When I heard about last month’s WindyCon, I freaked out. This installment—the 39th incarnation of this popular science fiction/fantasy/horror convention—was dedicated to my favorite monster, the zeitgeist known as the zombie.
I started to tremble. Oh. My. God. I’m going to meet some zombies.
I immediately contacted the WindyCon powers that be, and they arranged a book signing and reading, as well as a slot on a panel, “Zombies as a Social Metaphor.” Then I counted the hours until I’d be shoulder to stump with the undead.
I arrived at the Con, books in hand, eager to bump into a monster. I was certain that I’d see some of the grossest, most mind-blowing make-ups this side of Dead Alive. I entered the hotel and…
Nothing. No shamblers. No deadites. Not one erroneous cry for “Braaaiins.” Not a single stinking zombie.
Just…people. The living, instead of the living dead. Bummer.
I thought about asking for a refund. Then I bumped into Jay Bonansinga.
Jay is, perhaps, one of the coolest guys in zombie literature. You’ve probably heard of a little something called The Walking Dead? Well, Jay just happened to write the 2011 Diamond Gem Award-Winning The Rise of the Governor with Robert Kirkman. Then he followed that smash with another hit, The Road to Woodbury. Despite his fame, he didn’t display an ounce of pretense as he patiently answered my questions about the craft and signed a book for me.
It’s funny. Why is it that genre greats like Jay, Joe McKinney, and David Moody, who dip their pens in gore and guts, are so darn nice? And well-rounded. Like Messrs. McKinney and Moody, Jay doesn’t confine his writing to revenants. He writes thrillers, non-fiction, and non-zombie horror as well.
Then it was off to the panel. Again, no zombies there, but I did find a rogues gallery of zombie aficionados.
Sam Perkins was the helmsman, deftly steering the panel discussion through the treacherous waters of digression. Not once did we lose our way. It should not have come as a surprise though. In addition to spreading ZPOC awareness via The Undead Report and hunting zeds in his sleep, Sam is the first mate on Tall Ship Red Witch in Chicago. Our ship of fools was in very good hands.
John D. Jones had a unique take on zombies and their relevance today. John is a supporter of Horror Society and the talented crew at Joone Studios. He’s also a friend of Zombie Army Productions and an all out horror buff. John posited that the draw of The Walking Dead is its world without rules. People just don’t want to deal with reality, and some simply can’t. What they don’t realize is that zombies are like taxes and parking tickets. The bill might be slow in coming, but when it does arrive, you’re definitely paying.
Melissa Huston was the panel’s resident anthropologist. She educated us about zombies as a cultural universal. To many, zombies represent a recent entrant into the ranks of classic horror. But Melissa argues that all cultures believe or have believed, in some way or another, in the dead coming back to devour the living. In fact The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest surviving works of literature, may contain the oldest reference to zombies.
A couple of authors—Scott Kenemore, the author of the acclaimed Zombie Illinois, and yours truly—rounded out the panel.
My contribution? Well, for the first few minutes, it consisted of staring blankly and watching in awe as the esteemed panelists did their thing. But once I found my sea legs, I was contributing too, picking up where Melissa left off and talking about the “Bram Stoker Effect.” We need the living dead in our lives, and when we try to tame them (à la Stoker turning vampires into aristocrats or Stephanie Meyer applying loads of glitter), we just give them a new name…like “zombie.” I could ramble on and on, but why do that when you can grab my presentation notes here.
The audience was really engaged in the discussion as well, and I had an opportunity to talk to a couple of the attendees—Stephan Kelly and Dennis Kuhn—after the dust had settled.
Stephan told me he enjoyed the panel. He liked how it examined “the correlation between the rising popularity of the zombie genre and the current social and political mentality of the average U.S. citizen.”
It should be noted that Stephan and Dennis are writers in their own right. Stephan is working on a short story featuring zombies called “Gravedigger” and an urban fantasy novel about trailer park vampires (um, awesome!), while Dennis is working on a book called “Blood In, Blood Out,” a tale about an occult archaeologist turned vampire (also awesome!).
So, despite the conspicuous absence of zombies, I had a lot of fun. Should that come as a surprise? Probably not. Like good zombie fiction, good zombie cons are more about the people than the corpses.
Category: Zombie News