Dragon*Con 2005, Atlanta, GA
Diana, WithKing, MaceVindaloo, BunchBox, Susu, Runt, Ed, VagBoy, Moria, Exar
Why is this con held during Labor Day? Reportedly, it's the time when a large con can get a great deal from the hotels. It's reportedly a low-occupancy weekend for hotels. Huh, didn't know that!
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Getting In
We did have some difficulty figuring out where and how to register for stuff. The Dragon*Con offices closed before the con, and all inquiries had to be addressed on-site. Trying to find where one was going with all the lines that had already started to form, etc. was confusing. But the volunteers did seem to know what was what, and we only got lost twice before we found where we were supposed to go — to the Hilton, the newly added hotel to the Dragon*Con venue list. The lines were well organized, but we didn't know that. We got on the wrong line, but the nice people manning the pre-registration booths let us cut in line to pick up our pre-paid passes, and the people who had been in line (not having waited for hours like at other cons ...) were likewise very nice about our faux pas.
There were no bags of things, but there were tables of programs, leaflets, coupons, etc. And some promos like teaser chapters to the new Robert Jordan books, invitations to shindigs, postcards, etc. Take as many as you want, they don't mind!
The entrance to the registration hall was right next to Trader Vic's — wow! We thought this place had gone defunct! This juxtaposition with a fantasy convention seemed appropriate. We were hungry enough to imbibe, but alas, it was 4pm and closed, so we went back to the Marriott Marquis to pick up some roast beef sandwiches at Atrium Express, a sort of deli-snack place. The sandwiches were good; and we got some ice cream bars, too. We hadn't eaten since leaving our respective cities and villages this morning to voyage to this hot, humid place and the food made us all feel better.
We did notice that our hotel was a bit ... weird. It is touted as an architectural marvel of the southeast (Ray Bradbury apparently stated that it was "science fictiony," but I'm paraphrasing here), but it just seemed weird. It was okay, but some things didn't seem to work. Not that anything was broken, but just ... didn't work. And since the hotel was designed somewhat symmetrically, it was possible (especially if one is dyslexic or simply inattentive) to get lost while absolutely certain one knew where one was! But the beds and rooms were comfortable and squeaky clean and the conference hallway allocations were spacious. So even with a crowd wandering about, you could see and be seen and get to where you wanted to go.
The events were divided between the Marriott Marquis (for exhibitions, dealer rooms, autographs, smaller session rooms, fan tables), the Hyatt Regency (performances, competitions, sessions, panels, and the booze — more on this later), and the Hilton (Star Wars stuff, registration). The Marriott and Hyatt were connected to the Peachtree Center mall via skywalk tunnels (we called them "habitrails," after the rodent cage connecting tubes so popular in the 1970s and 80s). We are Star Wars nuts ... you know this. But we never made it to the Hilton other than to register and have dinner at Trader Vic's. Why? It had to do with the Atlanta weather and our costumes.
COSPLAY: Something for Every Body
We'd decided to participate in cosplay this time, rather than settling for being spectators. But we are older and wiser and have watched many before us. We decided collectively that we did not want to swelter in the Georgia heat and humidity, that some of our costumes would have limited visibility and mobility, and thus we did not want to take stairs or have to cross streets. We also decided to make our costumes out of perishable and lighter materials, in the sense that we dared not get wet or wind-blown. So, we decided to splurge on an in-site hotel, so we didn't have to transport ourselves to the con locations.
For those of us who were there, one of us was the Witch King of Angmar, from Lord of the Rings. Another was Dark Lord Exar Kun, of The Sith Wars Star Wars comic series. One was a Dawn contestant. One was a random corseted freak, we had Hermione and Ron from the Potterverse, another was a Steel Angel, and a baby Teletubby. None of us had the right physiques or features, but we figured the costume was the thing, regardless of the body within! Or other physical deterrents like glasses or a wonky knee or a few more pounds than we'd intended to carry! What we wished we could have been was a Browncoat seemed simpler and way more fashionable for 2005.
