A long time ago in a city far, far away… from you… I entered a bastion of nerd culture known as a Comic Book Store. Having been to this store many times, I was rather surprised to find a crew setting up equipment. Being the person I am, I leaped at the opportunity to aid them. When it was all said and done, I asked the shopkeeper what was going on. It was in that moment that I was introduced to the world of Dead Gentlemen and later Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. It was in that moment, 10 years ago now, that the banging of a DVD case against counter by that shopkeep, and the handing of it over with statement of, “Here, keep this damaged product,” started a fire within to see where this adventure ends.
Now a decade later I have shared laughs with friends new and old. I have experienced heartache and pain to match the joys and jubilation life has presented me. The friends I made on the west coast continued to make films and series, eventually forming Zombie Orpheus Entertainment to run alongside Dead Gentlemen. One eventually absorbed the other, symbiotically more than predatory. The friends I made on the east coast, meanwhile, formed a different company you may have heard of. Being the writer I am, I tossed my proverbial lot in with the bearded boys of New Jersey. From coast to coast, the world was becoming smaller with the internet becoming larger with every day.
In 2018, with a random tweet, it all came crashing together. I was press for Nerdarchy, and Nerdarchy was going to ZOECon, bringing not only my world full circle, but proving that the smallest actions can lead to the most rewarding of changes. With that Asa Kinney, Chris Hunt, and I got to participate in a celebration and gathering of Northwest nerdiness. What we found though is still boggling my mind, in all the best of ways.
Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon at ZOECon
Back when the world was a much younger place, namely the 1980s I was a young man just discovering that the lands could be full of myths and legends. To aid in this, my father and mothers, both biological and step, would read me stories.
Though the classics were there in the form of the Edda and Shakespeare, I was also exposed to the likes of Anne McCaffrey, Tolkien, and Mercedes Lackey. In fact after ZOECon my biological mother informed me one of the first gifts she gave to my father was an autographed book she had waited in Spokane to receive.
When I became a man in my own right, I would pick up the works of Larry Dixon on my own. The amazing artwork drew me in, the words transporting me to what would be the next leg of my journey into fantasy. This legacy, this passion and history of fantasy, is what made me turn into a grinning smiling mess when one of the first things we did when we had gotten our convention-legs was to observe the book signing by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon.
This signing was custom-made for fans of all kinds. Not just because they stayed to sign anything and everything put before them but because they opened their hearts like the very books before them. They shared stories of encounters with other well-known names along the way and Easter eggs hidden within nearly every book Larry Dixon touched. Some were hidden so cleverly I would expect them to be part of some grand conspiracy.
My favorite part had to be the way the authors delighted in the joy they brought to others as much if not more than the fans themselves. I was pleasantly surprised that Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon are gamers just like us. The fact they are gamers is not a surprise, it is that they are just as frustrating to their Game Master as you or I are. After all, who else would weaponize the decanter of endless water or lay siege with sheep? Check the video below to hear these amazing tales.
We did find out later that Larry Dixon will be involved with a few Zombie Orpheus Entertainment projects in the the near future. Chris Hunt, a 3D modeler in his own right, even got to collaborate with Larry Dixon on his own Kickstarter creating the pirate-hunting Red Gryphon. Something I intend to flesh out when time allows is an adventure for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons using such lore.
Zombie Orpheus cast and crew
There is much one could say about the crew of Dead Gentlemen and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. One could make mention of the tenacity it would take to stay with any path as long as they have, let alone one as challenging as the entertainment industry. It could even be a topic of discussion to mention how they have had the cleverness and wisdom to make so much out of so little.
But really what is the lifeblood of them all is this sense of closeness. The way they address each other and the way they speak to their fans sets ZOE apart. I heard one person at the convention mention, “They are an entire crew of Tom Hanks but with the humor of Bill Murray.” Well my friend, that description is actually fairly accurate, as long as you add in the heart of gold that seems to be the prevailing trait among the lot. Not the least of which is when the crew stopped to try to find aid for a fan in need of housing, or when the focus was shifted to try to address the current strife within the United States. It is no wonder the fans are so devout, with a company as devoted to them as this.
