I’ll rip this band-aid off fast and quick. Honest to God truth, I’d never been to a convention before. So for me, going Atlanta, Georgia for DragonCon 2014 for my first con is like “Go Big or Go Home.” Like, <<Holy Guacamole!>> DragonCon is the largest fan run convention in the country!! Its like jumping into the deep end of the pool when you’ve still got water wings and hoping not to flail around like an idiot amongst the professional swimmers. And for being my first Con, oh my GOD it was fantastic. I can’t wait to tell y’all about it. So come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of a pure imagination, and hear the story of my first time at DragonCon.
Before the Con
Before the Con began I can tell you that I was both super excited and super nervous. You know that feeling? Where you are so jazzed for something that you might throw up, but then you’re also so nervous about it you might throw up? Yeah, I felt like that for DAYS before we went. (To clarify the “we”: I went to DragonCon with my mom, who is just as into sci-fi and all things geeky as I am. Go ahead, laugh it up if you want, but my mom is awesome *three snaps in Z-formation*) The best way to describe it is feeling like Princess Anna from Frozen (Disney, 2013) before the coronation:
”Don’t know if I’m elated or gassy, but I’m somewhere in that zone.”
I lucked out so hard when it came to getting badges for DragonCon. Through my connections here at Space Gypsies, we were able to get Press Badges for the entire Con for free. Flights, on the other hand, we had to pay for ourselves. I live in Chicago, IL and DragonCon is in Atlanta, GA, so we flew. When looking for flights, I found that DragonCon did have a deal with Delta Air Lines for domestic and international flights into Atlanta. However, and this is kind of a BIG however, we did some shopping around and actually found a much better deal through Southwest Airlines. Now, this is most certainly not a plug for any one airline over another. What I’m trying to say is that, for anyone going to DragonCon, first time or not, shop around. #DragonConAdvice: Don’t just take the first deal offered to you, you might find something better, and save a lot more money.
Another thing to be aware of is that you will be spending money if you go to DragonCon, and quite a bit of it in my opinion. As a 22-year-old fresh out of college, this fact hit me really hard, and honestly, it scared the hell out me. Money was probably one of the biggest things that gave me anxiety before the Con began. For flights and rooming, lets just say that I have never, in my entire life, spent that kind of money in one go. So #DragonConAdvice: Be ready to spend money. Not just for merch and what-not when you get there, but also essential things like flights, food, and board. (We did stay in the Marriott which was one of the four hotels that DragonCon was being hosted in, so yeah rooms were kind of expensive, but it was really cool staying right there).
We arrived in Atlanta Friday morning (we didn’t go for the entire Con). The Atlanta airport is HUGE! Now, I’ve been through the ATL before so I knew where to go. We packed light, thank goodness, so we just had carry ons. We grabbed them and got out of there. From the airport we took the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Authority) train all the way from the airport right to Peachtrees Center, where DragonCon was centered. As soon as we got to the Peachtrees station, we just knew we were at Dragon Con. Everyone was heading up the escalators to street level, talking and excited, and there were plenty of people in cosplay already. Just going up the escalator I saw two Links, four Naturo-like ninjas, three LOTR cosplays, and a Deadpool. At this point, I was totally excited!
For the most part, after getting off the MARTA we followed the crowd, and there was certainly a crowd. When we got a little turned around in front of the Peachtrees Center, which is the underground mall that the MARTA stops at, we were greeted by a MARTA/ City of Atlanta representative who gave us directions to the Hyatt Regency (which was really close by, like half a block down), where we stopped first to pick up out Press Badges.
Rule #1 of DragonCon: Have your badge with you and displayed at all times. I repeat: ALWAYS HAVE YOUR DRAGONCON BADGE! There were signs everywhere that explained that DragonCon was a private event (which it is), so if you dont have your badge, you’re sh*t outta luck.
Ok. So instead of walking y’all through my every step at DragonCon and paying attention to every little detail, I’m going to highlight the most important stuff, much of which have DragonCon life lessons attached to them.
People at the Con
One of the most amazing experiences at DragonCon has to be the people, and let me tell you, there were a LOT of people. The best way to think about it is to take the density of people at Disney World, and compress the available space to fit said people into. Now I know for some people that amount of people in such a limited amount of space would be daunting (I happen to be one of them), but seriously, you will never meet such nice, friendly, kind, and fun people. Yes, there are a TON of people, but they are all open and welcoming that, upon arriving, I felt so welcomed and so a part of something big and amazing. Literally, everyone is so nice and willing to talk. More often than not, if you asked to take a picture with someone, they will say “Hell yeah! Let’s do this! Hey, action pose with me.”
Everyone is so willing to help. If you have a question and state it out loud, it will probably be answered by the nearest DragonCon veteran, or if no one knows the answer you will find yourself in a group going on an adventure to find it. If you need assistance, more likely than not, people are willing to go out of their way to help. And the DragonCon vets don’t look down on you for coming to the Con for the first time. I met people who had been coming every year for over a decade, and when they would learn that this was my first time at DragonCon they would smile and be all like, “Welcome to DragonCon! Awesome! I really hope you enjoy it!”