It was gratifying to have people ask about the construction of our costumes, ask for photos, ask for poses (one ROTK Frodo was adamant about being beaten up by Merry and Pippin and by Nazgul of many sorts; we guess this is a good outlet for your own favorite fantasy psychosis!). It did slow our progress down as we attempted to walk as a group across the floor. It's best to go where you want to and do as you wish in smaller groups or on your own, then meet up at a certain time and place later. Otherwise the whole group gets bogged down, and as "cross-genre" as we were, one could not predict when and where it might happen. Also, if a popular character stops for photos, others who see him or her will run over to take pictures, too. Be gracious, and be happy! But if you planned to see the sites, wearing a cool costume is not really the way to do it. Plan to not wear the costumes sometimes.
Cosplayers do what they do, it seems, for a variety of reasons: professional interest, fandom, or just plain exhibitionism, maybe! We met Legolases who specialize in making prop archery equipment, hobbyists who nearly truly believe they were Medieval smiths who were somehow time-warped to this time and place, wedding dress designers and manufacturers, models and actors. We also met people who just thought it was really cool to dress up and meet others who understood their obsessions and craftsmanship and cleverness.
Cosplay certainly can be a good social thing. Wearing a costume announces your interest or hobby; it certainly provides a oeuvre for conversation. Be positive: "Wow, that is a BEAUTIFUL chainmaille shirt, did you make it? Is it really as heavy as it looks?" You're more likely to get good answers if you have good questions and you ask nicely and enthusiastically. Many buy their costumes, whole or in part of course, but the biggest respect seemed to be reserved for those who make and wear their own. Like other cons, Dragon*Con holds competitions that display talent, concept, craft. There is even a competition for a Dawn (the rather fussy goddess) look-alike. The winner gets $1000; every competitor gets a prize, too, all courtesy of Joseph Michael Lisner, the creator of the goddess. Great promotion! And the costumes were really amazing. Our personal favorite won "best armor" for "Peacock Dawn."
Of course, the sexier you dress and the sexier and more confident you are, the more people will likely want to meet you. Or at least take your picture ... it's a chance to be someone you normally aren't, and that's a real core appeal of cosplay. There were some really scary fat people dressed to show off their skin, of course, but they were cool to see and talk to, usually. And their costumes and makeup were right-wicked, too. Then again, the most-requested costume among us was the fully-clad Witch King, who was ominous enough to cause small children to clutch their parents and cry. Really! Was awesome!
Another thing about cosplay — props matter! What's Gimli without his axe? The Witch King without his morningstar? A Jedi or a Sith without a lightsabre? Legolas without his bow? A Browncoat without his anachronistic Wyatt Earp style revolver? Frodo without the ring? Dawn without her ... mojo?
There was the parade on Saturday morning, but we have to admit ... we all overslept and missed all but the tail end of it! Next time, we will actually set the alarms and maybe not stay up till the deep hours the night before, preparing our costumes ... then not make it to the planned event! (Note, you have to register in advance to march in the parade — be sure you follow the posted deadlines and locations for this or accept disappointment.)
A variation of cosplay and fan-created stuff is fanfilms, where folks create parodies or extensions of stories and use the moving pictures medium to tell their tale. It's like fanfic, but involves less "in the head" since you need cast, set, crew, etc. They are usually very clever and some are amazingly good and/or authentic. Our favorite this time around was called "Mosquito" and is a take-off on the "Making Firefly" film on the original DVD. The biggest laugh came when the Jayne character declared his name: Susan! It reminded us of Phil Hartmann ("I vant my tonguebath NOW!"), y'see! The whole thing was excellent and even took potshots at Fox for marketing the series poorly and intentionally. The fanfilms ran 24/7, so though you might not have seen what you thought you'd want to see (since you might've been asleep or at a session or something), there was plenty else. And as we said, much of it really clever and excellent. Wish we could find a Huttie fanfilmer ...!
