Dragon*Con is the first genre convention I’ve been to. As such, it absolutely blew me out of the water, both in terms of the sheer size and of the things contained within that mass.
To give you a little reference on size, Dragon*Con packs four hotels in downtown Atlanta: Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton. These hotels are sold out the day they become available. There are between 30,000-40,000 people in those 4 hotels on Saturday (the busiest day of the Con). There are 38 ‘tracks’, or special programming schedules, in addition to a full Main schedule. Each track uses between 1-3 rooms, or a large ballroom for its programming, and many of them were not only packed, but had to turn people away.
There are panels with best-selling authors, movie screenings, a blood-drive and costume contests. There are dozens of dealer booths, organizations, and games. Looking around the lobby of the Marriott, you might see a dragon-man trying to get a waterbottle open, or a belly-dancer, or someone in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. All part of the whole.
I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest. I get overwhelmed in large crowds, because I like my space and I generally don’t care for large amounts of people. Dragon*Con won me over.
Conventions are about fun. The Browncoats’ Shindig Saturday night was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. From being adopted to being taught to dance, there’s just really no bad angle I could possibly put on the night. Complete strangers sitting next to me, putting their head on my shoulder and being a friend before I even know their name? How many places do things like that happen?
Conventions are about charity, new opportunities and absolutely amazing people. Director Mike Dougherty was worried about filling up the Browncoats: Redemption panel. The room held 300. They were turning people away at the door. An impromptu fund-raiser for Kids Need to Read raised $753 in an hour. Sitting by Starbucks, interviewing Mike for the next stage of production, he struck up conversation with a woman across from us, and made a new fan for the movie. (For the record, Denise of Kids Need to Read is one of the single most wonderful people I’ve gotten to work with!)
Conventions are about networking and connections. I sat down in a panel titled Things I Wish Some Pro Had Told Me and started talking to a random guy who sat next to me. Next thing I know, it’s a rousing discussion about finishing manuscripts, marketing and accordion girls with Jason Waltz from Rogue Blades Entertainment (A great small press) and Bill Ward, fiction author and reviewer for Black Gate. They handed me a book to review, we talked about the problems with publishing and just about writing in general.
Conventions are about learning. Whether it was I Sing the Body Horrific with Maberry, Nutman, Westinghouse, Moore, Everson, Dean and Segal discussing the physical versus the emotional in horror; or Writer’s Roundtable with a whole slew of authors (Hartley, Graham, Anders, Sigler, T. McCaffrey, Resnick, Kearney, Anderson, Wolfe, Ringo.), the Con did a wonderful job of bringing in great voices with a lot to say and a lot to teach. Listening to them made me remember how much excitement, passion and sweat goes into writing, and how fortunate we are to be able to do what we love.
Conventions are about the individuals in a crowd, and a crowd of individuals. Riding MARTA back to the hotel one evening, a couple of guys on their way back from the football game made a crack about the ‘geek invasion’. Yeah, sure it’s a bunch of people who like to dress up like their favorite characters and endlessly debate about trivia… Oh wait, I hear football fans doing FAR more of that even than the ‘geeks and nerds’ that were at the convention! Perspective should be a requirement of life. Whether author, cosplayer, writer, film star or fan, the conventions wouldn’t be half as wonderful as they are if one of those people wasn’t there. It’s one of the most diverse, colorful communities I’ve ever seen, and it’s ours.
I can’t wait to go back next year. I want to have a great costume, I want to be there a day earlier and do (staying IN one of the four hotels is a great first step to actually getting ANYTHING done…) way more. I know people there now, I’ll be watching for faces and inside jokes and one-of-a-kind costumes.
My only regret about the weekend was that it wasn’t a week.