By Phantom Troublemaker
A wise man* once said that Dragon Con is always either a year or a day away. And it certainly feels that way.
We might be a month out from the greatest annual pop culture gathering of all time, but I can feel the scaled behemoth breathing down my neck.
Every year I like to run down the newest Progress Report and provide summaries of the Tracks, Performers, Guests, and maybe a few events that are confirmed.
This post is a way for me as both a performer and as an attendee to start getting my ducks in a row and planning for Con. Obviously I’ve been planning for months now, but once August hits it’s the Mother Brain boss battle of planning. Shit gets real.
I’ll be looking mostly at the things that interest me personally, but there will be plenty of general information, as well. Dragon Con is simply too massive for me to cover every Guest or detail.
As of right now I only have a general sense of my schedule, as it hasn’t been finalized, but I will point out some of the more concrete events that I’ll be hosting or participating in. As ever, nothing at Dragon Con is guaranteed to happen until it already has, and even then there might be doubts.
For now, pull out your Dragon Con Progress Report and follow along!
In case you’re not already familiar with it, Dragon Con takes place across five hotels – Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Marriot Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Sheraton Atlanta, and the Westin Peachtree Plaza - within walking distance of one another in Downtown Atlanta. Because of this, you need to plan your schedule beforehand and allow at least thirty minutes of travel time between events. Also, buy a large water bottle and keep it with you at all times. Most hotels have water coolers scattered about, so you can stay filled up all day and night.
Phantom Tip: If you’re not peeing once an hour you’re getting dehydrated! By the time you realize your lack of hydration is effecting your fun, it takes a long time to recover. And it will suck away at your energy and your ability to focus.
In order to plan your schedule, download the Dragon Con app from iTunes or the Play Store. You’re still going to want to have a hard copy of the trusty Pocket Program, but the app will make your life a whole lot easier, as it contains everything you need to know about Dragon Con and updates constantly throughout the weekend. You’ll even receive alerts if an event you have placed in your personal schedule is changed.
If you’re staying in a host hotel, be sure to find out what channel is carrying Dragon Con TV. This is the network run by a bunch of crazy Dragon Con volunteers. It provides original content, music videos, comedy sketches, short films, and also broadcasts many of the guest panels. It’s the best television channel I’ve ever seen and I look forward to seeing it every year. I just leave my TV tuned to it and on all weekend.
“Track” is the term used in reference to all of the events involved in a particular genre or field of interest. For example, the Trek Track encompasses all things Star Trek. There are panels featuring celebrity guests, genre experts, and fans. There are also parties and events such as the Miss Star Trek Universe Pageant, which involves costuming as various species from the Star Trek universe. So to make things easy, you simply find the Track that represents your area (or areas) of interest and look for that schedule. Typically most or all of the events for one Track will take place in the same hotel and even the same general group of rooms. It all depends on the size of the Track.
Here are all of the Tracks, with notes for the ones that may not be totally self-explanatory:
Alternate History – Exploring themes of time travel, old world culture, Steampunk, and historical “what-ifs?”
American Sci-Fi Classics – Celebrating science fiction movies and TV of the past. One of the most fun and immersive Tracks at Con!
American Sci-Fi Media – Modern and current genre programs and movies.
Animation – Your home base for the creators and voices of your favorite cartoons.
Anime-Manga – All about the art of Japanese sequential storytelling.
Apocalypse Rising – Media dealing with the many different ways that civilization could end, as well as what happens afterward.
BritTrack – This one focuses on the many genre and entertainment contributions of Great Britain.
Costuming – Where the art of character building through costumes, props, and apparel gets its due.
Electronic Frontiers Forums – Internet, law, technology and their impact on society.
Fantasy Literature – Focusing on the written form of the genre.
Filk – Folk music about genre topics.
Film – A track focused on filmmaking featuring screenings and panels.
Horror – Focusing on the gruesome and macabre aspects of genre storytelling! I’m excited to be returning to the Horror Track this year!
Kaleidoscope – Entertainment for kids and young teens.
Main Programming – All of the biggest stuff happens here – contests, performances, the Parade; the stuff that encompasses the whole Con.
Military SciFi Media – Franchises such as Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly tell very specific kinds of stories that utilize military settings to sell genre stories. This Track covers them all!
Paranormal – Start your day with a Tarot reading and then stick around for examinations of the unexplained!
Podcasting and Media – And exploration and showcase of new media.