It is so easy to meet and talk to new people and make new friends. Everyone will be standing in line together waiting for a panel, and what else are we going to do for the hour or so that we have to wait? We talk. Everyone would introduce themselves and ask where each other was from, and then we would talk about how much we enjoy whatever we are waiting for, or spout trivia about it, or talk about the costume that one of us happens to be wearing. It was great. And it is such an amazing experience to be surrounded by like-minded people. People who geek out over the same things as I do, who share the same passion for it that I do. I know it might sound a bit cliché, but I really felt like I belonged. This was my world and I belong amongst all these crazy awesome people.
DragonCon is more like friends getting together and everyone just having fun.
One of my favorite memories of meeting people was on our first day at DragonCon. We had gone into the Peachtrees Center Food Court and grabbed some lunch. And, of course, the food court is packed. We ended up sitting down with a large mixed group who happened to have two seats open. As at any other moment when Con people arent in motion, we talked. There was a constant stream of people coming and going. People would jump into our conversations, have spin offs of their own, leave the table only to have their vacated seat immediately taken by someone new. It was in this flow of people that I met Larrisa, Allyson, and Carly, (each sporting cosplays: a Wonder Woman, a female Bilbo Baggins, and Agent Phil Coulson) and had an amazing conversation about cosplaying.
Which segways us into this next topic.
The cosplaying at DragonCon is amazing. Word on the street (and from a documentary that the Atlanta PBS television station had playing during the Con) is that the Atlanta DragonCon has become one of THE places for cosplay, and being there, you can most certainly see why. As I mentioned before, as soon as you arrive at the convention there are cosplays everywhere, literally. The costumes are so diverse in subject matter, from superheroes to fandom characters, and even to video game characters. I saw costumes that were large and elaborate (such as an eight foot Optimus Prime, a mid-size puppeted Toothless that had LCD screens for eyes, and an elaborate robot that incorporated a segway), that were professionally made, but there were also smaller, more simplistic cosplays, made by the more amateur cosplayers. But they were all amazing. Being at DragonCon surrounded by cosplays was like being at a menagerie of strange and exotic sights. (Seriously, I think it would be amazing fun to set up a DragonCon Cosplay Bingo League. Just sayin’) On the Saturday of the convention, there is even a DragonCon Parade, where whoever wants to join in to show off their cosplay (or even just be in it) can join. And there are hundreds of people in the Parade. People from the convention, and even from the surrounding area, come out to see the Parade go by. My mom and I watched it from one of the hotel restaurants as we ate breakfast. One of the great things about cosplay at Dragon Con is that, no matter how simply made or how intricate the costume was, no one ever criticized each other. Everyone liked each other’s cosplay. In my discussion with Larrisa, Allyson, and Carly, I found out why.
The reason that everyone at least appreciates each others’ cosplays is because they recognize the time, money, creativity, and dedication to the subject that each person put into their specific cosplay. They all know what it takes to make even the simplest cosplay, and they respect that. They recognize that not everyone is an expert craftsman, and that everyone does it for fun. Its kind of like Cosplay Etiquette to not overly criticize another’s cosplay though suggestions for improvement are generally always welcomed. And everyone is more than willing to take and share their cosplay knowledge. If you think it is crazy when sports fans get together and discuss stats, then you aren’t ready for cosplayers talking shop. It is just as crazy and as technical, but just as fun and interesting. It is so much fun to see people get excited together as they explain their cosplay.
I… uh… I actually “cosplayed” at DragonCon. It wasn’t anything special or amazing, trust me, I’m not that good, nor do I have the time, patients, creativity, and money to make an epic cosplay. I went as one of my favorite characters from the movie The Losers (2010), Jacob Jensen. And all I did was find his iconic t-shirt online (“Go Petunias!”) and got some dog tags from an online website, $40 tops. But, even in my “wimpy” cosplay, I got recognized as being Jensen. And it is a crazy feeling to have your character recognized. Like, you get so giddy and excited because someone recognized you! It is freaking AWESOME!
Things To Do at DragonCon
Oh my Glob! There is so much that you can do at DragonCon that I don’t actually know where to start. Like, I have a list in front of me of all the stuff I want to tell y’all about, but I cant pick one to start with. OK…. Let me grab my D20… … … 5! Being at the panels! (And yes, I did go grab my D20 to come up with that number. You don’t lie about rolling the dice.)
Panels (and Events)!
First off, there are a LOT of panels and events that are available for you to attend. Almost every hour of the day is occupied by at least 10 different panels happening simultaneously.
