So I was originally going to write this post last weekend, but realized that I needed to do my Packers preview before they played their first game. If any of you are friends with me on Facebook (and I imagine most readers of this post will be), you probably saw my status updates blow up with tales of stars, costumes, and general nerdiness around Labor Day weekend. That’s because I attended my first-ever Dragon Con. For the uninitiated, Dragon Con is Atlanta’s yearly celebration of sci-fi and fantasy series and the men, women, and children who are obsessed with them. I’d never really been to anything like this before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it ended up being a truly amazing weekend, that I will remember for a long time. I enjoyed myself so much that I’m already trying to find a hotel room for next year (believe it or not, the hotels are already filling up!). First, some stories:
-The biggest “starstruck” moment I had came on Sunday, when I went to check out the Walk of Fame between panels. This is the room they set up where different celebrities would sign autographs and take pictures for a fee. Having just blown a good amount of discretionary money on a signed photo of Nathan Fillion at the vendors’ stands, I didn’t partake in the autograph hounding. It didn’t cost any money to shake hands, though, and I noticed that Richard Hatch didn’t have many people around his table. Hatch played Captain Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica series and Tom Zarek in the reimagined series. I went up to him and told him how much I appreciated his work as Zarek, and we ended up getting into a brief discussion about governments and those who rebel against them. He struck me as a pretty down-to-earth and normal guy, and I could tell he’d really thought out the role and how he played it. He told me that Zarek was by far his favorite character that he’s ever played, and we also chatted about which Battlestar panels he’d be at (I ended up at one on Monday that he was at). If by some crazy happenstance you’re reading this, Mr. Hatch, thanks for making one fan’s day even better.
–Going off this theme, the celebs there were really down-to-earth. Nearly all of them had a “just happy to be here” attitude, and not one of them displayed much ego. Perhaps the most humble among them was Jason David Frank, who many of you know from your childhoods as the Green/White/Red Ranger on Power Rangers. His panel on Sunday was awesome, and he told us a lot about how much he enjoyed being a Power Ranger, and his next cameo appearance on the show. He’s also branched out into mixed martial arts, and is a seventh-degree black belt in karate. He was very appreciative of the fans, and talked about how he’d like to see a Power Rangers reboot movie that focused on the Green Ranger. Other celebrity panels I attended included John Barrowman (Captain Jack from Doctor Who) and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian).
This being my first major con, I learned many lessons about how these sorts of things work, and I’ll definitely carry these over into next year (con veterans, just deal with my n00b-ness for a minute):
–Bring supplies. The biggest mistake I made all con was on the first day, when I didn’t bring my backpack with me, and thus had no phone charger, snacks, or reading material for the lines. There were so many exciting things to do that I didn’t want to stop for a sit-down meal, so I subsisted on snacks for two meals a day. With all the walking I did, eating badly hardly made a difference for my waistline. The phone charger is an absolute must if your hotel, like mine, was a 15-minute bus ride away from the con.
–The lines are intimidating, but basic planning makes them less of a hassle. All you really need to do is prioritize. Big names will draw long lines, and those are the ones where you don’t want to schedule a panel right beforehand (though I probably could’ve gotten away with it on some). This unfortunately means you can’t make it to everything you want to go to, but it’s worth it when you get to go to panels like Jason David Frank’s and get a prime seat. And I never really had to miss things I really wanted to go to, with a few exceptions (see below). The con staff gives us fans a big assist here, as (in most cases) they don’t allow lines to form for an event more than an hour ahead of time. So a bunch of fanboys can’t swarm an event 3 hours ahead and ruin the days of the rest of us who actually want to do a lot of things. Also, they hold the big-name events in massive rooms, so even if you get in line late, you’ll probably still manage to get in the room.
–One of the more interesting aspects was the “con friends” I made, the people that you tag along with to make a wait in line less boring, then end up never seeing again. I was dressed as Captain Hammer on Saturday, and I found a group where one guy was dressed up in a Dr. Horrible costume, and we hung out in the line for the Dr. Horrible sing-along. The transitory nature of this can be a drawback too. I don’t think I’ve met a bigger Star Wars fan than a girl named Emily that I met at one of the panels. She’d just ordered a costume for a Jedi character whose name even I didn’t recognize, and her uncle had just brought her lightsabers for the costume. She was like a kid in a candy store when she got those sabers. We chatted in the corner for pretty much the entirety of two Star Wars panels I went to, one on the Expanded Universe and one on what we know about Episode VII so far (the answer: next to nothing). She was also rather cute, and about my age. Sadly, even though I was able to friend her on the Dragon Con app, I never managed to track her down again 😦
There were a few things that I didn’t get to do this time that I’d really like to do next year:
-I wish I’d gotten to see a few more panels from the “edutainment” fan tracks. Dragon Con isn’t just for sci-fi/fantasy nerds. There are many tracks that talk about real-world stuff, such as the skeptics track (free thought and anti-psuedoscience group), the space track, and the science track. I had to shed many of these panels to attend the bigger-name stuff, and while I don’t regret it, I do want to see if I can’t catch more of their stuff next year, especially the skeptics track. I did go to one of their panels, and it was refreshing to be among people with a similar worldview as myself. I also attended one space track panel, on the difference between orbital space missions and ones where where a craft lands and roves on a planet (like the Curiosity rover on Mars).
-I absolutely, positively have to do the Star Wars Trivia Contest next year. I missed it for the Dr. Horrible sing-along, because I think the trivia contest happens every year, and I can’t guarantee that the Dr. Horrible thing will ever happen again. I likely wouldn’t win this, because there are people at these things that know Star Wars way better than me, but my goal would be to qualify for the finals, and I think I could do that.
-I missed Gonzoroo, and I want to check it out. Billed as a night of music, comedy, and geekery, it did not feature anyone I knew very well (other than Paul and Storm, who helped give the world this gem). I checked out the Last Party on Alderaan instead, and while it was cool, it was pretty much your typical club/house party, and I was kinda done with it after 40 minutes or so.
But, by far the best takeaway from the weekend was this: No matter who you are and what you’re into, you’re not alone. One of my favorite moments of the con took place while in line for Jason David Frank. A few years ago, I’d gone back and watched a bunch of old Power Rangers episodes for nostalgia’s sake, and I thought I was the only person who ever did that. But I met a guy who was just as into it as I was (probably more so), and knew just as much about the series as I did. Never had the sentence, “Holy shit, could you believe it when Zordon died?” come out of my mouth, but Dragon Con gave me a forum to do it. It makes sense that something like this would have an air of tolerance and acceptance, because most of us were probably made fun of for our various fandoms when we were kids. I think that was one of the things I enjoyed most about the experience; meeting people who were just as into as much zany stuff as I was.
For these reasons, and many more, this year’s Dragon Con fulfilled most all of my expectations. I can’t wait to experience it all over again.