The Horror Realm Convention recently kicked off the early spring with its one day March celebration. Erupting onto the scene with celebrity guests, horror fans, and dozens of talented local vendors, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania experienced the mad influx of all things horror and zombie. Having been surrounded by so many horror lovers, I warn you now — there are dozens of talented artists who will be introduced in this article.
While the March convention exists on a smaller scale, there is still a plethora of activities featured for fans. Run by Sandy Stuhlfire, Rich Dalzotto and Michelle Linhart, these horror organizers go out of their way to pull off a convention for fans in the area and beyond. Although I did not know every single person featured, I was astounded that during the event, there were nearly forty vendors, visitors, and more that I had previously met or knew well. Such a splendid group came together to ensure that the convention would be fun and inspiring.
Among the celebrity guests was Kyra Schon, who we all know as the former child zombie Karen Cooper in the original 1968 version of Night of the Living Dead. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few weeks prior at the Women in Horror Roundtable held at Eljays Books (a group of ladies came together on a panel to discuss the horror genre). Recently, she has also been selling her wares, including jewelry and greeting cards to help raise funds for medical treatment of her ailing, beloved dog, Rusty. Right next door to Kyra was the Save the Evans City Cemetery Chapel movement, a push to raise public awareness and funds to keep the dilapidated Night of the Living Dead relic from being torn down.
Another celebrity guest was Lawrence C. Connolly, whose praises I have heard endlessly over his books, especially Veins. During the show, Connolly was also involved in an author panel discussion. While outside, I met the exceptionally talented Benzy of Benzidream FX Studios whose impressive resume ensures that he can make any type of monster you can dream of.
Also featured were the macabre duo Mike Watt and Amy Lynn Best of Happy Cloud Pictures, who have haunting books and movies made by the couple (and who were also WIHM Roundtable event guests). Although I did not meet each and every celebrity guest present, in addition, I do recall seeing John Amplas, Michael Varrati (who was also at Roundtable event), Tiffany Apan and Mike Christopher.
In addition to those above, the actual vendors were stars in themselves. I was able to speak with Perfect Fish Designs zombie doll seller Chris Rickert, who has recently celebrated her newly acquired part-ownership of Eljays Used Books. Movie reviewer Tim Gross was also there. Tim had The Big Ass Book of Gross Movie Reviews, t-shirts and old VHS tapes lined up for sale, complete with designs from illustrator, Ed Quillin.
With a natural attraction to books, I made my way over to my favorite West Virginia horror writers, Gary Vincent and Rich Bottles Jr., saying hello and scoring some of their scary goriness within Darkened Hollows and Hellhole by way of a book trade. Much of the action of the day was caught by photographer Scott Stafford who made his way from table to table seeking behind-the-scenes excitement.
The hours of the actual convention lasted from 11AM-7PM, giving plenty of time to peruse. As I wandered through the room, I briefly spotted D.S. Cohen and writer Kriscinda Meadows, both of whom also deserve recognition for their insightful participation in the previously mentioned WIHM Roundtable. My next door “table neighbors” were Tim Roberts, Michael Snyder, and Donnie Kenney, a group of eager filmmakers and part of Wicked Redemption Studios, LLC. They took the time to walk around and conduct video interviews. For several moments, I stopped and spoke with Ohio residents Matthew Brooks and Dee Wolfe in regards to their full length movie, Bone Cave. This duo impressed me by explaining how they had created their own version of a cave during filming.
When my partner in crime and fellow booth vendor arrived, author Kimberly Bennett (Twisted Delights), I was introduced to yet another writer, Nelson W. Pyles, whose story Where the Apple Shine Won’t Reach is contained within Dark Doorways by Post Mortem Press.
As we lead to the end, sisters Melanie Stone and Marlynn White were there, bringing to life the intricacies of horror designs into the jewelry and artwork of their company DarkWhite Arts. By far though, some of the loudest noise was made by the self-dubbed, “Mega Booth of Doom,” comprised of a blend of E-Nertia Global and Daggervision Films, which featured Jason T Swinchock (A Chemical Skyline), Johnny Daggers (Caustic Zombies), Brian Cottington (Tablet of Tales) and Michael Todd Schneider, AKA Michael Maggot (And Then I Helped). Keep your eyes open as these four talented Pittsburgh directors have teamed up for a future film entitled, Necrology.
Assistant Aneasa Clark took to putting fake tattoos featuring an E-Nertia Global logo on every unsuspecting victim who passed by. Along with support from team members and family, Kim Swinchock, Laura, Rachal Swinchock, James Wroblewski, Lionel Turner, Patrick Braddock and Rob Rice, every time a tattoo was complete, the entire crowd would roar, causing the loudest commotion to ricochet across the room. Talk about bringing promotions in with a boom!
