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Convention Report: Windy City 2015

Posted in Conventions on April 22, 2015 @ 11:07 pm

This past weekend found me in Lombard, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) for the 15th annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, a wildly successful event that drew approximately 500 fans and collectors of vintage books, pulp magazines, original art, and related memorabilia. “The Windy,” as it’s been named by regular attendees, has become a mecca for pulp devotees and is the hobby’s premier confab.

Launched in 2001 as a modest one-day show staged in a small hotel and attended by fewer than a hundred people, the Windy grew steadily and went through a succession of larger venues before settling into its present location, the beautiful Westin Lombard Yorktown Center. The Westin’s facilities are perfect for such a convention, offering 39,000 square feet of meeting space. The three-day Windy City show commandeers most of that space for dealers, programming, and art exhibits. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a staff member since 2002, compiling and presenting the annual film program and occasionally moderating and/or participating in panel discussions.) There’s also a spacious hospitality suite to which attendees can retire after hours for late-night libations and stimulating conversation.

Panoramic view of the dealer room.

Panoramic view of the dealer room.

For the last five or six years I’ve had the same routine for Windy City. Along with a group of friends and fellow collectors, I rent a large van we’ve dubbed “The Great White Whale”—one of those 12-passenger jobs typically used by hotels to ferry guests to and from airports—in which to make the journey. As several of us are exhibitors, the Whale is always loaded with inventory as well as luggage. Some years I can’t use the rear-view mirror because the cargo is packed so high. The other passengers assemble at my house for an early-morning departure; typically we leave before sunrise, fortified with coffee and bagels sourced from the local Dunkin Donuts. Being chief driver and the group’s resident speed freak, I make the 800-mile drive in one day. We stop briefly for gas, food, and to answer Nature’s call (not always in that order). Last Thursday the excursion took us just under 14 hours.

Convention co-chairmen Doug Ellis and John Gunnison have show prep down to a science and everything got underway on Friday morning without a hitch. The dealer’s room—all 150 tables worth—opened to the public at 11 a.m. and the first movie screening took place at noon. The Windy often has a theme, and this year we celebrated the 125th birthday of horror-story writer H.P. Lovecraft, one of relatively few pulp fictioneers who have gone on to achieve recognition in literary circles. I selected nine films that adapted his works and opened the program with 2001’s Dagon.

Just a few of the pulps for sale.

Just a few of the pulps for sale.

The Windy’s hucksters room always bustles with activity and this year’s was no exception. I debuted two new Murania Press publications: the 2014-15 Special Edition of Blood ‘n’ Thunder and J. Allan Dunn’s The Island, Volume Five in our Classic Pulp Reprints series. Since I’ve been introducing books at the Windy for many years now, I like to think I have a good idea of how much inventory I need, but I sure guessed wrong about The Island, the 1922 sequel to Dunn’s Barehanded Castaways (which I reprinted in 2012): Within four hours I had sold a dozen copies and was totally out of stock by 5 p.m. on Friday, when the dealer room closed for the day.

That evening I sat in on another Windy City auction of rare pulps and books owned by the late uber-collector Jerry Weist. For the last several years Jerry’s stuff has provided greatly enticing auction items that have attracted big buyers. Many of the 250 lots—comprising groups of such desirable magazines as Argosy, All-Story Weekly, and Blue Book—realized record-breaking prices. The 99-issue set of Startling Stories, broken up into lots by year, fetched more than three times its previously established value. (The Saturday-night auction supplemented another 104 lots of Weist material with several dozen consignments from dealers. All told, the two evenings generated more than $50,000 in sales. Not bad for moldy old books and magazines.)

More pulps, and some original art, for sale.

More pulps, and some original art, for sale.

The dealer room hummed with activity all day Saturday, and my sales were steady if not extraordinary. Ultimately I sold about 75 percent of my inventory, a number within my pre-show expectations. Although I hadn’t planned on spending much money on collectibles, my discipline gradually eroded as I stumbled over issues that filled holes in my lengthy runs of Argosy and Adventure. I got the last issue needed to finish my third set of the reprint pulp Fantastic Novels (don’t ask me why I sold the first two) and came within a dozen or so issues of completing my third file of Famous Fantastic Mysteries (ditto).

A collector attends conventions like the Windy because they attract dealers from all across the country and allow for close-up inspection of scarce, desirable items before purchase—an advantage you don’t have when buying pulps on Internet auction sites like eBay or aggregators of rare-book dealers like ABE. The Windy is a great marketplace; the hobby’s best, for my money. But there’s much more to the show than commerce.

An outstanding display of rare pulps.

An outstanding display of rare pulps.

Confabs like this one enable hobbyists to meet and mingle with fellow enthusiasts who often become close friends as an outgrowth of their common interest in pulp fiction.The camaraderie is palpable, and newbies are always welcome. As much as I enjoy selling Murania Press books and scarfing up new additions to my collection, there’s a great deal to be said for the lengthy meals and late-night gabfests with friends one generally sees only at these events.

I’ve even learned to cherish the long hours spent with my close pals in The Great White Whale. Believe it or not, I actually look forward to those 14-hour drives, and when we got back to New Jersey at 9 p.m. this past Monday I was depressed that the trip to which I’d looked forward these past 12 months had come and gone, seemingly in the blink of an eye.

Artwork, both new and old, offered for purchase.

Artwork, both new and old, offered for purchase.

Of course, we’re all looking forward to PulpFest this summer. The drive isn’t as long, and the vibe is slightly different, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had. You’ll be reading more about that convention here in the weeks and months to come.

I’d like to thank one of our new friends, Sai Shankar, for the photos accompanying this post. He has many more accompanying his own con report on his most excellent blog Pulp Flakes.

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