If you’re just joining us,  Labor Day Weekend was Dragon Con — the biggest sci-fi/fantasy/comics/multimedia comics convention in the south, celebrating its 27th year in 2014.  It’s in many ways comparable to a SDCC of the South, but without the Hollywood interference messing with the signal to noise ratio. It boasts guests from every nerdy corner of the multi-interest-verse, and brings atteendees from all over the world. It is popular and well-loved by the city of Atlanta not just for the color and excitement, but for the revenue it brings.

I attended for my 11th year, and part one of my adventures was here, in case you missed it: the con officially goes only Friday through Monday, but Thursday is pretty much “day zero” — an unofficial con day. Cosplayers have been known to start popping up around the host hotels as early as Wednesday.

Saturday

We started the day in a leisurely way: relaxing in the hotel catching the annual Dragon Con parade on DragonConTV (which you can only view as it happens in one of the convention’s main hotels). The entire route was packed with people, so it’s a trade-off.  If you’re standing outside to spectate, you get to see every marcher as they pass at their own pace, but you also have to stand for hours in the hot Atlanta sun unless you brought a lawn chair. If you watch it on DragonConTV,  the commentators and cameras shoot away from some of the marchers, so you miss a few costumes to get the cute jokes.

My bright idea was to hit the America’s Mart (where the dealer room has been moved) after the parade. My logic was that the parade-goers would be hot and tired from standing around outside and would be rushing the food court and the hotels in search of  food and drink, seats and air conditioning. Girl, was I wrong. There was an enormous line to get into the Mart itself, and it was sardine packed. Next year, dealer’s room walk through on Friday, and shop on Monday when everybody wants to cut prices, so they don’t have to pack all their stuff!

I also noticed a mom angrily pointing out to her teenage offspring that he hadn’t texted her as promised, while the kid protested his innocence. Word to parents with kids: Dragon Con’s attendance topped out for 2014 at around 62,000 people. Texting is probably more reliable than calling, but this is a geek/nerd event. It should go without saying that all the cellular networks are slammed all weekend long from sheer volume, but I’m saying it anyway! Texts will not get through with the instantaneous speed you’re used to. Expect delays and don’t blame the person texting if the text is late! Or get walkie-talkies with really good distance reception if you must have immediate communication.

The Dealer’s Room was not just crammed with con-goers: it was crammed with dealers of every stripe:   Superhero-themed bathrobes! Superhero-themed sports jerseys! Handmade plushies! Sad little dragons sitting on books! Posters! Books! And the usual bootleg DVDs — *whistle.* I ran out of stamina after the first floor and could only manage about a third of the second floor before I needed to get off my feet.

Didn't get the cosplayer's name, so if you know or are her, please contact us with her name!

Didn’t get the cosplayer’s name, so if you know or are her, please contact us so we can credit properly!

I did run into a Power Girl cosplayer, who cheerfully said that for all the bad press the boob window gets, it was practical and a blessing because it allowed her to keep cool in the crowded dealer room. “It’s like having air conditioning!” she crowed cheerfully. She was happy to let me take a photo of her, and a perfect stranger was happy to hold all her purchases for her so she could do so unencumbered. That’s one of the best things about Dragon Con — fans who have never met can trust each other on first meeting. It’s that much of a feelgood vibe.

I also met a young woman named Liv who was videoing her first Dragon Con experience. We chatted a good bit about cosplay and what a good time she was having.

On my way back to the hotels, I ran into a man and his mother who had ridden bikes from their home a few blocks away just for the sheer people watching potential. They were amazed that I could tell them so much about the con — but I’m a ten-year veteran!

By way of memorable people encountered on Saturday: outside the Hyatt, there was a beautiful toddler girl dressed as a Disney princess who had no interest in princesses. Her enthusiasm, much to her parents’ amazement, was for the H.R. Giger Alien who was standing in the Hyatt driveway.

I got to see a panel and a half: the former was an animator from Ren & Stimpy recalling some of his wild, wacky (and frankly, gross) stories from his time working with other animators. It kind of made me glad I didn’t get into the industry during my idealistic younger years.

The other panel was Creator Owned Comics. That one was full of lively discussion about why fans are buying so many more indie works. The consensus was — and I agree — that people like the greater variety and diversity of creator-owned properties. With the big two (or three) publishers, writers and artists are constrained by the trademark, marketability, and bankability of those recognizable names. Also discussed was that when it comes to indie comics, the story takes priority. You’re not constrained by a trademark or copyright in such a way that if a character dies, they won’t eventually be brought back so the company doesn’t lose rights to the property.

Kelly Sue DeConnick at the Creator Owned Comics  panel.

Kelly Sue DeConnick at the Creator Owned Comics panel.

Kelly Sue DeConnick was the only woman on the panel, though, and that was a little disappointing. But Kelly Sue is a firecracker — she didn’t let the men take over the panel.  She spoke up when she had something to say. That was great to see.

On the way back to my room, Atlanta decided to grace us with one of its phenomenal and torrential thunderstorms. The view from the skybridges was great, but traffic came to a complete halt as cosplayers rushed the bridges to keep from getting wet. I endured the rain on my shoe covers for expediency’s sake.

The crowd was a double edged sword. The plus of such an amazing number of people is how fun it is to have so many potential new friends: new people to geek out over things with, random conversations to participate in, and multiple variations and mashups of cosplay to admire or boggle over. The drawback of such an amazing number of people is that it takes twice as long to get from any one point to another in the con just because of how congested the halls, walkways, and sidewalks were. It also reminded me of the recent Jonathan Maberry book Code Zero, which featured a zombie outbreak at Dragon Con; not a fun thought while standing nose-to-shoulder with thousands of people no matter how awesome their cosplay is.

