So it has been a few years since I last attended Dragon*Con. In that time, I have moved from Atlanta, attended lesser geek conferences (the experience left me wanting more), worked with an animation company that won best animated short-short at a Dragon*Con’s 2010 film fest, missed The Big Peach, moved back and anxiously awaited my next opportunity to join the other 62,000 people at the one if the biggest multi-genre geek conventions in the world.
My first experience was wonderful and overwhelming. I patch-worked my way through the four hotels and happened upon a multitude of incredible and diverse lectures but I didn’t know what I was doing and it took me days to get it. The “The Con” has grown since.
This year, I planned a little better. Luckily I’m press, and that comes with a few perks. Dragon*Con provided essential learning tools for us newbies, complete with instructional E-mails, podcasts and a pub crawl throughout the various venues. Wednesday the week of, after hiring the sitter (Grandpa), getting through infamous ATL traffic (like a snail) and parking, I was unprepared for the hotel to already be taken over by fans in half- cosplay. Wednesday! Dragon*Con doesn’t start until Fri. The joke at “The Con” is that Thursday is the new Friday, but apparently Wednesday is the new Thursday. I suddenly felt self-conscious about the fact that I wasn’t donning my elf ears yet.
So as the experience unfolded in front of me, it became very clear that Dragon *Con is a beast and there really isn’t a way to experience everything. I decided to focus on how to get the most out of this truly extraordinary weekend.
#1 Decide on a track. The tracks are the many genres of Geek delight available for your participatory pleasure. This is good for one-timers or repeat “Con” offenders. Figure out what you are most interested in this year. Do your toes curl over webcomics? Do you spend sleepless nights combing over Tolkien dictionaries? Are you a writer? Are you “Out and Proud” over. Dr. Who? Or is your single most desire to be terrified and consume all things undead? You choose, you can have it all. There is something for everyone.
Having said that, you can’t have it all in the long Labor Day weekend. This experience can be staggering.
#2 A plan of action is needed. Darin Kennedy, a writer who daylights as a doctor, has written many stories including Necromancer For Hire: The April Sullivan Chronicles, The Sicilian Defense and Pawn’s Gambit (Personally, I am anticipating the January release of his upcoming novel, The Mussorgsky Riddle) travels annually to Dragon*Con. He shared with me that the secret to his success is to have a focus, a simple one but a plan of action none the less. One year it was the sci-fi tract, the next fantasy, another just geeky writing stuff. When we met over coffee he said,” This year my focus is to have no focus at all”. Which I think ultimately meant catching up with friends, old and new.
Gang’s All Here!
#3 Go find your friends. Dragon*Con is reunion time for many. People come from all over the country to bask in its spectacle. It’s like the Introvert’s Burning Man. Put the word out on your social networks and, I guarantee, you will be able to meet old high school buddies at Peachtree MARTA station, while being serenaded by a street performer’s trumpet rendition of the Star Wars theme song.
For example, back to my writer friend, we’re actually acquaintances from way back. He saw me do Disco Shakespeare off-Broadway and then years later I had the privilege of a Harry Potter debate with him in Quito, of all places, at a best friend’s wedding. I digress I know, my point is, two sightings in a decade and a half has turned into a yearly coffee or slice of pizza because of Dragon*Con. ‘Nuff said.
#4 Be a good sport and wear something to celebrate. I don’t care if you spent the entire year building the perfect steampunk survival mechanism (mine is still in the design phase), you grab your 5 year old’s rainbow tutu or don your shabbiest “Geeks do it better in the ————– (fill in the blank)” T-shirt. Do something, you won’t regret it. If by the smallest of small chances, you have absolutely nothing in your closet to wear, which I find very hard to believe in a world where geek culture makes up such a gigantic chunk of Pop culture… well…there is the AmericasMart! You can pick up a pair of funky goggles or that Flash Gordon t-shirt you have always wanted and “Voila!”, you fit in and are ready to get lost in the colorful crowds.
If you’re an introvert, don’t worry, you won’t stand out amongst all the other fantasy creatures, robots and fabulous villains… Unless you want to. It’s up to you.
#5 The last weekend in August is a great weekend for writers in Atlanta. I know, a first glance, it doesn’t seem so on the surface but there is no end to the writing panels, character development workshops, webcomics lectures and celebrity readings and signings at Dragon*Con. Writers can get seriously skooled. If you need a break from the shoulder to shoulder crowds at “The Con”, feel free to wear your Wonder Woman costume, hop the MARTA to the AJC’s Decatur Book Festival in the morning, and be back in Narnia or Westeros by noon.
#6 If you don’t know the reference…ask. If you take a step back and really think about it, the people you are keeping company with at Dragon*Con, are the programmers, animators, writers and other creatives like costume designers, make-up artists and film makers. These are the people making Sci-Fi a reality, the innovators, the talent and are the ones able to create intertwining story lines filling novels, comic books and TV shows. For an entertainment junkie like myself, it is truly an electric experience. No need to feel slow or dim witted, there is just so much information to consume. As if it wasn’t implied already, this is a group of really smart folks and they have just taken the coveted weekend off. It won’t be hard to find someone who can hold your hand through an explanation of decades of Dr. Who, spend hours theorizing about Harry Potter really being a kid with Aspergers, or discuss Joss Whedons integrity and the relevance of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in YA pop culture.
I think the greatest gift and most user friendly tool to make your Dragon*Con experience as rewarding as possible is their very comprehensive app for all of your cherished intelligent devices. Rule #7 is download and use the app.
It is super user friendly. Not only can you look and see what is available the entire weekend, you can scroll through, pick and save the events you want to attend, it will let you know if you have conflicts, and you can choose what you’re in the mood for when the time comes. You can share your schedule with friends and create a plan to meet up within the construct if the conference. There is no reason you can’t sync up with everyone you know regardless of where they’re from and how long it has been since you’ve seen them. Find your “Peeps” in this very colorful haystack.
My overall advice is to try and have a little foresight. As to be expected, when you have masses of people in one place the internet can be a little sketchy. Look through the schedule at breakfast one morning, find who’s going to be there the week before.
If you have children, feel free to bring them, you will be making memories but make sure you work in a little adult time too.
If you are going to take the time, travel, purchase the tickets, make the cosplay, find the babysitters and book the hotel rooms for Dragon*Con you really should enjoy yourself and make Dragon *Con work for you. So happy planning and see you next year!