Puppetry – Every year the Puppetry Track manages to grow and encompass more facets of the entertainment world. Puppetry is everywhere, and these folks are going to share that magic with Dragon Con.
Robotics & Maker – For those that create.
Science – For fans who enjoy a little reality alongside their fantasy and speculation.
Science Fiction Literature – Where we all (or at least most of us) got started – exploring the words that brought us to where the genre is today.
Silk Road - Asian cinema and culture.
Skeptics – A Track for critical thinkers and lovers of science
Space – Still looking to infinity and beyond.
Star Wars – Business has never been better for these folks, huh?
Trek Track – Focusing on the books, comics, movies, and, of course television inspired by the mind of Gene Rodenberry and those that followed in his footsteps.
Urban Fantasy – I’m not sure how to describe this one, but some of the television shows it covers include Lost Girl, Being Human, Supernatural, and my wife’s favorite – The Vampire Diaries. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel join this Track’s list of topics for the first time this year!
Writers – Where writers help writers write.
X Track – It seems like this track focuses on cryptozoology and the paranormal as they relate to conspiracy theory. Sort of. I believe it takes its name from The X-Files, so that should clue you in.
Young Adult Literature – It’s funny how this category has exploded over the last twenty years – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and the like have created a whole new fandom that didn’t exist when I was a Young Adult.
That’s thirty-one Tracks (down from last year’s thirty-seven, which is interesting) covering every major aspect of genre entertainment and some straightforward real-world subjects as well – Electronic Frontiers, Science, Space, and more. Every year Dragon Con looks at its Tracks and figures out where there is a need or not so much of a need anymore. The people in charge are very good at adjusting Dragon Con to its attendees’ interests year after year.
For the full Progress Report, check DragonCon.org or your Local Comic Book Shop. But call first, because none of mine have them. I wonder how long it will be before they stop producing physical copies.
Just a few things worth noting. Some are new, some are not.
You can read all of Dragon Con’s policies here. I felt that these paragraphs were particularly important:
“If you feel you have been harassed please find the nearest Dragon Con volunteer. This year, all 2000 Dragon Con volunteers will be easily recognized by their bright tie dye lanyards. They will direct you to the security operation in the Marriott. If, at any time, you feel that your personal safety or the safety of others is in jeopardy, please contact the Atlanta Police Department in an emergency via 911. The Atlanta Police Department non-emergency phone number for Zone 5 is 404-658-7830.
You may also go directly to the security operation – room L405-L406 in the Marriott, on the Marquis level – to report an incident. We have set up a private screening area, staffed by an Atlanta Police Department officer to counsel individuals who feel they have been harassed. We will work closely with the APD to determine the best course of action.”
BIG NEWS ITEM #1 – This year, for the first time ever, Dragon Con will be offering Thursday-only badges (on site only). This means that you can come down for Dragon Con Wrestling, the Classics Track sing-along, the Bunny Hutch party, and many other events that have now become Nerd Year’s Eve traditions! Count down to midnight with your ol’ pal Phantom Troublemaker in the Marriot!
*From now through August 18th you can buy Saturday only and Sunday only passes for $50 and $45, respectively. Visit the website to do so. NOTE: Saturday only memberships can only be picked up on Saturday, September 2, 2017 in the Capital Ballroom of the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel and Sunday only memberships can only be picked up on Sunday, September 3, 2017 in the same ballroom. Follow the signage directing you to pre-paid memberships or follow the blue tape.
*If you already purchased your passes to Dragon Con, bring that postcard with the barcode on it that they sent you in the mail. It will make your badge pickup much faster. And if you didn’t receive it or lost it, let them know now. They can send you another one. I know this because a few years ago I thought I hadn’t received one and I asked for another and they sent it and then after Con I found the first one.
*You will need your badge to get into the host hotels. Not just into panels and stuff – into the hotels. This policy started in earnest in 2013 and I approve one hundred percent. I invest a lot of time and money in Dragon Con and I don’t need any freeloaders bringing down the tone.
*Once again, some Tracks have moved from their traditional stomping grounds. Be sure to check the Dragon Con app and the Pocket Program – don’t make assumptions about where things are happening and miss out on fun stuff!
*The Tolkien Track and Whedonverse have been merged with other Tracks – Tolkien with the new High Fantasy Track and Whedonverse with Urban Fantasy. While this might be a tough pill to swallow for fans, this sort of thing is a necessary part of Dragon Con’s evolution. The bottom line of the event is to make it the best it can be for the greatest number of people and from what I’ve observed over the years the con gets it right more often than not. And this doesn’t mean the absence of programming for those fields of interest, it just means that they have been scaled tor reflect current fandom.
