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.
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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.
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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?
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Six months after the emergency move, and everything is coming together. New plants are adapting quite nicely to the new gallery conditions (including the honestly impressive bladderwort Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite”, which threatens to take over the place), and every enclosure that leaves gives an opportunity to try a new species or genus. Combine this with a flood of new shows and events, and it’s hard to believe how far everything has come from that little Deep Ellum booth ten years ago.
On that note, the first serious gallery exhibition of the year, “Relics,” is still running on October 13 and 14, with the gallery opening on subsequent weekends by appointment. This includes a series of never-seen enclosures created specifically for this exhibition, ranging the gamut of carnivorous plant genera. For those who haven’t been to the gallery yet, this will probably be the perfect opportunity, so make plans now.
Before going into upcoming shows, a little note about Houston. It’s absolutely impossible to avoid discussion of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and it’s particularly heartbreaking because of the number of longtime customers and good friends (and the Venn diagram of the two is pretty much one circle) from Houston who are having to pick up the pieces. Instead of publicly pledging a certain amount of Triffid Ranch sales going to Houston relief, which usually falls apart with a bad show or two, I’m instead going to do what the rest of us do: making contributions from sales and from Day Job wages as often as possible, to the folks who can do the most good. I’m also not stating how much, because that isn’t the point, and instead I’ll just let you know that the good folks at Operation BBQ Relief are probably some of the best morale boosters this side of the Cajun Navy, and for the same reasons. The people of Houston have shown me incredible support and love over the last ten years (one of my first sales was to a Houston native who was in Dallas for the weekend, and I honestly want to run numbers on how many Texas Frightmare Weekend regulars are Houstonians), and I for one won’t stop until the whole city is back on its feet. I owe all of them that much.
With that in mind, the show schedule over the next few months became considerably more complex, due to events throughout southeast Texas. September 9, of course, is Small-Con, a one-day event in Addison dedicated to furthering interest in STEM careers, and there’s always more room in the next couple of generations for botanists. The very next week, gears switch slightly and the Triffid Ranch sets up in the two-day Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, literally two exits on Central Expressway north of the gallery. After that, things go quiet on the show front until after the gallery exhibition, and we’re still awaiting word on a show in Oak Cliff on the last weekend of October. And then…
November will be a very busy month at the gallery, and not just from getting ready for holiday sales and events. November is when several big shows in 2018 approve or decline a vendor space, and it’s also the month in which the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show runs in Austin. Even with it running right after Halloween, last year’s show was an absolute joy, and the BOT crew was happy to take my booth fee, er, I mean, welcome back a returning vendor. The love is reciprocated: a great central location in a very funky venue, and while I can’t drink, the Bloody Mary bar was very appreciated by everyone else attending. With its improved date on November 19, the weekend before Thanksgiving, it serves that part of the population that would otherwise spend that Sunday alternating between Halloween withdrawal and dread of the subsequent shopping weekend. Either way, this year, I’m getting set up extra-early so I can visit the other vendors, because I saw a lot of interesting items that I couldn’t view because of the crowds. (And yes, there are crowds. Great crowds.)
After that, it’s back to Dallas, with the gallery open on Thanksgiving weekend and subsequent weekends until the end of the year. (New Year’s Eve Weekend is especially important, because it marks 15 years of marriage to a very special someone, and you can never have too many people at a crystal anniversary. Now I just need to find good copies of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Crystal Palace dinosaurs for the anniversary cake.) With scheduled shows in the first half of 2018, I just have to quote the comics artist Matt Howarth: it may stop, but it never ends.
Welp. Two years ago this week, after years of planning and plotting, the Triffid Ranch finally made the transition from a show-only operation to one with a permanent base of operations. An awful lot has happened since then, with a lot more to happen between now and the end of the year. Close the roll cage and keep the fire extinguisher at hand, because things continue to get interesting.
Firstly, while the first official exhibition in the new gallery space isn’t until the weekend of October 13, things aren’t going quiet. The exhibition itself, titled “Relics,” takes up nearly all of the available gallery space, and the enclosures for that are filling out. This leads to funny discussions with friends, and there’s nothing quite like telling Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach series, with the movie adaptation of the first book Annihilation due very soon) that an enclosure based on his latest novel Borne is the reason why my work area is covered with Anne Hathaway heads. Trust me: it was even funnier to explain how to get an Anne Hathaway head out of a space helmet without damaging the helmet. And if the thought of WHY a space helmet is so important in a carnivorous plant enclosure, then I’m definitely talking to the wrong audience. (If you’ve read Borne, you’ll know why I needed three.)
Incidentally, as opposed to the one-night ARTwalk events at the old Valley View location, future Triffid Ranch shows will run with extended hours. The opening of “Relics” stretches over Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14, with the gallery opening to the public over subsequent weekends until Halloween. The Triffid Ranch is supposed to be an art gallery, so it’s time it acted like one.
