My first Dragon Con was back in back in 2006. That makes me, according to some, a veteran attendee, but I still think you may as well keep calling yourself a newbie until well past your 15th Dragon Con.
The reasoning for that is simple- A veteran in many other endeavors is sometimes defined as someone who has been there and back enough times to have done and seen it (almost) all. Given the size of the convention, as well as the growth rate of the convention over the last six years, it’s impossible to really come close to doing that in six, seven, or even ten Dragon Cons.
I’m approaching my 9th year as an attendee, and there are still many things at con that I’ve never seen, never been a part of, and could not properly explain to you without checking a reference or two in the program guide. Hell, If everything goes off con weekend without a hitch, this will be the first time my wife and I can go see the Puppet Slam together.
But, you know what? Part of the fun of Dragon Con is in coming back year after year, seeing the old favorites, hanging out with good friends both old and new, and giving yourself the time to explore what the convention has to offer you that may have been missed by you the last time or two.
Not only will you find new favorites to come back to in later years, but you might find yourself collecting some interesting memories; the things that will define for you what is your Dragon Con. Many of them will be of the big things, the bigger celebrity moments, the grandeur of the parade, the spectacle that is the pageantry of the Dragon Con cosplayers, and the events put on at the convention. Some of them will be the (seemingly on the surface of it) smaller things though.
Back in 2006, one of the panels I wanted to hit was Robert Asprin and Phil Foglio talking about working on the graphic novel adaptations of Asprin’s Myth series. During the panel, Asprin had mentioned the last year’s worth of goings on down in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.
A few hours later (at least I think it was the same day) I was wandering around exploring while my wife was in a panel that was a zero interest topic for me. I found myself stuck in a crowd that had seemingly stopped moving for some reason. I turned around and found Robert Asprin standing there, patiently trying to make his way to wherever he was going.
I was a big fan. I loved the Myth series and I loved the Phule's Company series. Interestingly (Weirdly?) the first thing out of my mouth was asking him about New Orleans. I’d been down that way, the exact area he mentioned in the panel, a few years earlier to help a friend move back to Florida for a new job. As a thank you for those of us who came up to help him move, he and his friends took us out for a day on the town. I told him where I’d been and how nice I thought the area was, and we ended up spending five or six minutes chatting about New Orleans before everything started moving again. Never talked about his books, but it was actually fun chatting with him, albeit briefly, about something that seemed as dear to him in that conversation as New Orleans did.
We had to skip 2007 due to the birth of our son a few months ahead of con, but that only made 2008 more fun. Seeing Dragon Con in the eyes of a child is amazing. The colors, the sounds, the crazy sights to see; they were all shiny objects to him. He looked at everything with absolute awe, and he hogged a lot of attention once he, rather adamantly, indicated that he wanted a stuffed Cthulhu and clutched it in his stroller like his favorite toy ever. The kids would become a big part of some of our strongest Dragon Con memories over the last few years.
There was the time that our son walked up to a movie perfect, fully functional remote controlled R2 unit and excitedly asking it if it would come home with us since R2 was mommy’s favorite robot. Another year our daughter got dizzily excited because she met Tinkerbell. She talked about that for most of the next year.
Our son, still pretty young, met what he referred to as “my dinosaur” for a solid year afterwards. It was a costumer and her boyfriend who had created a beautiful raptor outfit, and they played along with him perfectly as he walked cautiously up to her and got to touch the jaw of a “dinosaur.” There was seeing our daughter following in mommy and grandma’s footsteps by becoming a Pern fanatic; even if only just for the “pretty” dragons right now.
Then there was the year that they both met the actual, original Fraggles and the puppeteers who voiced them before camping out on the puppetry track. They spent so much time there- falling so much in love with both the puppets and the puppeteers -that my wife ended up volunteering the next year to work on the track.
Both kids have become Voltaire fans in large part due to Brains, Spooky Songs for Creepy Kids, Raised by Bats, and especially The Legend of Candy Claws. So, of course, there’s the annual visit to his merch table where he patiently lets two small children talk over each other about their favorite Voltaire songs and candy corn toothed bats.
And so on and so on.
Watching the kids and seeing Dragon Con through their eyes has definitely become a big part of our Dragon Con. But that’s not to say we don’t keep up with the other end of things. We’re fortunate to have at least one geek grandma in the family and cousins in the greater Atlanta area that are willing to play babysitter on a few evenings provided they get a membership to come and play at Dragon Con when not sitting with their younger cousins.
A lot of that time for my wife and I involves friends we only get to see at con. Some of it is also stuff just for us. We finally both got to see Voltaire’s annual Dragon Con performance together and dance with each other during it last year. We’ve met and gotten to have long chats, or even lunch or dinner, with artists and creators we grew up enjoying the work of.
