Tag Archives: shows

On 2017

2017. Oh, where do we start? Talking about the new gallery after having to move out of the old one is definitely an “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” situation, but it’s a perfect summation of the entire year for the Triffid Ranch. In fact, this is the first week since before the move that things are relatively quiet. Not that this will last. The synopsis:

The Gallery

Although the short moveout notice led to a bit of a panic in the actual move and then a long rebuilding, it actually worked out for the best. True, the new gallery is about 120 square meters smaller than the Valley View location and it doesn’t have the big industrial sink in the back, but it also has a much more central location for just about everyone in the greater Dallas area. It also has direct access to a DART Red Line station, several excellent restaurants across the street, a nice grocery store around the corner, and some great neighbors, including the porcelain mask and glasswork dealer right next door. Meeting clients for consultations and viewings is much easier for all parties involved, partially because the local traffic congestion is so much less than around Valley View. And should I mention again the DART stop that drops people off right across the street, so they don’t have to deal with traffic congestion at all?

Another factor with the new space is the closed-off main gallery area, which requires artificial light for both finished enclosures and new plants in propagation. That may sound like a disadvantage, but this cuts out light pollution that might affect germination, growth, and blooming. This is a roundabout way of noting that the exceedingly popular Manchester United Flower Show event from 2016 is coming back next spring, and with even more bladderworts than before. The better light and climate control of the new gallery also means that the much-promised expansion into ultra-hot peppers and exotic succulents such as stapeliads, delayed this year because of the move (quite literally, we got the moveout notice two days before the planned pepper seed potting extravaganza), will happen as scheduled. The ultimate plan, since 2018 has five weekends before Christmas, is to offer Bhut Jolokia, Dorchester Naga, and Trinidad Scorpion pepper bushes as highly unorthodox but pre-decorated holiday trees during the Nightmare Weekend events. We’ll see.

Shows

Because of the gallery move and the resultant unpacking and organizing from February to June, signing up for new shows and events moved to the back of the “Things To Do” list, and they stayed there for most of the year. That wasn’t an absolute, but as it turned out, focusing on getting the gallery open was advantageous.

Why? Lots of reasons apply, but one of the biggest was the ongoing shakeout of conventions and fairs in the Dallas area and elsewhere. Ever since the Triffid Ranch’s first show in May of 2008, science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions have been an essential part of the show season, and that isn’t changing. However, with the exception of Texas Frightmare Weekend and its dedicated and prudent staff and crew, it’s been a really rough year for conventions. To be honest, considering the spectacular and financially devastating implosions of conventions big and small this year, it’s time to pull out the writing-days duster to go with all of the bullet-dodging. Even with existing conventions, numbers are way down for most. Anybody familiar with convention circuit cycles knows that the current downturn was inevitable: the same thing happened in the 1980s and 1990s with big media-related conventions, as new fans grew up and discovered that hitting every convention within the timezone was incompatible with day jobs and new families. The only difference between this cycle and previous ones was in the length, mostly due to the influx of new fans brought in by movies, television, and costuming. A lot of the current generation of congoers are too young to remember the previous crash in the mid-Nineties, so it’ll seen like the end of the world, but I promise that with every bust is the promise of another wave. The big question right now is how long things need to remain fallow before that next wave starts, and a lot of the pain will be felt by vendors at these shows whose entire business history lies within the current cycle.

(Incidentally, the current implosion is why shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex require a LOT of vetting these days. For the last three years, Galveston of all places has been the focus of a series of intended conventions and shows that made huge promises of giant crowds and wild events, only for everything to disappear about a month before the start date. The things disappearing include booth fees and deposits: without fail, vendors receive cryptic letters about refunds “eventually”, just before the show’s Web site and Facebook page shut down in the middle of the night. Again, bullet-dodging: several friends lost a considerable amount of money they couldn’t easily replace on one show that fell apart when a fellow vendor called the hotel to find out about loading access and was told the hotel had no knowledge about the show at all. Even worse, most of these incidents weren’t due to any specific malfeasance, but instead from not understanding that telling friends “Hey, let’s put on a show” and actually launching an event have a lot of steps in between that are lubricated with elbow grease and the occasional liter of blood. Combine this with an absolute certainty that somehow, magically, everything will work out all right in the end, and you get shows that create rueful new memes for attendees and financial disaster for vendors and guests.)

