At the start of September member Wayland went to Dragon Con in Atlanta, USA. He has very kindly done a write up for us of his visit, read on to find out more!
I have, in the past, written a guide to DragonCon. It’s written from the perspective of someone attending, with some basic suggestions and an outline of what it’s like. That guide is here (http://unleadedwriting.com/2015/10/02/dragoncon-101/) so if you want the more general rundown, please feel free to check that out. For what it’s worth, the guide has been read and approved of by one of the directors of DragonCon.
This is a more personal spin on what DragonCon 2016 was like for me. As with the guide I wrote, I’ll say that I don’t work for DragonCon, have no official affiliation with them, and all this is just my opinion. That said, I’m absolutely a fan. If you want something “fair and balanced” well, this probably won’t be it.
Despite what the Con’s official days are, it’s slowly spreading out. I tend to arrive on Wednesday, get settled in to my room, and walk the general area, seeing what, if anything, has changed. It’s amusing to walk around and try and guess who’s there for the Con. The preponderance of geek themed t-shirts are usually a clue. Wednesday night, a lot of us gather at the lobby bar of the Marriott, which is the center hotel and the one the con was in back in the early days when it was much smaller. There were a few people in costume, and it was just a nice way to ease back into things, seeing a few familiar faces.
Thursday is not officially a Con day. But it’s become such a traditional party night that programming is slowly expanding to Thursdays. For me, it was day one of the intensive Writers’ Workshop led by Jody Lynn Nye. It’s a great chance to get some of your writing critiqued by fellow authors, and then get more comments from Jody herself. If you have any interest in becoming a published writer, I really strongly recommend doing this at least once. This wasn’t my first time, and likely won’t be my last. During the lunch break from the workshop, I went and got my badge from registration. Pick up has gotten a lot easier over the years as they improve their system. Thursday evening I went the blood drive (DragonCon is now officially one of the largest blood drives on the East Coast), and then back to the bar for more costume spotting and relaxing. Officially, you are advised not to drink after you give blood. I will say from personal experience it makes the drinks hit harder and faster. Take that for what it’s worth.
Friday, the first official day of the con, and the second day of the workshop. Yes, this means that if you sign up for the workshop, you miss some of the other con panels during the day. I still think it’s worth it. I also admit I (after checking with Miss Nye) skipped the morning session and went to the Dresden Files Group photo shoot. One of the cool things about DragonCon is the amazing amount of cosplay. Many of the genres/fandoms have their own Facebook groups to help plan when and where to meet. There’s even a DragonCon Deadpool group, since that’s one of the most popular costumes, with a lot of variations. The Dresden Files group is a lot of fun, run by some great folks, and the costumes are fantastic. Author Jim Butcher was not able to attend, since he was the official Guest of Honor for the con this year, but in years past he’s come and been amazingly generous with his time to his fans (like me).
That’s another cool thing about DragonCon. You get some really amazing chances to talk to stars of many genres. Among the people I got to do that with this year, in no real order, were: Jim Butcher, Todd McCaffery, Kevin J Anderson, Mercedes Lackey; comic book greats George Perez, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Mike Grell, Peter David and Arthur Adams, and tv stars Eddie McClintock and Alison Scaglotti of Warehouse 13. Now, there were lots of other writers, artists, and actors there, those were just some of the ones I personally got to interact with.
I spend a lot of my time moving between a few tracks (the different areas of interest are called tracks), usually writing, urban fantasy, fantasy (yes, there’s some overlap there), and the main programming. Friday I bounced around between those various areas. Among the highlights were a panel featuring some absolutely hilarious stories from Jim Butcher and Todd McCaffery (if you ever get the chance to hear the tale of the Starship Valkyrie from either or both of them, I can’t recommend it strongly enough), and a panel by the Red Sun group, who have almost finished a feature-length, Butcher-approved fan film of a Harry Dresden adventure. As you might imagine from the many references, my costume for Friday was the titular wizard, Harry Dresden.
Saturday morning is the DragonCon parade. It closes down many blocks of the city as a huge group marches, ranked by costume types (Star Trek, Star Wars, DC, Marvel, Dr. Who, etc). I’m told it’s a great show. I’ve never actually gone to it, since I’m usually trying to get to a panel at that point. I will say the parade makes that… challenging.
Saturday I spent most of the day in panels with authors I’m a fan of, and a few tv folks. Even though it went off the air a few years ago, Warehouse 13 has a devoted fan base, and Eddie McClintock, the male lead of the show, has been to DragonCon for seven straight years. He and co-star Allison Scaglotti had several panels, and every one I saw was packed. That should tell you about the fans. McClintock and Scaglotti were both very kind to their fans, answering all manner of odd questions. For one panel, they were joined by one of the series writers who took a red eye flight to make it for a few days because he’s become a DragonCon fan. McClintock also led a push up challenge, calling attention the high suicide rate among US military veterans.
Here’s another aside about DragonCon. You expect the fans, and you get them (this year’s official attendance estimate was 77,000). But, what has happened over the years is that some of the celebrity guests have, themselves, become fans. Some celebrities have said that DragonCon is unique, if not their favorite event. You could dismiss that as something they’d be expected to say, but so many of them come back over and over again, that I think there’s something to it. Among the big names I didn’t personally see this year were William Shatner, Charlie Cox (Netflix’s Daredevil), Carlos Valdes (Cisco from The Flash), Adam Baldwin (Firefly, The Last Ship), Arthur Darvil (Dr. Who, Legends of Tomorrow) and a lot more.
