Guts, Gore and Good Times at Walker Stalker Con New Jersey

By Babee Garcia, Entertainment Editor

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Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays the show’s antagonist Negan, interacts with his fans.
Alfredo Garcia | The Montclarion

Fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” crowded the New Jersey Expo and Convention Center for the fourth annual Walker Stalker Con this past weekend. Men, women and children of all ages dressed up as characters from the hit zombie apocalypse drama with the chance to interact with cast members, take photos with them and acquire their signatures.

Bryan Sudfield, a sophomore filmmaking major at Montclair State University, attended the convention for the first time and spoke highly about his experience.

“Seeing all the fans meeting their favorite celebrities from ‘The Walking Dead’ was unbelievable,” Sudfield said. “I did get starstruck when meeting some of [the celebrities], but I had a blast and hope to attend [Walker Stalker Con] next year.”

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Actor Khary Payton, who plays King Ezekiel, hugs a fan for a photo op.
Alfredo Garcia | The Montclarion

Some fans were wearing homemade costumes and carrying toy props, like baseball bats wrapped in barbed-wire and crossbows, to resemble characters within the show.

Jennifer Witkowski’s eight-year-old son, Matthew Witkowski, from Woodbridge, New Jersey has been watching the show since he was four and dressed up for the event.

“Every time [Matthew] comes, [‘The Walking Dead’ cast] know him,” Witkowski said.

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From left to right: Actress Christian Serratos, Bryan Sudfield and his friend Kenny Thelusma. Bryan Sudfield | The Montclarion

Matthew’s cosplay character was the spiked walker seen from season seven episode 16’s “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.” It took his mother a couple of weeks to create the costume using real nails, a Gatorade cap, dollar store knives, a police helmet, a zombie morph suit, craft foam and a gardening trestle.

Witkowski mentioned that her son is not afraid of anything he has seen on the show but is only permitted to watch the zombie parts for now. She noted that “The Walking Dead” has a good storyline, and she has never before been hooked on a show like this.

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Jessica Darakis, 33, started watching “The Walking Dead” in 2013 and recently dived in the cosplay world. She is dressed as Carl Grimes from the show.
Alfredo Garcia | The Montclarion

Within Walker Stalker Con, there were Q&A panels that featured some of the show’s cast members as well as Greg Nicotero, the director, producer and makeup guru. Nicotero discussed how he became interested in special effects makeup after watching “Jaws” and how studying biology in college helped him learn how to create realistic looks for the walkers.

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Eight-year-old Matthew Witkowski from Woodbridge, New Jersey poses as a spiked walker from season 7 episode 16.
Alfredo Garcia | The Montclarion

“When ‘The Walking Dead’ came about, the aesthetics of the walkers came from my understanding of skin versus muscle versus cartilage and bone,” Nicotero said. “It’s very important that we make the makeup look authentic.”

Nicotero noted that one of the simplest effects to master is a zombie bite, which has been done multiple times on the show. There are different variables within each bite, like who is doing the biting and where the blood is supposed to pump from. These factors make the bite difficult to perfect.

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Director, producer and make-up guru of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” Greg Nicotero studied human anatomy to create authenticity within the effects.
Alfredo Garcia | The Montclarion

Ironically, the last day of the convention was the same day as its mid-season finale. When Jason and Emma Suleski were asked which character would be killed off that evening, the father-daughter duo shared their predictions.

“Carl is going to die,” Jason Suleski said.

Suleski’s 15-year-old daughter disagreed, saying that either Father Gabriel or Eugene would face his end.

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Imaginative illustrator and painter Scott Spillman has been an artist for the Walker Stalker Convention for the past three years. Alfredo Garcia | The Montclarion

The Suleskis spoke about their favorite walking dead characters. Rick Grimes is Jason Suleski’s while Maggie Rhee is Emma Suleski’s.

“She’s so empowering and a badass,” Emma Suleski said. “She lost everybody, and was still a fighter.”

The cast will be heading to Portland, Oregon next month to connect with more fans.

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Comic book artist Kirk Madley had 150 limited signed and numbered copies of his tribute art sold at the convention.
Photo courtesy of Kirk Madley
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