Monday, September 5, 2016

Dragoncon Impressions

Dragoncon Cosplay Parade:
 Barf from Spaceballs, Cornelius and Zira from Planet of the Apes, and a Dune procession in the back

Just a few weeks after Worldcon in Kansas City (see my reports here and here), my friend Dominik invited me to join him last Saturday for a day trip from Chattanooga to Atlanta to attend Dragoncon.  How lucky can one nerd be?

While I only attended one day and didn't get the full Dragoncon experience, here are some of my impressions.

  • I had heard about some scandals surrounding Dragoncon.  One of the co-founders was charged with child molestation, although he is no longer profiting from the convention.  Speaking of profit, one of the most controversial aspects of Dragoncon is that it is run by a for profit corporation and most of the work of running the convention is done by unpaid volunteers.  The vast majority of other SF/F conventions are run by non-profits.  It also seems that Dragoncon was big enough to push out some of the smaller cons in the past, although this situation has improved recently.  With the bustle of the beginning of my semester, I didn't have a lot of time to think much about these scandals.  I'm not sure if these scandals would have kept me from checking out the con.  Maybe they should keep me away in the future.  I'm not sure.
  • Unlike most of the cons I attend (like my friendly hometown Chattacon), Dragoncon is big.  Really big.  They had 70, 000 people attending last year.  I'll bet there were even more this year.  You might wonder whether four hotels and several square blocks of downtown Atlanta can handle that many people.  They can't.  I don't mind crowds necessarily, but it was often hard to walk down the street between the hotels.  Getting lunch was a chore.  The vendors' area was nearly impassable.  Much like the Atlanta metro area itself, Dragoncon grew far too big too fast and lacks the proper infrastructure for its population.
  • So, should you attend Dragoncon?  It depends on what you think about the scandals and the crowds.  It also depends on what you're looking for in a con.  If you don't mind the crowds and you're looking for a comicon-type experience (i.e., big, party atmosphere that's focused more on a younger crowd interested in cosplay, video games, movies, comics, and TV), then you might like it (although I heard that the actual comic programming is less than it used to be).  If you're looking for something more focused on SF/F/horror literature with small friendly panels, then this is not the con for you (there is some literature programming, but not much).
  • If you like cosplay at all, you owe it to yourself to check out the cosplay parade.  If you live in the Atlanta area or can easily visit, it would be worth attending just for the parade, which is a public event that doesn't require standing in line for one to two hours to buy a badge.  It was my favorite part of the experience.
  • I did attend two panels: one with Jim Butcher (of Dresden Files fame) and 80's Action Heroes versus 80's Wrestlers (e.g., Junkyard Dog vs. Snake Plissken, Macho Man vs. B. A. Baracus, etc.).
  • The aforementioned party atmosphere would probably be better enjoyed if you were staying at one of the conference hotels, although I did find it partly exhilarating and partly exhausting during my day there.  I heard that Dragoncon has a reputation for being Mardi Gras for nerds, or more properly, not just for nerds.  It's sometimes hard to tell whether a person is a true member of the tribe of geekdom or not, but I'm pretty sure a non-zero percentage of Dragoncon attendees are people whose only connection to fandom is that they liked a superhero movie once or that they just like a good party.  I admit I feel a bit offended by the fact that the rest of us suffered to be part of fandom, especially if we're old enough that we were nerds before it was cool!
  • The previous point brings up an issue that was discussed at a panel on alienation in SF at Worldcon: is the widening of fandom from the corners of superhero media, video games, anime, etc. a good thing?  On one hand, it does seem that Dragoncon and smaller comicon-type cons like Con-Nooga draw audiences that tend to skew younger and more diverse, which is definitely a good thing.  On the other hand, there is some worry that the shiny new comicon-type events will drown out smaller, less flashy cons with more attention to literature, such that there will be few places where serious discussions of SF/F literature can take place (if all cons had the paltry literature programming of Dragoncon that would be a travesty for fandom).  If you've read much of this blog, it's not shock that I'm a fan of the written SF/F word.  I'm not big into video games or superhero movies.  I think The Big Bang Theory is a terrible show. All of this can occasionally make me feel out of place at an event like Dragoncon.  I'm not sure what to think about all this.
  • Even the dealers' areas are a bit different.  The Dragoncon vendors' area was insanely crowded, so leisurely shopping was nearly impossible.  One odd observation: the geeky t-shirts are different.  At most cons you find a wide arrangement of funny t-shirts. At Dragoncon, the t-shirt vendors seemed to think, "Hey, you nerds like shirts with just the name/picture of your favorite superhero or TV show with nothing funny, right?"  After much searching, I did eventually find an amusing shirt with a riff on Dune's litany against fear: "I will not brew decaf.  Decaf is the mind-killer..."  And there was a Tromaville booth (photo below).  We even met Lloyd Kaufman, director of many, many Tromaville movies.
  • As I've discussed before, the whole idea of SF/F fandom is that it is an inclusive place for people who feel excluded elsewhere.   If I'm right about that, maybe fandom is big enough to include both Dragoncon and Worldcon.  I guess it already does.  Fandom is many things to many fans.  While cons like Worldcon and Chattacon will never be as big as Dragoncon, I can confirm from my own experience that they're still going strong.  There's plenty of room under the tent of fandom.
Toxie at the Tromaville booth


  1. I think there's what is called the "Classic Sci-Fi Literature" track for those book things. Unfortunately, the tracks at D*C are very, very separate. Some of the track "directors" are even hostile to each other and some are cooperative. It's an odd model, imo.

    1. That is weird. There was a panel on the classic SF track that I wanted to go to, but I missed it while I was having dinner. Maybe next time. The panel on 80's Action Heroes was, I think, on the classic American SF track, which includes movies and other stuff. They had a panel on Planet of the Apes I wanted to see, but it was at lunch time right after the parade. (Part of the crowding issue is that meals take a very long time).

  2. Did you ever go to Phoenix comicon? I can't remember. It is also huge, but still has both pop culture and literature.

    1. For some reason I never made it to that one. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was a bad weekend for me. Maybe I will make it someday (although I'd probably rather come for Tucson, but not this year, since I guess GRRM is there and it's sold out, right?).

    2. Yes. TusCon has a 500 member cap and it's all sold out this year. No at-door registration either.

  3. I didn't mention the Dragon Awards. I wasn't there for the ceremony and I didn't get around to voting for them, which I may do next year. This article is a pretty thorough treatment of the issue: