I was a briefly a cheerleader for the University of Georgia in 1997. Around that same time I, and some fellow cheerleaders, took what would be my first, and only, spring break trip to Panama City, Florida. It was raucous, unapologetically hedonistic and completely irresponsible (I even neglected to tell my employer I was going out of town). The experience was pretty much what you would expect from a bunch of rowdy college students in their early twenties who had more alcohol than brains. More or less, it wasn’t very different from an episode of the horrendous MTV Spring Break specials from back in the 90’s. During the trip down I was overwhelmed by excitement thinking about the adventures on the horizon. While I can’t say that the trip lived up to my expectations, it does make for an amusing footnote in my personal history.
Technically, none of that has any relevance to Dragon Con. Panama City during College Spring Break might as well be in another universe compared to Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. And, after experiencing my first Dragon Con, I know which universe I prefer. Yet, In many ways, for all their differences, the two events felt very similar. I had heard Dragon Con described as “Mardi Gras for Nerds” and after spending a few days wandering around, I think that’s an apt description. For me, it felt very much like the spring break I wanted to have all those years ago, and this trip was much more than a footnote.
By now most people are aware that Dragon Con is unlike Comic-Con or other media-driven conventions. It’s a key part of the marketing for Dragon Con, coming just short of actually saying “Dragon Con: We’re Totally Not Comic Con!” Dragon Con prides itself on being a convention run by fans for fans. They have tracks of programming for just about any group of fandom you can imagine, along with the requisite groups of artists, vendors and celebrities. While it may not be a media-driven convention, you can’t say that Hollywood isn’t present. But, at Dragon Con, a crowd is just as likely to be lined up for photographs of cosplayers as they are for Karl Urban or James Gunn. It’s a unique environment where everyone, celebrities, professionals and fans, can celebrate together devoid of any pretense. If you’re at Dragon Con then chances are, you’re a total nerd/geek/fanboy/fangirl about something, and it doesn’t matter if you were in front of the camera, behind the camera, or just sitting in cheap seats.
This was actually my first trip to Dragon Con, in spite of it being a relatively local event. Thankfully, I have a few friends that were DC Veterans and gave me plenty of advice beforehand with regards to navigating the con floor. Also, I have to give Dragon Con a lot of credit for their convention app. There are certainly some areas that could use some tweaks, or, in the case of things like the “friend” feature, be dropped altogether. It actually would be more convenient if the app could plug into existing social networks (Twitter, Facebook) to allow for following and/or coordinating with friends. And, having the maps was very handy, but I would have loved a live map that indicated where I was when I was trying to figure out where I was supposed to be. But, honestly, I’m nitpicking. The most important feature of the app was the schedule, and it did its job perfectly. I would have been completely lost without it, which is saying quite a bit considering I mostly stuck to interviews and wandering the around the convention floor. If you have any intention of viewing panels then the app is simply a must-have. I also have to give the app proper credit for being able to work in “offline” mode. The cell and wifi service in the hotels was spotty at its best, and quite often nearly non-existent. My alter-ego is a software developer and I know the struggles of dealing with content that needs to be regularly updated and what it takes to make the best use of unreliable networks. My hats off to the developers of the app and thanks to them for making sure the app was still useful even when you were stuck offline.
I had been warned, and my schedule quickly reflected, that it’s simply impossible to go to all of the events or panels that you would like to attend. My initial schedule was chock-full of overlaps and start times for panels in one hotel butting right up against end times of panels in another hotel. I arrived on Friday with a fairly packed schedule, even after some ruthless pruning. Ultimately, after the new reporter’s orientation, I just tossed the entire track schedule and decided to go with the flow. All my bold plans of bouncing between panels and interviews went right out the window, and I think I had a better con experience as a result. After having this first year under my belt I think (hope?) I’ll be a bit wiser and more prepared for 2015.
