With the next Dragon*Con (the 23rd) coming up in just a week, I thought I might share some posts written over the past two years about what the con is, and why a blinkered manga and/or anime fan should give a shit. Looking Back: Dragon*Con 2007 -- Five Conversations about Dragon Con (while at Dragon Con)
Field Report: Dragon Con (Saturday Only)
31 August to 3 September 2007
Downtown Atlanta at the Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott hotels
4 day pass: $85 at the door
Saturday only: $40 (other passes of varying duration also available)
I was sitting at the Parasol Bar at the Hyatt early Saturday afternoon when a fellow con-goer mentioned something in passing: a valid complaint, but one that seemed (to me) to be that of a squirrel suddenly noticing that his favorite tree was in fact part of a larger forest. To Wit:
“Everything is so crowded. They should split things up by interest.”
This caught my ear.
I had just spent two plus hours in line, and after the ordeal of obtaining a day pass, I’d stopped at the first hotel bar I could find and was rather studiously trying to pound back pints of Guinness (to the point where my usual fear of discomfort in crowds would fade into a comfortable background of buzzed) but even so the off-hand comment cut through both my usual indifference and my building shield and I felt obligated to respond.
“What, like 5 or 6 mini-cons, all at once?” I said.
Despite having brought up the topic, the sudden appearance of even a half-baked solution seemed to boggle my ersatz friend. He was just venting, and having me chime in on what I suppose what just the usual bitching about the con seemed to confuse him. Still and all, after I repeated myself, and then quoted what he said just seconds ago and repeated myself again, he thought about it, and said,
“Well, yeah. I mean, so much is going on, it’d be so much easier if everything was all in one place…”
From my point of view, he was kind of missing the point — but then again, he had other things going on. While I was trying to self-medicate and steel myself for the rest of a long long day, this fellow apparently had been on-site since the night before, and not only was there with friends but was also trying to pick up the young lady to my left. No wonder my comment, neh, my presence was throwing him off his game. After he got her numbers (and an appointment with her for a yet another drink later) he shot me a half-smile and a nod, and moved on while I ordered my third beer.
The strength of Dragon Con is not in its focus, but in its breadth. And, despite what one random guy at the bar was talking about, they actually do cater to folks with a focused interest (I’m guessing he didn’t read the program). Dragon Con runs several programming “tracks” and if all you’re interested in is, say, Dr. Who — then you’d go to the Cairo meeting room on the International level at the Hyatt and you hang out for a couple of days. You may have to sit through the occasion panel on Torchwood but it is all Brit-sci-fi, all the time.
San Diego (which is at least nominally about comics and as such supposedly isn’t a “general purpose” con but which might be cited as the sort of spectacle Dragon Con aspires to be) attracts 100K+ people (125,000, by some reckoning). Yeah, that’s impressive — but raw numbers doesn’t account for the side-show-like nature of the con, or the fact that despite the name it isn’t really about comics these days. With the proximity to Hollywood, SDCC has become something more like a film festival, ala Cannes or Venice or Sundance — that is to say, the focus is on the industry, not the fans.
(I am of course speaking out of my ass, since I’ve never been to San Diego.)
Wizard World Chicago (or should that be Rosemont?) also draws more than twice as many folks as Dragon Con (68,000 this year) — Dragon Con only draws 30,000 or so people (…only 30K. pause for a moment and consider) — but honestly, no one is in Atlanta for the glitz and glamour. While a few Hollywood stars do show up for Dragon Con, there is no glitz and glamour past what the guests bring in with them. What we do have, however, are a hell of a lot of geeks — wall-to-wall, three-deep, in multiple flavours, anime without subtitles, shown on obscure cable channels if at all, and even if you’ve never seen or even heard of it — we’ve geeks here who are geeking over it all the same. The success of the con is in the quality of the fan base. No one brings in an expensive kiosk display and a PR campaign telling you to like something,
We either like it or we don’t.
Either the fans make it happen or it goes begging.
Following my initial tour of the overall venue and my first assault on the dealers’ and the exhibition hall, I settled into the Casablanca Bar at the Hilton for another beer or three and a needed break.
Dragon Con takes up three downtown hotels — there is the Hyatt, which has been home to D*C for at least 10 years now, along with the neighboring Marriot Marquis and the Hilton & Towers, which due to the growth of Dragon Con in recent years have logically been drawn into the event. I understand that 2007 is the first year that the Hilton is not just an overflow hotel but a primary venue for the con.
While at the lobby bar of the Hilton I had another conversation, this time with a fanboy worried about his budget,
“It’s only the second day and I’ve already bought too much.”
It was an unsolicited opinion, out of the blue from a guy no one was talking to, (perhaps he was talking to himself, as some geeks are wont considering the usual lack of other company) but I’d had a few so I took the bait and replied,
“What, they had a special on corsets?”
Granted, I was being sarcastic. That, and actually there was something like a half-dozen (well, OK, two) dealers who, in fact, specialized in corsets. But my new friend had spent his wad on original animation cels, and I could respect that.
