This past weekend, Atlanta was host to Walker Stalker Con, a convention dedicated to zombies, horror, more zombies, sci-fi, a few more zombies, and ultimately, The Walking Dead. The brain child of Nashville resident Eric Nordhoff and his neighbor James Frazier of the podcast The Walker Stalkers; what started as a small scale convention taking place in The Walking Dead‘s backyard, turned into a ten thousand plus attendee party celebrating all things undead.
When I was in San Diego for The Walking Dead’Cast and Walker Stalker meet-up during Comic Con in July, I had the opportunity to chat with James about his plans for WSC. He was thrilled to announce that he and Eric had secured a number of the prison gang from the third season, a few of the zombie extras, and a number of other people from various horror films and properties… but he promised that there would be more to come… and he couldn’t have been more correct.
Once they announced Lauren Cohan (Maggie from TWD) would attend, things started to pick up steam (humorously enough, she was one of the few guests who were a no-show). Once Norman Reedus was announced as a guest, suddenly the entire thing blew up… and when Andrew Lincoln agreed to make a rare convention appearance… well, let’s just say things took on a whole new level of big, and WSC went from a small endeavor into the largest collection of Walking Dead stars ever assembled at one time.
Although I missed the first full day of the convention on Friday, I did get into town in time for the first of many parties… the podcast meet-up. Four Walking Dead podcasts gathered at the bar at the Hard Rock Cafe across the street from the Westin Peachtree Hotel and the convention center: Jason and Karen from The Walking Dead’Cast, Chris and Jason from The Talking Dead, A Ron and Jim from The Watching Dead, and of course, Eric from The Walker Stalkers (James couldn’t make it due to a ridiculous amount of work to be done… and it was great that Eric could make it at all).
Everyone in attendance had the chance to meet and chat with all of the podcasters, in addition to listeners and fans also having the opportunity to meet… some for the first time, such as my podcasting partner Grace (Under the Comic Covers), others who had met at previous cons. It was a great pleasure to meet Michael and Jasmine from The Walking Dead Girl podcast and David S.E. Zapanta of Melancholy Press, author of Posthumous, a zombie novel with a very unique and wonderful twist on the genre (I’m currently reading this and will post a review shortly), among so many others that had gathered to share some drinks and more than a few laughs.
At one point in the evening, Theo Crane (Big Tiny) and Travis Love (Shumpert) showed up… and after having had a few gin and tonics and the fact that I met them in San Diego earlier in the year, I decided it was time for us to crash their party… and crash it we did! Lew Temple (Axel) eventually appeared, as did Vincent Ward (Oscar)… I seem to recall doing the Thriller dance alongside Vincent Ward… but things were a bit hazy by that point.
One major difference I noticed about this con versus so many others… there was a level of intimacy and shared experience that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Not only could you see various stars showing up to eat dinner, but thanks to the proximity to the convention center and that almost everyone was staying at the same hotel, you might run into someone in the elevator, a line at Starbucks, or simply walking down the hall. I heard many stories from various attendees about passing Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring from Breaking Bad) on the escalator, or running into Chad L. Coleman (Tyreese) on the expo floor. Although the two main stars of the con, Reedus and Lincoln, were generally sheltered from the madness, the vast majority of the guests of honor could be readily available and open to chatting with an excited fan.
Over the course of the three day event, the convention was essentially split into two halves; the floor of the expo, and the panels in the hotel.
The convention floor itself was located in the Atlanta Convention Center and was a sprawling expanse of vendors selling everything from Walking Dead paraphernalia such as comics, posters, cut-outs, and costumes, to dolls and action figures, to weapons (not sure if they were real or not), to books. Surrounding and intermixed with the vendors were the booths for the actors, make-up artists, and voice actors (I had the opportunity to chat with Dave Fennoy and Melissa Hutchison, Lee and Clementine from TellTale’s The Walking Dead video game. I told him that he made me cry… he said, “good”).
The floor was laid out in such a way that you could cruise through the center and do all of your shopping before waiting in line to get an autograph and to chat with most of the attending stars. Some actors were more heavily inundated with fans, the Norman Reedus fans in particular are a feisty bunch, and since Saturday was the only day Andrew Lincoln attended… getting close to him was a near impossibility unless you had purchased a photo-op with him in advance.
Photo-ops were one of the bigger hits of the con. Attendees could purchase various photos with either an individual star or a number of group photos that were created by James and Eric to give you the best experience possible. Want a Grimes family photo with Rick, Lori, and Carl? You could have purchased that. Want a pic with you in between Michonne and Andrea? That was another possibility. But the biggest draw, and the most unique, was the cast photo. Perhaps one of the few times that so many cast members of The Walking Dead, both living and dead, were gathered together for one photo opportunity.