Saturday night is when some of the costumes hit their peak. The Marriott is where you see the most of them, and often the best ones. For Saturday, my costume was Daryl Dixon of The Walking Dead. I think my favorite picture that night was a pretty good looking Neegan, bringing his bat down on my head, ala the finale of last season. What was really funny was, as we set the picture up, several people walking by screamed out, “NNNNOOOooo!!!” There are a lot of Daryl fans out there. Last year, there was a movie-perfect Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. This year, the best one I saw might have been someone who had the space suit from The Martian done in fantastic detail, down to the lights and a few little effects.
Sunday was a lot more panels, both listening to favorite writers talk and tips about writing in general. I love hearing stories from people like Mercedes Lackey, Faith Hunter, Katherine Kurtz, and then also getting tips from Timothy Zahn, Kevin J Anderson. Sunday was also the first of three panels I ended up speaking on. This one was about DC Comics’ movies and tv shows, the separation between them, and how it’s being handled (badly, in my opinion). I have a little bit of success as a writer, but actually being on panels at something like DragonCon is just amazing. Part of me is thrilled. Part of me keeps waiting for the people running it to realize they made a mistake. But I’ve had a blast on every one of them I’ve been on. Among other oddities Sunday was a panel dedicated to Highlander (See? They tip their collective hats to fandoms current and past), and the Dr. Who ball.
There are a lot of parties over the course of DragonCon. The Dr. Who ball is one of my favorite. Most, but not all, the costumes, are, of course, from various aspects of the Dr. Who universe. They range from creative to dead perfect (one gentleman I spoke with said his was one of the actual costumes from Tom Baker’s run as the Forth Doctor). It’s a great time. My only complaint is they hold it in the Sheraton, which has some amazingly weird policy that you have to stand in line to buy tickets which you then cash in to get drinks. That’s the only hotel anywhere I’ve ever been to that does this, and it’s kind of annoying. In honor of the Dr. Who theme, and since once I leave my hotel room in the morning I usually don’t get back there until late at night, my costume for Sunday was Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood, a Dr. Who spinoff.
By Monday, things are sort of winding down. Now, in the past, there used to be almost nothing on Monday, but here, too, they’ve expanded the programming. My first panel Monday morning was both one I was on, and at 10 AM. I admit, I wasn’t expecting much by way of turnout. But it was about the Netflix Daredevil series, and that was enough of a draw to get people to show up even after several days and night of “celebrating.” The panel after that was about genre tv in general, sci fi, fantasy, and the like, and I ended up on that one, too, as some of those scheduled didn’t make it for whatever reason. In addition to having a lot of fun, and the thrill of being on a panel at DragonCon, these also help me get my name out more as a writer. I can’t point to something and say, “See? I sell more books and stories after this,” but I know it doesn’t hurt, and it also gets me more opportunities.
After I finished my own panels for the day, I finally made it the dealer’s room. That’s not even the right name for it anymore. The dealers used to be in one room in the basement of the Marriott. But, like everything else to do with DragonCon, the dealers have grown, and now they are in their own building, taking up several floors of the Americas Mart Building 2. You can find almost anything there. Movie prop replicas, signed posters and pictures, original art work, role playing games, books, costume pieces, videos, dice and I have no doubt I’m leaving things out. After I was done there, I took my fedora and bullwhip (Monday’s costume was Indiana Jones) over to the Hard Rock Café, which has new pins for every year of DragonCon.
DragonCon is also big on charity. In addition to the blood drive I mentioned, each year they select a charity to help out. This year, it was an organization that helps get homeless people back on their feet, which boasts a roughly 90% success rate. As one moderator joked, that’s proof it’s not a government program, since it works. On the urban fantasy track, they set up different donation jars for different shows and pit the fans against each other in mock competition to raise funds (Librarians vs Lost Girl vs Haven, for example). In the American Sci Fi classics track, the one I was on the panels for, they just put a jar up on the table and mention it both at the start and finish of the presentation. This year, they cleared $104,000.
Every year seems to have a costume trend that doesn’t make a lot of sense. There will be one costume or character that you see a lot of for no apparent reason- they don’t have a movie, tv show, book, or cartoon coming out or just recently released. This year, it was Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Usually in her gold ball gown, sometimes in her blue and white dress, carrying a book, but Belle was everywhere. Disney Princesses, and variations on them, are always popular, but it seemed like I was seeing Belle every time I turned around.
Experience has taught me it’s a very bad idea to try and actually accomplish anything after several days of parties, panels, lectures, and generally playing fanboy. So, Monday evening was resting, recovering, and some packing. Tuesday we finally got everything into the car and made the drive back from Atlanta to Washington DC. I really can’t recommend DragonCon enough as a writer, reader, and general fan. If you get the chance, go. If you don’t get the chance, make one. This year was the 30th DragonCon. If you manage to stick around that long and keep growing, you’re doing something right.
Thanks Wayland, what a fantastic write up! Anyone else in the group been before? What did you think?