*The Blood Drive will be moving to the Atlanta Conference Center level of the Hyatt Regency. It will be the only Blood Drive and have plenty of space to take your blood donations.
This is simply my own personal list of Guests that I am super excited about; my highlights, if you will. Just because someone isn’t mentioned here doesn’t mean I’m not stoked they’re at Con. I just can’t write about everyone. This list is nowhere near compete. The website is the most current resource for Guest Announcements. Chances are even more will be announced between now and Con.
Linda Ballantyne – While I am not personally a fan of Sailor Moon, you can’t very well host a game show featuring a character named Popeye the Sailor Moon without acknowledging that the voice of Sailor Moon will be at Dragon Con. Maybe we can talk her into appearing on the Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show (probably not).
Julie Benz – She’s made a heck of a mark in the genre with some of the most memorable – and powerful – characters. I’ve still got a Darla figure I’d like to have her sign, but my schedule is looking pretty packed this year. I’m not sure I’ll even make it to the Hall of Fame.
Paul Blackthorne – He’ll always be Harry Dresden to me, but seeing him on any show is a good thing. I’m glad he’s got an ongoing role on Arrow as Quentin Lance.
Jim Butcher – Someday I’ll go back and get caught up. I was deep into the Dresden Files and had just started the Codex Alera when our house got flooded in 2009. Unfortunately most of my Butcher books were in a stack on the floor, waiting to be read or shelved. I haven’t replaced them as of yet, but I absolutely loved both series.
Charisma Carpenter – One of the most delightful con guests I’ve ever met, and always fun to see when she appears on television or in films. Her character Cordelia Chase from Buffy and Angel has one of my favorite arcs in genre entertainment.
Chiodo Brothers – The creators behind monsters seen in Ernest Scared Stupid, Critters, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space!
Larry Elmore – This man’s work shaped my vision of what fantasy worlds looked like when I was young. To this day I consider him the gold standard of fantasy art.
Mike Faber – Proprietor of the ESO Network, Faber’s greatest accomplishment remains bringing Phantom Troublemaker into the world of podcasting and geek entertainment.
Nathan Fillion – Best known as Gary, the asshole realtor that gets eaten by Drew Barrymore in the first season of Santa Clarita Diet. I think he’s made a few other appearances, as well. Appearing Friday only.
Gil Gerard – Buck Rogers!
Karen Gillan – I met her very, very briefly at Wizard World a few years ago. At the time I was a fan because of Amy Pond and had not yet seen her fantastic performances as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy or as Kaylie in Oculus. I think she’s great. Appearing Saturday and Sunday only.
Claudia Gray – Writer of lots of young adult genre novels, but also the recent Star Wars: Bloodlines, and excellent Leia-centric story.
Sean Gunn – Usually the most delightful part of any James Gunn movie!
Larry Hama – As of right now I am once again scheduled to be on a panel with Larry Hama!. He is the father of GI Joe, the creator of one of the mythologies that shaped my fandom. Also of note – he created a character called Obnoxio the Clown. Remember that.
Lena Headey – For the most part I have moved past having too many celebrity crushes, but Lena Headey is a force of nature, man. From Sarah Conner to Ma-Ma in Dredd to Cersei Lannister, she plays some ultimate badass characters. Appearing Sunday and Monday only.
Stan Lee – A true American icon.
Jim Mahfood – A tremendous artist and illustrator. Google his work and you’ll see some awesome stuff.
Don R. Maitz – I’ll be honest – I had never heard this name until just now. But this is the man that created the Captain Morgan character. I have a new hero.
Nick Maley – This man has created effects and makeup for a huge number of genre films, including Lifeforce, Flash Gordon, Superman, and Star Wars.
Charles Martinet – THE VOICE OF MARIO.
Gates McFadden – Best known as Doctor Beverly Crusher on The Next Generation, she also worked on a number of Jim Henson productions. I’m hoping to see her appear in some capacity with the Puppetry Track.
Dina Meyer – I first became a fan after seeing her as Dizzy in Starship Troopers, but my fandom was cemented when she took on the role of Barbara Gordon for the short-lived Birds of Prey television series (which I think would be a huge hit if it launched now).