Alternately, besides plotting new events at the gallery (many of which may include the previously mentioned neighbors, depending upon their schedules), it’s time for more outreach as well. The move precluded a lot of lectures and events at schools and museums, and it’s time to get that back up and going. Among other things, I’ve needed a good excuse to bug the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History about getting involved with one of its adult programs, and it may be time to do a black light show with traps and blooms to show how they glow under ultraviolet light.

Press and Publicity

When it came to local news coverage, 2017 was much more lively than 2016. It started with the final ARTwalk at Valley View, with the Dallas Observer reporting on plans for the remaining artists, and then with the Observer coming back for the soft opening last July. Suffice to say, nobody was more surprised than I was to win a Best of Dallas Award this year, or eighth place in the best date spots in Dallas. This coincided with a serious reevaluation of the Observer over the last couple of years: the paper is no longer the smarmy, bloated mess it was at the beginning of the century, and it’s now the paper we all wish it had been back when competitors such as The Met and DFW Icon were trying to usurp it. (In particular, I exaggerate not a whit when I compare dining editor Beth Rankin to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, one of my childhood heroes. Her articles are a wonderful blend of serious, funny, and thoughtful, with a constant subtext of “I gave you enough rope to hang yourself, so thank you very much for surprising me” like Royko’s best columns. And if you don’t think Dallas needs someone like her, just look back 17 years to when the Observer was facing, and losing, actual libel suits for its dining coverage.) Now that the gallery is established, it’s time to get more word out, and buying advertising means that supporting the new Observer goes beyond lip service.

Elsewhere, a shot of the old gallery even showed up in a pictorial in D magazine of Black Friday 2016 at the old Valley View space.  I won’t even complain about it being run a year late, presumably spiked in favor of the monthly “76,233 Best Doctors Willing to Pay For a Full-Page Ad” cover story: I’m just thrilled to discover that someone at D has an interest in plants and plant byproducts that never comes anywhere near the term “levamisole toxicity”. Miracles abound.

Plans

Strange as it may sound, 2018 is going to be “more of the same”. Most of the plans for next year include lots of alternatives to the shows in which it all started, starting with more events at the gallery. This includes more involvement with groups such as the Arts Incubator of Richardson, as well as gallery tour events through the Dallas area. In addition, it’s time to return to events sadly neglected while getting the old Valley View gallery going: among many other things, it’s time for future Triffid Ranch tables at local reptile shows, museum events, and one-day pop-up shows. Everything, of course, depends upon the Day Job and factors completely uncontrollable, but it’s time to go outside, and 2018 is the year to start walking.

As a sidenote, the upheaval prevented attempts to keep up with everyone online, and that’s already being rectified. In addition to an increased posting schedule, those efforts include a new mailing list that starts up at the beginning of the new year, improvements to the current site (some of you may already notice that the ads that infested the old site are gone, and now it’s a matter of going through all of the external links and removing or updating the defunct ones), and maybe even a bit of video. Now to develop a vaccine for sleep so there’s time to do all of this.

Synopsis

As always, time and tide melt the snowman, so 2018 might end on a drastically different note. As if anyone expected anything different. The main thing is that 2017 epitomized “Hold my beer and watch this,” and barring a truly unfortunate accident with temporal paradoxes, we won’t have to go through it again. Now let’s go explore the new year.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 3

And as far as the Dallas Comic Show is concerned in the future? That’s a very interesting question. The experiment in two shows in two weekends was a relative success, as in it didn’t kill me, even if the heat in the middle of September nearly did. The crew running it is professional, the fellow vendors were a lot of fun to have as neighbors, and the attendees are enthusiastic and very, very curious. These are all things to consider when the convention starts soliciting vendors for next fall.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 2

In an area where the the trend has been toward huge media convention extravaganzas in the last ten years, the Dallas Comic Show is an outlier. It’s still in the same venue as it was when I first encountered it in the early 2000s, and the only big change is the number of costume enthusiasts attending. It’s held at the Richardson Convention Center, which also holds the Richardson City Hall offices, so the loooooooooong hallway at the entrance is a bit surprising, but it works very nicely for both attendees and comics pros in the tables lining the hallway. The main dealer’s room is spacious and much easier to access than many at other conventions (having two separated doors that allow inflow and egress makes a huge difference), and said room blessedly has enough light that setting up lamps isn’t required. Best of all, since it’s not associated with a hotel, the convention only runs for two days, which means plenty of time on Friday to set up.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 1


