On Sunday December 10th 2017, I took my two sons on a road trip across the Hudson River to the great State of New Jersey to attend Walker Stalker 2017. For those of you who may not know what defines a Walker Stalker convention; Walker Stalker is a fan and cast celebration of The Walking Dead Television series. However, Walker Stalker is not limited to just celebrating The Walking Dead phenomena. Walker Stalker conventions like all comic cons, celebrate multiple movies and television shows, comic books, artists, and many facets of popular culture developed out of comic book stories.
Of course, Walker Stalker is named after the Walking Dead Television Series. The main attraction of a Walker Stalker convention are the actors, actresses, writers and everyone else who is associated with The Walking Dead television series. However at Walker Stalker 2017 NJ a group of bikers rode into town and stole the show for many of us on Sunday afternoon. While they might not have literally rode in on their Harley’s, the Sons of Anarchy arrived in New Jersey and told stories, signed autographs ,took selfies, engaged in conversation with fans, posed for photo-ops and joined together in a panel that defined the reasons why that show ran for seven years. We will revisit the Sons of Anarchy later on in the article, but for now we turn to the man of the hour.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
While the presence of the Sons of Anarchy cast loomed large over the convention, the main attraction of the show was inevitably one of the cruelest, yet most loved villains in television history. The Walking Dead’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan known to all Walking Dead fans as Negan was the most popular actor at the convention. As soon as it was announced that Jeffrey Dean Morgan would be appearing at Walker Stalker, all photo ops, selfies and autograph sessions sold out. The lines to meet Jeffrey Dean Morgan were the longest at the convention. It was almost impossible to even get close to take a look. Any one with a camera was immediately met by convention personal holding signs stating “no pictures allowed.” Autograph sessions and photo-ops are big business at conventions and personal are heavily instructed to stop anyone from even taking a distant picture. What inevitably draws people to love Jeffrey Dean Morgan is fodder for another story. Yet, one thing is for sure, he is the show’s biggest star. The characters Rick and Daryl are close, but Negan steals every scene he appears in.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s was cast as Sharkey in the 1991 film Uncaged. It was Jeffrey Dean Morgans first motion picture role. From that point on Jeffrey Dean Morgan has appeared in over twenty five motion pictures including Watchmen, Taking Woodstock, The Accidental Husband, The Losers, Texas Killing Fields and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also has an impressive resume if television work including roles in Extreme, Jag, ER, The Practice, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Angel, Monk, Star Trek: Enterprise, Supernatural, Weeds, Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, Magic City and Shameless. However, the role of his life may wind up being the beloved Negan.
The next biggest star from the show The Walking Dead appearing at Walker Stalker, was none other than Chandler Riggs. The young actor is perhaps the most loved good guy on the show. If not the most loved, at least the one we share the most empathy for. How could we not feel empathy for a character that is forced to kill his mother. The convention took place on the eve of the show’s final show. When we first saw Chandler signing autographs, my younger son gasped when we saw that Chandler had cut his hair short. Chandler’s character Carl had long natural hair in the show and seeing Chandler with his hair cut short was not a good sign for his characters fate. To avoid spoilers we wont mention what happened, but my son’s gasp was well warranted. Like Jeffrey Dean Morgan. the lines to meet Chandler were long. Yet Chandler Riggs stood there signing autographs for fans all day long.
Chandler Riggs was cast as Carl Grimes in The Walking Dead television series when he was only 10 years old. Since the show has kept the young man pretty busy, The Walking Dead appears as the only television credit on his resume. Chandler Riggs had appeared in a handful of films including Get Low, The Wronged Man, Mercy, and Keep Watching.
Walking Dead Cast Members
One major benefit of attending a Walking Dead convention is the chance to see former cast members who had been killed of in the show. Walker Stalker NJ presented fans with a chance to see the return of Michael Cuditz (Abraham Ford ) who also generated long lines at the autograph tables. Scott Wilson who had played Hershel Greene in Seasons 2 and 3 was a fan favorite. Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha), is dearly missed in the show, but was there at Walker Stalker for her fans. And yes, the great Michael Rooker (Earle) was in attendance. Michael Rooker in his dark glasses and hat was almost in disguise as he posed for pictures with fans.
