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Q&A: Petey Mongelli talks Spooky Empire 2016!

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For those poor souls who have not yet been gifted the opportunity to revel in the myriad dark, glorious splendors that comprise Spooky Empire, this is the year to journey deep deep into what is known to those in the know as “the dark side of comic con.”

This year’s October 7-9 edition of the beloved smorgasbord of horror, rock n’ roll, genre art, and tattooing includes appearances by a large part of the STRANGER THINGS cast, Robert Englund, Doug Bradley, Weird Al Yankovic, Kane Hodder, Tony Moran, Bill Mosely, cast reunions for both NIGHTMARE 4 and HELLRAISER 2, Ric Flair, Heather Langenkamp, Tom Savini, Caroline Williams, Nivek Ogre (Skinny Puppy, QUEEN OF BLOOD), William Forsythe, Basil Gogos (FAMOUS MONSTERS), PJ Soles, Emily Serpico (FACE OFF), and a slew of dark fiction authors (including your faithful correspondent), among many others.

Add to that a film festival, a zombie walk, live music, a costume and cosplay contest, panels, a game room, a kid’s zone, an exhibitor room, and a VIP party access on Saturday night with guest celebrities in attendance and a cake designed by two-time Food Network CAKE WARS champions Eric and Patty Woller and you begin to see why this “empire” founded back in 2003 requires the massive Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida as its demented canvas. FANGO recently caught up with Spooky Empire founder Petey Mongelli to talk con origins, the business of horror, rock gods, and Michael Anthony Hall’s party IQ….

FANGORIA: Tell me a little bit about the seed from which this might Spooky Empire oak grew.

PETEY MONGELLI: As a kid I worked the KISS conventions in New Jersey, which is where I originally learned how to run a convention. I always wanted to run one on my own. To be honest, my original plan was to run a rock n’ roll-themed convention, not horror. But about that same time Rob Zombie was coming out with his first horror movie and Marilyn Manson was doing the same, and so I turned towards the idea of a horror convention. At the time there was only maybe two or three horror conventions around. There was nothing like that in Florida, or even the southeast for that matter. The conventions in Florida were very weak at the time, so we definitely found a niche that needed to be filled here.

My background is actually in the music industry, I was a stage tech for a lot of local and touring shows and theater. I joined the union and started setting up conventions and trade shows, and gained a lot of knowledge on the behind-the-scenes of conventions that way. More recently I have been working on TV and movie sets when they are local. I became a fan of horror cons, but not until after we started Spooky Empire. Like I said there were only two or three at the time, so I hadn’t been to one. I really had only been to Toy Shows, I’m also an avid toy collector.

FANG: The con has obviously grown by leaps and bounds. Was there a certain moment you knew this idea would work?

MONGELLI: The first year was very interesting. We had two other partners at the time. None of us could agree on anything, so it was a bit of a rocky start. It was a lot of fun though, and definitely a great starting point for us, we learned a lot. We realized we had something special during our second convention. We had the opportunity to show a sneak preview of Rob Zombie’s film trailer for THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. It was sent to us to premiere at that particular convention because we had most of the cast there. We had planned to show it in a little ballroom, but when fans started lining up to get in to see it, the line wrapped around the entire building. We had to move it to a much larger location. Seeing that line of fans made us realize we had something, and we were providing this opportunity for likeminded fans to gather. It’s definitely a moment that has stuck with us since.

We learn from mistakes at every single show. They may or may not be mistakes seen by others, but we definitely learn things the hard way. It does keep us on our toes though, and pushed us to make each year better. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and we’re proud to put our names on this event. Are we ever satisfied with the end result, no never! We’re always very critical of how each convention turns out, but again I think that keeps us on our toes. Probably keeps us from getting too confident. If you become too confident and stop putting the work in, you’ll easily get swallowed up by the next new convention.

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FANG: Spooky Empire is definitely the most wide ranging convention out there. Is inclusivity amidst the general genre vibe important to you?

MONGELLI:  Yes, we love bringing everyone together. Many of our attendees have been coming for many years—we have a very close-knit core group. They’ve become fans of new things, made new friends, found husbands and wives, and some are now bringing their kids. They’ve grown along with the convention. There are not many places where our attendees can gather together to celebrate and embrace this genre, so many of them look forward to this all year.

FANG: Was it difficult at first to get others to see or buy-in to that “dark side of comic con” vision? 

MONGELLI: At one time the only Comic-Con that existed was in San Diego. All other conventions pretty much stood out on their own, including Spooky Empire. Then, just a couple of years ago, the term Comic-Con became synonymous with every comic genre convention out there. The mainstream fans, who were not regular convention goers, started attending these comic cons and their attendance was exploding in every state. It seemed all you had to do was put the word comic con on a convention, open the doors, and draw thousands. So we thought we’d maybe be the anti-comic con I guess. It started as just a bit of a joke, but it started getting attention from people that wouldn’t ever have taken interest in our event. So we decide to keep it, of course.

FANG: Have you had any memorable interactions with celebrities or fans?

MONGELLI: Many! We have some of the best fans around! They’re so loyal that some of them get Spooky Empire tattooed on their bodies! To us they’re family. There are a couple of celebrities that are memorable to me I guess. Shannen Doherty was a great guest, not at all like the bad rap she’s been given. As a KISS fan I can’t forget Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Alice Cooper was probably one of our best guests, his stories were amazing, could have talked with him all day. Anthony Michael Hall, definitely another one of our favorites, the life of the party.

FANG: You also have a kid’s zone, which is pretty unique even in the context of an already crazy unique event. 

MONGELLI: Last year was the first time we had a kid’s zone. We did it for one day, which happened to be on Halloween. We didn’t know how it would go over but it turned out to be a hit. The kids costume contest was amazing, with over fifty kids participating. So we decided to expand it this year so kids can enjoy it all weekend. Everything there will be kid/family friendly including a local kid’s science lab with a ton of fun hands on experiments, arts and crafts, face painting and more.

FANG: I imagine as fun as this is, it must also be quite a production.

MONGELLI:  The most gratifying part of the job is Saturday night. That’s the time when our job is done, the doors have opened everything is up and running and we see everyone having a good time. It’s also when I get to enjoy myself, that’s when I take some time out to guest DJ at our after party.

About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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