This year, several folks on the WWAC team spent a long Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, GA, enjoying the combination of panels, programming, and partying that is Dragon Con. With over 80,000 attendees, 400 guests, and a parade, there’s something for everyone at this convention, and this particular con diary. Come for the cosplay gallery, and stay for some well thought out kudos and criticisms of the con.
How many times have you been to Dragon Con, and how did this year stack up?
Annie Blitzen: As an Atlantan, I’ve been many times throughout my life, but not consistently. I’ve probably been six or eight times. This was my first time going as press, and it was a much less stressful experience, even with all my anxiety about doing interviews and such. As an attendee, I feel so much pressure to see as many panels and things as possible to make the money I spent “worth it.” As press, I had specific interviews to do, and then I could mostly relax the rest of the time.
Kat Overland: Honestly I found being there as press less stressful than not, too! I think it was because I didn’t have to worry about picking what panel to go to when — I had assigned times (even if they didn’t end up actually being right). I’ve been to Dragon Con about six times — it was my first convention ever and I got instantly hooked. This year was a lot of fun; I think being a regular also means the stress of the earlier years of “what if I miss something?” has finally gone away.
Mel Perez: This was my 12th time going to Dragon Con. I’ve been a volunteer for every year except the first one and this year. This year was also the first time I was press. Things were so much less stressful. Being press is almost like being a regular attendee. My schedule was mostly my own. I slept and ate on a semi-regular basis. And I had the chance to interview cool people. Altogether, a nice experience.
Jamie Kingston: 12th time for me as well. I accepted a few changes in my own self and that made the con less stressful for me. The crowds have been steadily increasing, and that has taken its toll on my diminishing stamina. So while I made fewer panels than in previous years, I made more than I did the past two where I’d stress myself out pushing myself to walk to panels and then end up stuck in bed for the rest of the con watching Dragon ConTV. At least last year the streaming membership was introduced so it wasn’t so depressing, and they fine-tuned that this year.
What’s the particular draw of Dragon Con?
Annie: It’s by far the biggest con in the Southeast US, and a lot of celebrities and creators don’t like coming down here, so Dragon Con is a rare opportunity to see these folks.
Kat: I love how it’s structured, how big it is, and how much of a party it is. I also really like that there is genuinely something for everyone — if you’re monofannish or have a ton of disparate interests, there’s always going to be something happening that you’re interested in. If you’re really interested in meeting your favorite genre stars, you can, but if you’re only interested in academic-oriented panels about your favorite things, you can just as easily do that.
Mel: I’m attracted to the fan run aspect of it. Panels are basically having conversations about things you love with a bigger group of people. It’s also like one big, geeky party. Yes, it’s often overcrowded and sometimes overwhelming, but it’s also a great place to make new friends and hang out with old ones.
Jamie: There are so many things to attract a person! I love that there are different tracks, because as my interests change (I haven’t been to the Whedonverse track in years now) I still have things I care about to draw me in. Plus, I see friends and family at Dragon Con that I only see there. I’m not so much a party girl, so that aspect isn’t exciting for me. But the panels are where it’s at. I’ve been a panelist as well, and that’s a different kind of fun too.
What is/was your favorite part?
Annie: Interviewing Kelly Sue DeConnick was a really big deal for me. The past several years, I’ve basically only gone to Dragon Con to see her, so the chance to really sit down with her and talk was amazing.
Kat: This year I went out of my normal zone of, essentially, academic fan panels, and tried out some new tracks. I had a really great time heading to a gaming saloon where I got to try out a new board game, for example. I also got to be a part of the fanfiction panel again this year, and I had a blast.
Mel: I saw every Doctor Who guest panel and loved them all. I also had the chance to interview Kelly Sue DeConnick and Alex Kingston. I was really nervous about both but they were lovely.
Jamie: Hard to say. It’s never the same twice in a row. I am gonna have to say John Cusack’s panel. I’m a big fan and he’s a charming and engaging speaker.
Annie: As with every year, it has to be the crowds. Way too many people packed into way too little space with way too many intoxicants in them. It wasn’t quite as overwhelming as two years ago, but I still wish they’d move to a better venue.
Mel: The lines for every Doctor Who guest panel.
Kat: Crowding on Saturday was pretty rough — I wasn’t able to go to the vendors area because it was at capacity, which was frustrating. I also feel a little uneasy about the increased police presence this year.
Jamie: It’d be the crowds. The crowds have been growing bigger and bigger every year. With the growing crowds, the Fire Marshall has taken notice too, in order to keep overcrowding from becoming dangerous, but it’s still so packed that everything moves at a crawl. So getting to panels or anywhere is a real problem. There were some panels that were in such tiny teeny rooms that they packed up as well.
Let’s talk about accessibility issues!
Kat: I’m not currently using a mobility device, but I have used one at Dragon Con before and found this year surprisingly easy to get around in, compared to previous years. For example, I personally managed to encounter only one busted escalator in the whole long weekend, and I never found myself crammed into a skybridge, unable to move and forced to stand for long periods of time.
Mel: The crowds didn’t seem as stifling this year, at least to me. There was a constant flow to them that made it easier to move around. I saw a couple of broken escalators and the elevators were a hot mess of too many people as usual.
Jamie: I also saw the nonworking escalators in at least one hotel. Dragon Con disability services were great. I explained to them that I can stand or walk a limited amount, and there’s no telling when pain/stamina issues will stop it. So I had a wheelchair this year. The con volunteer was super understanding and asked me if I wanted labels for both “seat in line” and “wheelchair seating.” I wasn’t expecting that and was pleasantly surprised. They are sadly, sadly understaffed, though, so expect a wait. Thursday night, no problem. Friday, that might be more troublesome.
