Cover story: Underground Monster Carnival attacks OKC this weekend 

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It’s creepy. It’s kooky. And it is most definitely ooky. For the fourth year, it’s the return of the Underground Monster Carnival, the only Oklahoma-based horror convention that promises thrills and chills for the whole family, Addams or otherwise.

Curated by lifelong horror fans Art and Stephanie Sunday, proprietors of the Plaza District’s cabinet of curiosities known as Dig It!, the festival has continued to grow every year, feeding on the fear-driven fun of the spook show-loving masses that continue to discover what lurks beyond the gates of the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds.

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  • Didn't catch these guy's names but they put on the Underground Monster Carnival. mh

This year’s festival is set to be the largest gathering ever, an “old-school carnival-themed convention” loaded with costumes, vendors, exhibits and workshops, panels and much more. Originating from a series of Underground Horror Fests the Sundays concocted in Tulsa, what started off as a way for like-minded individuals to exhibit their freaky wares has now transformed into an annual celebration that Art likens to a “family reunion.”

“Originally, it was going to be horror-themed, handcrafted, handmade goods, local actors, writers and film people just getting together, getting to know each other,” Sunday said. “I changed it because I got a lot of sci-fi fans, a lot of rockabilly, steampunk, so many different genres wanting to be included, that I just felt the word monster was kind of like a variety of things in pop-culture realms.”

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The 2015 Underground Monster Carnival is Saturday at the Hobbies, Arts and Crafts Building at State Fair Park, 3001 General Pershing Blvd. While the first few get-togethers were held in standalone venues, the event had reached such a level of popularity that Sunday eventually moved to a much larger space, the fairgrounds being the perfect atmosphere for the aura of terror he was trying to create, complete with the essence of cotton candy and nachos.

With a feel that’s more Famous Monsters than Fangoria, last year’s attendance was three times the attendance of the first year. Sunday attributes this to the fact that, unlike many horror conventions, the Monster Carnival is a mostly family-based affair, allowing horror-fanatic parents to share their love of the genre with their offspring.

“It’s kid-friendly, based on a family who’d let their kids watch The Goonies or Gremlins,” Sunday said. “One of the things that have made it so popular is that there’s a lot of cosplayers — more adults than children, every year — and the adults always tend to want to dress more sci-fi, like Star Wars or Doctor Who.

Scary Monsters

Cosplay — the act of wearing costumes to either create or pay tribute to a character in a participant’s favorite genre — is the lifeblood of the Underground Monster Carnival, and everyone who attends is encouraged to dress up and play along. There are even a couple of prize-laden costume contests thrown in as an added bonus.

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It has become so popular, in fact, that it was one of the reasons the Sundays decided to add a wide array of panels to the proceedings. They’re organized by local veteran cosplayer Ashley King, who, in addition to bringing together discussion groups on a wide array of topics, will be heading her own panel, Costuming 101.

“It’s going to be a basic rundown of how to develop, create and work on your own costumes or cosplay based on existing designs,” King said. “I’ve been to a lot of different conventions and events, and I find that panels at events like this definitely help to create a better sense of community because it does allow people who are knowledgeable to do their thing, giving them a chance to share their knowledge.”

Other panels include The Writer’s Eye, featuring local genre writers, and Horror Films: A Critical Eye, chaired by a handful of local film critics discussing horror’s place in the world of film.

Besides championing cosplay as a serious art form, King also applauds the Sundays for their constant inclusion of women into the conversation of horror and sci-fi. At a time when many national horror conventions have come under fire for sexual harassment and general sexist behavior toward female fans, King believes that the Underground Monster Carnival is one of the few genre-driven safe spaces where women can express their creativity.

“Women especially are big drivers in a lot of creative scenes like this,” King added. “We tend to produce a lot of content, whereas men kind of tend to take the stance of the knowledge keepers. They’re the ones who will debate Batman’s strength versus Superman’s or whatever all day long. I feel that at a lot of fandom events, women are definitely at the forefront, so the female presence I feel here is very strong.”

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From crafting costumes to crafting masks, the monster makeup workshops are also a big draw. This year, local special effects maven Dave Richmond brings his Tom Savini-taught talents to the show, designing zombie and Frankenstein’s monster makeups for the monstrous masses.

One of the reasons he’s proud to present his work here is to inspire the next generation of makeup artists and prove that one doesn’t need to disappear to Hollywood to have a career in the industry. He noted the current rise in homegrown productions like the recent award-winning horror flick Army of Frankensteins as proof.

“There’s just a lot of stuff that goes on here in this state. A couple of guys that have actually started effects houses have progressed and are doing a lot of effects for a lot of local filmmakers, with the freedom to spend their days devoted to it,” Richmond said.

A friend of the Sundays, Richmond has seen the Underground Monster Carnival grow and believes that, with the continued support of the community, it could be the premier horror convention in the area, expanding to two or three more days and bringing in fans and revenue from across the country, thanks to the con’s prime location in the heartland.

Blood red

The idea of growth is definitely a sentiment that is shared by many of the vendors who come to hawk their wares, especially the artists who make a special trip across the country just to sell their artwork at the carnival.

Midwest City artist Harold Neal said his horror and fantasy artwork — sculptures, paintings and prints — always has a bit of dark comedy to it. His annual outing to the Underground Monster Carnival is one of the most successful times of the year for him as a creator, financially and creatively. Thanks to the carnival, his commissions, gallery showings and fan base in the metro have increased.

“It’s very uplifting and very validating to know that someone would buy my work and hang it on their walls,” Neal said. “You do it in your house, in the privacy of your home, and you have no idea what people are going to think, if it’s even worth it. But you go to a convention and then someone actually likes it enough to put it in their living room, [and] it makes it all a special experience.”

This experience is also the reason nationally acclaimed drummer and guitarist Rocky Gray makes it a point to show off his work at the carnival. Formerly a member of bands like Evanescence and Shredded Corpse, Gray has earned a name for himself as a horror artist that mixes his love of metal music with the darker artistic aspects of the genre.

Gray lives in Arkansas and has made the Underground Monster Carnival an almost ritualistic endeavor, loading up his car with his paintings and multimedia artwork. He cites the Monster Carnival as one of the most important conventions in the nation, one that has given a home to the many who want to enjoy the experience of being at a convention full of sci-fi and horror fans just like themselves.

Besides his artwork, Gray is also selling his horror-inspired solo album Accursed and posters for the new ’80s Halloween-themed film The Barn, which he scored. While his rock notoriety brings in fans who mainly want to talk music, it’s a conversation he welcomes, especially when it comes to the idea of mixing music and horror.

“It’s great when fans of the music come by the booth and say hi and maybe get some stuff signed. It’s always great to talk with them and hang out,” Gray said. “I think all of the conventions are equally important to the horror community, and the Underground Monster Carnival have found their place in the community.”

If there is a running theme consistently mentioned by staff and vendors to fans and artists, it’s a sense of community and unity that the Sundays have brought to the once-scattered horror and sci-fi community in Oklahoma.

“It’s a really good way for horror fans to get together and realize that they are not alone,” Neal said. “There are people out there that enjoy the same things they do, and it gives them a chance to go to panels and learn and meet local writers, musicians and artists and inspire them.”

Although the carnival will only serve 3.2 beer, you can have your own cosplay cocktail pre-party. Check out our guide on page 19.

(Photo: Mark Hancock / Design: Christopher Street)

(Photo: Mark Hancock / Design: Christopher Street)

Print headline: Frightful, From out of the darkness, the Underground Monster Carnival makes its annual appearance.

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