Many other cast members currently still alive (although maybe not well )in the show were at Walker Stalker NJ. These included Alana Matterson (Tara), Austin Amelio (Dwight), Steven Ogg (Simon) Tom Payne (Jesus), Ross Marquand (Aaron) Jordan Woods-Robinson (Eric), Cooper Andrews (Jerry) and Khary Payton ( Ezekiel “The King’)
With so many of the cast members from the show attending, fans of The Walking Dead series had multiple choices to meet their favorite Walking Dead Cast members. The lines were set up very professionally and the event was well-organized around the autograph sessions. This seems to be an incredibly profitable enterprise for the actors and producers of the convention, so you can bet that its structured to work well in everyone’s favor.
Photo Ops versus Selfies.
There are two options fans choose from in order to take a picture with one of the celebrities. The photo-op option is available to pre-order online before the convention. A photo-op offers fans a very high quality professionally taken portrait with the celebrity. Fans have the option of buying multiple prints of the photo and a digital download. The digital download and extra prints usually cost 10 dollars a piece. The cost of the original photo varies depending on the celebrity. A photo-op with Jeffery Dean Morgan cost 100 dollars, Michael Rooker, was seventy dollars, Ron Perlman sixty dollars and so on.
The photo-op experience last about 10 seconds. The demand is so high and the lines long. The people who run the show have no choice but to push fans in and out as quickly as they can. Without pushing fans quickly through, the lines would be move to slowly and there would just simply not be enough time for everyone to get a chance to take a picture. If you’re looking to engage in conversation with a celebrity, the photo op is not the way to go. However, if you’re looking to spend more than just a few seconds, say a few words, than the selfies are the way to go.
Selfies and autographs cost close to the same price as a photo-op. The big difference is the time that one can engage in a small conversation with the celebrity. Some of the actors and actresses spend a few seconds, while others may spend 10 minutes. It all depends on multiple circumstances. Many of the celebrities offer deals if you purchase both a selfie and an autograph. Almost all of them had 8 x 10 photos of their biggest or favorite roles that could be autographed.
Sons Of Anarchy
For seven seasons the Sons of Anarchy aired on the FX Network. From 2008 through 2014, the show generated a huge loyal following captivated by Kurt Sutter’s writing. The show’s epic story was defined by brilliant cast performances. Cast members Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Maggie Siff, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Ryan Hurst, and Tommy Flanagan lit up the screen with the performances of their lives. Five of the shows main characters appeared at Walker Stalker NJ. Perlman, Boone Jr., Coates, Hurst and Flanagan appeared both days at Walker Stalker NJ and brought their dynamic butt kicking personalities along with them.
On Sunday December 10th, Ron Perlman, Mark Boone Jr. Kim Coates, Ryan Hurst and Tommy Flanagan appeared together on stage in an interview panel that was one of the highlights of the show. During the panel the five actors put on a display of camaraderie that depicted why their show was so brilliant. Their off-screen personalities were in many ways not too different from their characters, minus the murder and mayhem. Nonetheless, Ron Perlman entered the stage with a gesture closely associated with his character. Tommy Flanagan seemed to goof on all his fellow actors. Kim Coates was his usually wise guy self, but at times sincerely displaced a sweet sentimentality for the show, his co workers and why it all worked so well. Kim Coates was engaging and a joy to listen too. Mark Boone Jr. spoke with the brilliance of an elder statesman in the same manner he often employed in his Sons of Anarchy character. Ron Perlman laughed the most and seemed to be really enjoying the time being spent with his cast members.
When various audience members kept asking about reunion shows, Perlman and Flanagan had to remind the audience that most of them were killed in the show. Perlman also noted that while he had loved his character, he had just about took him as far as he could go with it and the time had come to put that character away and move on. The panel lasted about an hour and then the Sons headed back to their individual booths to sign autographs and take selfies with their loyal fans. For this writer, that experience would be the highlight of the convention.
Selfies with the Sons
I had originally purchased a photo op with The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal who had played Shane Walsh in the show’s first two seasons. Two days before the convention I received an email that Jon Bernthal would be unable to attend. So, I easily decided to replace the photo-op with Jon Bernthal for one with Ron Perlman. Like stated earlier in the article, photo-ops are not meet and greets so meeting Ron Perlman lasted only about 10 seconds. However my sons and I received a great professional photo. When we first walked into the booth, Perlman looked me straight in the eye and said “What’s up bro?” Very cool moment. That’s what photo-ops are all about, their quick, but a great photo last a lifetime.