FIREFLY: Begetting Serenity
These fancons are subject to fashion and the whims of studio promotions to generate fan buzz. So from time to time, a new movie or comic or genre or author will catch the fans' fancy. This year it was Joss Whedon's Firefly-based movie Serenity which was the belle of the ball. Universal Pictures seems to be spending more on promotion for this film than Fox did for the short-lived 2003 television series, and actors arrived for panels and for autograph signings. Among them were Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Ron Glass (Book), and Morena Baccarin (Inara); Staite pointed out that DragonCon did not require the actors to do or not-do things, which she says they really appreciated. They could go and do as they pleased, and some even showed up for "shindigs" held in fan hotel rooms! The Browncoats were VERY pleased. The actors also appreciated the costumes; Staite gasped when she saw the "Shindig" ruffly dress on one fan who came forward to ask a question of the panel. It was all so shiny!
According to the panel, Serenity needs to make $80 million world-wide in order to trigger two more movies. Let's see, that's $10 a ticket, that's 8 million fans ... that's less than the population of New York City. So if we each go twice, that's 4 million fans ... that's just a bit more than the population of New Zealand, not counting the sheep. If we go 8 times apiece, that's 1 million fans ... the population of a city like Ottawa, Canada ... well, you understand. Go early, go often, and drag your little friends with you!
Joss was not there due to personal commitments, and Nathan Fillion (Mal) was doing a promotional tour in Europe. Don't know where Sean Maher (Simon), Summer Glau (River), or Gina Torres (Zoe) were, but Alan Tudyck (Wash) was on Broadway, playing Lancelot in Spamalot! (Okay, we have to go see that Monty Python stage adaptation right now ... but if you miss him, after Thanksgiving, Hank Azaria will take the role he originated, which is just as much fun!) The panel made fun of Nathan (Jewel flipped him the bird a few times) and his autocratic attitude toward the cast — Baldwin claimed, "He answers to 'Mal' or 'Captain'." Staite said the he'd call and say, "Pool party, 5pm tonight." And the correct response is, "Sure, I'll cancel my other plans. See you there."
They claim to be good friends; Baccarin pointed out that it seems the relationships they had on-screen actually kind of carried over into real life. For instance, Inara and Jayne never had anything to do with each other directly, and thus she implied that she and Adam Baldwin were not close. This, despite the sometimes scathing, sizzling banter between them! Perhaps all men get all defensive around a space whore? Or was there something simmering ...?
The actors themselves begged for twenty more minutes with the fans; the DragonCon folks were able to grant ten. They had to prep for the next event, after all! During that 10 minutes, Adam Baldwin pouted, then hugged a fan on request, then forgot Jewel's name ("I swear, I had a brainfart, I was going to call you Kaylee!"); Ron Glass forbade a child to come onstage and so he did, and the actor giggled a lot; Morena declared she hadn't been asked to play Wonder Woman (Joss's next project), but "Are you kidding??? I'd LOVE to play Wonder Woman!"; Jewel revealed it was her husband's birthday, and the audience all sang, "Happy Birthday Dear Mattie." Wasn't a Shindig, but it was good!
SPACES AND PLACES AND CELEBS
Unlike other cons, there always seemed to be enough space for the masses of fans who showed up for things. Though there were long, long lines to get into the Firefly panel, and from our previous experiences these caused us to skip them, it turned out there there actually was room enough for everyone who came. The "Centennial" ballroom is three large rooms which open up via sliding wall panels, and real-time live video projection screens allowed even those in the back of the room to see well. So we should have gotten on line earlier, after all!
Some of the ceilings were low, much to our surprise. We might have never have noticed except some of our costumes were tall. And we have no clue how the guy cosplaying an Ent managed to get into the elevator or into rooms!
