Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dragon Con 2015: So Much to Do, So Little Time to Do it in

Okay, so you want to see the sights, hear the sounds, and do whatever is doable at Dragon Con. You’ve looked over the schedule and you’ve checked off just the things you want to see or do that you absolutely can’t live without while spending four days in Atlanta, Georgia at everyone’s favorite fan convention. You’ve looked at the schedule you’ve blocked out, double checked it and triple checked it, held it up to the light and looked at it sideways, and squinted in a kind of funny manner at it. It’s about then that you realize that you’ve blocked out a schedule of about 138 hours of programming for Saturday alone, and the other three days you’ve blocked out aren’t looking any closer to just 16-20 hours of stuff to see and do than Saturday’s schedule.

Congratulations, you’ve discovered the one thing about Dragon Con that will drive you buggy if you let it. There’s just no way that you can see and do anything close to everything you want to see and do at Dragon Con. It’s just not possible. But that is a good thing.

I sometimes describe Dragon Con to friends as the biggest small convention that they’ll ever go to. It’s a convention that never lost the high level of fan energy and connectivity that smaller conventions often have even after it grew to what can be a somewhat daunting size for some. That feeling of fan energy and connectivity just grew and multiplied as the con got bigger, which is a very good thing, and the things to see and do likewise grew, which is also a very good thing. But the good thing with that is while you might not be able to see it all, there’s never a moment in the day when you won’t be able to find something to greatly entertain your inner geek.

The amount of things you can find to see or do are also not limited to just a handful of geek loves or to a smaller set of genre tastes. No, at Dragon Con there’s absolutely a little something of everything for everyone. It’s one of the things that sometimes makes Dragon Con so hard to explain to someone who’s never been there before.

So, where do we start? Wait, I know. Let’s start with something that you’ll find at Dragon Con that you won’t find at a lot of other genre conventions. Let’s talk wrestling.

Yup, you read that right. Dragon Con has its own pro wrestling show every year. Some of you might think that pro wrestling is an odd fit at a convention of this nature. Some of you would be wrong. At its heart, pro wrestling itself is a live action comic book. It gives you larger than life, extremely colorful heroes and villains who face off in struggle after struggle, the dastardly villain doing his or her best to thwart the hero, until the final showdown that’s grander in scale than their previous meetings.

Every year at Dragon Con you see some great regional indie talent come in and give it their absolute all. But rather than just doing a “regular” wrestling show, you get DCW with a show somewhat tweaked and tailored to genre themes and the convention setting. The show is an absolute blast, and I even know people who are not typically followers of pro wrestling who love seeing the DCW event every year.

But let’s bring this back into the realm of what you expect to find at a convention like this. Do you like Star Trek, Star Wars, and/or Stargate? Dragon Con has entire tracks of programming for you, because each one of those has its own track of program all four days at Dragon Con. Additionally, staying in the realm of very specific fandom tracks, you can add tracks into the mix that are exclusively devoted to the Whedonverse and Tolkien’sMiddle-Earth. Science fiction, fantasy, and urban fantasy fans could probably spend the entire weekend bouncing back and forth between just these tracks and never run out of things to see or do.

Or, believe it or not, there’s enough to do on the various individual tracks at Dragon Con, and not just the ones I’ve listed above, that you could be a one fandom geek and spend the entire weekend pretty much just camped out on the track of your choice. There are 37 tracks of programmingat Dragon Con, and some of them are even geared towards the young pre-teen and teen geeks. Each track is practically a small convention on its own with panels, events, and enough various programming to keep anyone entertained for the entire weekend. Seriously, I’ve met people so devoted to their particular fandom that they’ve have literally only done one track all four days and never run out of things to see and do.

That’s something that’s especially easy to do at Dragon Con if you’re a gamer. Yup, they have games, and for an additional (small) fee you can spend the entire weekend testing your skills and luck against other gaming fanatics in a space large enough to have a couple of football games going on in them. Here, have a peek. This is a little out of date now on a few details, but still largely accurate in what you’ll see in the Dragon Con gaming area.

Me? I prefer to mix it up a bit. I also love to take some time in the day to just go off in random directions around the con and explore. It’s more than worth doing as you have no idea what you might find that might become a new favorite thing. Spread out over the vast floor space of Dragon Con are fan groups, performers, and smaller track activities that can be easily overlooked when working out a schedule of your favorite things off of your pocket program or app. Something that simply doesn’t pop out to you as you scan over the tiny letters on the schedule grid may be something that stands out like a giant neon flair as you actually pass by it, and you may find yourself getting sucked in and loving it. But you can’t do that if you don’t give yourself the chance to do it.

Plus, hey, that gives you a little more time to do some people watching as well. Why, you may be asking if you’ve never been, is that worth it? In a word- Cosplay.

Sure, lots of conventions have cosplayers walking around the floors, but Dragon Con is just a little bit different on that front. You could almost call Dragon Con’s cosplay an Olympic Cosplay event. It really is that huge and impressive. Dragon Con long ago rightly earned a rep as being a major cosplay convention where a lot of cosplayers come to show off some of their best cosplays. Not only can you see a greater concentration of cosplay at Dragon Con than at many other conventions and other fandom gatherings, but you can often see some of the best.

