Howl Con 2015: a werewolf convention on the brink of supernova

Howl Con 2015 was like a neutron star made out of werewolf atoms. Bright and packed with energy, its small size belied its incredible density. A measurement taken at 12:32PM on Sunday indicated a density of 3.8 LPI (Lycanthropes per square inch). But unlike a stable neutron star, Howl Con is primed to go supernova.

We left the hotel where Howl Con was held at 7:15 this morning, and right now it’s 6:07 PM and I’m in Northern California in a rented SUV headed to Arizona. My next shift at the wheel is coming up in an hour, but I want to get this post up while the experience of the weekend is still fresh. Please forgive the lack of links or formatting — I’m posting this with my phone.

I missed the original Howl Con in 2013 (referred to variously as “the original”, “twenty-thirteen” and “Howl Con Zero”) but by all accounts it was a bigger event than this one, owing to a combination of luck, good timing and a nationally-recognizable celebrity guest with a lot of local cache. Howl Con 2015 had a harder climb.

It was announced only three months in advance. Several guests and panelists couldn’t confirm their participation until the last moment, delaying promotional efforts, and then had to drop out. The total attendance was somewhere around 100 people, which was down compared to the previous event. And the primary contact person at the venue quit just days before the event, throwing logistics into disarray. And yet, in the face of these challenges, Howl Con’s dedicated and seemingly tireless staff of organizers and volunteers pulled off the best convention I’ve ever been to.

Programming was diverse and while its smaller size meant there were fewer tracks, there were enough things going on that it was hard to decide what to go see or do. People ran from panels about werewolf spirituality to demos of werewolf horror and gore makeup, played Werewolf: The Apocalypse or Rage, or just hung out in the dealer den, the lobby or available panel rooms chatting.

In the the dealer den, leather goods and bleached animal skulls shared space with stacks of horror and sci-fi films on VHS tapes, hairy clawed costume gloves and commissionable werewolf portraits. Someone put a classic black and white wolfman film on a projector in one of the panel rooms and left it playing, and when it cut into the start of the next panel, no one wanted to turn it off.

Despite what some of the organizers felt was a worryingly low turnout, I found the event was buzzing from dawn to dusk on both days. When I wasn’t in a panel I spent most of my time in the dealer den, and through the ebb and flow of people, I noticed something interesting: everyone was smiling. Attendees, vendors, panelists, volunteers, hotel staff, everyone. There was a sense of joyful incredulity in the air – “are we really doing this?” This was a vital manifestation of werewolf fandom, and instead of splitting up into cliques or sticking only to the events they knew they’d like, I saw people coming together and having fun everywhere. When I looked in on Saturday night’s skull-crushing GrimWolf show and saw folks in fursuits forming a mosh pit with long-haired, denim-clad metal dudes, I knew something special was happening.

During the Sirloin and Silver session – a public post-mortem at the convention’s conclusion – organizers solicited feedback directly from the attendees, guests and vendors, and I don’t mind telling you that other than some issues with volunteer logistics and the expected comments about promotion and attendance, there were no complaints. Rather, there was an abundance of enthusiastic suggestions for ways to make the next Howl Con an even better experience.

Yes, it’s happening again in February 2016 (specific dates to be announced when Documents are Signed), and with a full year to promote it, develop programming, select the first roster of Larry Award nominees (more on that later, and please vote for me for Best Web Site) sign special guests (some of which have already been courted, but I better not say anything more until it’s official), I have a feeling the compact little furnace of Howl Con is going to explode into something magnificent. I want to be a part of it, and I hope to see you there.

In the next few days want to do a follow-up post to get into more specifics about some of things I did and the people I met, but right now I want to thank Tandye, Carlos, Stephen, Lupa, PDX and Kurt for making HowlCon a great event.