It was Labor Day Weekend in Atlanta, and you know what that means… football! But it also means that weird, wild, and wonderful gathering known as Dragon Con. This year was Dragon Con’s 30th anniversary, and it celebrated by expanding into two more buildings in downtown Atlanta, making an already big event even bigger. This inspired me to quip early on that “the dragon has grown tentacles,” and made me wonder if it can expand even further next year. The programming even expanded, bleeding into the preceding Thursday more than ever before. In a similar vein, I expanded my reach into other fan tracks and events that I hadn’t explored before, and discovered some hidden gems.
-I got to meet Eric Matthews! So, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a pretty big fan of the Boy Meets World/Girl Meets World universe. So you can imagine my disappointment when I realized that all three of the panels that Will Friedle (who plays Eric Matthews) was in conflicted with other things that I wanted to go to. On a lark on Sunday afternoon, I decided to peek into the Walk of Fame to see if he was there. Having just experienced some amazing luck with panels (more on that later), I felt good about my chances. Lo and behold, there he was. Not only did I get to meet and take a picture with him, I was in and out in time for my next panel. He had the same goofy, heart-of-gold persona that his character does (well, for at least the minute or so that I interacted with him), and it was one of D*C 2016’s best moments.
-Crowds? What crowds?! I took a bit of a calculated risk on Sunday morning. Generally, if a panel has a lot of famous people on it, I won’t schedule another panel right before it, for fear that huge lines will result in me not getting into it. I was originally going to do so with the Firefly panel, which (as predicted) drew a huge line. But I really wanted to attend a previous panel with the actors from the TV show Gotham (which I had missed last year). Luckily, both panels were scheduled to be in the same room (along with the one right after it too, in a weird coincidence), giving me an advantage. Not only did I get into both, I got to witness the angelic Summer Glau in a witty repartee with her Firefly costars Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher. Then, after a surprise appearance from singer Jonathan Coulton (I rather thought he had outgrown an event like Dragon Con), I attended a panel with some actors from Power Rangers, which again filled me with nostalgia-induced smiles. I had similar luck when a panel about the web series Con Man (starring another Firefly alum, Alan Tudyk) turned out to not have a line at all. It’s things like this that make me think that the people who grouse about the crowds at Dragon Con either aren’t trying hard enough or are just blowing smoke.
-I went a little more low-key at night, and it largely paid off. The one more raucous event I went to was on Thursday night, a sing-along which featured songs from the full range of geekdom, from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog to TV show themes (“you can’t take the sky from me…”) which even included the theme from “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” This brought out out the 8-year-old in me. I did finally get to hit some of the “after dark” panels, which generally feature more adult themes, like Metricula’s Dirty Campfire Sing-Along. I met Metricula at last year’s Con, and she performed a nice mix of old and new songs.
-The Battlestar Galactica panel this year featured both levity and poignancy. Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck) provided the laughs. She was hilarious in a “say whatever pops into your head” way that I’m sure doesn’t always endear her to her fellow actors, but makes for great panels. She even coined a new word, describing the character of Felix Gaeta (played by Alessandro Juliani, who was also at the panel) as “Cysexual,” for his brief romantic fling with a Cylon.
But the most powerful moment came when Kandyse McClure, who played Anastasia Dualla, was asked a question about her character’s suicide on the show. She talked about the research she had done for that story arc, talking to people who had once considered ending their lives, and counselors who had worked with similar people. Many viewers were puzzled by Dualla’s feelings of joy and happiness right before she kills herself, but according to her research, that’s usually what happens. When someone makes the final decision to commit suicide, they are usually quite happy, because the weight of the decision has been lifted. She also related her own struggles with depression during Battlestar’s filming, and how it had convinced her not to take the same action. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a guest get choked up in a panel, and was moving to see.
