Second only to ComicCon, Dragon*Con has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1987 as a small gathering of sci-fi and gaming fans. Today it spans five major downtown Atlanta hotels, and increases the city’s population by over 50,000 people every Labor Day weekend. It’s one big party where nerds from around the country have the chance to dress up in crazy costumes, and meet their favorite stars. There’s really nothing like it.
This was actually my very first con, and the best word to describe it is ‘overwhelming.’ I was fortunate enough to go with a good friend who had been to Dragon*Con before, so I had some sort of an idea of what was going to happen, but I was still very unprepared for both the mass of people and all the things to DO! I went to Dragon*Con with a list of everything I wanted to buy/see/do, and I may have accomplished a very very very small percent of it.
The thing that I found most difficult to get used to was ALL THE PEOPLE! I do have a mild enochlophobia — fear of crowds — and I never adapt to just how many people were crammed into so many small spaces. In fact, when we first arrived on Thursday night and found the line that we would have to stand in to get our badges, I really wanted to turn right around and go back to the hotel. Three of the hotels where events take place — The Hyatt Regency, Hilton, and Mariott — are connected by covered bridges above the street, which are all very convenient, but of course everyone would rather use them than try to cross the street. So there were some times in which these got very crowded and traffic even stopped completely for a while. This may be something for anyone with claustrophobia to keep in mind as well.
If you do fall into the more anti-social and/or crowd-phobic camp but are considering going, there’s always the option of getting a day pass — usually Friday is a less crowded day because most of the day-passers come on Saturday or Sunday. And if it’s not as bad as you thought — you’ve got a year to plan for the next one. (OK, I am playing to a Goth sterotype here, but I think it’s safe to assume that there are quite a few of us for whom this might be a concern.)
Because there are so many people, there are also lines to contend with. Many of the smaller panels aren’t that crowded, but if a celebrity will be appearing, there will be a line. The lines don’t start forming until an hour before each event is supposed to start, so one probably won’t have to wait much longer than that, but once the room is at capacity, no one else will be allowed in. I hate standing in lines. I really, really, really, really hate standing in lines. So in my effort to avoid as many lines as possible, I did miss out on some celebrities and forums and events. But since there’s so much stuff available at Dragon*Con, it’s just not possible to do everything anyway.
If it’s your first Con, there are some things you’ll want to make sure to bring along every day. I got a messenger bag to carry everything, and this is especially important if you’re going to be wearing a costume with few or no pockets. First of all, bring a water bottle! You’ll be in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend — it’s HOT and HUMID. And even indoors, the air conditioning can’t always compensate for the amount of people. Secondly — comfortable shoes and/or insoles. There aren’t always places to sit down, especially if you’re going to be waiting in line. It’s also a good idea to get into a walking regimen a few months before the Con.
A smartphone is useful if you have one, since there is a Dragon*Con app with maps and event times. If you choose to bring it, make sure you take a charger as well. There are usually spare plugs throughout the hotels if you need to charge your phone, but the biggest hero at Dragon*Con is always the person with a power strip or a plug splitter that will enable more than two people to use an outlet. Events are posted ahead of time, so it might also be a good idea to print out a copy of maps and schedules to take with you, just in case your phone dies or you can’t get a signal. And with that many nerds crammed into a small space, it really strains the wi-fi!
Other things to take:
- a notebook and pens (to take notes in forums and panels (the writing/filmmaking/costuming etc panels will throw out a ton of advice)
- hand sanitizer
- a good camera
- snacks (you might not always have a chance to eat something, and the lines for food can be long!)
- immune boosters/cold prevention/cough drops etc (with as many people that will be there, it’s very common to catch something. Start taking immune system boosters ahead of time!)
- cash (a lot of the vendors do take cards, but will charge tax. Cash prices are usually lower and more convenient.)
One of the coolest things about Dragon*Con — and the thing that kept my head from exploding — was the different “tracks” that grouped events, performances, and panels into categories. Not only did that make it easier to figure out what I wanted to do, but I also discovered a lot of other really cool stuff! I think any Goth could find something to do here — from Anime and Sci-Fi, to writing and horror. From science and paranormal, to costuming and armory. I ended up going to a lot of writing panels, but also bounced around a few different tracks as well. And I was really excited to meet some of my favorite actors and TV personalities — Josh Gates and Erin Ryder from Destination Truth, John Barrowman and Gareth David Lloyd from Torchwood, and Sylvester McCoy from Doctor Who.
And while Dragon*Con initially seems to be geared toward the “nerd” subculture, there are plenty of things for Goths to find interesting. This year, the biggest thing of interest to me were performances by Voltaire and the Cruxshadows — both of whom I really love. I’d seen Voltaire perform a few times several years ago, right around the time he started getting very well-known, and I loved how he always made time to talk to the fans and sign CDs. And this time I was not disappointed — he had a booth on the Marquis level of the Marriott. I bought a CD and he signed it, posed for a picture, and engaged me in conversation. There was also a Cruxshadows booth on the same level, and several of the band members were usually there. The only problem we had was finding the line for the show on Sunday night — it went out and around the building and we had to wait for quite a while. But of course, the show was worth it! Another highlight of the trip was the night at the Georgia Aquarium on Saturday — it only cost $25, and all the con-goers had the run of the place. There actually weren’t a whole lot of people there, and it was awesome to see the animals at night — especially the whale sharks and sleeping dolphins!
Even though I found the crowds stressful, and ended up getting sick (also known as ‘ConCrud’ — blegh!) I’m still very glad that I went to Dragon*Con. I got to see a lot of great costumes, bought some cool stuff, met a lot of awesome people — both famous and not, and had a lot of fun with one of my best friends! I’d encourage anyone who’s contemplating a Con to just bit the bullet and go — if you don’t enjoy it, at least you gave something new a try. And if you do, there’s something to look forward to every year!