For many, the official Most Wonderful Time Of The Year is from late-November through January 1st. For me, it’s October through mid-November. My daughter’s birthday, the Halloween season, and autumn … which then builds up to and culminates in BIZARROCON!!!
THE main event around which I schedule my personal calendar. A major reason why moving to Portland was a no-brainer when the opportunity for a big life re-org rolled around. The community of creative weirdos to which I love to belong is centered here, with gatherings and activities year-round, but BizarroCon is the biggie. It brings together participants from across the country and around the globe, in a weekend of lots of things starting with F — friends, family, fun, fermentation, and food, to say the least.
BizarroCon is held at McMenamin’s Edgefield in Troutdale Oregon, perhaps the only hotel in the world to be a perfect match — quirky architecture and art, on-site breweries and distilleries, totally haunted, generally and genuinely bizarre in its own right.
Part convention with panels and readings and workshops … part reunion with parties and long chats and soaks in the hot pool … art happens, ideas are shared, connections are made … lives are forever changed, hopefully in all the best ways … and this has been happening for a full decade now!
Yes, that’s right, this year was BizarroCon 10. TEN! And still going strong, better than ever, no matter how much wishful thinking bitter whinypants rubbish there is about the genre dying or selling out or being cucked to libtardery by SJWs or whatever-the-hell. The genre, the scene, the community, and the con are all doing just fine.
Many previous attendees couldn’t make it this time but sent their well-wishes in the form of notes added to the program booklet, which also contained puzzles and comics and other quirky amusements, even a secret appearance by Squishy the cat!
I could, and probably will, go on and on about the organizers, the core group of OG bizarros, the fantabulous Rose O’Keefe and her crew, Eraserhead Press and its imprints that made this genre the growing and enduring powerhouse that it is. If you don’t know by now how awesome these folks are, you really should. Not only do they make amazing books and run amazing events, they’re the best group of people you’ll ever meet.
Even for a first-timer, this con can feel just like coming home. Coming home to the home you may not even have known you were looking for, or the home you’ve been missing. It’s acceptance and belonging and celebration, a place where you can proudly let your freak flag fly without worrying about being embarrassed or ashamed.
Personally, just in the past few years I’ve been running with this crowd, I’ve felt it like an emergence and a blossoming … where those around me are no longer just putting up with my wackiness (in writing, cooking, crafts, and more) … but welcome, embrace, and encourage it. I feel so much less self-conscious about the oddball stuff that I do, inspired to cut loose and go further.
This year, more than any previous thus far, I NEEDED BizarroCon. I had not anticipated having 2017 derailed midway through by a cancer diagnosis, surgery, radiation treatments, and basically turning my whole world inside-out. The knowledge this con was coming up helped keep me motivated and positive. I wasn’t going to miss it. No matter what shape I was in, if they had to roll me in on a gurney with tubes in my face, goddamn it I was going to BE there.
Fortunately, the gurney and tubes thing didn’t happen. I’d pushed through for enough of a recovery that I made it under my own power. Couldn’t talk worth a damn, couldn’t do readings or be on panels or participate in the Showdown like I’d planned from last year … on mostly liquid diet and not even liquid in the fun beery boozy way (then again, I wasn’t much of a one for that in the first place) … hitting my pain meds and staving off fatigue (going without daily naps for the first time since July!) … but I was THERE.
There, and continued my tradition of bringing platters of goodies; my BizarroCon baking is quickly approaching my Holiday Baking Extravaganza in terms of scope and scale. There, and with some kooky crafts to deliver. There, 50 lbs lighter with head freshly shaved thanks to scraggly hair loss, tired as hell and looking like microwaved shit. But I was there.
I did miss the pre-con party hosted by Garrett Cook and Ivan Zoric; though they never fail to put on a good time with an awesome spread of food, I reluctantly knew I’d better rest up if I was going to make it through the entire weekend. Several locals and in-town-earlies got together over there, and if facebook is any indication, fine times were had by all.
On Thursday, Doug Blakeslee arrived to crash at our place and commute back and forth with me (and also, as it turns out, to keep an eye on me, make sure I stayed fed/hydrated and didn’t overdo it, etc.). I took my final prep-nap and then we drove over in time for the official convention kickoff.