-I played the National Security Decision-Making Game for the first time. The game, which is run by a retired Navy Captain, is incredibly intricate and interesting. Those who were on Model UN teams in high school will appreciate it. Players were divided into three “cells,” which represented countries. Each member of a cell played a different role, such as the US Secretary of State or the Russian manufacturing sector. I ended up with a faction, non-Russian ethnic minorities, that made it difficult to exert much influence over the game. I often found myself in information overload as well, and unable to process exactly what to do next once my plot to overthrow the Russian government with the aid of Chinese peasants and the CIA failed. It was still fascinating and fun, though. The NSDMG exists within a fan track called the War College, and it has interesting panels I’d like to check out next year.
-Alex Kingston was charming as hell. Kingston plays River Song on Doctor Who, everyone’s favorite British time-travel sci-fi show. She started the panel with her signature phrase, “Hello sweetie(s)!” and charmed the hell out of a bleary-eyed Monday morning crowd for an hour. More interesting than her relating her experience on Doctor Who were her memories from her time in the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as some other projects she’s working on.
-I explored some new bands and musical acts. It was actually a bit of a study in contrasts, as the first one I checked out, Nerf Herder, got together in 1994 and have been flying the geek/punk rock flag ever since. Rather than the funny/quirky weirdness of acts like Jonathan Coulton or They Might Be Giants, Nerf Herder’s songs explore themes like love and loss interspersed with nerdy themes (lyrics like “You and me/like Ghostbusters III/never gonna happen.”). While their sound is more refined since the early days, the guys are in their mid-to-late 40s now, and there was a sense of “You’re too old for this now…” permeating the performance. But it was still fun.
The second act, Geekapella, had a youthful energy (and some girls who were easy on the eyes :P). Probably the highlight of their performance was their covers of TV show themes. I personally flipped out when they went into the Captain Planet and Pokemon theme songs. They also had some funny spins on popular songs, such as “Batman Knows What You Did in the Dark.”
-The Late Night Puppet Slam and Geek Singles Mixer were busts. The Puppet Slam, billed as one of the Con’s signature events, was plagued by a ballroom with bad acoustics that prevented the audience from hearing most of what was going on. The skits that I could hear were also… just okay. One of them felt mostly like a poorly written piece of Doctor Who porn fanfiction. The singles mixer also suffered from some room issues, as the chairs in the room limited movement. The two girls I talked to gave off the vibe that they didn’t want to be there, too.
-I was reminded of why I’m not involved in any Star Wars fan groups. The SW fan groups that come to Dragon Con are largely great, but there were a few moments during the Han Solo Forever panel that bugged me. This one woman got so indignant over Han Solo being killed in The Force Awakens that she said, “I refuse to give money to the [Disney] machine that killed him.” A few other panelists had outsized reactions to his death (I get it, but he’s a fictional character, guys…), and reminded me of the fans that turned up their noses at the prequels. I love Star Wars more than any other movies, but I feel like the fans can be more nitpicky and whiny than most. Witness the avalanches of rage every time George Lucas dared to change anything in subsequent versions of the movies. Though, that panel was followed up with another that critically analyzed the music of Star Wars, and that was very interesting.
-I attended a live recording of the Politics Politics Politics podcast and it was rather unconventional. The host takes more of a “carnival barker” approach to political analysis, but not in a partisan way. Rather, he tries to inject humor and craziness into what can be a staid and buttoned-up world. In doing so, though, he sacrifices analysis, often repeating media narratives without any indication that he’s thought them through. While it was enjoyable and I respected what he was trying to do, Nate Silver, he ain’t.
To-do list for next year:
-Basically everything I put on this list last year. Lots of new stuff caught my attention, so I wasn’t able to go to an InstaFilk session, the Night at the Georgia Aquarium party, or the Armory programming. The Filk track also did a panel on music theory this year that I hope they bring back so I can go to it.
-The Skeptics track does nerd comedy, and I’d like to get to one of those. Their comedians this year were Leighann Lord and Ian Harris, and they had another session where they teamed up with a college comedy group. I neglected the Skeptics track entirely this year, and I’d like to return at least once.