Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dragon*Con: Fandom + Chaos = Fun!

Have you ever experienced controlled chaos? That is how I would describe my experience at this year’s Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia, the mother of all comic cons in the southern United States.
This year was my first time attending and it certainly won’t be my last. I was attending as press and was traveling with fellow BayouCon-ers Justin Toney and Alec Savoie. Beginning the road trip at midnight on Thursday to avoid another hotel night was probably not the best idea, but I think we managed pretty well despite being dead tired that Friday night.

As an autograph collector, my focus at cons tends to be get in, get the autographs then see what else there is to do. But at Dragon*Con, the autographs took a back seat to the spectacle. A convention spread across five hotels and an event center is a monster. Getting from one place to another was quite a walk, so initial panel plans were thrown out of the window once I saw how far I would have to walk back and forth.
Dragon*Con always delivers a great lineup for autograph seekers, and this year was no exception. Fans of The Hobbit, Warehouse 13, Defiance, Star Trek, Stargate, Being Human, Once Upon a Time and several other shows were treated to several cast members from each of those shows.

My autographs from Joanne Kelly & Saul Rubinek.
My plan was to avoid the Walk of Fame (autograph room) on Saturday and it worked beautifully. On Friday and Sunday, I was pretty much able to walk up to whoever I wanted with some exceptions. My only wait was for Warehouse 13’s Joanne Kelly, and it was well worth it as she was fantastically nice. My wife and I loved Warehouse 13 and watched it from the very first episode through this year’s series finale. Joanne and Saul Rubinek, who I visited for his autograph after, really seemed excited to talk about the show. You could tell that it was very something special to them. And if you've never seen Warehouse 13, Syfy has 11 full episodes that you can watch online HERE!

My Joe Flanigan autograph.
Stargate Atlantis’ Joe Flanigan was the only other autograph I got from the Walk of Fame during the weekend. A combination of there being too much else to do and a couple of the autographs I wanted being more than I was willing to pay, led to that. I noticed that several actors were charging more than what I had seen them charge at other shows. And one actress from a popular sci-fi show (she will remain nameless) was charging Shatner prices at $75 a pop. I know she’s a rare signer, but that price is ridiculous.

I did spend some time in the Walk of Fame talking to voice actors John Stocker and Kyle Hebert (a Lake Charles, Louisiana native) and Atlanta local Walking Dead zombie (and former Bayou Con guest) Michael Koske.

The other autographs I nabbed over the weekend were of behind the scenes guys at either their tables in the Artist Alley or after their panel. And that’s the benefit of a big con. The sheer number of guests pretty much guarantees that you will have several people that you want to meet.

I will say the press registration process was very simple. Once we found the press room, we had our badges and were on our way within five minutes. And I will say that the MOST important thing you can do before going to Dragon*Con next year is download the app. The paper guide that they give you is great but there is no easier way of figuring out where you are, where a guest you want to meet is going to be, or where the heck is Peachtree Ballroom Annex

Gates McFadden & Garret Wang during Gates' panel
After registering, our first stop was one of my favorite panels of the show featuring my favorite cast member from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gates McFadden who played Dr. Beverly Crusher. Fellow Star Trek alum Garrett Wang (Ensign Harry Kim on Voyager) moderated what ended up being a great look at Gates’ time on Star Trek and her career. While not as entertaining as the last panel I saw her on at Wizard World New Orleans (which was basically an hour of the comedy team of Jonathan Frakes and Michael Dorn), it was much more informative.

Monty Python cosplayers at Dragon*Con.
There were a couple of other panels worthy of mention. Those who know me well know that I am a huge Monty Python fan, so going to Terry Gilliam’s panel was one of the “musts” of the weekend for me. And despite me being a mile away from the stage, it was the highlight of the entire con for me. He was there promoting his new film, Zero Theorem, which from the clips shown at the panel looks to be as bizarre, grandiose and incredibly good as his other films like Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, Time Bandits and my favorite The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

One of the most creative costume groups I saw was this
group of DC / Star Wars mashups.
The surprise of the con was the Need Coffee Dot Com Fun Fest. We decided to go because friend Rob Levy (Doctor Who blogger and podcaster) was a part of it and we were not disappointed. It was hours of absurdity, craziness, prizes and of course fun! Next year, stop by this event for an absolute great time.

And last but not least, I have to mention the costumes. The costumes at this year's Dragon*Con were some of the best, most creative and most elaborate I've seen at any convention. The con is truly a celebration of fandom and all of its elements. 

The crowd in the Hyatt lobby on Friday.
Now that I’ve mentioned the pros, it’s time to mention the cons. The worst things about the con stem from it’s success. If you have an aversion to crowds, avoid Saturday like the plague. It was nearly impossible to get from one hotel to the next through the skybridges. And to get into the bigger panels, you ended up having to wait in an hour-long line that would wrap around the hotel outside in the heat. Needless to say, I didn’t wait in any of those lines. Also, the dealers area needs to be larger. There was no room to stop and look at some tables because of the amount of traffic going through each of the aisles.

But despite the crowds, this was a great con and all three of us had a blast. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the con suite which provided free sodas, juices and snacks all weekend. I took advantage of their services several times during the weekend when I didn’t feel like paying $5 for a canned drink.

One of the weirdest escalators
you will ever ride on:
So, the DO’s at Dragon*Con would be to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to wait in lines. Also, DO download the app before you go and DO take advantage of the con suite. DON’T think you’re going to see everything because there is just too much. And if you’re not staying in one of the host hotels, DON’T pay $30 or more for parking. Instead ride the MARTA to Peachtree Center and walk out right in the middle of everything. And if you do ride the MARTA, DO check out the strangest escalator I have ever been on at the Peachtree Center station.

So overall, my opinion of Dragon*Con is that is a monster of a convention where you really need to come in with a plan if you want to see everything you want to. It's also a great melting pot of all kinds of fandom where anyone can find something they are interested in and can dress as any character they want to. I will definitely be back in the future, but maybe I'll find something else to do during the middle of the day on Saturday.

Eric LeBlanc is the owner of and also a graphic designer / photographer by day. Comments, actor listings, complaints, verbal threats, offers of monetary bribes or anything else sci-fi realted can be sent to