Our own genial mad scientist Lee Widener presided again over badges and programs, also giving out nifty little canisters containing nifty little treasures (I got a d6 bead and a tiny bronze-tone skull bead!) plus clue papers to identify bizarro books. Those were tough; here we were, including many of the people who’d written, edited, published, or reviewed the books in question, standing around baffled going “uhhh …”
There were swag-bags of donated comics from a local store, as well as the freebie table loaded with buttons (some Buddy System ones, as well as the final run of highly coveted Word Whore limited edition!) and stickers and bookmarks and other such trinkets. I commenced with the collecting of big hugs, stocking up on teh luvs like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter as more and more people rolled on in.
This group gives good hugs, too, for the record. Serious full-on warm firm hugs. I whined to John Skipp about how cold my head was and asked him how he did it; he said hats, fair enough. Everyone seemed so glad to see me, sympathetic and supportive of the hell I’d been through, proud of me for making it, and that helped make the ordeal worth it.
Speaking of people who’ve been through ordeals, not only had my gal Amber Fallon seen her own share of medical miseries, but she’d been up since insane o’clock at airports and on planes and jetlagged half to death, but she hung in there like a champ for most of the evening. I presented her with one of my latest craft projects, warblers inspired by her book of the same name, a whole box of the nasty little critters; she loved ’em.
And speaking of craft projects, I also gave Lisa LeStrange a pickle princess crown, because she’s the one responsible for what is now a new BizarroCon tradition — the Pickle Party! This year was the second annual, and it took place Thursday night after opening ceremonies.
There were so many pickled things! So many things that I wouldn’t eat even if they weren’t pickled … and some things that maybe should never be pickled … chicken’s feet being a good example of both. There were even whiskey pickle jello shots, which I later described as looking like gelatinous cubes made of snot; imagine tossing one of those wobblies down your gob, eew! The winner was Carlton Mellick III for his pickled cauliflower; I missed seeing what the prize was.
Also on the table, but literally, were cheeses and crackers, and Ross Lockhart did a beer sampler tasting (I did not partake, but sniffed each; the blood orange stuff smelled too grapefruity for me but the others I might not have minded trying), and later on I understand Michael Allen Rose led people further into debauchery with samplers of harder liquors.
But first, Jeff Burk tried to kill himself, Kevin L. Donihe, and several volunteers who really should have known better, with ten different kinds of death peppers from his garden. Apparently, they started off “mild.” I guess when you get pepper sprayed by the police during protests as often as Jeff does, your perspective becomes somewhat skewed. From “mild” they progressed to “volcanic” and “nuclear firestorm” and “yea verily the superheated plasma of Satan,” judging by the reactions I witnessed … though Jeff described them more as “having some kick” as the ends of his dreads began to smolder.
Oh, there were red faces, there was sweating, there was coughing and wheezing and stamping and swearing, there were eyes watering like broken sprinklerheads. There were people cramming down fistfuls of cheese in hopes of the dairy quenching the burn (I believe Donihe was doing shots of creamer straight from the carafe).
Psychologically, though, all this made for a success and a great start to the con. Studies show that shared experiences, particularly shared sufferings, can forge and strengthen bonds. Between the pickles and the peppers, there was plenty of shared suffering to go around!
And that, to the best of my recollection, was Thursday. Doug and I drove home through rain and obnoxious roadwork delays (shout out to the driver of the white truck who straddled the line to cockblock those assholes who liked to zoom up the closing lane past everyone else to merge at the very last minute instead of zippering in nicely like decent human beings).
Friday, neither of us were in early workshops so we dawdled over in time for the Ad House reading blocks to begin. Another friend, Wade, had signed up for the con but health issues left him able to attend only a few hours on Friday … though of course years of hearing us talk about it and seeing the kinds of books we bring home can never fully prepare someone for BizarroCon in all its glory.
I once again brought a bounty of baked goods to set out in the Ad House. Six kinds — mint chip cookies, Reese’s Threeses, caramel apple mini-muffins, classic krispie treats, coffee-chocolate brownies, cyclops eye sugar cookie cups — and some leftover Halloween candy. Between those sweets, and the salties brought by Jason Spicoli Martens (enough Chex mix to fill a bathtub, good god!), we had the snackage department covered.
