Friday, September 6, 2013

First Time Dragoncon Report - by Sajia Kopp and Laurel Schmidt

Where can you party with Stormtroopers, pose with Trekkers and lounge at a bar with Thundercats? Dragon*Con, that’s where! Dragon*Con, which takes place in Atlanta, GA, is a four-day extravaganza of everything geek -- sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, costumes and more. My friend and I attended as first-timers, and neither of us had any idea what to expect.

Can you figure out who in this picture wrote this article? Answer at the end. -Ed

Hit the jump for the full experience.


We arrived on Thursday on a plane full of obvious Dragon*Con attendees. In a trend that would continue throughout the weekend, we made some new friends, exchanged information and promptly forgot their names. We checked into our hotel, an overflow where the rooms looked like something from Austin Powers, but shabbier, and in which everything was slightly damp. Did we mention there was no ventilation?

By the time we made it to the Sheraton to pick up our badges that evening, the line stretched full circle around the block. Good thing we arrived when we did, because by Friday morning the line circled the block twice. On Thursday, some people were already in costume but most were sporting their very best geek t-shirts.

One thing we noticed immediately was the wide age range of Dragon*Con attendees. At 26, we are probably a bit younger than average, but we saw pediatrics to geriatrics flying their geek flag. Also impressive was how quickly the line moved. It took us less than an hour and a half to pick up our badges.  Although people were complaining, the process was extremely efficient, considering the number of attendees, and was handled much better than some smaller cons I’ve attended.


Friday was the first real day of Dragon*Con. We missed the Dragon*Con 101 panel, but got the rundown from a very nice cosplayer who had travelled all the way from Australia. In fact, everyone we spoke to was extremely friendly and helpful. As first-timers, we got lost several times, and people, whether con-affiliated or not, were happy to stop and help us. We started out Friday in the Marriott, the heart of Dragon*Con. Dragon*Con is spread across six “host” hotels that contain multiple topic “tracks”. In some ways, it’s more like several conventions running concurrently, since certain tracks (such as gaming, which was off in the Hilton) are a bit isolated in their own hotels. The Marriott is home to much of the main programming and the costuming track, and its lobby draws the largest crowds, including the most cosplayers.

We spent most of Friday costume-spotting from various vantage points in the Marriott. We saw an infinite number and variety of costumes, ranging from Disney princesses to Leeloo Dallas to Master Chief. Cosplays from Firefly were among the most popular this year. Most of the costumes were sci-fi/fantasy-, video game- or comic-book-related. There were very few anime cosplays, and Japanese culture in general is not well represented at Dragon*Con, possibly because of the older audience. There were, however, steampunk versions of everything: steampunk fairies, steampunk aliens, steampunk superheroes. We overheard one long-time Dragon*Con attendee claim that "steampunk was the new Star Wars", and considering that we saw a thousand steampunk costumes and only two slave Leias the entire weekend, that seemed to be true.

Later in the day we checked out some of the other hotels that were connected via the skywalk. Most of them seemed primarily dedicated to panels and were a lot quieter than the Marriott. We somehow managed to do a giant circle through several hotels and wound up back where we started. The scene was still hopping near midnight, with some impressive costumes making late-night appearances. From what we saw, Dragon*Con definitely lives up to its reputation as a party con. Unfortunately, if we didn’t return to our hotel by 1am we would turn into pumpkins. Just kidding, but since the subway stops at 1am and the Dragon*Con shuttle is crowded and unreliable, you can get stranded for a long time. Note to self: definitely stay in a host hotel. Next year we want to be among those people who have to be wheeled back to the room in a luggage cart.


We woke up early on Saturday for the parade. Not early enough, though, because by 8:30 most of the prime spots for the parade were already taken by locals and photographers. Laurel was lucky enough to find a spot near the front, while I continued to staging for the march. The parade was chaotic and infernally hot, but somehow it all came together and everyone had a great time. There were Xenomorphs guarded by people in military fatigues, Mandalorians with Jedi hostages, zombie Village People, a thousand Doctors and even a giant post-apocalyptic truck a la Max Max: The Road Warrior with girls strapped on front. Many cosplayers did a great job playing to the crowd through jokes or clever acting. As an audience member, the parade is a unique opportunity to watch some of the costumes come to life, and to admire (or envy) the skills of the cosplayers. Spending three hours sitting on concrete in ninety-degree weather might sound arduous, but the parade is so entertaining you won’t notice the discomfort. The parade was one of the highlights of our Dragon*Con experience, both as viewer and marcher.

We were supposed to meet up afterwards, but you’re better off saying "let's split up" in a B-horror movie than at Dragon*Con; it took us until 1pm to find each other again due to miscommunication, the crowds, and non-existent cell reception. After our reunion, we decided to take a break at the Metro Cafe Diner, whose cake-lined window had beckoned to us yesterday. Seriously, these were some impressive cakes. Don’t waste your time with the food here; just go straight for the cake. The servings are enormous, and it’s worth a short wait. 

Insert Portal Joke Here. - Ed

That evening we headed off to the aquarium for Dragon*Con night. We made it just in time for an impressive Bioshock photo shoot, and then hung around to enjoy the party. Because who doesn’t want to pet a stingray and then boogie down with Deadpool?

Deadpool: The Life AND Death of the Party! -Ed


Sunday morning we made it to our first (and only) panel. It featured Bill Corbett and was about comedy theory, ballsacks, and decapitated giraffes. It was funny, really! You had to be there, I guess. In the afternoon we lined up early for the Masquerade. We showed up two and a half hours early, and were probably still 100 people away from the front. By the time we get into the room, we realized that the first several rows are VIP seating anyhow, so we wound up largely watching the Masquerade on the giant screens overhead.

Waiting for the Masquerade to start was our first experience of Dragon*ConTV. It only plays in host hotels and, trust me, we were missing out. Every skit we saw was hilarious. The Masquerade was an interesting mix of awe-inspiring, off-the-wall and downright weird. A great deal of craftsmanship and skill went into making many of the costumes, not to mention writing the introductions and practicing the skits. Vic Mignogna was hosting and, frankly, it was a social catastrophe culminating in several extremely off-putting and sexual jokes to child contestants. So while the Masquerade was entertaining, it wasn’t particularly professional or even representative of the quality of costumes at Dragon*Con overall: we saw costumes as good or better in the halls each day. It was a great event to watch with a crowd, but you could get the same effect with a room party and DC*TV, without the headaches. 

I don't know WHAT this is, but I like it. -Ed


Things were settling down and people were packing up by Monday. We explored the vendor halls, which was in yet another building and split across multiple floors and rooms. My friend saw a geeky mug she liked, but we then forgot our bread crumbs and were not able to find it for at least another couple hours. Most of the merchandise was sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk and comics, not so much with manga and figures although we found a few. There were a lot of talented artists in both the artist alley and the art show, and neither of us got out without buying something. The Marriott on Monday was full of people hauling large bins of armor and gear, and people randomly napping in niches and in corners. We said goodbye to new friends and headed out. What they say about Dragon*Con is true: you can’t go only once. It has the best costumes, the biggest crowds, and the largest variety of geeky activities anywhere. We’ll be back next year as Dragon*Con veterans with new costumes and new initiates in tow.

And here's Saija in her sweet Deka/SPD Yellow costume. All photos by Laurel Schmidt -Ed

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