Last year, right after I went to Star Wars Celebration VI, an old high school friend of mine who now lives out in Colorado sent out a group email to several of our old pen-and-paper RPG playing friends, “Hey, we should all get together and go to Dragon*Con next year.”1
After graduation, we basically scattered into the wind around the country (and the world), but we all grew up in North Florida and a couple of my friends have family in/around the Atlanta area, so everyone seemed agreeable. I did some research, booked a room, bought a ticket and let the matter drop. Around May, I sent out an email to these same friends saying, “Are we still on for Dragon*Con?” and was promptly met by dead silence for about a week.
After some hemming and hawing, my friends bailed on the trip, leaving me with a hotel reservation and a weekend pass I’d already paid for. Before you get the wrong idea, I was only upset that I wouldn’t get to see my friends (some of whom I haven’t seen in person for years); they all had very good reasons not to go, ranging from newborn children to tentative employment situations to limited vacation time to the simple fact that these conventions aren’t inexpensive propositions.
So with a pass for the full weekend and a hotel room that was already paid for, I set out to convince Mrs. Vraeden to go with me. Of course, she said no. Not because she doesn’t like science fiction or fantasy; she just doesn’t like all of the crowds and chaos. I mention this because of the two of us, she is definitely the more social and likes to be around people, but I’m the one who will wait all day to sit in on a Timothy Zahn panel or will push through a crowd to get to a Star Wars costuming forum.
Option 2 was to take my granddaughter, but there is not a chance in hell that I was 1) going to take her out of school for two days, or 2) spend my weekend trying to keep tabs on a 5 year old in a convention hall.
I elected to go it alone since I had reserved a room with a king bed in it, and short of Christina Hendricks or Lucy Pinder, there isn’t anyone other than Mrs. Vraeden I want to hear snore. I packed up my Jedi knight costume, made a shopping list and drove to Atlanta early Thursday morning.
There were no events scheduled for Thursday, so I picked up my badge and reflected on the exact reasons why I moved out of the southeast. Specifically two reasons: the heat and the humidity.2 Standing in line, I met a nice couple from north Florida and I watched him sweat off the equivalent of a newborn child in the Georgia sun.
Some people were already dressed up, but I stuck with a t-shirt and cargo shorts (aka: the guy’s purse). We got our badges and discussed the finer points of costuming; he was Batman, she was Catwoman and some creature from WoW (see the photos in this thread; you may know what character she is portraying). We later met up with the friends with whom they were attending the convention; he is Gambit and she is Phoenix/Jean Grey.
This was my first trip to Dragon*Con and only my second major convention after Star Wars Celebration VI. A couple of quick observations about Dragon*Con:
Compared to Celebration, this is a much more “adult” convention. That is to say that there are fewer families, fewer children and lots of half (or more)-naked people running around. Part of it is that Dragon*Con is organized as a hotel-centric convention, spread out over many venues and designed to make money. Lots of money. From sales of alcohol. Lots of alcohol.3
Also, since there is a specific segment of Star Wars specifically aimed at children, there are many more young Star Wars fans that go to Celebration. By contrast, Dragon*Con does not cater to a specific type of nerd; all are welcome and encouraged, and some of the themes people choose to nerd-out on aren’t geared towards kids. As such, there is the Star Wars crowd, but also a lot of horror fans, Trekkers, gamers, steampunk fans, literature junkies, TV shows and anything and everything else you can think would have a fan base.
It is, in a word, glorious.
I love going places where people can get their nerd on. And I don’t mean the posers who show up for the midnight screening of Wolverine and pretend to understand that Logan is more than Hugh Jackman without a shirt on.
Prior to a panel featuring Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Aaron Allston and Kevin J. Anderson, there was a full-on nerd-out between two guys debating the finer points of the Expanded Universe that could only have been better if it was a cage-match on pay-per-view. I love the sound of nerd rage in the morning. There was also a man outside one of the Tolkien panels going into great detail on the proper pronunciation of “Mae govannen.”
One of the things I am just now exploring is the world of costuming, and for me, Star Wars costuming. I have a Jedi outfit that I’ve been working on for while, and between the robes, belt and boots, I’ve got a couple of hundred dollars in it.4 More, if you take into account my lightsabers.
The guy I mentioned before who dresses up as Batman said he’s got about three grand in his suit.5 Some of the others whose costumes you see here have considerably more in their Commander Shepard, Gandalf, Jon Snow, Manadalorian, Hawkeye or Cylon Centurion.
I find it interesting that many of the convention-goers were my age or older.6 Some have been attending conventions since their inception; others (like me) are new to the scene. What I also noticed is that there seemed to be a lot of folks who are younger, mid-20s and such. For instance, Batman and Catwoman are both 27 or so. I love that they can be so willing to dress up and attend a convention without the apparent stigma of being one of the nerds or geeks. I don’t know that I would have been so eager to embrace my inner nerd and spend thousands of dollars on a costume when I was 27.
This brings me to another point to rant on: What the hell was I doing wrong when I was 27 that I couldn’t afford to build a $3,000 Batman/stormtrooper/drow elf outfit and spend a long weekend at Dragon*Con?
My brother gives me a hard time whenever I mention putting together something for my Star Wars costume. Some of it is just the way siblings ride each other. Another part is that he and I have differing interests. He would never spend $300 on a lightsaber, but he’d spend that (easily) on a golf driver without a second thought.
Everyone has their “thing” or expensive hobby.7 Some people who would never drive to Atlanta, New York or San Diego for a science-fiction convention wouldn’t hesitate to drive to Atlanta to watch a NASCAR race. I’d never pay money for a jet-ski, but I didn’t have much trouble buying a pair of boots that cost almost as much as a car payment. I have friends who are into Civil War re-enactments and others who collect guns and others who take all of November off for deer season.