I also had a cookie fund donation jar, totes optional and all, because I love everybody and love doing this but damn this year my finances took a wallop and every little bit helps … thinking to maybe scrounge a few bucks to recoup some of the cost of ingredients. And you know what? This community is either generous or easily guilt-tripped or both; they came through for me in a big way and I love ’em all the more for it!
My other main role on Friday was to monitor the reading blocks, make sure we didn’t get too far off track. It’s a gig I love, not only because it means I get to kick back and sit around all day, but I get to hear several hours of amazing readings. Next year though, we should see about getting a lamp or something to go on that mantle; it gets a little dim in there.
Starting us off were the inimitable Dr. Q and Shane McKenzie, both of whom been absent from the con for far, far too long. Other highlights would have to include a sermon by Jeff Burk and Kevin L. Donihe on the hazards of masturbation, a sexy visit to the North Pole courtesy of the dulcet tones of Robert Devereaux, the poetic living performance art that is Jennifer Robin, a wrenching and poignant sharing from Sam Richard (apologies to Jason Rizos, who should’ve had the second half of the block; I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt and think the audience felt the same), and many more fine readers presenting a wide range of stories. It’s a great way to get an introduction and overview to what the genre’s all about.
After that came dinner break. I went over to the Power Station restaurant with Doug, had coffee for the first time in a while, and mushmouth jabbered his ears off (the coffee may have had something to do with that). Also had clam chowder, and he told me about the dialogue workshop he’d attended; sounded like a fun one.
Then it was back to the Ad House for the Eraserhead Press party, where books and beer really meet! Each year, a selection of titles have specialty brews brewed to go with them by expert brewmasters Jason Rizos and Cameron Pierce, with book cover labeled bottles ceremonially presented to the authors. Each year also features a commemorative pint glass (art by Jim Agpalza!), so I added another to my collection.
Rose gave a speech on this the tenth anniversary, announced next year’s Eraserhead titles (a good-looking lineup!), and had the head editors of the imprints give updates (to my delight, Jeff mentioned my recent Deadite release, Spermjackers From Hell! available now, get it, read it, review it, it’s gooshy!). A toast was held in honor of Cameron Pierce and the closing Lazy Fascist Press. Garrett Cook shared some info on the New Bizarro Author Series, where a lot of fresh talent bursts onto the scene.
Once business was out of the way, it was time for the entertainment portion of the party, during which the celebrated authors cut loose. We had Amber Fallon offering deals with the devil, Michael Allen Rose preaching the eggy gospel (I Kanye’d him after, couldn’t resist a bad pun), Danger Slater subjecting unlucky volunteers to a wheel of wormy misfortune, Cameron Pierce sharing some intimate details of his life with Dennis the duck, Kirsten Alene relating a budding young critic’s book insights, and Carlton Mellick III bringing the metal.
These were followed by music courtesy of Slow Poisoner Andrew Goldfarb, accompanied by John Skipp on bongos, Kevin L. Donihe on the theramin, guest guitarist Christoph Paul, and possibly more but I don’t know because I was tired and had wussed out and gone home before the show started. Taking with me, though, my first books of the weekend — Under the Shanghai Tunnels by Lee Widener (in return gave him a copy of The Raven’s Table, yay Vikings!), and Amber Fallon’s TV Dinners From Hell.
I should have been smart and bought more books that night, snazzy new releases and some that won’t even come out until next year, but I foolishly figured there’d be time enough to snag those later. I really should know better. Happens every time. They sell out fast! I did manage to pick up Drag Queen Dino Fighters by M.P. Johnson, Big Meat by Carlton Mellick III, and Paper Mache Jesus by Kevin L. Donihe; my post-BizarroCon reading is always a treat.
Saturday morning began with the traditional Edgefield breakfast buffet — the bacon alone is worth the price of admission! not that I could eat it this year, but I could look and smell and watch others enjoying it! (I do this a lot, this vicarious thing, not only with drinking but with spicy food and other life adventures; it’s probably getting creepy by now).