There’s so much visual pageantry on display at Dragon Con that back in 2002 they turned it into a featured attraction- the DragonCon Parade. Every year the city of Atlanta closes the streets for what has become a major attraction for everyone in the area, not just attendees, and also become the largest parade in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Dragon Con Parade really is something else. At a little over a mile long, the procession that marches (or drives) past the on looking crowds showcases the fan creativity that helps to bring Dragon Con to life. It’s not just in the costumes either. There are fans who pour their hearts into the creation of customized vehicles, both original and in the form of classic genre cars, and floats that rival some of those seen in almost any other parade you can think of.

But if it’s a little too hot outside for you, something I fully understand and sympathize with, there are other ways to see the cosplay. Dragon Con has holds a range of pageants and costume contests throughout the weekend where cosplayers can show off every aspect of their handiwork. But if you can’t make it to one of those, just have a seat somewhere near the Pulse Bar or some other commons area. Nighttime in the main hotels becomes a pageantry showcase that has to be seen to be believed. But, word of warning, while Dragon Con has been working to become even more all ages friendly in recent years during the daylight hours with tracks and general, common sense rules for cosplayers; the late night hours belong to the cosplayers and the cosplay can get a little more risqué. If you have kids and you have any worries about things like that, best to be mindful of that after around 8:30PM.

Having brought them to mind, let’s talk about the younger set for a few minutes. If you’ve never been to Dragon Con and only heard the stories of fan partying or if you haven’t been in some time and haven’t kept up, Dragon Con has been growing into a multi-generational fandom event, on more fronts than one, for quite a few years now. Just the sights and sounds during the day, the robots, the comic book and cartoon characters walking around in real life, and the other pomp and pageantry of the con can be wildly entertaining for the younger set all on its own, but there’s a lot more than just that for them at Dragon Con these days.

The younger geeks can have a blast with the activities provided for them at the Dragon Con Kaleidoscope Track, the track for the 9-13 year old geek range. If your young geek is becoming an avid reader, there’s always the Young Adult Literature Track. I think we can all agree that the Puppetry Track, especially with the many Muppet related guests we’ve seen in recent years, can be entertaining viewing for the kids. Bonus- They even have some events that are hands on fun for the young, aspiring puppeteers in your household.

There’s also the all ages fun of the Robotics and MakerFan Track. You and your young ones will be entertained there, at the very least while watching robots beat the snot out of each other in (the usually) one on one competition.

Speaking of hands on, that’s not limited to just hands on stuff for your young ones. In some tracks, such as the Costuming Track, there are hands on, how-to activities. You can sit down and learn how to make bits of costuming and props among other items. There are also some amazing workshops for everything from writing and makeup FX to belly dancing.

There’s also a really great way to let people get hands on with you. It’s called LARPing, and they have groups that do it at Dragon Con. Some of them devote equal time to the “Role Playing” part of the name (LARP is Live Action Role Playing) and engage in the entire act of costuming and character roles. Some of them focus more on the Live Action” part and you get to spend the day using padded weapons and shields to beat the stuffing out of a bunch of your new friends while they return the favor. It’s actually a lot more fun that you may think it is if you’ve never done it before.

There ‘s another way to let people get hands on with you at Dragon Con, and it’s a way that will positively impact a lot of people you will never meet. Dragon Con is the home of the annual Robert A. Heinlein “Pay It Forward” blood drive, one of the largest LifeSouth blood drives in the region. Blood is a valuable commodity, and the donation of it can help people in more ways than you might realize. Plus, hey, you get that freaking cool t-shirt pictured way up top there this year for offering up some of your red stuff.

But if you’re feeling charitable while having an issue with needles, there are other charities at Dragon Con. As one example, the 2015 official charity of the event is the Lymphoma Research Foundation – GeorgiaMarket. It was unfortunately a no-brainer choice for them to go with this year as this last year has seen several members of the Dragon Con family battle with and die from lymphoma. I think it’s safe to say that any donations to this charity will be greatly appreciated.

But the best thing you can possibly do for yourself at Dragon Con, the best thing to make time in your schedule for, is meeting people. You’re going to be spending four days with somewhere in the region of 65,000 other geeks who’ve come to Atlanta for Dragon Con from not merely all over the country, but in fact from all over the world. Mix, mingle, talk, and meet people.

My first Dragon Con was in 2006. My wife had been going since before she met me. I’ve been going (on and off with a few years skipped due to our children being born) for nine years. I love all the big stuff to see and do at Dragon Con, and I love all of the fan driven stuff to see and do at Dragon Con, but I can tell you now that one of the best things about Dragon Con is the people you’ll meet there. I can tell you for a fact that I’ve never left a Dragon Con I’ve attended without having new friends that I have kept up with during the year and try to see when our schedules allow. One of the best parts of Dragon Con is the friends you’ll make, the extended family you’ll create, every year you attend. The lives you live the rest of the year may make seeing each other outside of Dragon Con a little difficult, especially when large geographical hurdles are involved on top of work-a-day world schedules, but that just makes getting together with your con family at Dragon Con all the more special and fun.

I could go on and on here. Really, it’s easy to do when looking at and discussing Dragon Con. Between the celebrities, the panels, theworkshops, the events, the performers, and the entire fun spectacle of it all, four days just never seems like it’s enough time, and they go by way too fast. You can’t do it all, so just enjoy whatever you can do. See you in 14 days.

Jerry Chandler is a massive horror geek and an absolute geek for all things Dragon Con. After being an attendee for a number of years, he took the plunge and became a volunteer in 2014. His other homes on the web can be found here and here.

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