If one were to consider the dealers and exhibitors at Dragon Con, then there is a gap — yes, this is a national con with opportunities for some of the larger dealers, but it is also still a regional event very much open to smaller shops willing to make the time-and-travel commitment. I doubt a local comic shop like, for example Titan Comics and Games, could even manage to secure a booth at SDCC, but there they were at Dragon Con, holding down a whole wall in the basement of the Hilton and challenging hordes of Scifi Channel and Cartoon Network fans to browse the long boxes and see the special issues they chose to put on display.
My new “friend” at the bar was a comic guy buying animation cels. I suppose he should be commended. It seems to me that the dealers getting the most browsers were those handling cutlery (swords and the like). –Though, if pressed I’d have to say the ones making the most money were not those selling sharp pointed objects, but rather the folks selling clothes, particularly leather — though the t-shirt vendors also did reasonable business.
Between the Utilikilts booth and a number of others, I’d say that clothes (not costumes, necessarily, but something like everyday wear) were the real success stories of the con. The intersection of desire, demand, and availability heavily favored all the clothiers — they were smack dab in the middle of a very sympathetic audience, after all, and their goods were about as far removed from your typical Wal-Mart fare as one can get. I saw a long jacket I might describe as a “browncoat” and was sorely tempted myself.
Completely outside of whichever genre drew you out from under your metaphoric or literal rock to join the mayhem, it seems to me like there are two kinds of fans out there: the ones who are booking hotel rooms, preregister months in advance, spend the whole weekend at the con, and possibly spend quite a few hours outside of the hotel to either plan their whole con weekend –or perhaps, to work on the *killer* costume, or chat for hours online with friends on when and where they’re going to meetup…
And then there are the folk who just show up for the day. (myself included) Part of our con is The Line.
Knowing the traffic and parking situation downtown (incomprehensible, difficult and expensive) I skipped the long drive and instead pulled into a park-and-ride and took transit to the hotels, knowing that the venue is just a block or so from the Peachtree Center Marta station. You could say my con experience began when I got on a train headed inbound at 9am — Working my way from the station to the venue only took a half-hour. And then began The Wait in The Line.
I was a blogger just there for the day. She was a long time attendee of Dragon Con, and just happened to be in the same line. (disclaimer: there is no Tom & Meg dynamic here — I’m not that slick) While waiting for Dragon Con staffers to work their way through the Saturday Admissions line, we had an opportunity to talk.
We were in line and part of the other Dragon Con Parade. While storm troopers marched down Peachtree Street, we waited in a hotel ballroom for the opportunity to pay $40 just for a one day pass. Some veterans of the process were philosophical, even good natured about it all, vowing once again to either wake up earlier or just pre-register for the whole weekend. Many (particularly the kids) were simply excited to be there. The pack I was in only had to wait for 20 minutes outside, and that in the cool of the morning, so perhaps we were fortunate.
…We’d been waiting for at least an hour. Someone started passing around the registration forms. She said: “Hey, look, you can also pay now for next year; it’s only $45, I think I’ll pre-register.” I only nodded.
Heck, it had been 18 years since my last Dragon Con. I can’t be enthusiastic about next year when I haven’t even seen anything of this year’s con, and when my own experience is so far out of date — but I’ll agree with an attractive woman nine times out of ten.
Even though there was a long line we were inside and in the air conditioning. It was only a couple of hours before I got my badge.
I should have asked her for her name.
Late on Saturday night, I was sitting by myself at the High Velocity bar at the Marriott and considering the overall Dragon Con experience. The guy sitting next to me had obviously had too much to drink, and could only say how “cool” the whole weekend was. I didn’t care enough to get more details from him. I can in fact say from my own experience that D*C is pretty damn cool, even if (to the general public) it’s all just a geek fest.
Someone else attempted to talk to me at the bar, complaining about costumes and characters he was unfamiliar with. I must have looked like a sympathetic listener, considering I was dressed in my usual work clothes (khakis and a collared shirt) but honestly, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Do I commiserate as a fellow middle-aged geek surrounded by the new generation of fans, do I admit to not only knowing the character and series in question but also owning it in at least two formats, or do I make fun of my fellow otaku? I took a conservative path, dodging him with a series of non-committal responses while simultaneously paying my tab and beginning the extraction process, but given the late hour I was tempted to mouth off to the guy and point out that Trek dates to ‘66, Lucas to ‘77, and there have in fact been a few other things released in the interim.
It’s likely best that I let it be. Though maybe I should have bought the poor shlub a beer or something; if he can’t even deal with fan reality I hate to think how he fares in the real world.
At Dragon Con there are four main things to do, and three places to do them:
The Hyatt ballrooms had the ‘headline’ events and the art show
the Marriott played host to the autographing celebs
and the Hilton hosted the exhibitors and dealers trying to sell you stuff.