While the photo-op with Perlman was a cool moment, the selfie experience with Mark Boone Jr. and Kim Coates was easily the best time of the convention. The lines to meet the Sons of Anarchy were not as long as the ones for the Walking Dead cast members, so fans of the Sons of Anarchy actors were able to spend a little more time with their favorite cast members.
Mark Boone Jr.
I first noticed Mark Boone Jr. on screen in the 1996 film Trees Lounge. Mark Boone Jr. had been appearing in film and television since 1981, but it was his character in Trees Lounge that really knocked me out. When a director(Steve Buscemi) nails a lifestyle on film in such an earnest and authentic way, it can be very daunting for anyone who has ever lived or known that lifestyle in reality. Mark Boone Jr’s character Mike was so believable in the film, it appeared as if Steve Buscemi had hired a real character and not an actor to play the part. It was a daunting performance by Mark Boone Jr. I had mentioned that to Mark Boone Jr and he was very appreciative of my comment. And that is why the selfie experience is so incredible because of the fact that you can express yourself to these iconic characters and in many cases receive a heartfelt response. Yes, of course we all know they are just human beings like all the rest of us, but its the characters that they have played that are indeed bigger than life that makes meeting these actors so much fun. You either get that or you don’t. Furthermore, its fun to see how their off-screen personality traits are utilized into some of their roles.
Mark Boone Jr. had also informed me that Trees Lounge served as an inspiration in David Chase’s creation of The Sopranos which was a fact that many people did not know. It was cool to have Mark Boone Jr. share that tidbit. The man took individual photos with each one of my sons including myself and then posed for a group picture. He spent about fifteen minutes talking with us and seemed to really enjoy the interaction he was having with us as fans.
We took a break after meeting Mark Boone Jr and toured the convention center. However, the draw of talking with these actors was just too enticing and so we headed back to the autograph sessions and stood in-line to meet Kim Coates. I had always been a big fan of Kim Coates work. Kim Coates stole the scene he performed in with Kevin Costner in 1995’s Waterworld. From his first movie role in The Last Boy Scout in 1991 up until the present day, Kim Coates has time and time again lit up the screen and steered all eyes towards him in every scene. The personality depicted on-screen is very much fueled by the man’s real life personality that we encountered in our autograph session.
Kim Coates was extremely friendly to my two sons. He commented on the clothes thy were wearing, asked them if I was a good dad and clowned around in a very friendly way. At times it really felt like we were hanging out with “Tig,” from Sons of Anarchy. Like Mark Boone Jr. he took the camera out of our hands and took individual selfies with each one of us. We talked about New York, L.A. and food. There are certain actors in Hollywood that work all the time. I have always assumed that one of the reasons actors like Kim Coates are always working is not just because of their brilliant acting ability but because of their real life personalities that make them a joy to be around. From spending just 10 minutes with Kim Coates we could tell he was one of those guys. Meeting Kim Coates and Mark Boone Jr. was the highlight of the show and even my sons who are both under 21 agreed it was their favorite part too.
Walker Stalker NJ Vendors
Well as much as we have focused on the photo-ops, selfies and autographs, many people who visit comic-cons do so for the opportunity to purchase collectible items. At Walker Stalker NJ 2017, there was no shortage of vendors selling all sorts of collectible items. The one major difference between the vendors at Walker Stalker NJ and say New York Comic-Con or Long Island Eternal Con was the dark concepts of some of the items for sale. I don’t ever recall seeing vendors at New York Comic con selling zombie babies (UNborn Creations Horror Art Dolls by Marilyn Mansfieldor) the Coloring Dead coloring books. But then again, if you’re a Walking Dead fan it all makes sense.
While many of the vendors were selling items that were Walking Dead related, there were vendors selling items from many other popular comic book series and movies. The convention also plays host to individual comic book artists. Ther are many artists exhibiting their works. By the small stage there was an area that featured tattoo artists actually inking tattoos on those who choose to get real tattoos. For many getting a tattoo is sometimes a spur of the moment decisions. I overheard many fans actually discussing getting one, including my own sons. I offered them some food instead, which worked. Food always works.
