My phone battery is struggling, somehow managing to sink down to six percent in merely a couple of hours. On top of this, I accidentally skipped breakfast to try and catch an extra 30 minutes of sleep and my stomach is punishing me for doing so. In the past three days, I’ve attempted to sleep on a combination of pull out couches, beds, ottomans and the floor. However, I’d still consider today to be one of the best days of my life. My face hurts because I can’t stop smiling and I feel intensely happy for reasons I’m struggling to put into words.
Well, there are two words for it: Dragon Con. This feeling is one I’ve only ever felt there, in the heart of the biggest sci fi and fantasy convention in the Southeast United States. Every Labor Day weekend, thousands of loyal nerds travel to Atlanta to participate in four days of panels, music and gaming. The convention stretches through five of Downtown Atlanta’s biggest hotels, as well as Peachtree Center Food Court and the AmericasMart. According to the convention, this year’s con attracted more than 80,000 people. This doesn’t even begin to cover the number of Atlanta natives who line the streets and join attendees to watch the Dragon Con parade, which closes down multiple roads. This year, the convention also sold streaming memberships that allowed those unable to attend to still be able to view panels and events online.
What exactly happens at a sci-fi and fantasy convention? Everything. However, the heart of Dragon Con is the panels. They feature actors, authors, comicbook artists, or simply fans discussing the things they are passionate about. Typically, attendees are given the opportunity to ask questions to those on the panel. Photo ops and autographs with guests are also a large draw. On top of this, Dragon Con hosts three floors of vendors selling items related to costuming, fandom and original art. Fans also create their own events, including music concerts and screenings of movies. In all, the convention has programming in 36 different tracks, ranging from Space to Urban Fantasy to Puppetry. If you have ever been interested in anything at all, chances are it has a presence at Dragon Con.
I’ve attended four out of the last five Dragon Cons, skipping it my freshman year of college. Even in this short amount of time, I’ve seen the con expand both in attendance and in the caliber of guests it brings in. Without a doubt, this year’s lineup was the biggest and most impressive I’ve seen. It included (but was in no way limited to) the entire cast of the show “Wynonna Earp,” guests from “Arrow” and “Legends of Tomorrow,” movie star John Cusack, almost every companion from Matt Smith’s era of “Doctor Who,” plus Matt Smith himself and the amazing Stan Lee. It also featured a number of scientists, puppeteers, authors, gamers and vendors. This has drawn record breaking crowds to the convention.
This rapid growth in the number of attendees has, as expected at these types of events, led to some growing pains. The con sells one day passes for both Saturday and Sunday (compared to the typical four-day pass). Along with the parade, this has led to extreme crowding on Saturdays. Movement within the Marriott Marquis Hotel, where a majority of the major panels are held, becomes almost impossible. Dragon Con also has a reputation for parties, which have gotten out of hand in the past. This year, the con made headlines after chairs were drunkenly thrown from the tenth floor of the Marriott and injured at least two attendees. One of those hit by the chair claims that the headgear of her Loki cosplay likely saved her life, the only bright side to that report. The growth in attendance has also led to some troubles with line management for bigger events. Dragon Con has traditionally only allowed people to line up an hour before panels. However, lines this year could form two to three hours in advance. Of course, this is nothing in comparison to the 30+ hour lines at San Diego Comic Con.
However, these negatives did not ruin and rarely affected my con experience. I managed to get into all but one of the big panels I wanted to see and was able to get photos with stars I’ve wanted to meet for years. This included Zachary Levi, star of NBC’s 2007 spy/comedy series “Chuck” (which is, quite possibly, the best show to ever air on television) and Disney’s “Tangled.” I will never be over it. I even attended my first showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, though I have no idea how I managed to avoid doing so for this long. Of course, every person’s idea of a great convention is different. My cousin spent all of his time gaming with strangers in one of the many game rooms and was perfectly content to do so. I didn’t see him all weekend.
Dragon Con, ultimately, is a celebration of love. An unapologetic love for the arts, for television shows and video games, for astronomy and science and for intense dedication to building the perfect cosplay. It’s an event that celebrates the passion people can have for art and all the many ways they can express that, allowing people to interact with art and its creators in a completely unique way. It provides an opportunity for people to truly be themselves, even if that means being irrationally excited about a show from 15 years ago that only had one season. Despite any of Dragon Con’s flaws, I feel incredibly lucky to be have been a part of it.