Next, I went over to the Ad House to replenish the cookie platters, then hung out and doodled/poemed strange sea critters in the slam book while the artists’ challenge went on. They drew slips of paper with prompts (wacky and often NSFW prompts), then went to work. Jim Agpalza ran the show, and participants included Liv Rainey-Smith, Erik Wilson, Andrew Goldfarb, and Nick “The Hat” Gucker. The results were excellent, and interesting to say the least. Some sort of impromptu art class or draw-in also seemed to be going on at the back table.
At 11:00, the official Book Nook opened, where I was thrilled to see MY book there on the table right next to works by the likes of Laura Lee Bahr, Jeremy Robert Johnson, and other big names! I snapped a pic and good thing too because they sold out soon after. People actually bought them … I got sought out to sign some (wavies to Russell Holbrook and Michael Sean LeSeur in particular, you made my days!) … it still doesn’t feel real!
I went to a panel on character development … dropped in on the Word Horde block to listen to Ross Lockhart, Mike Griffin, Nathan Carson, and a heartwrenching reading by Tiffany Scandal … did not in the talking board, aww … caught another panel on bizarro world-building … and then a lively one on extreme horror. All of them were great fun; wish I could have participated! Next time for sure.
Now, as full-on awesome and amazing as the entire convention is, I think all would agree that Saturday evening is THE big deal. That’s when the magic really happens. That’s the night of the Wonderland Awards dinner, when the best of the best of bizarro fiction from the previous year are recognized.
First, though, we all crammed into the back of the ballroom for the group photo, and then people lined up for the traditional fajita feast (though not for me; Doug brought me a big cup of stew from one of the restaurants, continuing his goal of making sure I had sustenance). The hotel staff was terrific throughout, by the way, and I understand ours continues to be a gladly-worked event. We’ve got to be a lot more entertaining than your average wedding party.
Major kudos to Jes Ku’uleilani for stepping up and taking over centerpiece duties! The stones marked with runes and sigils were a big hit (I sneaked one home in my purse), the mad libs seemed to go over well, and the fact she incorporated a black rabbit theme without even knowing the history of Edgefield with its art is … way cool but also kind of eerie!
Unlike so many other awards ceremonies across movies, music, and other media, I like the Wonderlands best because I’m familiar with most if not all of the nominees. I’ve read and reviewed the books, I know the authors and publishers, and let me tell you, every year the competition becomes stronger and the voting more difficult. Narrowing it down to the final slate alone is tough. They all deserve it, and everybody wins, because this genre just keeps getting better and better.
Ross Lockhart emceed the proceedings, with assistance by award presenters Cody Goodfellow and Kevin L. Donihe. The winners this year were Emma (M.P.) Johnson for Berzerkoids in the collection category, and Danger Slater’s I Will Rot Without You (which presented me my most challenging doll project to date!) for novels. Immensely pleased for and proud of both Emma and Danger, and everyone who made the ballot.
One might expect that would be it, awards awarded, commence with the afterparty. But not so fast! Not here! Not where everything that’s come before — the crazy upon crazier to a degree most conventions can barely aspire to glimpse — is really still only the warm-up. Not when it’s time for the ULTIMATE BIZARRO SHOWDOWN!!!
Hosted, of course, by our own ultimate bizarro showman, Michael Allen Rose, with the capable assistance of the stunning-in-every-sense Sauda Namir … these two, I know I’ve waxed rhapsodic about them in reports past, but there really is no way for mere words to convey their sheer sextacular wow factor. Last year’s steampunk regalia had given way this time to silken purple silvery-feathered splendor, befitting the bizarro royalty that they are, and the violet wand returned to help encourage contestants to follow the rules (well, in theory; some of these folks sure like getting zapped, rules or no rules).
What followed was several hours of such madness as can barely be described. We had rap and human theramin music. We had accordion exercise class. We had a giant patriotic golem, the real truth about the war on Christmas, and a blistering rebuttal to literary ‘criticism.’ We had a bikini babe speed-solving rubix cubes during an argument on human trafficking. We had a surprise film screening and a cautionary tale about telling someone to SMILE. We had dusty cowboys and helpful fishing tips. We had a golden dong that would’ve made Priapus blink. We had a take on The Aristocrats so gross I don’t think the world will ever recover. We had scandalous language, a fair amount of nudity, a fantastic array of prizes, and more I’m probably forgetting.
