DragonCon is often referred to as the largest and wildest convention in the Southeast United States (some say world, but I could not substantiate those claims), and with over seventy thousand attendees swarming the downtown Atlanta, Georgia area this year, it’s not hard to see why. Every business within miles of geek ground zero (a collection of hotels and centers clustered together in the downtown area: The Hyatt, Marriot, Hilton, Westin, and Sheraton.) was involved in the fun, offering pop culture themed sandwiches, comic cocktails, and costume clad waiters and waitresses.
With a sold-out late-night aquarium bash, more cosplay contests that I can count on my fingers, and doors that never close (this convention goes 24 hours from when it begins until it ends); those titles seem to be beyond the realms of debate. The only thing left for me to question is just why hadn’t I heard of this event before? I met people from all over the country, and even other countries! (Shout-out to Namorita from Toronto ((Ontario?)) who I drunkenly tried to converse with while in line to buy more beer!) I live right next door, and somehow, no one had ever mentioned this magical gathering to me before.
Ok, well… That wasn’t the only thing I’ve got left to question, but we’ll pick back up on that thought later on in the review.
Cosplay: One of the things often most memorable, most talked about, and most spread across the internet when the day is done and a convention has run its course is the cosplay. Dragon Con, dear person reading this review, is no slouch in that department. Everywhere you looked, the majority of the people were in costume. In fact, I began to feel out of place for just wearing a button down, and eventually went back to the hotel to don my “just in case” Court of Owls mask and fancy suit. The quality of cosplay at Dragoncon is something I can’t even speak to, and everyone was happy to take pictures, interact with other characters, and talk about the work that they had done. Countless sites have collected photo galleries from the event, and I did as well! That is, until my memory card in my camera became corrupted on the ride home, while I was trying to take a picture of some of the swag I nabbed (You’re all about to learn how Dragoncon 2015 became known as a Series of Unfortunate Events for Sully).
Instead, here are a few pictures gleaned from an official photo shoot Dragoncon put on.
“But, Sully, those are the top tier, the cream of the crop, of course they look fancy! You can’t expect us to believe all the cosplay there looked that good.”
No, I can’t expect you to. Because if I hadn’t gone and someone expected me to, I wouldn’t have believed them.
But you should, because the majority of it was.
If you love cosplay, this is the convention for you and there’s just no debating that. I saw famous characters done at new levels of quality, obscure characters with loving detail that really warmed my heart, and famous characters in obscure variant costumes that I wouldn’t have ever imagined anyone would have put the time into bringing to life (Polaris in the Serval Industries Outfit, you win, Ma’am.). I cannot wait until next year, but I’m definitely going to have to step my game up to keep up with this passionate crowd.
Parade: In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t see the parade. I was there when it was happening, but the throngs of people and my unimpressive stature meant that I couldn’t actually see anything that was happening (unfortunate event). I can tell you that it seemed pretty impressive from the way people were cheering, and that I’ve seen some photos after the fact that made me understand those cheers!
Night at the Aquarium: Dragoncon has associated events as well! And the Night at the Atlanta Aquarium is one of the best. Cash bars, open exhibits, its own cosplay contest, and a DJ playing songs the entire time made this a really memorable part of the convention for me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite what I imagined from the billing, which made it seem like a more adult-ish, club-like event. The lights stayed pretty bright and the music fairly low until the last hour after the costume contest. It was at that point that people finally began to loosen up enough to turn the entire Atlanta Aquarium into a dance-floor. Great fun, but would have been even better if it had lasted another couple of hours.
Guests: “Star Studded” is the phrase that comes to my mind when I try to think about the guest list for this convention. I have, quite literally, a book at home that includes bios on each of them, that guests were handed when they arrived. Note, dear reader, that I did not say pamphlet, I did not say booklet, I did not say novella. I said book. It’s an entire book of names and bios. Every fandom demographic was represented in full force from television to voice actors to comic artists and authors. Even the artists alleys had names that I knew, and they weren’t even considered the main attractions! I got to have some wonderful conversations with creators in the comic and pop art gallery, and I greatly enjoyed the charity art auction.
And panels? Oh my the panels. If there’s anything that should draw someone to Dragoncon more than the cosplay, it should be the panels. If you’re the type of con-goer who enjoys hitting every panel you can, this is the place for you. At any given moment, there were multiple high end panels going on in the countless hotel conference rooms. Now, unfortunately, many of these had lines that stretched around the entire block, but I was told that they were well worth the wait. I myself usually have more fun people-watching and interacting with the crowds, but there is no doubt that the panels were a primary attraction for many.
But while this convention had many attractions, many pros, and I’ll definitely be back next year, there were also some serious cons (one, really) that I need to address.
“Where the hell is X?”: The primary problem that I had with Dragoncon was quite simply the disarray. For the majority of my time spent there, I wandered aimlessly, occasionally stumbling into things I was looking for, and occasionally stumbling into LARP sessions where a Batman villain was decidedly out of place. The program that I was handed did not include a comprehensive map, and the smart-phone application that every information booth insisted that I download had floor plans of the hotels, but no easily accessed information regarding exactly what was situated in each numbered booth. On the ride home, I found out that there was an entire building involved in the festivities that I hadn’t even been aware of! There were whole areas that I had wanted to see that I never found, and this was really discouraging and overwhelming as a first-timer to Dragoncon.
Next year, obviously, I know to plan out everything that I want to see with a self-made map and itinerary well ahead of time. In 2015, however, this did not help me. Dragoncon was sprawling. Just walking on the sidewalk was a form of waiting in line. I want to clarify that while fun, this is not the same convention that you’re likely used to. At least, it wasn’t the same kind of convention I was used to. You will not walk into a large central convention center and weave about stages and booths. It’s not that sort of convention. Dragoncon is a convention in the same sense that Halloween in New Orleans is a convention. When you step foot into downtown Atlanta, you’re already there. There’s no single hotel, room, building, or location the can hold it. It is a non-hostile takeover of the entire area.
And frankly, it’s great. I’d recommend anyone that can, should go. I just want anyone reading this to understand thoroughly what it is so that they don’t make the same mistakes I did in being ill-prepared, especially if they can only make it for one day. Don’t go in blind. Get on the message boards or Facebooks groups and find a conglomeration of like-minded people, or travel with a group yourself! Plan ahead of time so you can decipher where everything is and where you need to be in relation to it! Have fun, be careful, and -most importantly -enjoy the 24 hour party that is Dragoncon.
Maybe I’ll see you there next year!
(Also, I caught the flu. Unfortunate.)