That’s an interesting thing about Dragon Con by the way. There’s an unwritten fan etiquette that longtime attendees learn and pass on to newer ones. The celebrities are part of the convention, not merely a feature of it. They’re fans too, and they should be treated just like any other fans when they’re just looking to get their geek on with the rest of us.
Dragon Con isn’t like some of the other larger cons where celebrities show up for panels before being taken away by handlers and locked in a room for a never ending series of interviews and promotional work. When many of them are done with their commitments, especially the ones who’ve had a few Dragon Cons under their belt, they turn into geeky fans themselves and head out to check out the con. The person you’re standing in a line with on a Saturday evening around con can sometimes turn out to be the person you were standing in a line to see that Saturday morning. Just treat them like any other fan at con and you might end up having fun with them the same as with any other fan. Seriously, if you’ve never been to Dragon Con, you might be surprised by how many “I was with ‘X’ at Dragon Con for this whole event!” stories are true.
Most of the really cool memories you’ll get at Dragon Con aren’t going to be celebrity based though. Some of our favorites are of making new friends or just hanging out and enjoying the con with old friends. These days, we’ve got an entirely new facet of that last bit as well.
I was involved with some stuff back in 2013 that got the attention of some people behind the scenes at Dragon Con, and that led to my meeting some of them at that year’s con. A few of us stayed in touch after con and I was asked by one of them if I wanted to be a volunteer. I thought about it for a while and decided that, yeah, it would be cool to actually be able to finally do something to give back to the convention that I loved so much and that had given me and my family so much joy in previous years. So in 2014 my wife and I both ended up doing Dragon Con as first time volunteers.
That’s opened up an entirely different Dragon Con experience for us. It’s also created a much larger extended convention family that we get to see and hang with each year. Yeah, there’s lots of work to do, but it’s damned sure fun work, and we know we’re walking in the door on Day #1 (or even Day -1 and Counting) to see good friends again. Even better, now, through Needless Things, I have an entire new set of con friends and family to look forward to meeting (or actually meeting meeting) for the first time this year.
You may have started noticing a trend here by the way. The things I keep highlighting as the things that I consider “My Dragon Con” tend to revolve around the people; and more so the other fans than the bigger celebrities unless the celebrities are just being fans themselves at the time. There’s a reason for that.
I love the big show things that Dragon Con brings to the table as much as anyone else. I love the big celebrities they bring, the awesome panels they put on, and the wonderfully enjoyable events they host. The people behind Dragon Con bust their butts year after year to bring the Dragon Con attendees the best fan convention that they’re going to find. Dragon Con is after all for and about the fans.
That’s something that’s true in more ways than one though. After my first couple of Dragon Cons, I was hyping the big “A-Ticket” attractions to friends I wanted to talk into coming. That is after all, supposedly, what makes a big con an attractive weekend getaway. Admittedly, it does help. But, after I had a few Dragon Cons under my belt, these things started becoming the less important component of why the convention was something I want others to come and experience for themselves.
Let’s be honest here, you can find most of that at any large convention. Lots of big shows advertise the cast of ‘X’ hot movie or television show. Most big conventions do panels, contests, and maybe even a costume ball or two. Some large conventions even try to snag some of the fan favorite performers for late-night concerts. You can find that at other conventions all over the world.
But Dragon Con is about the fans, and one of the meanings in that is that Dragon Con, that spirit of it that makes it so enjoyable, is the fans. You can find a lot of the big attractions that Dragon Con might offer in any given year at other cons, but it’s not Dragon Con. It’s not the Dragon Con family of fans, it’s not that Dragon Con energy and vibe, and it’s somehow not quite as much fun as it would be at Dragon Con.
You’ll see people say on various social media that so and so convention is great and such and such genre event was a blast, but that Dragon Con is home; that Dragon Con is where their family is at. They mean that. From the first member to walk through the hotel doors Friday morning, to the volunteers, to even some of the guests. and all the way to the top of the food chain behind the scenes, the mindset at Dragon Con is that this is our giant, geeky, happy family. That mindset that everyone brings to the table ends up making everything you find at Dragon Con more fun than it could possibly be anywhere else.
At the end of the day, after this many Dragon Cons, for me, for my family, it’s the people that make Dragon Con. For me, my Dragon Con is about my extended family at Dragon Con. We go for them, because we know that we’re going to have more fun than should be legally allowed once we’re all back together, and we’re going to do it at a show where the people behind the scenes will be busting their backsides to make sure that the biggest fan event of its kind is the most fun that their extended family is going to have that year.
To those of you in the family that are coming this year, see you next week. To those who have never been despite the poking and prodding of friends, come one day sooner rather than later and join the family
Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had an almost lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as horror hosting. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.