And with the mention of shows, September is going to be quite the busy interlude. In addition to SmallCon in Addison on September 9, it’s time to announce the Triffid Ranch’s first appearance at the Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, Texas on September 16 and 17. The DCS was always problematic at the Valley View location because it tended to coincide with ARTwalk weekends, but with the gallery’s move, the Richardson Convention Center is literally up Central Expressway. This means not only a quick and reasonably painless load-in and load-out for the show, but interested bystanders wanting to view larger enclosures have the option of coming by the gallery after the Saturday night festivities. If this one works out well, a trip to the Irving Convention Convention Center event in February 2018 may be in order.
And on a separate note, the much-beloved Alamo Drafthouse chain announced this week that it was hosting specialty 35mm screenings of the original George Romero film Dawn of the Dead, with the Dallas and Richardson venues running Dawn on August 21 and 23. This is noteworthy partly because the film hasn’t been screened in Dallas since the original AMC Northwood Hills 4 midnight shows ended in 1986, partly because I always wanted to host a screening over at the Valley View space, and partly because this is a charity screening for lung cancer awareness. Oh, and the Alamo Drafthouse Richardson is also literally up Central Expressway from the gallery. If you feel so inclined to catch the greatest documentary about life in 1980s Dallas ever made, I look forward to seeing you all at the Richardson screening on August 23. (For those of us who remember the Northwood Hills midnight shows, it’ll be slightly bittersweet: the Northwood Hills hosted an audience participation crowd that made Rocky Horror look sick, and we can’t relive those days because of Alamo Drafthouse’s strict no-talking policy. Sadly, screaming “You mean I spent the whole day shooting zombies, and all you’ve got is LIGHT BEER?” falls under that policy.)
And on final notes, a mea maxima culpa is due. For decades, my relationship with the Dallas Observer was, shall we say, adversarial. During my writing career (1989-2002), I worked for the Observer‘s competitor The Met specifically because the word that best described Observer writing was “smarm”. There was the story about the editor who introduced himself with “You, of course, know who I am, don’t you?”, and would slam in print anyone who didn’t get down on knees and thank him for the privilege of kissing his butt. There was the other editor who spent all of his available time negging the Dallas Morning News in the hopes that the paper would hire him, or anybody else, really. I was nearly stomped at a music festival in Carl’s Corner, south of Dallas on I-35, because I was introduced as a writer and half of the bands there assumed that I worked for the Observer. I won’t even start with the writer best known as “The James Lipton of Fandom”: to this day, members of Dallas’s music community refer to being nagged and bullied for freebies and access and then slammed in print for acquiescing as “getting wilonskyed”. And then there was the lovely habit of the annual Best of Dallas Awards, where five to ten contenders in every category would be told by the ad department that they would be listed as the winner if they bought at least a half-page ad, and you can imagine the surprise when the Best of Dallas issue finally hit the stands.
Well, as they say, that was then and this is now. The change was first noticeable in Editorial, when an editor apologized in print to a writer for adding incorrect information instead of hiding behind a “We regret the error” note in 4-point font next to the masthead. Then starting with former editor Joe Tone, the paper shed the smarm and the entitlement (not to mention dining reporters prone to making the paper settle on libel lawsuits), to where it’s barely recognizable today from where it was circa 1999. While I can complement many of the regular writers, particularly news writer Steven Young, the changes to the Arts & Culture section under editor Caroline North are stunning. The highest compliment I can ever pay to any publication is noting that the writers all appear to WANT to be there, rather than just collecting a check while paying back on high school slights, and Dallas news and entertainment coverage is all the better for it. By the time Observer reporter Nicholas Bostick stopped by the Triffid Ranch space last February, I wasn’t dreading getting covered by the Observer. I was welcoming it, to the point where I have a standing invitation for the Observer staff to come by the gallery and let me pay for the beer. No expectations, no obligations, just thanks from someone horribly burned out on writing for a crew that makes me want to read a weekly newspaper again out of enjoyment.
In a roundabout way, this is my cue to let everyone know that the ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards is now online, and I ask everyone to chip in. No obligations, no expectations, and certainly no slates (although I’ll say that I’m very fond of many of the nominees, and a couple of the categories were a tough call in picking the best out of four or five). Dallas is becoming a very different city from the one I grew up in, and we need to encourage and celebrate that. Hell, maybe this is the year I start buying Observer advertising, just to do my part to keep the paper hale and hearty, and keep those great writers and editors in coffee and spare pencils. If you’d told me in 2004 that I’d say this, much less in 1996, I would have punched you in the throat.
Otherwise, it’s the usual song: developments are upcoming, mostly because I can’t talk about them yet. That said, though, sleep between now and the end of the year is going to be something I only hear about. And so it goes.