NecronomiCon 2017 will be descending August 17-20 on Providence, RI in the United States. The biannual convention began as a celebration of H.P. Lovecraft but now has expanded its programming to cover the broad tapestry of Weird Fiction from classic authors to the contemporary Weird Renaissance. As such, it’s evolved into closest thing to a Weird world summit, and it’s no understatement to call it one of the most highly anticipated conventions in the world of horror and speculative fiction.
This year’s Guests of Honor include renowned editor Ellen Datlow, filmmaker Richard Stanley, artist John Jude Palencar, poet Donald Sidney-Fryer, Lovecraft scholar Steve Mariconda, and authors Kij Johnson, Stephen Graham Jones, Nnedi Okorafor, and Peter Straub. More than a con, NecronomiCon’s Website subheads accurately it as “The International Festival of Weird Fiction, Art and Academia.” Beyond panels, its many activities include the acclaimed juried Ars Necronomica exhibition themed “Wonders of the Visible Weird,” films, an Eldritch Ball, concerts, live podcasts including The Outer Dark (which will be aired here at This Is Horror), the Armitage Symposium of new Weird Fiction and Lovecraft-related research, a wide array of vendors at the “Grand Emporium of Weird,” bus and walking tours, gaming, and more.
Arch-Director Niels Hobbs always stressed that NecronomiCon is a team effort, so This Is Horror spoke to a panel of the creative minds behind NecronomiCon 2017 for an exclusive behind-the-scenes preview. This is the second part of an interview that features the hive mind of Hobbs; Programming Committee Members s.j. bagley (Thinking Horror journal), Sam Gafford (The Dreamer in Fire and Other Stories), and Farah Rose Smith (Mantid magazine), Readings Coordinator Catherine Grant, Ars Necronomica Co-Curator The joey Zone, and Film Co-Curator Philip Gellatt (Europa Report).
So many subjects related to H.P. Lovecraft himself have been covered at previous NecronomiCons, the HP Lovecraft Film Festival, MythosCon & other cons. Is it challenging to keep the HPL-related programming fresh and how have you addressed that challenge?
NH: It absolutely is a challenge, especially given that so many people also seem to have a dog in the fight, so to speak—which means we will never make everyone happy, especially since so much of our approach doesn’t come from a fannish point of view. Creating content that is both entertaining, informative, and critical—without being counterproductive—is a real challenge, no matter the topic. However, given the vast amount of HPL programming we had in 2015 for the 125th anniversary, we’ve really been freed up to expand into other topics and corners of the Weird. NecronomiCon Providence will always have solid roots in Lovecraftian Weird, but there’s just so much else to discuss and explore that it would be silly to simply rehash the same old topics over and over when the field of Weird is a growing and vibrant one now.
What will distinguish this year’s art exhibition, aka Ars Necronomica?
The joey Zone:“…all texts exist as part of larger assembles that include not only other texts and their authors, but readers and editors, publishers, artists, critics, agents and other agents.” Scott Nicolay, Stories from The Borderland (#14, December 13, 2016). This holds true in the visual Weird as well. Cribbing from Cotton Mather, this year’s Ars Necronomica: Wonders of The Visible Weird hews closely to Providence’s unique New England perspective of Eldritch Yankee Gentlemen, while also being inclusive in embracing Other Topics, Other Voices. We are planning to feature original works that may be very familiar to listeners of The Outer Dark and attendees of its important inaugural convention this past spring, and readers of [Scott’s blog] Stories From The Borderland. There’s artwork based on works by Margaret St. Clair, Fritz Leiber, J.-H. Rosny, and more!
It’s pretty exciting to see Richard Stanley as a guest. What special screenings/programming will be associated with his work? Do you want to share any highlights of this year’s film program?
Phil Gelatt: We’re so excited to host Richard Stanley this year! We’ll be screening all of his work over the course of the convention. His film, Dust Devil (1992), is one of the great classics of Weird cinema. If attendees haven’t seen it, it’s a can’t-miss experience. The film is a singular work within the genre—surreal, grotesque, epic, and thought-provoking. Also worth making time for are his documentary works. He considers his documentary The White Darkness, about modern day voodoo in Haiti, to be his best work.