Bobby Nash – Award-winning author Bobby Nash is perhaps best known for recently hitting the Needless Trifecta on the Needless Things Podcast. Congratulations, Bobby!
Jimmy Palmiotti – A fantastic comic book writer. When he and his wife, Amanda, team up, greatness inevitably ensues.
Billie Piper – She’s come a long way since playing Rose on Doctor Who. With each successive role Piper seems to develop more depth as an actor. I always look forward to seeing what she will do next.
Michael Rooker – Always awesome, every time.
Michael Rosenbaum – I can’t just repeat the above comment, so instead I’ll say, “Awesome every time, always”.
Matt Smith – I haven’t had an opportunity to meet the Eleventh Doctor yet, so I’m excited to add his signature to my toy collection. I’m going to have to make time for him. Appearing Saturday and Sunday only.
Kevin Sorbo – I’ve always liked Sorbo because he just has a great presence, but thanks to the wonderful channel Heroes & Icons I’ve been able to rediscover Hercules and have Sorbo fever more than ever before!
Karl Urban – He’s been great as Bones and other characters, but to me he’s always going to be Joe Dredd.
Casper Van Dien – Truly a manly man of the 90s and beyond, Van Dien has carved out a memorable career in genre entertainment.
Timothy Zahn – Created my favorite Star Wars stories.
Crüxshadows – A staple of Dragon Con, I think there’d be a riot if they didn’t show up. Their shows are truly a spectacle to behold and are a cornerstone of the proper Con experience.
Frenchy and the Punk – Do yourself a favor and catch one of their performances over the weekend. They’re one of the most fun acts I’ve seen at Dragon Con, whether in a ballroom or on one of the concourses.
Aurelio Voltaire – It’s ridiculous, but I still haven’t seen him perform.
For the full list of guests and performers, go to DragonCon.org.
Obviously you can’t just base an event of this magnitude on guests. They’re important and all, but there has to be stuff going on. Dragon Con has more stuff going on than you would be able to do in a month, let alone in five days. Here’s just a little sample of the scheduled events (once again – the stuff I care about):
8-Bit Ball – DJ Spider is performing and she’s the best DJ I have ever danced to. Check out her mixes here.
16th Annual Dragon Con Parade – If you’ve never seen the parade, you must see the parade. There’s just nothing else like it. No Hollywood movie can compare to the spectacle of hundreds of costumed nerds/dorks/geeks/superheroes/knights/wizards/ zombies/paranormal investigators/Hobbits/spacemen/etc. marching through downtown Atlanta. It’s breathtaking.
Last year’s parade blocked me from getting to the Westin for a Horror Track panel, so be aware that if you’re not planning on watching the parade, it can still impact your plans.
Unless you’re hungover in your room. Which is how I used to do Saturdays.
The Armory – Not really an event, but a museum-style display of weaponry, both historical and fictional. This is something unique to Dragon Con and I highly recommend you make some time to check it out.
Charity Auction – This year Dragon Con will be hosting an auction to benefit the Special Olympics.
The Late Night Puppet Slam – This is the greatest and best thing at Dragon Con that isn’t wrestling or a game show hosted by me. I cannot possibly express to you how strongly I feel you should attend. They should build a Bob and Carl amphitheater behind the Hyatt just so that everybody at Dragon Con can attend the Puppet Slam.
The Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show – Miss Lady Flex, Phantom Troublemaker, Rad Ranger, and Popeye the Sailor Moon return with the dirtiest, filthiest, most fun available at Dragon Con! 18+ only – IDs will be checked at the door!
DC FRAKKIN’ W! – Once again, your ol’ pal Phantom Troublemaker and the insane athletes of DCW kick off Dragon Con with the greatest wrestling show of the year! Come see high-caliber competitors from all over the world give their all to entertain the Dragon Con masses!
That’s it, folks. I strongly encourage you to visit DragonCon.org, download the app, and go listen to all of the Earth Station One Dragon Con Reports for the best information available.
Stay tuned to Needless Things throughout this month and beyond as we focus our coverage on all things Dragon Con!
And of course, the Needless Things Podcast will start the Dragon Connery with this Friday’s episode, when I talk to Classics Track head honchoes, Joe and Gary!
Be sure to join the Needless Things Podcast Facebook Group to get in on the fun and to find out when this year’s Needless Things Meet-Up will occur! If at all! Because I am super busy!
*writer Clay Gilbert as told to me by Horror Track Director Derek Tatum