As you may recall, last year I traveled out to California for Star Wars Celebration Anaheim. Being surrounded by 50,000 Star Wars fans for four days was an amazing experience. It really felt like coming home. For once I could talk about anything Star Wars and not have to translate or watch eyes glaze over. I met some great friends whom I hope to see again at the next Celebration.
However in 2016 I decided to take things to the next level. Every year in Atlanta there is a convention called DragonCon. Unlike Star Wars Celebration, DragonCon is a multigenre convention covering everything from science fiction to fantasy to comic books and science. There’s music, workshops, parties, panels, autograph sessions, and of course cosplay. It’s mostly focused on the fans and is largely run by volunteers. So it’s very different than other conventions which are more focused on promoting a particular property or providing a venue for others to do so.
With the exception of a small Star Trek and Farscape convention in 2004, my sole experience of convention going has been Star Wars Celebration. DragonCon was a new experience. First of all, it was larger. The official attendance figure was around 75,000, but some said the real number was as high as 100,000. And unlike other conventions, DragonCon is located in five hotels and two buildings of the AmericasMart in downtown Atlanta. So things are a bit spread out, which made for a lot of walking.
That aside, the whole experience was incredible, if a bit overwhelming. Never in my life have I been so immersed in nerd/geek culture. The panels are arranged into tracks which are largely scheduled in the same spots. So it’s entirely possible to stick to a topic and immerse oneself in it. I chose to graze on steampunk, Star Trek, Star Wars, A Game of Thrones, and even dabbled in science and Middle Earth. As much as I like Star Wars Celebration it has largely become a chance for Disney/Lucasfilm to promote their upcoming products be it movies, TV shows, or books. At DragonCon, the panels are created by and for fans, which means more programming variety and more chances to interact with celebrities. In fact, most of the celebrity panels I attended were largely Q+A sessions. At the same time I saw panels on everything from rail guns to polyamory. Truly DragonCon has something for everyone.
Yet the social experience is probably at least as important. This is after all a convention, not an academic conference. I wasn’t there to learn, but to have fun. Being a solo attendee, I spent a lot of time by myself. A lot of folks attend in groups which combined with the huge number of people made it difficult to interact with others. Even so, I still made some new friends. The more I go, the more I will meet new people.
Then there were the parties. Many conventions have parties, but DragonCon takes things to a new level. A lot of the different tracks, which are really fan groups unto themselves, threw parties on Saturday and Sunday night. They varied in quality. The Star Trek one was said to be dull. However the Star Wars and steampunk parties were a blast. On Saturday night I watched a woman dancing with a space whip for almost an hour. For those of you who haven’t seen a space whip, it looks like a cat o’ nine tails made out of glowing fiber optics. Done right it looks like your handling pure light and is downright psychedelic, especially when paired with EDM. But don’t take my word for it, watch it in action.
One of the great – and overwhelming things – about DragonCon is the fact activities are going on constantly all weekend. On Saturday, I left the Marriot at around 2 am. Inside the party was still going. Outside people were lining up for the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Even Sunday, when I had to pull myself away from an awesome steampunk themed party at around midnight, there was still plenty going on. At the first timers’ session on Thursday, they told us of the 6-2-1 rule. In one 24-hour period, you should get 6 hours of sleep, have 2 full meals, and take 1 shower. Deodorant doesn’t count. Walking around the con at night its very easy to see why the point needed to be made. With everything going on, its very easy to get sucked in and not take care of yourself.
No post about DragonCon would be complete without discussing the costumes. Cosplay and conventions go hand in hand. Since DragonCon is a multigenre convention the costumes run the gamut from Jedi to comic books to video games. And they were good. You could really tell people put a lot of effort into them. Harley Quinn and Deadpool seemed to be very popular. Every year there is a parade which anyone in a costume could apply to be in. Seeing them all on display was wonderful. Many fan organizations had banners and some businesses had floats. Medieval Times even trotted out people on horseback.
So as you can tell I had a good time. The whole experience was a bit overwhelming. It might take a few times before I find my groove. But even more so than at Star Wars Celebration, I feel like I’ve found a whole new community to get involved in. While cosplay has never been my thing, it interests me more and more. There are whole groups of people out there united by their love of science fiction and fantasy. So as with Star Wars Celebration, I absolutely plan to return to DragonCon someday. In the mean time here are some pictures and some resources for those interested in possibly attending.
Big Cons vs Little Cons – A good overview of the pros and cons of attending large and small conventions
Hotel and Travel FAQ – Excellent set of questions and answers about all things related to DragonCon hotels and travel