September 5, 2013

I survived my first trip to Dragon Con

Dragon Con is one of those conventions people talk about in reverent and longing tones. People who love it measure all other conventions against it. I've known at least one person who mentions Dragon Con so much in any discussion about any con that you could play a drinking game every time she said it and be drunk in minutes. I'd heard about the incredible costumes and the parties and had a vague idea of how the convention was spread out between hotels rather than in a central convention center but even still - I was in no way prepared. Like not even a little.

I was blown away. I was overwhelmed. I was lost - a lot. I was amazed. But I made it to the other side in one piece and amazingly, without any tears.

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.
That part was fun. I can see how you could easily choose what you want to see and spend every day of the con just watching panels. I didn't figure that out while I was there though. I wandered from hotel to hotel trying to find one room or another or the dealer's hall which was in a completely different building and took me a while to locate. I know the wacky layout probably makes the convention more endearing, but it drove me nuts.

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.

Checking out the costume parade on Saturday morning seems to be a rite of passage explored by the non-hungover masses. If you arrive an hour or more ahead of the 10am start time, you'll probably get a street-side spot. I enjoyed watching cosplayers from Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park and Once Upon a Time and Wheel of Time and Harry Potter and every other thing in between. They paced by at the leisurely parade pace and the last group trailed past over an hour after the event started. Yeah, it's a commitment. I was wiped at the end so I can't imagine how the parade participants felt.

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.


  1. Thank you for sharing all your amazing photos and your feelings, it looks like such a gorgeous Con!!!

    1. It's definitely got a lot going for it. :)

  2. This one has been on my list for a while, though as I get older (and somewhat crankier) it gets pushed a further and further down. Hopefully I'll get there before I'm 50.

    1. Yeah, I'm pretty grumpy - I definitely experienced some moments when I wanted to tell everyone to get off my lawn.

  3. This was my ninth year and I hear you on the frustration! The crowds have gotten insane. The last two years I was more frustrated during the day than in previous years. Though this year might have been better than last year. One thing they have GOT to figure out, and with all the geek brain power it should be solvable, is having pop-up cell towers too! Not being able to communicate effectively via phone contributed to the frustration level.

    I'm glad you came and braved it! It does have a large learning curve, but I think it's worth it. Hope you come next year!

    1. Oh yeah! Just being able to get texts through to find people would have changed my outlook.

  4. I live in Atlanta, and have gone to DragonCon most of the last ten years (boy do I wish I'd gotten a lifetime membership back then) -- and yeah, your theory about the steep learning curve is dead on.

    Last year, I knew exactly where everything was, where to get in line for the big panels in each hotel, etc. This year, the moving of all the exhibitors/vendors to AmericasMart really threw me. Gah, that was awful. But the relocating of Walk of Fame to the Marriott was awesome (even if it made it more crowded), because it no longer requires the trek to the Hilton (where pretty much nothing else is located, except some random science stuff).

    In any case, I hope you grow to like the madness over time! One of these days, I want to make it out to Comic-Con, but I'm not sure if I'll be awed or disappointed, since DragonCon is what I know and love.

    1. The AmericasMart building and the crowds there were a turn off.

      San Diego is definitely different but offers its own nuances that I think are worth checking out.

  5. I hear you on the crowds. My wife and I have been going to DC off and on for 10 years now too, and this weekend was one of the most frustrating trips we'd made. I was lucky that I made it to all the panels I was supposed to speak on, but she missed almost all activity on Saturday due to crowds, poorly planned lineups (she was there an hour and a half early for Mythbusters and still didn't get in) and the like.

    We started our congoing at Dragon Con so it might be time for us to branch out to some smaller ones for a few years too.

  6. Your Dragon*Con experience sounds similar to my own.

    My family (me, my wife, and our 3 boys aged 10, 12, and 15 at the time) attended our first Dragon*Con last year, and I found it borderline overwhelming overall and definitely overwhelming at times. If I had been by myself, I would have had a terrible time finding anything. But with my wife leading the way, we did okay. She has a great sense of direction while mine is pretty bad.

    I attend cons mostly for the celebrity content and got photos with Katee Sackhoff and the cast of The Guild, while my wife got a photo with the partial cast of Eureka (more specifically Colin Ferguson, who is an incredibly nice and gracious person).

    Probably won't attend Dragon*Con again any time soon, but I/we do plan to continue attending other smaller cons (like WizardWorld Chicago last month, or the 3 events put on annually by the Dallas Comic Con guys).


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