I overhead more than a few people saying that they would be saving their pennies for more photos next year. Certainly a big hit among fans.
Speaking of fans… I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the great cosplay going on both in and out of the convention. I saw multiple shambling zombies of various designs walking or shuffling about… there was a zombie Leia in slave bikini… there were a number of Daryls, a gaggle of Ricks, and a smattering of Glenns throughout… and a guy doing a bang-on Norman Reedus who actually fooled a few of us into thinking it was the man himself. There was even a militarized zombie hunting Beaker (from The Muppets)!
While the floor was a constant ant farm of fans and consumers of all kinds, the panels happening in the hotel were delving into topics as diverse as zombie ethics and make-up design while also giving people a chance to hear their favorite stars answer questions from both moderators and the fans themselves.
Although I missed the panels on Friday, I did manage to attend quite a few on Saturday beginning with Zombie Ethics with Emory University hosted by Jason and Karen of The Walking Dead’Cast. These guys were incredibly detailed and amazing in their analyses and discussions about the ethics behind what makes a zombie and whether or not it would be appropriate to kill them outright were the apocalypse to happen.
Over the course of the three days, I know Jason and Karen moderated at least a dozen panels… James and Eric hosted the Andrew Lincoln and Greg Nicotero panels… and there were quite a few others happening simultaneously throughout the weekend.
On a personal note… the panels I was able to attend; the aforementioned zombie ethics panel; the Lincoln panel (big thanks to Eric for getting me into that crowded clusterf**k); Giancarlo Esposito, where I managed to ask a question about what happened in Chile… and he answered(!); Danai Gurira, who is simply radiant and charming in every way imaginable; Steven Yuen; and most special to me… I was given the opportunity to join Jason at the moderating table to interview Daniel Thomas May (Allen) and Melissa Ponzio (Karen)! That, very simply put, was awesome.
Saturday night found the eager crowd ready for some more mingling and parties. After the final panel of the day with Miss Gurira, everyone retreated to their rooms for a bit of rest and dinner before preparing for the VIP meet and greet for those with VIP passes to mingle with some stars without the push of autographs and photos. I didn’t attend this particular party… instead I had a quiet dinner with Mrs. Blahg (it was our 17th wedding anniversary) and a few friends. To be perfectly honest, this quiet moment in an otherwise hectic weekend was far and away my favorite couple of hours during the weekend. For those of you who were there, thank you… it was a special moment for me.
During this time, the convention certainly didn’t stop… and Emily Kinney (Beth) gave a concert for an hour or so before the Peachtree Ballroom was done up for the big costume bash. Attendees were encouraged to dress up in costume, the bars were set up and flowing, there was an ice sculpture centerpiece consisting of ice blocks with zombie heads within them, and the music was pumping and people were dancing until well after 2 AM. I am happy to say that I was one of the last ones to leave the ballroom that night… and it was a blast!
Again, a number of the actors would filter into the bash… and when Baby Got Back came over the speakers, Theo Crane… Big Tiny himself, was up on stage lip-synching every syllable and getting the crowd worked up before the costume contest, which Beaker won if I recall correctly. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, I was having a number of great conversations and sharing more than a few laughs. There is even a photo of all the podcasters (sans Karen who went to bed a bit early) gathered together during the party… it was an evening that everyone who was there will remember fondly.
The next day consisted of a couple of panels, including the one I participated in, then off to the airport. Many hours and two planes later, I was back home and already missing all of the great zombie festivities and all of the wonderful people I met over the course of the weekend. I could go on and on thanking everyone I met for contributing to such a fantastic time… Grace, Pi’ilani, all of the podcasters (Chris, Jason, Jim, and A-Ron… you guys are f***ing awesome), Jamilton and Thea, Michael and Jasmine, David, Jeff and Molly, being able to say hi to Judith O’Dea whose son I used to know in high school, James and Eric who did something amazing by putting all of this together… I mean seriously, who would have imagine a pair of podcasters could pull something like this off… incredible!… and of course, Jason and Karen, without whom I wouldn’t have even flown a mile much less across the country.
And most exciting… James and Eric have already announced TWO Walker Stalker Cons happening in 2014! One will be in October in Atlanta… the other in April in a city yet to be announced (please be west coast, please be west coast).
Overall, Walker Stalker Con was a great deal of fun for everyone involved and I hope to see more of you next year.
So many pros to this con,
Cornelius J. Blahg