Celebrating dark history: an interview with Brian Ward

Conventions are one of the best parts of the horror-loving world.  They are hubs where like-minded fans can meet, interact and collaborate.  It’s also always fun to spend bill money on things that really matter in life – like autographs, t-shirts and memorabilia!  I’m not advocating poor financial decisions here, folks, but let’s be honest – which of my horror family members haven’t gone a little crazy with the old creepy shopping cart once in a while?

Brian Ward, a correctional officer by day and a horror fanatic 24/7, is a founding father of Dark History Con, which will be invading Champaign, Illinois this October from the 21st to the 23rd.  The event has earned recognition in publications throughout the Land of Lincoln and has really started to earn a national following as each year passes.

The guest list for the weekend is robust, especially for a relatively low-budget con.  Robert Mukes (House of 1,000 Corpses), Moses J. Moseley and Theshay West (Michonne’s pets, The Walking Dead), Camille Keaton (I Spit On Your Grave) and author John Borowski lead the charge.  Rufus, the Supernatural Impala and the Stygian Sisters, a metal belly dancer group, are just a few other highlights that will make the weekend downright awesome.  There also promises to be some fantastic exhibits and presentations that celebrate the dark side of humanity and the genre we all know and love so much.

While I was already counting down the days to DHC, after chatting with Brian, I am beyond excited!  If you are able to make it to Champaign, Illinois this fall, do yourself a favor and check out the Dark history Con.

MANGLED MATTERS:  When did the Dark History Con come to life?

BRIAN WARD:  The origins of the Dark History & Horror Convention can be traced back to another little convention called “The Crime Scene”.  The Crime Scene was put together by John Borowski, Matthew Aaron, Joe Hiles and Rich Hillen Jr.  It ran for three years and I was lucky enough to attend the last one three years ago in Indianapolis.  The purpose of that convention was to bring together authors, artists, and anyone interested in serial killers.  That has been my fascination since junior high school – serial killers, gangsters, tragedy, anything falling into the realm of what I call “dark history”.

I asked those gentlemen if I could continue the concept and make a go at trying my own convention covering all of the elements I found interesting, expanding the idea to include educating people about even more of the darker events throughout history.  They all gave me their blessing and I set to work on the first Dark History Con.  The first event was held in a VFW hall, lasted about three hours, had eight special guests and was attended by about forty people. I did this with zero budget, no real advertising outside of Facebook and only about three months of planning.  I was told by everyone that they loved it and was encouraged to continue to build the show.  Last year, I found a venue in Champaign, Illinois and started planning about seven months out from show time.  Through GoFundMe and a few generous friends/sponsors, I was able to raise a budget of nearly a thousand dollars and expand the show to two days.  A big leap but one I wanted to take.  I was able to get over thirty special guests and vendors to attend through contacts and networking I had nurtured and I saw attendance leap to between 300-400 people.  I learned a ton, made a ton of contacts and was further encouraged that I may be onto something.

That event was last September and around January of 2016, the owner of the venue, Jeff Grant, got in touch and asked if I could meet him.  At that meeting he mentioned how impressed he was with what I was able to do by myself, without much of a budget.  He would bring his vast network into the picture and I would bring mine with the idea being to make this a huge regional, if not national, event within a short amount of time.  I have to say we are kicking ass with that!  We have expanded the budget, the event scope, the length of the event and everything else to make this a unique, entertaining and fun event for everyone who loves history, horror, tattooing, pretty much everything “dark”.  We want them to embrace that part of themselves and our event.


Ward checking out original John Dillinger documents

MM:  How did you settle on Champaign, Illinois as your stomping grounds for the event?

BW:  Champaign was an easy choice.  I have lived in Champaign county my whole life.  It is home to the University of Illinois and Parkland College so the audience is there.  My first event was in Rantoul, about 20 miles north of Champaign, in a VFW hall.  When the chance came to work with Jeff and his facility, The Fluid Event Center, it was a no-brainer.

MM:  What is the most interesting artifact you’ve had come through the convention over the years?