The esteemed panel of judges — Robert Devereaux, Laura Lee Bahr, John Skipp, and Gina Ranalli — once again had their work cut out for them. Shane McKenzie took first place, donning a hospital gown chosen to replace the fabulous muumuu destroyed last year by a single flex from Gabino Iglesias, who was not here to defend his title.
(For the record, Amber and I are not wild about this new ceremonial wardrobe development; we’ve both spent far too much time in hospital gowns lately and agreed if either of us wins next time, that’s the last kind of garment we’d want to wear! Boo! Protest!)
The second place pinata of mystery went to Peter Dale and his accordion, and the fact he got like six guys to take their pants off in front of everyone. Third place, or first loser, complete with disguise kit for hiding one’s shame, was bestowed upon Andrew Goldfarb and AmeriMonster (the hero we need!). Special judge’s choice awards also went to Joshua Spicoli Martens for his, uh, rear view … and the filmmaker whose name I didn’t catch, who also treated us to a rear view complete with bootyshake googly eyes.
I gather the actual afterparty did then go on until the wee small hours and beyond, but once again Doug and I headed out for our drive (foggy, less roadwork), followed by some kitty time and then sleep.
For obvious reasons, programming is lighter and later on Sundays. We breakfasted — I braved something slightly more solid, having a whole coffee cup of sausage gravy (don’t judge me!) — and then Doug hung out chatting with Nicholas Day and Sam Richard and Emma Johnson and some other folks while I went to check on the state of the cookies.
The final two panels — one on creating weirdness in a post-weird world, and another on the tricks of the publication trade — were followed by the bizarro film screening, opening with Cody Goodfellow’s uproarious piscene-perversity music video, “Baby Got Bass” (which features some familiar faces as backup dancers!).
The film shorts, compiled by John Skipp and efficiently run by Lori Bowen, never fail to be hilarious, provocative, mind-blowing, and wild. Uptight newlyweds accidentally booking their honeymoon at the house of a thousand dildos, mood-altering apps, the perils of satanic death metal, barking schoolgirls, a science experiment decades in the making, a young would-be vampire, a couple of dudes who discover a really weird hole in reality … just all kinds of incredible visual weirdness to enjoy.
Woefully, though, all good things must come to an end, even BizarroCon. But the fun still went on after closing ceremonies. There was Kevin L. Donihe’s ghost hunting tour — as I understand it, no one survived — and more drinking to be done and more trips to the soaking pool. Well, not for me; for me it was home and collapse for like fourteen hours of sleep.
Despite having four full days, it’s never enough time to visit with everyone, to hang out and chat. Nearly four thousand words into this write-up, I’m still sure I’m leaving all kinds of stuff out.
Some standout moments include: wondering if I’d misheard Vince Kramer saying he was going to the kitchen for a glass of chicken (I had not misheard; the Ad House has limited dishware available) … lending a blanket from my car to Jeff Burk because evidently he and his roomies could each have only two out of three sleepytime amenities … coming home with a coloring book of farting animals courtesy of Q (the penguin is my favorite) … demanding Shane McKenzie show me pics of his kids … Sophia Lechner’s bikini may have been the eensiest I’ve ever seen in person … Emma and Sauda continue to have legs like whoa …
Tremendous praise to Chris Lesko for capturing so many glorious moments on camera, and Leza Cantoral who also got memorable video … to Lisa LeStrange for managing the Book Nook and pint glass sales like a boss … to Rick Henley, who made an heroic effort to keep up with all the peppers … big thanks to Skipp for keeping the Ad House fires going all nice and cozy … to everyone for all the hugs I so sorely needed … of course, to Rose O’Keefe and her crew for once again putting on THE event of the year!
I really cannot say enough good things about this convention, this community, this genre, and these people. Obviously. This is my true home, where I belong. If it’s yours, too, thank you and I love you! If you’re reading this and curious, wondering if you belong too, hey, come check it out; there’s plenty of hugs, beer, books, cookies, and weirdness to go around!