As the night came to a close, co-creators on many friendly projects, Matthew Veltri and Hilary Patterson arrived, with Matthew wearing his rare Final Moon shirt to show tribute to the book and film co-creation.
Artist Jon Towers has an exceptional ability and can sculpt a real-life zombie picture of you within minutes while you sit there and wait. I took a moment to ask Jon a few questions in regards to his comic book work and zombie sketches, which are always a hit at the horror conventions. I also met his cohort, writer David Fairhead, who assists in their Redhorse Radio Podcasts. Below, please read on my brief interactive interview with Jon about artistry, the industry, and horror conventions.
Questions for artist Jon Towers: Horror Realm Spring Convention March 2012
RavMon: Jon, I would like to start off knowing a little bit about you, such as a short biography about what you have done and are doing now.
Jon Towers: I won some sort of scholastic art award when I was a freshman for this painting of a barn door, and I have sort of been going ever since. After high school, I was supposed to go to art school and my old man rode up on a new motorcycle and told me he wouldn’t have the cash to send me to school. So, within like the span of 45 minutes I was sitting in the Army recruiter’s office.
RavMon: How long have you been an artist? What led you to this profession? Perhaps give us a vivid account of the moment you knew you would become an artist.
JT: I was always an artist. I remember and have evidence of drawing Batman and the Millennium Falcon in crayon when I was three. My trick was learning to be more than an artist. Soon after high school, I learned that being a flake artist wasn’t going to be good enough.
RavMon: How did you come up with the idea of creating zombie portraits? This evolved into “Monster Portraits.” Please explain.
JT: Tim Gross and Rich Dalzotto found me at Steel City Con dutifully manning my failing table. I had my giant Stigmata Studios banner hanging up “Blood, Bullets, Bile, Blasphemy.” I think they liked my banner… And they turned me on to the Horror Realm Convention. While I was trying to figure out what I was going to do at that show, I thought I could do this “life drawing” exercise. See, at comic conventions, artists do these drawings of characters for money. But I wouldn’t do them; I always felt creepy about drawing other people’s property. So I decided I could do these zombie portraits. The natural progression would be to carry this to monster portraits. I have drawn beautiful women as Frankenstein Monsters, and Vampires, and I have drawn people as The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Zombies are where it’s at though. Everyone loves zombies.
RavMon: You are pretty fast at what you do. How do you explain your ability to create a Monster Portrait in 10 minutes or less? What is your best time?
JT: I am a trained professional. Art school makes you fast. And I have to differentiate that I don’t do caricatures. My work is way more like a life drawing. When I first started, I practiced by watching the news and stuff.
RavMon: Part of this article centers on the spring Horror Realm Convention. How does the horror crowd treat you?
JT: Oh my! This is the most insightful question. Horror fans are by far the best fans around. I will take 10 horror fans to 100 comic book fans any day of the week. I would take 1 horror fan to 10 comic fans! They are smart, but not jerk-faces. They like to spend but are not suckers. I am in a mad love affair with horror fans.
RavMon: What else do you do in addition to your sketching?
JT: The portraits are really an after thought. Mostly, I do Comic books and have a multi- layered series of comics called, The New Apocrypha, which is probably the most time- consuming thing in my whole frigging life. It has taken me eleven years and it’ll be done finally by 2014 … I think. I also have gotten back into indie-pro-wrestling, which is a deep passion of mine. I love beating people up.
RavMon: Do you have any tips for future artists?
JT: I have a million tips; no one ever wants to hear them though. My biggest one is this: just do it. We live in a time when technology is so prevalent, literally anything you want to do is right at your fingertips. Yourself as a human, as the creator of your own destiny…you do not have to sit around and settle anymore. Make your own TV shows, make your own comics, and make your own radio shows. Keep a positive attitude and put yourself out there like it is your job. Live it like everyone is watching!
RavMon: How can others reach you and view your works?
JT: My web site is www.jonnyaxx.com and you can follow every stupid thing I do there. My comics are updated 5 days a week, as well as my production blog, my podcast Redhorse Radio is updated at least once a week, and I update my wrestling videos like once or twice a month whenever I have new matches.
So there you have it, along with a whole army of artists encouraging you to do what you feel. In closing, it is important to point out that in addition to celebrity guests and vendors, Horror Realm also features panels, a VHS room where old movies are played and a Zombie Gras party in the evening where you can drink, dress up and dance to your favorite thrilling tunes. If you’re sorry you missed this past one, don’t worry: the fall version is longer, lasting two days and runs from September 21-23, 2012. Sign up, stop out and become part of the Pittsburgh horror realm!