BW:  I would say the most interesting things, for me, came through in year one in Rantoul.  I was able to get Matthew Aaron and Joe Hiles, both immensely popular guys in the arena of “murderbilia” to bring things from their collections.  So I had original John Wayne Gacy paintings, Jeffery Dahmer signatures, paintings by the Smiley Face Killer, Keith Jesperson, all kinds of cool, creepy items from some very bad guys.  Last year we had vendors that made jewelry and other decorative pieces from animal bones, fungus, and rotten wood, as well as a vendor who makes static or music box puzzle boxes like the ones seen on the “Hellraiser” films.  I had world famous artist Jeff Gaither, too, and many others.

MM:  Why do you think people are so attracted to these dark history artifacts?

BW:  I think the attraction lies in the “taboo” nature of it.  Me, being a history guy, I see them as historical artifacts.  Nearly every thing throughout recorded history has dark elements to it.  For some reason, some of these things are widely accepted while others are not.  A perfect example, since we are near the anniversary of it’s sinking, the USS Indianapolis. Her survivors are, without a doubt, historical and display heroic qualities.  I have met one of them and it was a great honor for me to share time with him.  We can agree that any little piece of this ship would be an acceptable, historic artifact.  Now what about pieces of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima?  Or pieces from the torpedoes that sunk the Indianapolis?  Would you agree that most people would view these artifacts as ghastly and wonder why people would want to see or own them?  Why is that?  Aren’t they all undeniably linked together in history?

The Indianapolis delivered parts for the Hiroshima A-bomb, that’s what she was doing in the water.  The Japanese torpedoed her after that delivery.  These all go together, yet some of the story is heroic and some of it ghastly.  Why?  We need to take these things as a whole to understand their importance to our history.  I think that’s where the taboo nature comes from, people picking things apart and not seeing the broader scope of history.  Would I want to own a shower head from Auschwitz?  No, I would not.  Would I want to see it and perhaps hold it?  Yes, I most certainly would.

What happened in that place is inexplicable but we have to know about it. We have to educate ourselves about and perhaps we need to touch some of it to make it that much more real and know, we can not let that happen again.  A friend of mine who has a PhD in forensic psychology brought up the point that a lot of people want to touch danger without being in danger.  That is another allure to pieces such as Manson’s hair, Gacy’s paintings and things owned by historically “bad” people.  We can have a brief encounter with them, by touching or owning something of theirs, without ever being in real danger.  That appeals to many people.

MM:  What can people expect when they arrive at the Dark History Con?

BW:  They can expect the coolest, most down to earth convention experience they will ever come across.  This is my passion, I love having the avenue to meet others with this passion and network with them.  I am proud to say that a number of great collaborations came out of last year’s convention simply by having some of my guests meet each other and decide to work on things together.  I take great pleasure in providing a place for like minds to come together, talk and get to know each other.  As you mentioned, our guest line-up this year is spectacular.  Old school horror/exploitation actors, newer stars, crime and mafia experts, tattoo artists from a few different states, haunted houses, exclusive displays and merchandise.  A little bit of everything, I like to think.

camille-6 (2)

Camille Keaton, star of the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE

MM:  What is your personal favorite part of the horror convention scene?

BW:  I am going to say that my personal favorite part of any convention is meeting people.  This will be my first horror convention honestly.  I am a fan of the real life bad people so I have always leaned towards history.  Since a large number of horror films and icons are based on real people, the combining of “dark history” and horror just made sense.  If i can show them how something they do like or love came about because of something that really happened, then that is maybe just one more person I can turn onto realizing how important history is to everything.

MM:  Where can folks buy tickets for the event?

BW:  Tickets are available now through our Facebook page.  The pinned post at the top is labeled, “Everything you need to know”.  There you will see our guest, sponsor, vendor, and tattoo artist list.  There you will also find the show hours and ticket packages and prices.  There is a link in there that will take you directly to the place to purchase tickets.  They, of course, will also be available at the door.  If you are a vendor or tattoo artist, the link for the vendor application is there as well.  Also, you can message myself or Jeff through the page and we will speak with you personally.

You heard the man!  Check out the Dark History and Horror Convention Facebook page for all info on this awesome upcoming event!

2 thoughts on “Celebrating dark history: an interview with Brian Ward

  1. Brian. This is going to be one heckuva show. I am so excited about coming and being a part of it. And seeing some of the things that you mentioned in this article.
    Camille Keaton

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