I guess my point is that if you find something you like to do, and you can afford it, do it, and if others don’t like it, that’s their problem. Besides, they probably have a hobby/interest that they spend lots of money on that doesn’t interest you.
Of course, conventions like Dragon*Con aren’t all about cosplay, although that is certainly a large part of why people attend. Unlike some of the single-theme conventions, Dragon*Con features “tracks” of common interest sessions that may feature a very narrow field of panels (Star Wars, X-Files, Tolkien, et al) or have a very broad scope such as “American Science-Fiction & Fantasy or MMOs).
Somehow, I managed to attend several panels, despite some of them being held in different venues which were a nightmare to traverse on foot. The main hotels hosting Dragon*Con are connected by walkways above the roads which are perfectly adequate during normal use. However, when you drop 55,000 people into downtown Atlanta for the nerd fest, another group who are in town to see the Braves play and another group to see the Alabama/Virginia Tech game, things can get really hairy, really fast.
Since I was not staying in one of the host hotels, I had to walk about half a mile to get to the nearest convention venue, and about another half mile to get to the furthest.8 That meant that it was going to take me a minimum of 10 minutes just to walk to the convention center, but when you factor into traffic signals and pedestrian congestion, it was more like 20 minutes, and over half an hour to get to the Hilton (the furthest away).
Compounding the walk was the heat, which wasn’t as bad as I expected, but still not pleasant. I made it a point to leave before things got really hot and stayed until I was done with everything I wanted to see/do for that day. The day I dressed up was really hot, and after I got back to my room and peeled off my costume, I took a handful of ibuprofen and went straight to bed.
The panels I attended were generally pretty good, and that made the convention worthwhile for me. I didn’t get to attend everything I wanted; Mr. Murphy struck a couple of times when three good panels all “happened” to be on the schedule for the same time. But I got to meet a bunch of cool folks, speak nerd to like-minded folks and even see the new trailer for “The Hobbit, Money-Grab Part 2.”
A couple of the panels I attended involved celebrities of some stature, often from movies, TV or books. I wonder how often Edward James “Admiral Adama” Olmos, Natalia “Tonks” Tena or Timothy “I created Grand Admiral Thrawn and revived the Star Wars franchise in the early 90s” Zahn get asked the same things. I’m sure they’re used to the same questions, and even though they may be tired of telling the same stories, the folks in the audience are providing a living for them, so they hunker down and go through it all for our collective delight.
They also had a “Walk of Fame” set up for persons of varying degrees of notoriety were signing autographs and taking pictures (for money, of course), and I took a stroll around to see who was there. They had a wide variety of folks from Rutina “Tara” Wesley to to the guy who does the voice of Squidward to John “Q” DeLancie to half the cast of Farscape.
Peter “The Second Best Doctor” Davison9 and Adrian “The Second Best MacLeod” Paul had fairly long lines for their tables, as did George “Asian Guy Who They Still Let Drive” Takei when he was there. I can’t bring myself to pay someone money to get their autograph, but as I was cogitating on this, I realised that the only people who could actually make me break down and shell out some dough for a signed photo and a picture with my goofy smile were:
- Harrison Ford (because he never does these things)
- Lynda Carter (my “first love”, if you know what I mean)10
- Christina Hendricks (because that’s the only way I could get close to her without violating that restraining order)
Still, the autograph hall was a booming place, and many of the folks there seemed genuinely pleased to be doing the autograph sessions. Aside from getting paid for signing their name, it’s always nice to be fawned over, right?
There was a nice discussion/fan meet-up for SWTOR players, and I was kind of disappointed no one was there to host a LOTRO panel in the MMO track. I spent the bulk of my time in the Star Wars track, although I also caught a couple in the American Sci-Fi Classics track.
All in all, it was a nice long weekend, except for the 7½ hour drive. I might post some more about the convention content, but I can read Goldenstar’s mind and will just get straight to the pictures.
Since I wrote the first half of this while at Dragon*Con and then posted the rest with only about 7 hours of sleep in the past 2 days, I’m going to turn this in, but I’ll post some more pictures when I get a chance later this week.
- Those would be Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Star Frontiers, and Rifts, with a little bit of GURPS thrown in for good measure. ↩
- They say, “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.” The hell it is. It’s the heat. The humidity just doesn’t help. ↩
- Celebration VI was held at the Orlando Convention Center, where all of the convention events were held at a single central location, but there was not the kind of “after hours” entertainment readily available that was associated with the convention and its venues. You had to actively go out looking for the nightlife. ↩
- I bought some new boots for my costume while at Dragon*Con, which will cost me about two Saturdays in overtime. Don’t tell Mrs. Vraeden. I almost bought a new lightsaber, too. ↩
- As we’re standing in line, his wife says, “I thought you said it was $2,000″ and he replies, “No, it was $2,700 before I got the gloves and <something> for the belt” to which I said, “Let me give you some free marriage advice: if she thinks your costume cost $2,000, go with it. I’m not saying you should lie to your wife, but ‘omission’ is not the same as ‘commission’.” ↩
- Just turned 40; yay, annual prostate exam! ↩
- “Expensive” being relative, of course. ↩
- Uphill both ways, of course. No, really, there was an uphill climb on the way over and on the way back. ↩
- Truth: Tom Baker would kick the collective asses of all the other doctors. Combined. Don’t hate the messenger. ↩
- Erin “Smokin’ Hawt in Lycra” had a table there, but I never saw her. If she had shown up in Spandex, I may have caved for her, too. ↩