerned, I was already a
happy camper, and then the bonus guests started to arrive.
One of the highlights of this convention for me was the
presence of Jon Mikl Thor. He had a rock band back when I was just a kid, and I
absolutely loved his hit song “Keep the Dogs Away.” In fact, I still love it.
Jon was a huge, muscular bodybuilder with long blond hair who actually was a
perfect physical manifestation of the comic-book Thor, and eventually went on
to star in a couple of horror films, ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE and the mind-blowing ROCK
’N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE. And get this—he would be performing live at a Shock
Stock-sponsored event after hours! Needless to say, as soon as I saw him in the
hall, I had to run over, and didn’t he turn out to be the nicest, friendliest
guy ever. My weekend was made already, but things kept getting better.
Shortly after I met Thor, a tiny woman blew in through the
hall doors, all leather and lace, blonde hair and red lipstick. Holy crap, it
was Linnea Quigley (pictured below)! I’d met Linnea once very briefly almost 20
years earlier at the one and only FANGORIA convention ever held in Toronto. I
was extremely shy at the time, a stammering replica of the myriad fans I’ve
seen while doing convention coverage for Fango. We’ve become great friends
since, but I’ll admit that when she arrived I was still very much a fanboy, and
ran right over to get my copy of the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD DVD signed.
While the guests continued to trickle in, I met and got to
know my table neighbors a bit better. We had a corner lot, so an aisle was to
our left, but on our right were three young gentlemen I immediately hit it off
with: Philip Carrer, Ryan Barrett and Chad Archibald of Black Fawn Films
(pictured below). I spent the majority of my weekend hanging out with these
guys, and they were a major component of why I enjoyed the con so much.
Directly behind me was a dodgy individual who could have
passed for Lance Henriksen’s biker brother from 1991’s STONE COLD. He was
consistently accompanied by a handful of lovely young women, and would
periodically yell at the top of his lungs, “Say hello to Rocco!!” We heard that
a lot over the course of the weekend, so I felt compelled to eventually wander
over and say hello to Rocco, who turned out to be a really nice guy. He’d
occasionally come over to the Fango table to check out our ladies, as we were
well-represented ourselves. (Besides Lianne Spiderbaby, a lovely model friend
of mine named Niki Lee showed up to hang out at our table.) Everybody knows
that attractive girls will draw male business to the booth and, well, a giant
slug and centipede will draw the females. Kitty-corner behind us, to the left
of Rocco, was The Butcher Shop, an FX table manned by Carlos Henriques and Ryan
Gerard Louagie, with plenty of latex nasties on display.
The rest of the day was spent chatting and getting to know
each other, and went by in a blink despite the small attendee numbers, so it
was still a great day, and we were all looking forward to
a busier Saturday. Now, I don’t know if it’s old age or fatigue, but I can’t
for the life of me remember what the hell I did Friday evening after the con
wrapped for the night. Most likely I crashed early in preparation for the long
day/night that would follow, so let’s assume that’s what happened. I went back
to the hotel and went straight to bed.
Be sure to check out part two of this Shock Stock 2011
recap, where I’ll introduce you to the rest of the guests, give you the goods
on what we got up to Saturday night and let you know how the rest of the
weekend went. See you back here, same Shock time, same Shock channel.
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