The New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center
The New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison, New Jersey is located deep in the heart of an industrial park. It’s about a ten minute drive from the Outerbridge Crossing that connects New Jersey to Staten Island. Its about a half hour drive south of MetLife Stadium on the Jersey Turnpike. The hall is large and seemed the right size to accommodate the large crowds. We were actually able to move pretty freely throughout the day, compared to New York Comic Con which can be very difficult to navigate at peak times. to move at all sometimes. While the size of the Hall allowed fans to breath, what we could not understand was that how a hall so huge would only have a limited amount of very small bathrooms. The lines for some of the bathrooms were incredibly long especially for the women’s rooms. If your going to attend a comic con, our advice is don’t drink much of anything before or during your visit.
We also scratched our heads at the size of the parking lot for the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center. This is a huge Hall yet the parking lot was incredibly small for such an arena. People were paring miles away for the event. We arrived two hours before the doors opened so we were able to park in the lot, but we got one of the last spots. Because it was a Sunday most people were able to park in other factory lots and in the streets, but on a week day, it would probably be a complete nightmare for parking.
Walker Stalker NJ Fans and Cosplay
At Walker Stalker NJ we were very surprised to see that not many people had arrived in costumes for the event. I was expecting to see swarms of Walkers, but I could count on two hands the amount of Zombies that appeared at the event. Most people that did dress up were simply wearing leather jackets and carrying replicas of Negan’s Lucille Bat. At New York’s Comic Con, hundreds if not thousands of fans dressed up for the event. It’s one of the draws of comic-cons. I cant say if the lack of cos-play at Walker Stalker NJ was New York related or it’s just that Walker Stalker does not attract many people getting dressed up as Walkers.
One of our favorite features of comic-cons are the live exhibits that are fan interactive. The most popular live exhibit attraction at Walker Stalker NJ had to be the living room set of Stranger Things. Set up close to the photo-op section, the set of Stranger Things featured the living room couch with the alphabet hanging on the wall. The Christmas lights, the coffee table and the pictures were all set up perfectly to imitate the Stranger Things set. Walker Stalker fans were allowed for free to sit on the couch and have a picture taken by one of the Walker Stalker NJ converntion employees.
My two sons and I sat on the couch and I handed the female employees my Nikon 35mm camera to take a picture with. A look of panic settled on the employee because she did not know how to take a picture with a real camera. She was unable to find the viewfinder. When we showed her what to look through, she was unable to aim it and take the pictures. So in the end, we handed her an iPhone to snap the shot. In her defense she was incredibly friendly and probably exhausted from taking thousands of pictures.
Another great interactive experience at Walker Stalker NJ was the cos-play booth that featured a stunning Rick Grimes lookalike. My sons and I were walking by the booth and were stopped dead in our tracks when we caught a glimpse of Cecil Grimes in the booth with a host of other characters. The first thing my younger son said was “wow I thought you said Andrew Lincoln was not appearing at this convention.” Cecil Grimes was not just a stunning look alike, but he moved exactly like Rick Grimes. Its almost impossible to tell the difference between Cecil Grimes and Andrew Lincoln. We really thought it was Andrew Lincoln until we started looking at the exhibit title. It was quite an extraordinary interactive exhibit that puts you in the set of the Walking Dead. Very very cool! For more information on booking Cecil Grimes, you can check out the Cecil Grimes website.
Final Thoughts on Walker Stalker NJ
If you are a fan of the Walking Dead Television series , you must at one point n your life buy a ticket to a Walker Stalker convention. The Walker Stalker NJ convention is very well organized, and it’s an incredibly fun time to spend a few hours meeting the characters from the television show. The interactive exhibits and cos-play that are open to fans to participate in just add to the fun. While we were waiting in line to get into the event, a few fans from Tennessee asked us if we wanted to play zombie dice. So we all sat on the floor and began rolling dice that featured brains, footsteps,,etc…Anyone who has ever gone to a comic-con convention will share stories of making friends with the people they stood on with. We are all there to have fun and celebrate popular culture. Its an extraordinary experience. I already purchased my tickets for next year.
One of our favorite sites that feature tons of stories on the Walking Dead is TVOvermind. There is some great and fascinating writing on that site related to all things Walking Dead.