Conventions are not easy things to arrange. One glance at the fervor of activity going on just behind the dealer’s tables will tell you that much. Some of the best-run cons in the world have learned this lesson the hard way, time and time again. For the con promoter, it’s an endless juggling act keeping guests, dealers and paying customers happy. This requires not only maddening organizational skills, but also a connection with your target fanbase that borders on precognition. What will get the a***s in the door (to put it bluntly)? What guests would make the biggest draw, and can they be afforded? How many dealers can one fit in a room without overwhelming the space and violating fire codes? When do you schedule the Q&A? Before the movie screenings or opposite the costume contest? How many friends and relatives do you need to con into doing the security work? Who left that soda can there? Is that going to leave a stain? That guy who just walked by – was he wearing a wristband? Has he EVER bathed? (Okay, those last few are the thoughts that will shoot through a promoter’s mind during the convention.)
That just scratches the surface. The keys to a successful con are many, some you can get away without, some you can’t. And you’ll never think of everything. More discouraging, however, is that there are just as many things that can kill a con as there are that can make it succeed. As with any business venture (Yes, this is a business – What? You thought the guys at Chiller like seeing your pimply mug twice a year?), cons are risky gambles. No matter how much a promoter kills himself to get his convention off the ground, the gods of commerce can decide to strike him down at any time.
The first-time Pittsburgh convention, Monsterburgh U.S.A., made it’s painful, shrieking birth into the world on Friday, July 18 at the Pittsburgh International Hyatt, just near the new revamped airport. My wife and business partner, Amy Lynn Best, was booked as a guest, so I was doing my best to spread the word about the convention. Truth be told, the promoters, Brian and Lisa – dealers themselves and recognizable to any hardcore conventioneer – had been pretty good at already getting the word out. The local radio stations were blaring out ads for the show, there were a couple of ads in mags like ModelMaker. Fliers were everywhere. Local niche store Incredibly Strange Video (.com) had a constant stack in the window. People knew all about the show. And Pittsburgh’s ground zero for horror fans – it’s the Romero connection, ya know. I think we have more horror fans per pound than just about any other major city, New Jersey excepted (the Troma connection, perhaps – or the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD association… or perhaps it’s just the immediacy of Newark that puts folks from NJ in a pre-determined horrified state of mind…).
And they had a pretty good line-up of guests. In addition to local hero Amy, they had super-draw Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), soap-star-turned-horror diva Robyn Griggs (“Severe Injuries”), horror-host A. Ghastlee Ghoul, Famous Monsters of Filmland artist Basil Gogos, and “Eddie Munster” himself, Butch Patrick. For additional hometown draw, Monsterburgh U.S.A. boasted original living-dead girl Kyra Schon (“Night of the Living Dead”) and The Machete-Head Zombie from “Dawn of the Dead,” Leonard Lies. Something that has always struck me as strange, but conventioneers seem to enjoy, is the recent melding of horror/sf with professional wrestling. To that end, Monsterburgh U.S.A. also featured an appearance by “The Ultimate Warrior”, who was present on Saturday, shooting at the walls of heartache (no one laughed at that Saturday, either). There were near-constant movie screenings, a costume contest, a make-up exhibition by Jerami Cruise and Fred Vogel from Toe-Tag Pictures, and a live musical event hosted by Zombo and the League of Incredibly Strange Superheroes. Add to all that a really impressive art display on loan from collector Tony Greco which included a number of original, signed (I kid you not!) Picassos, Van Goghs and an early “Peanuts” comic strip. In the same room was an extensive “Munsters” memorabilia museum (with two original “Herman” and “Grampa” costumes). All the elements were right there to make a very successful con.
Heartbreakingly, it wasn’t.
Early on, Lisa and Brian suffered a mild setback when headliner Andrew Divoff (“Wishmaster”) was forced to cancel due to a scheduling conflict. They bounced back quickly with the addition of “The Ultimate Warrior” (a side note: a few years ago, this guy legally changed his name to “The Warrior”; the “Ultimate” part is added to his in-ring persona – c’mon, like I’d make this up!) and the gore-meister himself, Tom Savini (which could only compound the Pittsburgh draw, right?).
After months of preparation and planning, the show kicked off on Friday afternoon. Risking life and limb in a downpour of torrential rain and hail, I arrived at the Hyatt and was greeted by the labyrinthine insanity of the Pittsburgh International Airport. “For long-term parking, follow the gold curb”, “For short-term parking, follow the red curb”, “For Winkie-land, follow the green-brick road”, “No parking or turn-around”, “No standing”, “No sitting”, “No kneeling”, “No kidding”. This climaxed with a $9.00 parking charge. That’s when it occurred to me that the Hyatt was the only hotel in the Airport’s vicinity. I snarled and grumbled at the political- and greed-motivated injustice.
On to the Con in part two of MONSTERS IN PITTSBURGH>>>