Show is The Most Fun, Best Managed of The Year
Dragon*Con is hard to describe in a single piece, so I am not even going to try, because quite frankly, condensing four full, twenty-four-hour days of congoing experience into seven hundred words is far beyond my abilities as a writer. So expect more about my experiences at this wonderful show in a bit.
However, it’s my job to rate conventions, so I am going to describe Dragon*Con now generally in a vain attempt to break the experience down into measurable, understandable chunks. The truth is that the totality of this con can be overwhelming, which I know first hand. This year marked my fourth Dragon*Con, my first as a GiN Reporter, and I had the unique opportunity to share it with someone for whom it was not only his first Dragon*Con, but also his first convention.
Held every year over Labor Day weekend, Dragon*Con is certainly one of, if not the largest fan-run science fiction and fantasy convention in the United States, hosting over 52,000 attendees across five hotels in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
The con itself is divided into approximately forty different interest groupings, called ‘tracks,’ and each track provides programming specific to that subject matter. For example, the Brit Track brought John Barrowman of Torchwood and Doctor Who fame to the U.S., while the Trek Track and Young Adult literature tracks sponsored panels featuring LeVar Burton speaking about his roles in both Star Trek: the Next Generation and Reading Rainbow. Other famous guests included Gillian Anderson from The X-Files, Richard Dean Anderson from MacGuyver and Stargate: SG-1, and Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame.
In addition to the panels featuring famous people, the tracks also contain smaller panels featuring fan-developed content. This year, I wandered over to the Westin Hotel for an Alternate History Track panel on fighting with canes, in which students from a local martial arts club provided tips to Steampunk costumers and delicate Victorian ladies on how best to defend themselves with the canes they sport to accessorize their costumes. The Writers Track offers budding authors the opportunity to workshop pieces and offers panels on finding an agent or how to self-publish manuscripts.
In addition to the panels, Dragon*Con members have the opportunity to attend concerts, track-sponsored dances, an art exhibit, various video and table top gaming venues, and not one but three well-stocked dealers rooms.
Fans of FarScape could even attend meditation sessions with Virginia Hey, better known as Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan, and finding a moment of peace amidst the frenetic pacing of con activities is incredibly important.
Unlike many industry-run conventions, Dragon*Con really does run twenty four hours a day for the four days of the convention, even though the last programming on the schedule seems to end in the wee hours of the morning. But despite the around-the-clock nature of the activities, there is quite simply no way to do and see everything at the show. Convention members should expect long waits for the larger panels, as it is not uncommon to see lines stacked three people deep occupying the sidewalks around both the Marriott and the Hyatt, especially for panels featuring more famous or popular actors or artists. While those lines only form an hour before the panel according to convention policy, fans can and do begin to camp the spaces up to two hours in advance, which is what we did for the Reading Rainbow panel, and also why we were able to hear Mr. Burton speak.
Though the panel lines are terribly long, the line for badge pick up is quite short. No, the convention staff members have not managed to find a solution for what is the worst part of attending any con. They just do their jobs well and process people efficiently and quickly. In fact, generally speaking, Dragon*Con staffers are polite and efficient, especially as they have the unenviable task of herding 52,000 very enthusiastic and passionate fans into fairly compact spaces, all while respecting fire codes. That they manage this task with a smile is a testament to the spirit of the con, which is unlike that of any other convention I have ever attended.
There is a feeling of welcome and energy to Dragon*Con that permeates not only the congers, but also members of the greater Atlanta community who come to watch the annual Dragon*Con parade. This year’s parade was larger than ever, featuring 3,000 different costumed participants.
Due to the size and scope of the convention, getting a room in one of the five host hotels can be tricky. The Hilton, for example, which plays host to the Walk of Fame and the gaming floor has already sold out for next year, though the Westin Peachtree Plaza appears to be still taking reservations. The Hyatt Regency and Marriott Marquis hotels will be taking reservations on October 2nd and October 10th respectively, so I would recommend watching the Dragon*Con main page for details at www.dragoncon.org and reserving your space. Membership information can also be found there, and the earlier one purchases a membership, the cheaper it is. However, even at $130 at the door for all four days, the price of admission for Dragon*Con is worth every penny.