This year, after centuries in the dark, Los Angeles’ vampire community finally got its own convention.

Its members arrived bearing capes and fangs and a hunger as great as that of the creature they idolize. Asked if she has personally met any actual, real, live (or dead, or undead) vampires, a woman attending Vampire Con 2009 said most definitely, yes.

Do they drink blood?

“Yes,” said Janet, who requested that her last name remain private. “They also eat food. They’re mortal. They walk in the sunshine.”

Do they drink human blood?

“Yes. I know a couple of vampires. And one day you’ll meet one.”

As to how one would know if one has met a vampire, consider it much the same process as the one by which many people recognize good art: You know it when you see it. “You’ll look in their eyes and know,” Janet said. Her two friends also attending the convention nodded vigorously.

“Have you ever seen a ghost?” Janet continued. “It’s the same feeling.”

One friend smiled enigmatically and nibbled her lip ring. “I’ve seen a couple possibles today,” she said. “If they’re wearing a Twilight T-shirt, they’re probably not. They’re probably more on the fan side of things.”

Vampires, the consensus was, would not be so blatantly self-referential or gauche as to wear their own merchandise. Consequently, first place in the “weirdest” costume contest category went to Sebastian the terrier, who was decked out in a tiny satin Dracula cape and his own, God-given fangs. “He’s a vampire dog, I guess,” said his owner, cuddling him deeper into her bosom.

Asked if Sebastian drinks blood, she shook her head. “He’s mostly a kisser.”

Among the vendors who had set up booths that day at the Music Box theater in Hollywood, Vidal Herrera is less sanguine about the existence of vampires, even if he sells couches made from coffins. “These people are crazy,” he said. Herrera is a bear of a man with salt-and-pepper hair and a grizzled beard. “Vampires do not exist,” he continued, with irritation. “It is medically not possible. You get sick if you drink blood. Especially if you drink fresh AIDS blood? Oh, yeah. Even if it’s just regular blood, you throw up. You have a reaction.”

Herrera buys old coffins from funeral homes and turns them into padded sofas. He was sitting on an uncomfortable-looking couch fashioned from a metal casket. It was situated under an arched cemetery gate festooned with baby-doll heads, crosses, angel wings and fleur-de-lys. He sells about 60 coffin couches a year. He also makes window awnings out of coffin lids, which he drapes with cobwebs. It’s just a side business to his main gig, which, he said, is performing autopsies for the company he owns, 1-800-AUTOPSY. (They drive out in a van to do grave exhumations, brain and tissue retrievals, and autopsies for hire.)

Herrera aside, the horror historians and documentarians and various experts invited to speak at the convention were talking to true believers.

Panel discussions on “Why We Love Vampires” and “Hot-Blooded: Vampires and Sexuality” followed two days of screenings of vampire-themed films, like Count Yorga and The Lost Boys. Attendees in “Fangtasia” and “Blood Is the Drug” and “Dracula Sucks” T-shirts wandered around contemplating the silver crosses, miscellaneous dessicated bat parts (eyes, tongues, wings), and test-tube vials of dove blood.

On the roof, in the blazing sun, two women were giving “vampire psychic readings” under a small tent. Whether the readings were for vampires, or whether the psychics themselves were vampires, was not exactly clear and, moreover, seemed beside the point.

“You tend to feed off of people,” one said to her client. “But you’re not very good at it.”

“You are coming from a dark place,” said the second psychic. She flipped three tarot cards onto a folding table. “Oooh. Death. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean a person,” she said, even as her client started to look panicky. “Lots of things die. Flowers die. Insects die. And you know what they say: From death comes rebirth.”

This being Vampire Con’s first year, turnout was modest, which many attributed to the newness — or, at the very least, kookiness — of the concept. Getting the word out that it even exists has been a challenge. A few attendees speculated about an inherent conflict with the target audience, for the daylight portion of the program, anyway. “Some of them actually braved the sunlight,” convention organizer John Knowles told me backstage.

The crowd had just elected a new Vampirella spokesmodel, choosing from two ladies in identical red-velvet bikinis. “We wanted to provide a safe, welcoming environment for the community,” Knowles said. “The convention is for fans of vampires and people who are convinced they are vampires. Personally, I’ve never met anyone who thinks they are one. But I’m hoping to tonight.”

The sun set. The black dresses waltzed in. A few hours elapsed between the convention proper and the grand finale, Vampirella’s Ball. Those who could went home to don capes and prosthetic neck-bite holes and false teeth, and to dribble red goop on their faces and otherwise slip into something special.

“I understand the ‘no masks’ policy, that makes perfect sense,” one girl wrote on the online forums, in a huff over the “no unexposed wrists” rule. “But why must we have our wrists exposed? I don’t know many costumes that are Victorian, Edwardian, or especially Gypsy, that are not adorned with extravagant (to say the least) sleeves. … Sure, we can go strapless, but it’s going to be pretty cold. … So, what, is it better if all of those who are below legal drinking age came with tank tops and jeans? I don’t think that’s very fair.”

Downstairs, the bass music throbbed, vibrating the floors so it felt like you were standing inside a giant beating heart. A few people were dancing by themselves. Their eyes were closed and they seemed at once self-conscious yet lost to the world.

Among the 900 or so guests were those who are into bloodsuckers recreationally, and others who intend to stay in the vampire realm forever, like a guy in a top hat and cape who sculpted his own set of clip-on fangs. “I can eat and drink with them,” he said, grinning. “They’re permanent in the sense that I can put them on whenever I want.”

One caped young man was passing out free garlic-flavored condoms. “Are you a vampire fan?” a girl asked him.

“I’m torn,” he replied, “because I am also a garlic fan.”

LA Weekly