Many times it was mentioned by the fans how approachable the cast and crew are. From picking up the phone and talking to a fan who could not make it, to selfies, to hugs upon request. I personally found that no matter what, ZOE could be approached without trepidation or apprehension. Even the stars who appeared in many films and have amazed crowds on stage would smile and treat you like warmly welcomed friends. There is an old saying, to never forget where you came from. ZOE has cut out the middle by simply never leaving the humble humanity they began with. If nothing else, their humility and hearts would be a reason I will stay as a backer for years to come.
Zombie Orpheus projects past and present
A constant throughout the weekend has been Zombie Orpheus Entertainment’s projects past and present. The merchants were selling replica props and themed items of various items related to The Gamers, Journey Quest, Strowlers, or Demon Hunters, as well as their own gamer and geek culture themed wares, such as the handmade griffon presented to Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon in one of the videos above. The exhibition hall was filled with the showings of the last episode of Journey Quest Season 3, another screen showing the premiere of Strowlers or the Gamers: The Shadow Menace. There was much to see and hear at ZOECon. Enough to spark the fire of the new, rekindle the old, or simply stoke the pyre of the currently enthralled.
This brings me to an interesting point I simply must make. Asa Kinney did his own thing, which allowed Nerdarchy to cover more of ZOECon. Chris Hunt though was with me the entire time as my cameraman. This allowed us to have a stark contrast in what we observed, with one set of new eyes to contrast my old ones. Each project seen from different ends of the experience spectrum. Through observation of Chris, I was able to see the projects that are going to give wings to the creators of tomorrow. The Strowlers and Demon Hunters universes are going to be where creators cast their heart and souls in the very near future. I observed many so inspired, the gears turning as they began to formulate stories of their own.
Why stories of their own? That is simple. The worlds of Strowlers and Demon Hunters are being opened up to creators both new and old. Certain rules must be followed but it truly appears like they are welcoming an open world filming style where anyone can create their own stories or series within the world and run with it, almost like Wizards of the Coast and their Dungeon Master’s Guild or White Wolf and the Storyteller’s Vault at first glance.
The part that made me pause in a good way is that there is actually a process and steps that can be taken to canonize your creations. That’s right, your fan fiction can become an actual authentic piece of the lore you loved so much as to create for it. I have never heard of such a thing being a practice. The thing is, I do not see it as a gamble. Though it may be presumptuous, I feel comfortable stating I do not see how this could fail. There are just too many ways for it to go right. My prediction is we will likely discover a few new great minds behind the camera, and likely will have a few surprise celebrity contributors. As was often repeated during the convention, “If they can do it, so can you.”
I was not entirely surprised to people of all walks of life at ZOECon. The inclusivity was evident from the very first merchant we talked to onward, and it did this in a way that dignified and acknowledged everyone who came by. No one was made to feel an outsider, no matter what. No pandering, no dehumanizing, or making someone feel separated. I have never seen a convention that made it so natural to accept everyone and grant a voice to everyone.
That voice was turned into a roar when fans, myself included, were granted a panel to voice our hearts and minds to Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. This panel, shown in the video above, was eye opening in so many ways. Not just to its target Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, but to other fans such as myself. The inclusivity we had here was not one that hammered things in or else, but instead allowed us to learn and teach each other. Terminology and lexicon, beliefs, and even recognition of impact was there in a raw but appealing format.
Everyone in attendance learned things, myself included. Some cared but did not know the words to use, or how to identify the feelings they held within, and others simply needed to hear the positive reinforcement presented at the fan panel. Either way, ZOECon did not just open its door to all voices, it handed them a megaphone and listened patiently. I have never seen the like and sincerely hope I will see it again and again.
Alrighty, I think that is a good place to end this one. I will be covering the interviews we did in another article once I confer with Asa Kinney. Have you read his first impressions on ZOECon yet? After you get done with both, please stay tuned to Nerdarchy as we have an interview with not one, not two, but five personalities from Zombie Orpheus Entertainment both in front of and behind the camera. We have a lot of fun coming down the pipeline, please join us for every bit of it.
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