I'd never been to Dragon Con but it's a show who's reputation always preceeds itself. As an actual comic book show, it's pretty good on its own. There's a great core of artists that make their homes in Atlanta and it's always great to see them and there's a solid group of artist alley guests and a few other name guests (J. Scott Campbell, Mike Grell and STERANKO were there this year.) It's a decent comic book show but, obviously, it isn't the comic book guests that are drawing 45,000 people to Atlanta every Labor Day weekend. The artists who were there were doing brisk business but the comic book room was probably the least packed of the rooms I went into -- except when George Perez was around, at which point it got a bit more crowded, as tends to happen when George shows up in a room.
I wasn't at Dragon Con as a fan, specifically, though, I was there to help my friend Shane run a weapons exhibit called The Armory, hosted by his friend Kevin Dockery, a military and fiction writer, who also hosted some panel discussions over the course of the weekend, that were, without fail, packed to the gills with fans of his work and expertise. So Thursday, Friday morning, Sunday night and Monday were dedicated to set-up and tear down of the exhibit which was exhausting work, especially if you're lame and out of shape like me. The exhibit itself seemed to be a big hit with people taking loads of pictures of the weapons while Kevin and a couple of his friends gave people all the information they could want about those weapons.
You'll generally hear 'you have to go to Dragon Con to understand it.' And that's true, even though Shane and last year's attendees took pictures and tried to describe it, words can't make sense of it. 45,000 people attend the show, which overtakes four of Atlanta's largest hotels and spreads over seven hotels total. Every room in those hotels is for Dragon Con guests and at night you can't get into any of them without a Dragon Con badge or room key. There are as many people in costume as not, some are obvious super hero/movie character types, while others are manga/anime characters that I don't get, or fantasy characters, some of which are of the fans' invention. At night the lobbies of the two main hotels are a sea of people that it can take an hour to wade through. The hotels are connected by sky bridges that are lined up as far as the eye can see.
Dragon Con is much more a fantasy con than a comic book con. The guest of honor was legendary writer Terry Brooks, who spent some time inside The Armory himself, talking to friends and admiring the weapons. I'm not a big fantasy fan at all, it was still pretty cool to be sitting around The Armory with Terry Brooks right next to me. Writers Timothy Zahn and Larry Correia also made their way through The Armory at one point or another, either to talk to Dockery or just to admire the exhibit.
At other comic book shows, most of the show is housed in one main room, where dealers and attending artists and guests share space and all the fans are in that same room. There might be an extra room or two for panel discussions. Dragon Con is EVERYWHERE. There isn't a central room at all. In fact, I'm not sure what fans do or where they go once they get admission to the show. The show is brokend up into dozens of 'tracks,' depending on your interests. Writers, costumers, and fans of all stripe have their interests mapped out for them in Dragon Con's 100-plus page program guide. There is a comic book dealer room but it's in a different hotel than the comic book artists. The Hollywood guests are in one hotel, branded the Walk of Fame, their panel discussions may be in a different hotel entirely. How the promoters move them from hotel to hotel without being stuck in the massive crowds is probably something resembling witchcraft.
And Dragon Con goes on 24 hours a day. Our friend Nick works out every morning at 5 am (because he's insane) and every morning as he got up to work out he'd pass attendees just coming in from the previous night's adventures. There are balls and raves and movie screenings at all hours. The Star Wars fans hosted a 'Last Night On Alderan' party, that I thought was a pretty clever theme for a party. There's a Villains Ball, there was a viewing of "Rocky Horror." Jefferson Starship gave a concert, as did several other bands, not to mention the knot of performers doing smaller gigs in hotel lobbies at any time.
There's a parade for the costumed attendees to show off. The Batmobile and Speed Racer's car were part of it. They want The Armory to get a tank for next year.
If I may get on my pedestool for a moment, regarding people in costume. Walking around dressed like your favorite super hero is not something you should do on a regular basis. And, no, not everyone at Dragon Con is the person you want to see stuffed into spandex. I will say, though, that more often than not, the people in costume were wearing costumes because its fun, no more, no less. The quality ranged from professional costumes that you almost believe were pilfered from a movie set to things that looked thrown together in a couple seconds. But, without fail, everyone there seemed to enjoy the work that goes into costumes, people were showing off, striking poses and playing around. They were thrilled to have their pictures taken and were generally taking pictures of everyone else. It's a celebration of all things geeky and I didn't see a lot of people in costume who seemed to be living in fantasy land (so to speak.) I'm sure there were people, particularly in the fantasy side of things, who may have been living too deeply in their 'character,' but overall, it's no weirder than a Halloween party, and, really, it's a lot more fun. If you don't come out of Dragon Con wanting to come up with a costume for next year, I don't know what to tell you. In fact, I was talking to Autumn Reeser, who was on TV's 'No Ordinary Family' and she wants to come back next year as a fan in costume. It's infectious, to be sure.
Luckily, Atlanta has a host of great restaurants right near the con. The problem is there are 45,000 people in the hotels who tend to get hungry around the same time. And even when we went to eat late, after midnight, the places open later were still packed and on a wait. And, yes, you'd see various super heroes and villains in full costume eating dinner wherever you went. I hear alcohol plays a part in many of the festivities -- there are mini-bars set-up everywhere. As you can expect, the price of a beer is a bit MUCH. The mini-market in the hotel had spectacular blueberry muffins in the morning, though, which I had every day.
Even though we were up to all hours most nights, we still didn't see much of the show. I'm not sure you could if you tried. The panel discussions were scattered all over the hotels, in fact, the Buffy panel I did want to go to was in the 4th hotel that I'm still not entirely sure how to find.
Dragon Con is considered geek Mardi Gras and that's pretty much on target. It doesn't feel as crassly produced as Comicon does these days, it's not a shitty Wizard World show, nor is it a straight-forward art-centric comic book show. It's it's own monster.
You should totally go if you have any geeky interests and want to immerse yourself. But don't expect to get a lot of sleep. Or to eat on a regular schedule. But you'll see things you never imagined seeing!