Even though I didn’t have to be on my feet much, it’s still hard to travel in the crowds after Friday evening. The hotels are technically accessible with ramps and elevators, but I learned a lot about “accessible” being in name only. Using a wheelchair powered by my own arms is slower than being pushed, which means I need someone to help me out when my spoon count runs out, or I’m still not getting to panels. The carpets reduce my mobility speed as well. Issues getting between buildings is not the con’s fault, but the sidewalks are cracked and pitted. I’m lucky I could get out of the wheelchair to get it over bumps or past puddles of standing water.
I don’t know about the Hyatt this year, but last year people in wheelchairs had difficulty getting someone to operate the wheelchair/scooter lift leading to the food court. This year, the door to the AmericasMart lift broke halfway through the con. It worked fine getting me up to the habitrail between buildings 1 and 2, but coming back after we’d done the dealer’s room, my partner had to fiddle with it and operate it from above to get me back down. We had no idea who to report it to.
The fans were super kind, though. Every time I needed an elevator, people were polite and friendly. I had a Ghostbusters honor guard making sure I got in one night, and that was the case every time.
Let’s talk about cosplay!
Annie: Dragon Con always has great cosplayers, and this year was no exception. My favorites are the mash-up cosplays. I saw Jon Snow White this year, and a Sailor Moon/Rebel Alliance one. Sailor Tatooine? Also lots of presumably queer young ladies cosplaying queer couples like Korrasami, Harley and Ivy, and Kate Bishop and America Chavez. Kat’s three days of three different America Chavez outfits were also amazing.
Mel: I learned that Rick and Morty is very popular. I saw almost every Deadpool mashup you could think of. This Morty was my favorite cosplay, mostly because I used the picture to scare people.
Kat: Aw, thanks Annie! Instead of an answer, here’s my small gallery of cosplay photos!
Jamie: The cosplay is from the subtle to the sublime. Our roommate always comes up with costume ideas that are so clever and so specific that only fellow viewers/listeners will get them. But this year because of Schoolhouse Rock!s She dressed as the “Unpack Your Adjectives” girl. On top of that, I also saw a really clever mashup. Thorliquinn and Joki. We only got to see them in the elevator, so alas, no pictures. And that mech made out of bicycle parts that won in the Masquerade was completely out of control!
What tips would you give to potential DragonCon goers?
Annie: If you want to see an event in a Marquis or International ballroom, show up 65 minutes in advance. They don’t let the line start forming until an hour prior, but they fill up fast after that point. Allow at least 20 minutes to get anywhere. Learn where the skybridges are and where they go, but don’t use them at peak times if you can avoid it. Hydrate. Hand sanitizer. Eat at the Suntrust Plaza food court instead of the Peachtree Center one if it’s convenient, because it’s way less crowded.
Mel: You’ll make a schedule but don’t plan to stick to it. Walking outside is quicker than taking the bridges. Stay hydrated and remember to eat something. The least crowded times for the exhibit’s hall/artist alley are Friday morning/early afternoon or Monday morning. The lines for the every major guest panel are going to be a mess. That parties are usually fun even if you’re an introvert. You’ll be amongst your people.
Kat: Breakfast! Once I started staying at a hotel that had complimentary breakfast, my con life was completely changed. Don’t be afraid to take breaks and maybe even miss a panel because you need to recharge.
Jamie: The same advice my blogsisters have given, plus the link to the wiki survival guide I’ve contributed to for years. It’s also got contributions from other long term con-goers. It’s got a lot of details, tips and tricks that a newbie might not consider in the excitement of all the stuff ready to see and do and experience! Also, from my brother: if you want to see the Aquarium, come before the con, or stay after. But don’t go on Dragon Con night because it’s too rushed and you can’t enjoy it at your own pace. Also: if money is a concern, consider volunteering as con staff. Your badge is comped and you only have to give 4 hours out of each con day to the con in exchange.
Free space — any last thoughts on the con?
Jamie: I love Dragon Con. I’d have to in order to attend 12 years in a row, with increasing ticket prices and crowds. I continue to look forward to it every year. Dragon Con is part of my anniversary celebration!
But you can love something and still want to see it be greater than it is. So: Room for improvement? The crowding really needs to be addressed. If the con keeps growing like it has over the past few years, and there’s every sign it will — they are going to outgrow the hotels. They’re already busting the hotels at the seams as it is. The panel I went to for YA was packed to standing room only, and so were all the animation panels. My partner and roommates report similar experiences, and my blogsisters’ remarks above about giving yourself half an hour to get anywhere (if you’re on foot rather than wheels like I was) indicate the crowding is becoming too unwieldy!
Also: I really want the diversity in tracks and panels to be more than lip service. There was a panel about women in comics that was one guy as the only panelist. One. guy. Come on, Dragon Con, it is 2017, and this is not a new conversation. Other cons have taken lumps for this kind of weak response to demands for diversity, time for Dragon Con to take theirs. There was also a race panel that was way late at night, as if it was not a suitable subject for family con hours.
I’ve heard for years that compared to other cons, Dragon Con is not webcomics friendly. I love Jennie Breeden, Bill Holbrook and the other regulars as much as anyone else, but that panel has been the same 5-7 people for at least 5 years. You’re bringing in huge crowds with new people every year. Appeal to the new people. Expand the Comics and Pop Art track to include webcomics. Do you have any idea how many more people would attend Dragon Con if you invited talents like Gisele Lagacé, Pascalle Lepas, Jeph Jacques, and Molly Ostengren just for starters? If Dragon Con is getting feedback about being not ____ friendly, that’s an opportunity for a new panel or track!