It’s always good to remember your roots, and the Triffid Ranch got its start with little science fiction and comic conventions oh so long ago. That’s why, in a blast of inspiration partly fueled by sleep deprivation, it was time for an experiment: was it possible to run two shows on adjoining weekends? Part of the idea was to test logistics: with the gallery nearly open, was it possible to pot up, haul out, and set up enough plants for two shows? The other part involved friends asking if setting up a Triffid Ranch booth at the Dallas Comic Show was reasonable or sane. The experiment turned out pretty well, especially since the DCS locale was literally up Central Expressway from the gallery, and it answered a lot of questions about conducting more shows in the Dallas area. The biggest question: has anyone developed an antidote for sleep, and where can I buy it in bulk?

Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 3

Plans for next year’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show: more comfortable van seats. Finding a more regular source for Lava Lamp bottles. Explaining to the cats that we won’t be gone forever and ever and ever. Other than that, don’t change a thing.

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Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 2

Because the only thing better than a Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show is a festive screening of the Alien Holiday Special

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Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath -1

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It’s a one-day show. At top speed, the commute between Dallas and Austin is still over three hours. Highway I-35, the only artery offering a direct route between two cities, has been under perpetual expansion and repair since I first moved to Texas 38 years ago. Oh, and Austinites apparently consider allowing fellow drivers to merge into traffic to be a mortal sin. With all that, not only is the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show an essential event, but I have only one complaint about it: it’s ONLY a one-day show. Two or three days with the sort of people attracted to a horror-themed gift market? Where do I sign up, and where was this 30 years ago?

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SmallCon 2017: The Aftermath -1

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September and October in the Dallas area are a little magical: it’s still hot compared to other parts of the world, but it’s not the mind-numbing blast furnace of August, so people brave starting to go outside without air conditioning support around the middle of September. If the first adventurers don’t burst into flames or scream as their lungs sizzle, everyone else follows, and the weekend social calendar is packed until the holiday season. Food, music, art, information: we have so many things to do before the end of November, and nowhere near enough weekends in which to see it all.

In a roundabout way, that’s how the Triffid Ranch ended up at SmallCon, a one-day event in Addison dedicated to encouraging girls to enter the STEM fields. As usual, attending any of the events required leaving the table, but considering the enthusiastic attendees, I picked up enough by osmosis. So…when is vendor registration for the 2018 event?

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The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 9

In all of the obvious love shown to Texas Frightmare Weekend, don’t think that it’s always perfect. No, there’s always someone who takes issue with what the Triffid Ranch is doing. The plants are living things, they yell, you shouldn’t be selling them, they yell, at least not something I can’t smoke. By way of example, for the first time, I share pictures of a heckler. The character came below and did nothing but take offense that his brethren and sisters were available for sale in glass bottles and containers, and he let me know it. Well, he kinda did: he was rather hard to understand, and random grumbling and wheezing counts as heckling, right?


Very seriously, it’s no exaggeration that I now spend the entire year getting ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend in one way or another, and I hope to pull off a display in 2018 that’s not affected by a sudden gallery eviction and relocation. Many thanks to everyone involved with Frightmare: attendees, guests, staff, support crew, and fellow vendors, and thanks in particular to convention founder Loyd Cryer: if not for him ignoring the various voices in the area telling him that a horror convention in “as conservative a city as Dallas” wouldn’t work, we wouldn’t be having THIS much fun. Here’s to seeing everyone next year, because the only way I’d miss it is by being dead, and even then.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 8

Trying to describe a show like Texas Frightmare Weekend to folks completely unfamiliar with the concept is hard enough, but trying to explain the costumers is harder. Part of it comes from the assumption that the costumers are just nostalgic for Halloween, or from the cliche of the convention costumer circa 1985. Both work from an assumption that costumes should be quick, flashy, and quickly discarded once the event is over. And that assumption is so wrong that it’s saddening.

As someone who first started attending conventions in the early 1980s, and who only became a vendor during the great costuming renaissance of the 2000s, this is another area of fandom where I have no interest or urge to go back to the Good Old Days. The sheer professionalism of costuming these days makes it worthy of further study: in fact, it’s the reason why so many TV and newspaper crews come to events like Frightmare to get images and video of the proceedings. In many ways, they treat Halloween the way Hunter S. Thompson handled New Year’s Eve: that’s the day you back off and let the amateurs have their fun.