The crowding definitely takes its toll on someone like me, who can walk, but can’t stand up for long periods of time. From about 6pm onward, I was in the hotel room staying off my feet. But once again, cheers and thanks to DragonConTV for live-casting and re-broadcasting so many of the panels so I could still feel part of the action when my spirit was willing, but my flesh said “NO WAY.”

I also cosplayed Saturday, but I saved the details on that for another post.

Sunday

from Friday True Blue Spark (L) as Steven Jamie Kingston (C) as Connie  Jazmine (R) as Garnet.

From Friday:
True Blue Spark (L) as Steven
Jamie Kingston (C) as Connie
Jazmine (R) as Garnet.

I went with the easier Connie costume and headed for the Art Bazaar. I always am ambivalent about this part of the con. I love seeing the variety of work, but wince because the overwhelming majority of it is way outside of my price range. But, the upshot there is that I can get business cards and save up for anything I absolutely fall in love with. Unfortunately, Dragon Con policy prohibits photographs for understandable reasons, so you’ll have to take my word for it that the work was stunning, breathtaking, and very much worth spending a month’s rent (or more) on.

There was a Race in Sci-Fi panel on Sunday, but I remembered being a little disappointed with that panel in 2013. One person and not much interaction with the audience. I can endorse the DragonCon app here, though; every panel has a feedback section so attendees can tell the con what they liked or thought needed improvement.  It should also be mentioned, though, that the Race in Alternate History panel from Friday did a respectful Hands Up for Ferguson.

We finished  off Sunday the way most con attendees do: watching the Masquerade Costume Contest (one of several over the course of the con). The kids’ category is always awww-worthy, but particularly worth mentioning were the adorable little Supergirl and the Avatar kid, who has been attending Dragon Con since she was an infant, wearing a tiny little arrowhead skullcap and riding in her baby carriage all decked out as Appa the flying Bison. It is amazing to see this kid having grown up enough to run around and pretend to fly on Aang’s glider. That’s the kind of experience both the kid and I get from being repeat attendees.

Frozen was the most cosplayed, and there were some very clever and imaginative skits built around the costumes. The one that took Best in Show definitely earned the prize though: a motion-for-motion cosplay of the “Truly Scrumptious” song from Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. Of course, the Masquerade tradition of playing  Chuck Jones’ “Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century” made the experience complete.

Monday

Checkout madness! Laura and I never managed to catch up, and even with late checkout, I just couldn’t manage making any panels. But I hear the Comics and Feminism panel was standing room only even in the final hours of the con — heartening!

The Daily Dragon did their usual Twitter timeline update of weather, traffic, and airport issues to help travelers. I have a regimen of things I do to prevent con crud, including a flu shot 2 weeks before Con (no closer — it won’t take effect in time), daily intake of vitamin C, and increasing the protein in my diet. But so far, no cure for the post-con blues. Post-con depression began setting in even as the cosplayers thinned out and we watched people packing their stuff to head home.

I have made more panels in previous cons, but I still enjoyed myself despite the intense crowding and my own slowing down — which has motivated me to be like Ardo and exercise so I have the stamina to handle Dragon Con 2015. I am determined to need fewer rest breaks and less having to plead my case with my disability sticker to not get kicked out when the rooms are cleared.

What now?

By now, maybe you’re feeling like you missed a great weekend. The bad news is, you did. The good news is — Dragon Con photo galleries! This one is the page of links from fan galleries for earlier cons. Blastr had a great gallery for 2014. A Google search will get you a cornucopia of cosplay coolness to feast your eyes upon.

If you’re a newbie to Dragon Con and thinking about coming for 2015, there’s a wiki that has oodles of helpful hints so you can pack prepared, and save money. This was our first year bringing a mini fridge. My boyfriend True Blue Spark pre-made sandwiches, and stocked the thing full to the brim. The only things we got at the food court was the sweet tea I couldn’t quite manage to go without.

If you’re of a charitable nature, you may want to either set aside donations for the Atlanta Community Food Bank, or save money for the Dragon Con auction, much of which goes to charity. Or you may want to just give blood at the Dragon Con Blood Drive. There’s a T-shirt in it for you if you can give (I can’t. Anemic.) Or if you want to feel good all year long between cons, you can become a Dragon Con Superhero!

Dragon Con deserves kudos, props, respect, high fives, and accolades for the Dragon Con TV PSA bumpers they play on the hotel channels and on-screen between panels. Of particular noteworthiness are:

But to be honest, the majority of the bumpers are amusing, as are the music videos and puppet shows they play when there’s not a panel to broadcast.

Safe Space is Important To Dragon Con!

Thinking about the wonderful Dragon Con bumpers has reminded me: due to the con’s simultaneity with football events, there were quite a few reports of women and girl cosplayers getting harassed and sexually assaulted — but Dragon Con, once alerted, took those reports seriously and worked with not only the hotels but the Atlanta Police Department to make the con environment a safe one. There have been fewer reports every year. The con attendees take their own approach — there are several communities on LiveJournal and Facebook dedicated to fans looking out for each other and helping each other out in creeper situations. It’s not a panel or official event, but definitely good to know that’s one less thing to occupy the mind so one can concentrate on having fun!

Unfortunately the hotels for Dragon Con 2015 are already sold out, but there are no shortage of other hotels nearby to book. The app has also announced that they will be updating it as events warrant with news and info about next year’s show.

As for me? I’ve already got cosplay ideas in mind for next year so time for me to get to work.