From what I can tell, every story and legend you've heard about Dragon Con is true. The drinking, the cosplay, the intense crush of people, the parties. It's insanity and not like any convention I have ever been to. I should have known when I saw people tweeting about arriving a few days before the convention even started and they were already wearing costumes too. Where else does that happen?!
The part I haven't heard as much about is the coolest part of Dragon Con: it's by the fans for the fans. You couldn't be more opposite of corporate Comic-Con if you tried. No studio or comics publisher has an official presence. The dealer and exhibit hall is packed with corsets, steampunk goggles, (a lot of those) toys, resin weapon replicas, and a few comics. The panels do feature some special guests and celebrities but mostly it seems to be fans talking to other fans.
Different fandoms have their own tracks, and programming runs every day all day. And when I say all day, I mean until 11pm at night. I participated in a few panels on the Star Wars track titled Women and Minorities in Star Wars, Goodbye Clone Wars, Hello Rebels, and Blogging, Podcasting, and Fanfic. It was basically just a roundtable with other devoted fans and it was a lot of fun. And it was happening in several rooms across the hotels for Doctor Who, paranormal topics, skeptics, science, animated projects, fantasy literature - you get the drift. It's not a short list.
And it's all run by volunteers. Yep. Each track. And several of them have parties! Unlike San Diego or New York, they are on site and included with your convention admission (yes, you have to wear your badge all the time). I checked out the Last Party on Alderaan on Saturday night and it was like a dance party/prom with lightsabers and the Mechanical Masquerade on Sunday night was a much quieter scene with tables, good lighting, a live band, and more elaborate steampunk costumes than you can imagine.
The crowds also got to me. The few levels of the Marriott fill up to the brim every night with cosplayers, photographers, and people watchers. It's different than the crowds at San Diego even though it's less people. I guess it must be the flow of traffic but it felt stifling and it wore me down.
That said, I did realize late on Sunday that it was easy to turn a corner at the Hyatt and get off the beaten path and find quiet. I was pleasantly surprised. I was also surprised by how easy it was to find food and refreshment. The Hyatt had pop-up food stands set up on Saturday and Sunday, and the lines were minimal. It was beautiful. Instead of being desperate and eating a gross soft pretzel, I could choose from burgers or sandwiches or noodle salad. At 5pm, pop-up bars joined them. They dotted the Hyatt and the Marriott and again, the lines seemed to be manageable. It was smart.
Given the marathon length of the event, I don't think I'll want to repeat it again.
But I do want to pause on the costumes. I saw outfits at Dragon Con I've never seen. Gentleman Ghost, Daenerys' dragon eggs (each with a little name tag), a Mord Sith, the cabbage guy from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and even Disney princess pirates and Jedi. Whatever the costume, the craftsmanship was of the highest quality. My head was constantly spinning because there was so damn much to look at. I was impressed and wished I had a better camera to document all of cosplayers.
In hindsight, there's a lot to like about Dragon Con. While I was on the ground and living it, my opinion wasn't so favorable. I felt exhausted by the crowds and marveled at the energy it took just to find something in the bowels of one of the hotels. The layout made no sense and my theme of the weekend was frustration. It was compounded by the fact that I didn't have signal and couldn't text or tweet or locate anyone.
But. I recognize that Dragon Con just has a more intense learning curve than any other convention and that if I go back in with a little more knowledge and with a friend to hold my hand when I need it, I could love it. We'll see.
Jump over to Flickr to see all of my photos from the convention.