As for being a vendor? I get to watch literally thousands of enthusiasts go by, and I get to ask questions. For a short time in the Eighties, I took inspiration from such makeup effects maestros as Dick Smith and Tom Savini and wanted to dive right into the world of movie illusions. I’ve gone off in a drastically different direction since then, but a lot of what I learned back then still influences plant enclosures today. How do I make this illusion? How do I put it together for the maximum effect? Does it grab the audience in the same way it grabbed me? I may be using live plants, long-fiber sphagnum, and perlite instead of silicone and resin, but it’s still the same thrill.


The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 7

One of the things that’s hard for people outside of the dealer’s room at a big convention such as Texas Frightmare Weekend is that it’s WORK. Heck, it’s hard for some people in the dealer’s room to understand, for that matter. (And no, I’m not naming names, although it’s tempting.) This means that very few of us have the time or opportunity to break free from the booth to view preview movie screenings or guest signings. This means that while the attendees are heading out to catch after-hours parties and concerts, we’re usually either heading home or to our hotel rooms to get some sleep before it starts all over again. This means having to cancel dinner plans with near and dear friends because a customer asked for a special commission that has to be ready by the next day. For anywhere from two to four days, depending upon the length of the convention, it’s a matter of scrambling and dancing and occasionally throwing things (you get really good at hitting trash cans from a distance when the crowd is too thick to get to it directly), and none of us would give it up for anything. 

And why wouldn’t we give it up? That’s because the party comes to us. At Frightmare, that meant anywhere between six and nine hours of fascinating people coming from all over the planet, in costume and out, all with different stories about why they were there. It’s a three-day Troll Market, and everyone involved simultaneously wishes that it could go on for years AND thanks Odin, Marduk, and Arioch that it doesn’t go on for a solid week. I don’t think any of us could handle more than five days, just because there are limits as to what the human body can endure.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 6

As an aside, it’s time to share the Great Doughtnut Dropoff story. When Texas Frightmare Weekend moved to its current location at DFW Airport five years ago, we made a run on a grocery store for drinks on the last day of the show, and decided “what the heck: let’s pick up a flat of doughnuts to share with the vendors and the staff.” Considering how many vendors were waiting for their final sales on Sunday to know how much gas money they’d have (yes, things were a bit tight that year), the box was denuded within seconds. Since then, things have gotten considerably better for the vendors, but the doughnut tradition continues. Every Sunday at the end of Frightmare, it’s a matter of going over to Donut Palace in Garland, one of the best doughnut shops in the whole of the D/FW Metroplex, and picking up a few dozen for the staff. They’re exhausted from running the show, so the sugar pick-me-up is important, and it’s a very careful thank-you for the realization that while all sorts of emergencies may have occurred over the weekend, attendees and vendors didn’t know about any of them. (Remind me to tell you about the fire alarm at Space City Con in Houston in 2014 some time.) 

This year, it was the usual: seven dozen, all fresh out of the fryer, and a suitable mix so that everybody got at least one of their favorites. By the end of the show, though, one box remained on the registration desk, with two or three remaining. By the time we finished packing up the truck and did the traditional “Did we get EVERYTHING?” inspection of the booth before leaving for the night, one was still there. It looked perfectly edible, so was that last one left because nobody wanted to be That Guy Who Took the Last Doughnut (And Thereby Had To Dispose Of The Box), or did someone write “Lovingly prepared by Tyler Durden” on the bottom? Next year, I’m setting up a remote camera, just to check.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 5

Now, not that this year’s Frightmare was perfect. The horror lay in leaving the show. Everything packed up perfectly, we were all done and loaded into the truck at least an hour ahead of schedule, and it looked as if the few remaining plants would go back into the gallery before dark. Everything was going great, until the truck encountered the tollbooths at the north exit of DFW Airport. Judging by the scars on the concrete barriers separating each toll booth, a lot of drivers discover that they don’t have very much clearance at all. In my case, I came to the booth, inserted my original toll ticket and the parking validation from the hotel, started forward, and caught a lovely “BLAM!” Starting forward a little further, the right wheel was making a lovely whup-whup-whup sound, so it’s time to pull over. One of the wheel struts had broken, so it was a matter of waiting for a tow truck to haul the beast back to the gallery and from there to a repair center. (A little bit of advice for first-time vendors at conventions and shows: if you get to the point where you need a truck to haul merchandise to shows, go for a rental to each show until you reach the point where the rentals are costing more than payments on a new truck. If you rent, always, ALWAYS buy the offered insurance, because that $20 to $40 expenditure every show is much better than the $2000 or more that will come out of your hide if something should happen. Thirdly, if you find a dependable and friendly rental service, stick with these people, and let them know how much you love them at every opportunity. Not only can I depend upon U-Haul Moving & Storage of Garland, but I let them know much they’re helping, every time I pick up a van.) U-Haul driver support was exceptional, the tow truck driver was a hoot, and I was able to get everything unloaded and in the gallery within minutes, with only one broken flask. Not exactly how I wanted to spend a Sunday evening, but it beat waiting on the side of the road, wondering what I’d do next.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 4