One of the handiest things that will help you figure out what is going on is the event schedule in the booklet they give you with your badge, and the DragonCon App (#DragonConAdvice). The hard copy will give you what the administration has planned on happening (emphasis on the planned). The DragonCon App will keep you up to date on what is most likely going to actually happen, because practically nothing goes according to exact planning at DragonCon. Panels and events will change times, change locations, and even be cancelled, so keeping up to date on the events you want to attend is key. Some other cool stuff with the DragonCon App is that you can bookmark events, and the app will show you Your Schedule, and even warn you about events overlapping, along with keeping you up to date on news within the Con.
There are so many different types of panels and events to go to. We’ll just go off of my experience to show you the variety. My mom and I went to a Karl Urban panel where he answered questions and told stories about his most epic pranks on the set of Almost Human; a ‘Guests from Middle Earth’ panel where Billy Boyd (Pippin from LOTR Trilogy), Adam Brown (Ori from The Hobbit Trilogy), Jed Brophy (Nori from the LOTR Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy), and Craig Parker (Haldir from the LOTR Trilogy) answered questions, told jokes and funny stories from on set, and in general, acted like fools (it was hilarious); a Ghost Hunters panel; and Fan Fic Theatre, where the moderator, local comedians, audience members, and special guests read some of the worst fanfic that can be found on the internet…. definitely not for children, and I think I might have been slightly scarred from the experience… Anyway!
A general piece of advice for going to panels and events is to get there early (#DragonConAdvice). Like, a half hour or more early, because no matter what time you get there, there will always be some type of line already in front of you. The less time you have for a buffer, the farther back in line you’ll be, and the likelihood of you making it into the panel decreases. More often than not, waiting in line, while annoying, is worth it. You meet people and you’ll probably get into the panel.
Walk of Fame
Going to the Walk of Fame is worth making the trip, even if you dont go for any autographs. I personally went to get Karl Urban’s autograph, which was expensive, but kinda worth it (No, I am not a fanatic Urbanite. Shh! I’m not!). But you get a chance to meet some of the people you never dreamed you would meet. And, like I said, its worth it even if you dont get an autograph. On a whim, I got to talk to Adam Brown (Ori from the Hobbit Trilogy) for a good 10 minutes about Ori being his first movie role. (Adam Brown is such an adorable sweet person, and those ears of Ori’s, are most likely actually just Adam’s ears.) And I actually had a very nice conversation with Jed Brophy about his work in the LOTR trilogy, playing many different roles, and how it compared to working on the Hobbit, where he has a single role as Nori. We even got into a conversation about Nori’s costume design. For many of these people, the stars they are, you find out that they are just as passionate about their role and what they do as you are, and many of them LOVE to talk about it.
The Vendors Floor
Honestly, I don’t know why I call it a floor, because there are at least two floors, and each floor is a HUGE MAZE of vendor stalls spread out over the equivalent of three-ish football fields. Perhaps I should call it the Vendors Arena, its that big. And there are lots of people filling in the aisles, so if you dont do in crowded conditions, you definitely have to prepare yourself before entering. Otherwise, it was pretty cool. If you’ve ever been to a craft fair, its a lot like that. If you are looking for anything of a specific fandom, you are most likely going to find it. If you arent looking for anything specific, you are most likely going to find something you want to buy anyway. There are comic vendors, clothing vendors, leatherworks, sword vendors (you can usually tell which stall has swords because there is usually a crowd), plushies, blankets, memorabilia, authors, games, and so much more. And yes, all the stuff is really cool to see and look at, and buy if you can (I’m rather frugal so I didn’t go overboard, just a lanyard, two tshirts, two books, and a Star Trek Science Officer Badge), but again, its the people that made going to the Vendors floor fun. The first time we went, we met a vendor who was actually from Illinois, not too far away from us, and we had a great conversation about what it is like being at DragonCon. The second time, we met the author Jon Sprunk, whose book I am going to review in the future, and had a nice talk about his work. If you have never talked to an author about their books, you should, because it is so much fun to hear how excited they get about the worlds they have created. If you have ever geeked out over something, then you know how these authors feel, that excited giddiness of sharing your ideas and passions with someone else. Mr. Sprunk was even nice enough to sign the copy of “Blood & Iron” that I bought.
Out of all the things that I have mentioned, and the ridiculously enormous list of things I havent, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. On more than one occasion, I would feel like I was missing out on something because I wouldnt go to a certain event or party that everyone else was going to. But, just because you can do something, or because it seems like everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to. There is no singular “This-Is-DragonCon” experience. Seriously. It is physically impossible to do everything at DragonCon. And that’s ok. So do what you want, go where you want to go, be the person you want to be. Because your DragonCon experience is yours. Own it.
The Moral of This Insane Story
I guess the running theme that has been running through my article, is that the best part of DragonCon, has to be the people. Sure, you can go for the panels, go for the merch, but those dont make DragonCon. The people make DragonCon. And for my first time going, the people made it amazing.
Bonus Advice: Eat the Peaches. Seriously. You are in Georgia. Georgia Peach. A real Georgia Peach…. heavenly… I’m not even kidding.