There were also the Gamers at the Marriott, and while panels were concentrated in the Hyatt they were scattered all over, and people watching was the primary attraction everywhere.
But this is my take on it. Depending on your interest, your version of Dragon Con is going to be very much different. –art, concerts, the masquerade, program tracks, whatever.
While the 3 buildings are adjacent, the con does suffer from not having everything under one roof. Each hotel is a maze by itself, but added to the confusing overall layout is the fact that the surrounding streets slope — so you are always going up or down floors to find the next ‘ground level’ entrance when translocating from one hotel to the next, to find your next event. On top of the usual mess the Marriott is renovating about half of their lobby so several common routes were inaccessible and folks were being routed (with employee help) to out-of-the-way stairwells when working their way toward the exhibitors and dealers next door.
The key would be planning, obviously. While I was trying to take it all in at once (and in a single afternoon) if you were doing the whole Dragon-Con-thing over several days, and if you were sticking with a single theme, you’d be able to spend a lot of your time in a single meeting room (or adjecent rooms) and your weekend will proceed at a much more leisurely pace. You can geek for two days, wait until Sunday to get your autographs, and then cruise the dealers on Monday and pick up your books, leather corset, swords, dice, and what-have-you — maybe even on sale.
I had actually planned to spend most of the afternoon in a meeting room, but none of the offered panels (in any of the tracks) really fit my interests — and I hate to say it, the video room has lost a lot of its draw in a world where you can download fansubs and watch them at home.
One very nice thing about the confusing layout and the hotel (as opposed to convention center) venue is that numerous small corners in all three hotels are home to lounges of one sort or another, and the nearby Peachtree Center Mall (glorified food court) also has a very nice pub called Gibney’s, just down a set of steps and a world away, where the beers are two bucks cheaper than the hotel bar and (at least at 5pm) the klingons, stormtroopers, and new goth army aren’t. (I’m typing this at Gibney’s now.)
During my two blessed peaceful hours at Gibney’s, going over notes and typing up what I could, I ran into a “civilian” who was interested (even enthusiastic) about Dragon Con but wasn’t there to attend the event.”Do they do this every year?” he asked.
I had to laugh. And I explained my own history with the event, how I was exposed at an impressionable age to all-things-geek at the second (’88) Dragon Con, and just a bit about how all that has compounded since over the ensuing 19 years. We talked about the blog, and the hobby, and the job, and being a fan in general. The best conversation I had that day about Dragon Con was with a guy who wasn’t even attending. Odd that.
One of the draws of Dragon Con is that they do everything — if you’re a fan, they’ve got your fandom. If you are a fan of genre fiction, then this might just be the event for you: Unlike other cons books get a special consideration at Dragon Con, where both established authors and aspirants come to participate in the writing programs. (Where else will you see Margaret Weis not only moderating panels but also manning the booth for her company in the exhibition hall? The visual media are also very well represented, from the (now nostalgic) 70s TV shows to Lost, Heroes, and BSG, with stops by every little show in between. Every since the first concert 4(?) years ago (It was GWAR, I remember that) music has also been a big part of the overall spectacle, growing to the point that concerts are now running for all three days.
We can’t forget the gamers either, from CCGs to video games to live action role playing.
OK, so maybe we’d like to forget the live action role players
D*C is a *fan* show. Doesn’t matter what your brand. It’s a melting pot.
I’m still not sure if Dragon Con is my kind of event. I think I prefer something smaller. But it’s a damn fine showing, and with current trends expected to continue, it’s only going to get bigger…
- cell phone conversations: 1001 variations on “where are you?”
- coffee and/or cigarette cravings, while we’re all stuck on line
- many suggestions on “how they could do x better”
- local restaurants
- A Firefly tutorial for someone who had inexplicable never seen the show
- Pink Floyd bowling shirt (Album art for A Momentary Lapse of Reason) (WANT ONE)
- T-shirts: Mooninite Remember 1/31/07, Storm Trooper Jolly Roger, various movies, various bands (incl. ac/dc, other metal, wierd al, a smattering of hip hop), Starfleet Academy, Inuyasha, Jackass, Fantastic 4, Green Lantern logo; & A pair of T-shirts labeled: “oldtype” “newtype” (cute couple; don’t know if anyone else got the joke)
- a corset over a kimono
- 1001 variations on the slutty schoolgirl thing
- related, but not 100% overlap: vaguely goth chicks
- mardi gras beads (WTF?)
- Pirates. What, still?
- A League of Their Own. Yes: Girls’ Baseball Uniforms. Not sure why.
- Superheroes — Flash, Nightwing & Robins (but no Batmen), Luke Cage! (no, really !), Emma Frost, Supergirl (the non-slutty variation)
- a whole group doing their interpretation of some alt version of Alice in Wonderland
- Link, Mario & Luigi, Naruto, a lot I sort of recognised, a few that were really quite impressive but that I didn’t recognise
- Bible Black cosplay (Just the girls’ school uniform, and why? and honestly, I really shouldn’t know)