As the greatest movie ever to namedrop the town of Garland, Texas noted, “sometimes it’s all about the little things.” We didn’t have Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone tearing things up out here, but the sentiment applied all weekend. Half of the fun wasn’t just in introducing new people to the world of carnivorous plants: it was meeting someone who was in middle school when she bought her first carnivore at her first Frightmare show, introducing her husband and first child all these years later. This is why I do this.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 3

One of the interesting side-effects of Texas Frightmare Weekend happening at the same time each year is that it’s generally the weekend before Mother’s Day. When I first started showing plants at Frightmare back in 2009, quite a few people used to pick up enclosures and arrangements as Mother’s Day gifts, on the idea that “Mom will love this, but I don’t know if she’d like to come out to the show.” This year, not only was Mom leading the way to the booth, but she’d simply look around, point at a container, and insist “I want THAT.” Next year, I’m going to have to set up a separate arrangement just for Mother’s Day pickup orders, so they already know what they’re getting as soon as they walk inside.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 2

This year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend was an interesting mix of people, and none more so than the folks who came by the Triffid Ranch booth. A lot of longtime Frightmare fans came by, with many deciding that this was the year they were finally going to break down and buy a plant. A lot, though, were out here for the first time, and the enthusiasm was obvious. That enthusiasm is one of the reasons why prepping for Frightmare in the spring takes priority over everything: you never know how attendees’ pocketbooks are from year to year, and I understand completely when folks walk by and admit that they can only look this year. The last thing I want to do, though, is disappoint.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 1

The eternal question at this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend was “When will the gallery be open?” That was a very reasonable question if a bit surprising, because we had no idea how many people were waiting for that answer.  The eternal response was “Well, I could get the gallery ready or I could get ready for the Frightmare show, and Frightmare wins, every time.” And oh boy, this one was one for the books. Not only was it the largest show I’ve seen in nearly a decade of them, but the crowd was one of the most mellow yet enthusiastic I’ve ever dealt with. Texas Frightmare Weekend already has a reputation among Dallas conventiongoers for an excellent experience all the way around, but the number of people coming from all over the planet? That’s always surprising.


As far as the traditional pre-show incidents were concerned, nothing comparable to last year’s lightning-struck box truck happened this time, but the show starts earlier and earlier. That is, the doors open at 5:00 on Friday evening for VIP attendees, but previously that gave just a little time for people to wander back through the dealer’s room and check out the sights. Not this time: at 5 sharp, the crowds were already rushing back to see what we vendors had this time, and it didn’t let up for six hours. This normally isn’t a problem, but that was about the time the Dallas Observer photographers came through to take photos for its annual Frightmare slideshow. Naturally, I show up in the last slide, crusted with salt from hauling plant tubs inside, and no chance to change into decent clothes before the mob hit. We should all have such problems. (The additional joy was having Robert Whitus of Drink With The Living Dead across the aisle. A great way to keep a sense of humility at shows is to have your very own heckler across the aisle, and since Robert has known me for 30 years, he had a LOT of material.)


More to follow…

The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 7

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And that does it for 2017’s All-Con: we’re already registered as vendors for 2018, and our next show is at Texas Frightmare Weekend in the first weekend of May. See you then.

The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 6

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The Aftermath: All-Con 2017 – 5

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At shows such as All-Con, new attendees always ask about the “Shirt Price” tag on the enclosures, and Melissa demonstrates the concept: get a Larry Carey Triffid Ranch shirt, wear it to a show or gallery event, and get discounts and other perks. Don’t let her be the only person to take advantage of the perpetual perk program, okay?

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