Hard to pick a highlight from the rest of our film programming, if I’m to be honest. We’re showing Zulawski’s Possession; Harry Kumel’s Malpertuis, based on the novel by Belgian Weird author Jean Ray; an Alan Clarke oddity called Penda’s Fen, as well as the little-seen, two-part Spanish Lovecraft adaptation, Valdemar Legacy. There is something for every kind of fan of Weird film.
For the uninitiated, what is the Armitage Symposium? Is it only for academics?
NH: The Armitage Symposium is a scholarly component of the overall convention, which provides a venue for new and established academics to present research on any aspect of weird. Topics specific to critical analysis of Lovecraft and his writing are most common, but the presented papers show a high degree of originality and incisiveness on a broad range of topics.
Every year there are a selection of special posters, publications, T-shirts, totes, etc. What have you planned for this year?
NH: We’re always looking to generate new art for the convention, so in addition to some great new poster art—many thanks to the extraordinary work of Providence artist Jennifer Hrabota Lesser for our main poster art!—we’ve got new T-shirts and pins, as well as two new books—the main convention Memento Book edited by s.j. bagley, and a special convention anthology edited by Joe Pulver. We always work right up to the last possible second, so we may even have a few extra surprises for sale to commemorate the pilgrimage to Providence.
Anything you’d like to add about readings, gaming, the masquerade party, concerts or other special activities such as HP Lovecraft-related tours?
Catherine Grant: The readings this year are very focused on diversity, and not just in backgrounds and gender, but experience. I really wanted to give attendees the chance not only to see their favorite authors read, but also discover new writers they might never otherwise. The reading lineup includes powerhouses in the genre, up-and-comers, and new authors, all reading together. I’d like to encourage fans coming to readings for one specific favorite to stay for the whole block and engage new voices in the genre.
NH: One thing we’re particularly thrilled about is the special concert on Saturday night, at the opulent Columbus Theater. Headlining is the famous proto-prog-metal band COVEN, which has been around since the late ‘60s and credited with first using the devil-horns—screw you, Gene Simmons!—with bands Beastmaker and Magic Circle opening. All three bring very unique takes on dark and sonic metal. And, in addition to the many other events going on outside of the normal daytime programming, including films, the art exhibition, walking and bus tours, etc., we’re also hosting a pre-party on Wednesday night with author readings, music, film shorts, and some special surprises, putting on another outdoor concert on Thursday night sponsored by Narragansett Beer, and restaging our infamous Dunwich Horror Picture Show—picture Dean Stockwell meets Tim Curry!—on Sunday night.
Finally, any advice to a first-time attendeee?
FRS: My strongest piece of advice would be to not allow yourself to become intimidated and try to immerse yourself in as many aspects of the programming and activities as you can and care to. The greatest part of the NecronomiCon convention is that it breaks down the wall between creator and fan, allowing for new friendships and community-building that exceeds the normal limitations of what a convention usually offers. So try not to be afraid and know that you are welcome as an equal!
I first attended the con in 2013. I didn’t know anyone and felt timid, but soon became deeply moved by the breadth and wonder of the event. I was able to forge lasting friendships, grow as a person and creator, and participate within the greater community. Wonderful memories can be made as long as one is respectful, kind, and open-minded. Anyone can come away from this event with an enormous amount of positive experiences to reflect upon for years to come
CS: Don’t be afraid to approach writers and fellow fans and ask questions, strike up discussions about Weird fiction and network. Some of the most valuable relationships in my life, not just my career, have been from meeting random people at cons. Enjoy yourself and don’t be afraid to ask staff if you need help finding a room or have a question about the programming. Since there is programming spread across two separate buildings, plan ahead and figure out what rooms you’ll need to be at and when. Also, have fun and enjoy the convention, the city of Providence, and the general celebration of weird fiction at NecronomiCon. There is a lot to see and do, but the best con experiences for me are when I just enjoy myself, buy too many books and soak in the experience.