Monday, May 17, 2010


I have long heard about the wonders of Wonderfest, the annual sci-fi/horror/monster movies and models convention in Louisville. So this year I decided to join my friends, who are longtime Wonderfest boosters, to see what it was all about.

In the mid-1990s I met fantasy artist Ken Kelly at a Capital City Distribution trade show. I was struck at the time with how easygoing and gracious Ken was. Well, only our hair has changed as he gladly helped me recreate the scene in the photo below - photo by Jim Alexander

A draw for me this year was the premiere of 'Aurora Monsters: The Model Craze That Gripped the World'. As the documentary explains, the classic monster movies of the 1930s and '40s were syndicated to television in the late '50s as "Shock Theatre". This created a nationwide craze for Dracula, Frankenstein, et al., which led to merchandising and the creation of monster model kits by Aurora Plastics. Kids who grew up with these kits and still have a passion for them are called "monster kids", and they fuel much of what goes on at Wonderfest. The documentary was worth the trip, particularly the interviews with artist James Bama and sculptor Ray Meyers. The film is hosted throughout by Zacherley, the dean of TV horror hosts, now a spritely 91. To order this DVD, go here.
Even better than Ray Meyers on the documentary was Ray Meyers in person. Meyers sculpted the figures for several of the model kits. A true artisan, Meyers brought his electric drill and bits as well as an example of the acetate plastic he sculpted from. At 90, Meyers is engaging, humorous and still well-versed in his craft and the work that he did. After Aurora, Meyers went on to sculpt toys for Kohner Bros and collectibles for the Franklin Mint. Meyers was very pleased and surprised that there was so much interest in the work he did half a century ago. He remarked several times about the standing ovation he received at Saturday night's award ceremony, somewhat astonished at all the accolades that fans felt were long overdue.
Aurora enthusiast Jim Alexander asks a question.

The model 'contest and display' room was packed with rows of finished models. Most of them are faithful and intricate reproductions of characters and vehicles from beloved movies and comics. There was a special display of models for 'The Empire Strikes Back'.

Some modelers include a bit of whimsy. You can't read the card in the lower right, but basically the creator has some story about an AT-AT trying to 'help up' a fallen comrade.
Some of the models are existing kits put together with expert skill. The mind-blowing models are those that are built from scratch. For example, this model based on a controversial comic book cover.

James Karen was one of the guests of the show, mainly due to his role in the 'Return of the Living Dead' films. He's one of those actors you've seen everywhere. I know him best as Craig T. Nelson's boss in 'Poltergeist'. He's been all over television, including a "M*A*S*H", as the villain in the last 'Little House' TV movie, and the "Seinfeld" episode they never show because Kramer stomps on the Puerto Rican flag. I didn't get to meet James Karen, but my pal Ted Haycraft scored this autograph for me (thanks, Ted!).

1 comment:

Jerry Smith said...

Matt, didn't know you were going to Wonderfest, sorry I missed you! My group went down Sunday, that's probably why. We had a wonderful time. I almost bought a Deathstroke model, but I guess my house payment is more important. I guess. I did end up with new book of Olivia paintings and a Marvel b&w Dracula magazine from the 70s. See you soon!