I didn’t spend all my time wandering aimlessly, spending money on collectibles and generally geeking out. I did manage to make two of the most important events happening at Dragon Con. Friday night I was able to meet up with some old friends who are members of a group known as the “DCW Hooligans” for some good old fashioned WRASSLIN’! We do love our professional wrestling here in the South (Atlanta was the home of World Championship Wrestling!) and Dragon Con Wrestling did not disappoint. The Phantom Troublemaker, who I believe might be one of the founding members of the DCW Hooligans, was on play-by-play and the Hooligans had spatulas in hand ready for a good old slobberknocker (yes, spatulas, because, uhm, reasons)! An amusing side note; one of the wrestling matches included a box of cereal last year. Apparently it took the hotel quite a few weeks to purge the crumbs from the carpet afterwards. So, this year, cereal of any kind was strictly verboten. I can honestly say that this was the first time I had entered a venue and security was checking to make sure I wasn’t smuggling in cereal. The humor and absurdity of that situation pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night.
I should also point out that, in true Dragon Con fashion, the DCW wrestlers were not about to be left out of all the cosplaying fun. An intergender match included She-Hulk and The Ultimate Warrior. Later on a gauntlet style match involved John Cena, and just before the main event the Hooligans were raucously cheering for Mickey Rourke (although, that one wasn’t really cosplay so much as the guy just happened to look a lot like Mickey Rourke). The entire show ran three hours and included some fun spots by the wrestlers, amusing costumes in and out of the ring, and the DCW Hooligans hitting each other in the head with pie tins and cardboard signs. Overall, it was a great way to end my first night at my first Dragon Con.
Saturday morning was the next big “can’t miss” event, the Dragon Con Costume Parade. Unfortunately, the timing meant that I had to miss a couple of panels from the American Sci-Fi Classics track (notably the Geek Year 1984 and She-Ra and the Panel of Honor panels) but, it was a sacrifice I had to make. For a few hours every Saturday during Dragon Con the cosplayers take over sections of Peachtree Street leading down to Peachtree Center Avenue. It’s an event that seems even larger than Dragon Con itself, with the local Atlanta press promoting the event and offering the best places to catch a glimpse of all the Stormtroopers, GI Joe and Cobra soldiers, Harry Potters and all the various Deadpools. This is also the only Dragon Con event that is open to the public, with crowd reports ranging from 60,000 to 75,000 people in the audience and a few thousand more in the parade itself. I went with a friend and his young son, making sure that we arrived at 8:00 AM, a full two hours before the parade started. Initially it seemed crazy to arrive that early, but had we been as little as 15 minutes later we would have been watching from deep behind the crowds and my friend’s son would have missed most of the parade. As it was we were able to be right at the street with a great view and many opportunities to interact with the participants (all of whom were more than gracious and happy to play along with the kids in attendance).
After the parade I began Saturday’s series of interviews, some of which will be posted later here on Comics Bulletin and others over on Psycho Drive In. I had the opportunity to talk to the the following people:
- The cast of Syfy’s Being Human
- Van Jensen – the current writer for Flash and Green Lanter Corps
- RJ Haddy – Make up artist and cast member from Season 2 of Syfy’s Face Off
- Lou Ferrigno aka The Incredible Hulk
- Bill Farmer – The voice of Disney’s Goofy
Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts meant that I wasn’t able to interview Thom Zahler, writer/artist for My LIttle Pony for IDW and creator of the webcomic Love and Capes. However, I was able to speak to him briefly in Artists Alley and hope to be able to interview him in the very near future.
Everyone I spoke with was very gracious and a joy to interview. I also have to commend the Media Relations staff, headed by Dan Carroll, for the yeoman’s work they put in to make the interview process run smoothly. For me, these interviews were the highlight of Dragon Con. The credit for which goes equally to the folks behind the scenes as it does the cordial and welcoming nature of the celebrities. I’m looking forward to getting the interview transcribed and online.
Overall, I have to say that my first Dragon Con was a huge hit. It really did feel like an escape to another universe, where being different wasn’t just accepted but celebrated. It was an experience like no other, the first of what I hope are many to come.
One last note, this might also be one of the few times that the number of Star Trek redshirts at the start of the day was the same as the number at the end of the day. How’s that for Dragon Con magic?
Additional Photo Credits: Noel Wood