This year’s WonderFest, my favorite United States convention, was among the best (if not the best) ever.
What makes WonderFest so special? The event is an incredibly warm family affair. WonderFest fans are the kindest, politest, most loving fans you’ll find at any show. The people responsible for it (Dave Hodge, Dave Conover, Donnie Waddell and Lee Staton) are four of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. Heck, it’s worth my going there just to hang with those four guys.
Dave Hodge, besides being in charge of running WonderFest, is also a big mucky-muck keeper at the Louisville Zoo, in charge of the seals and the big cats. Although it didn’t occur this year, typically, Dave gives the WonderFest guests a behind-the-scenes tour of the Louisville Zoo the Monday following the convention. Dave is a wealth of knowledge about wild cat behavior; I always pump him for info about the big cats and other animals which I then use to inform my Pleistocene prehistoric life murals’ depictions of sabertooths, bobcats, American lions and mountain lions.
Dave Conover is a fantasy/horror/sci-fi scholar/collector supreme. He recently wrote an indispensable book chronicling the Merian C. Cooper/Willis O’Brien (ultimately abandoned) project War Eagles. No fantasy or King Kong fan should be without it! He sold out of his copies at WonderFest but I’m sure he’ll get more. My own War Eagles connection is the promotional poster image I painted to try to get help in financing a modern film version of the project. The painting was used as the cover (as shown above) for Carl Macek‘s fine novelization of Carl’s own wonderful pass at a new version of the War Eagles screenplay.
Guest Relations chief Donnie Waddell might just be the funniest guy I’ve ever met. A master mimic, Donnie can duplicate nearly any voice, famous or unknown, and do it in a way that would leave the Wolfman howling…with laughter. Donnie is also one of the kindest and most thoughtful and caring of all my friends.
Lee Staton, a founder of WonderFest, is the graphics wizard who transforms my T-shirt designs into something wonderful each year, adding thoughtful and appropriate color to my black and white designs.
WonderFest also hosts the Rondo Awards, conducted by the Classic Horror Film Board, which are voted on by monster movie fans all over the world. Each year the Rondos celebrate achievements in the world (and tangential worlds) of monster movies. They are named after Rondo Hatton, the unfortunate soul famed for being the only movie monster who didn’t have to wear make-up, as he was disfigured (after being exposed to poison gas) by the disease known as acromegaly. The disease causes the bones in one’s face, hands and feet to keep growing. Rondo is perhaps best recognized as the spine-breaking maniac known as “The Creeper”. His visage also appeared (courtesy of my friend Rick Baker) in The Rocketeer movie.
The people who are nominated for the Rondo Awards, as well as many of the people who vote for them, are loosely referred to as “Monster Kids”. It began as a term for the men and women who grew up loving monster movies in the mid-1950s and early 1960s (yup; the Baby Boomers). Our angry villager fires were stoked by the information and photos that Forrest J. Ackerman shared with us readers of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (recently revived with covers by Yours Truly). The term has grown to include all of us who grew up with a love and passion for monsters and monster movies.
At WonderFest’s Rondo Awards this year I was proud to take the stage twice.
The first time was to collect the Rondo Award for Best TV Presentation on behalf of the recipient (and my friend) Frank Darabont for his AMC TV show The Walking Dead.
This is the acceptance speech I gave on Frank’s behalf (Frank was too insanely busy preparing the next season of The Walking Dead to attend):
FRANK DARABONT is perhaps best known for directing what is overwhelmingly considered one of the greatest films in motion picture history: The Shawshank Redemption.
What you may not know is that at the very core of Frank’s cinematic heart he is a tried and true fellow Monster Kid.
Frank got his start in films writing horror movies. He scripted Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob, The Fly 2, two Tales from the Crypt episodes, five Young Indiana Jones TV shows, an Indiana Jones TV movie and three Indiana Jones videos, as well as Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein.
At a recent career peak, Frank wrote and directed one of the coolest Twilight Zone-like movies ever made: Stephen King’s The Mist. He even insisted there be a black and white version!
Frank is being honored with a Rondo for writing, producing, directing and helming the biggest hit series in AMC‘s history, The Walking Dead.
Frank breathed humanity into this graphic novel tale of folks trapped in a world overrun by zombies. Working in tandem with our beloved long time WonderFest Monster Kid Greg Nicotero (the “N” in the special effects, creature and make-up manufacturing company KNB), Frank has reinvigorated and redefined the zombie movie genre.
Anyone who has met Frank will tell you that he is one of the nicest and most generous guys in the business. When I asked him what he wanted in regards to the substance of this speech, Frank told me, “You can tell them we’re pals, and that I have any number of your originals hanging on my walls.”
It’s the “pals” reason that makes me feel so especially honored to accept this award on Frank’s behalf. He is my friend.
Even though our intense work schedules keep us from seeing each other as much as we would like, the depth of our friendship profoundly intensifies with each passing year. It is profound because Frank is the Real Deal as a human being. I don’t think he could have made The Shawshank Redemption if he wasn’t.
So, Frank thanks you for his Rondo with an affection for the genre that is deep and sincere.
And I thank Frank for his years of friendship and for his continuing to think of new and exciting ways to creatively scare the hell out of us.
Tomorrow: My Acceptance Speech for my Rondo Award