I’ve been to a number of conventions, anime conventions, small SciFi cons, a gaming con or two and last year I went to Montreal Comicon. This was my first Dragon*Con and it really was unlike any other I’ve ever been to. It had its similarities, as all fan conventions do, but it was also quite different. Everyone knows it’s huge, filling five downtown Atlanta hotels to the brim, pretty much every other hotel in walking range and there are attendees scattered all over the city, from those who live in the area or stay with friends, to those who choose to stay in hotels farther away but accessible via the MARTA system. In 2012 52k people came to the con and this year, I was told by a staffer that they expected 60-65k. It sure felt like they hit that number on Saturday.
In terms of sheer size, it’s one of the biggest fan conventions in the world. I won’t lie, I’m not fond of large crowds. I don’t like going to concerts unless they are classical in nature, I don’t go to crowded bars, I avoid large parties, hate sporting events and try to stay home on Black Friday. And yet I went to Dragon*Con and loved it. I’m hoping to go back again next year, and someday want to be there as an author on a panel. (squee!) So how can someone so against crowds love this event? Well, I avoid the big stuff for the most part, and stick to the smaller panels. Not because I’m trying to avoid crowds, but because this con is so big that it has a ton of panels and many of them are pretty specific and niche. I spent most of my time in these smaller panels because these were the things that interested me the most, and it was like being at a small convention until you went outside to swim upstream like a spawning salmon to your next panel. We went to a few big ones, cast panels for the Walking Dead and BSG, which were in big ballrooms and had hour long lines. And there are plenty of those to be had. What you hear about Dragon*Con is how big it is, how crazy the costumes are, that there’s a big parade and huge parties every night. This is all true, but there’s a softer, quieter side to the con that few talk about. Not because it’s bad, but because it IS quiet and no one thinks that’s exciting. Unless, like a lot of us geeky people, you’re an introvert. You could easily spend the con going from one giant crowd of fans to another, hit the big dances and parties and have a blast if that’s your thing.
If it’s not, you can have just as much fun on the softer side and never run out of things to do. This is the first convention I’ve been to that had me booked almost all day in one panel after another. We would get up at 7:30, get breakfast at the food court and be in the first set of panels for the day at 10am and not stop until the last panel at 10pm. I went to panels like ‘Magic and Mayhem: Witches in Urban Fantasy’, ‘Space Opera Then, Military SciFi Now’, ‘Down and Dirty Marketing for Authors’ and ‘Dragon Sex!’. Yes, Dragon Sex!. Let me explain that or this is going to turn into a very different blog. Dragon Sex! is a panel about the dragons of Pern from Anne McCaffrey’s best selling series. Apparently this panel started many years ago to answer questions for authors of fan fiction who submitted their work to fanzines. Yeah, remember those? While fanzines didn’t last, this panel did. You can ask anything you want about dragons mating and how their riders are affected and I mean anything. There was a discussion on green riders and who they had sex with, if you know what I mean. It’s held on Saturday night at 10pm and was the single funniest and most entertaining panel we saw.
And that’s one of the things that makes Dragon*Con so different from the other cons I’ve been to. It’s run by fans and doesn’t have corporate sponsors, unlike all the other big ones. Nothing against the sponsored cons, those are great too, but that does change the atmosphere a bit. The fans who run this shindig get to pick what panels to present, who’s on them and what to talk about. There are no outside sponsors to think about, no need to get approval or worry about offending the sponsors, or the sponsors customers. And Dragon*Con doesn’t court guests, guests court Dragon*Con. If you are famous in the genre as an author, actor, artist etc, you apply to be a guest. Dragon*Con wants guests who want to be there, not people who have to be there. (Apparently, George R.R. Martin will never attend because he hates it.) And the guests who come are also fans. I’ve never seen so many ‘guests’ at a con in all my life, from those who are known by a few fans to the very recognizable, they are all there. Again, without corporate sponsorship, Dragon*Con can have everyone and anyone who wants to be there, and a lot of people want to be there.
If you have ever thought of going, but are put off by the con’s size, give it another look. Yes, Saturday is a crush, but only in the halls, and 90% of the people there are awesome. My husband and I sat next to a random con goer for lunch in the food court, ended up chatting with him the whole meal, as with any other con you’ve ever been to. It’s a giant club and everyone there is into what you are on some level. But be warned, getting a hotel can be hard..