The exhibition hall on LL (main lobby) had wide enough aisles and good views of what was for sale. The dealer's room downstairs in CL (conference level) was considerably more cramped. It also housed the autograph area, and these cost $20 each for a signed 8"x10" photo; photos (taken with your camera) with the celebs were generally free, except for a few like Adam Baldwin who were donating the proceeds for their efforts to various charities. The major charity was the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts; Kevin Sorbo (Hercules) had his own children's charity, too, for which he donated his whole autograph take, and he matched the charity raffle take, too. It is the job of celebrities to lead such efforts and to make us aware of the needs of others. It was good to see the likes of Sorbo and Baldwin selflessly leading the way.
The dealer's room had more "R-rated" stuff, including things of a more adult nature (DVDs, magazines, comics) though no sex-shop stuff. It was here we ran into Gus Sorola of Red vs. Blue. He kindly sold whatever he had at his booth (no "Chupathingy" shirts larger than L left!), and signed it, as well as the last hat available, and shirts that read, "It's not pink, it's light red" and the like. When Matt Holom (who voices Sarge and Doc) came back from his break, he signed our hats and shirts, too. Then we found Gus doing a radio interview upstairs in the Exhibition Hall and made him pose for photos with us. We think he looks cuter in person; then again, hard to see what Simmons (who's been upgraded to v2.1!) looks like under that maroon colored armor ...
The Darkhorse booth was giving away free comics, and also gave away extra stuff with every purchase. Maybe this was because they didn't have a calculator, or they weren't good at math ... but we'll choose to believe it was because they were nice guys and didn't want to pack stuff up to send home. In fact, if you wait till the final day of the con, just about everything goes on sale, to avoid having to pack it all up to ship home. Of course, if you wait too long, nothing is left ... like at the Southeast Browncoats booth where they were selling t-shirts. They only brought 60 "Blue Sun" shirts, and they sold out in a few breaths. Bluetards!
SESSIONS AND EVENTS: Show and Tell and Sing
We never get to go to as many sessions as we'd like. We didn't make it to ANY Star Wars ones! That was because they were in the Hilton, across the street, no walkways. We got to some LOTR panels for costuming and research, and learned how WETA made their chain maille (PVC pipe sections!), the virtues of "fun foam," how to stress fabric so it looks dirty / worn without actually having to do it for real (and thus wearing filthy, smelly clothing that's going to fall apart after one wearing). It gives us good information for future cosplay attempts. We also discovered that some of our own solutions had not been discovered by the rabble, and we got lots of questions, too!
The "Dawn Look-Alike" contest had nearly 50 entries, with women of all shapes, sizes, colorings, mobilities, and skill levels showing off their interpretations of the goddess. Not all were red-tressed or impressively boobed or expectantly proportioned, but that was not a bad thing at all. Some were big, some were skinny, and some departed from Lisner's drawings of the goddess and were awarded appropriately. The "Most Outrageous" went to a tall, willowy "Disco Dawn" with silvery flares and a funny little purse, and there was one body-builder leather Dawn who scared and titillated us. Most impressive was the girl who busted her leg and came onstage in her butt-exposing teddy-like costume on crutches! Most designed and crafted their costumes and props themselves, or probably bartered some other skill to get the look they desired. They learned to walk in high heels with long skirts, or to breath in corsets that compressed them like a zip archive. They were all gorgeous in one way or another. It was very impressive, and several of the guys in our group declared THEY wanted to enter next year ... (so watch out, boys and girls!).
We also managed to go to the concert after the contest because the guy who fronts for the Goth band Voltaire was the MC for the contest. He was very funny and had great geeky Goth stage presence; best of all, he sang some Star Trek fansongs, including one about having sex with Data ("He is fully functional, and anatomically correct!"), and another which poked fun at the franchise's tendency to "Make Some Shit Up" every time they wrote themselves into a corner. He also sang a song which picked on his primary audience: Goth clubbies. He pointed out that Goths were basically Trekkies with Vampires tossed in, and dark-garbed hippies, all mixed together. It's true! We were sorry the judges had decided on winners of the Dawn competition ... it was maybe the first time we preferred the antics of the MC over the main attraction. Okay, not the first time ... but he was cool! (By the way, the songs mentioned can be downloaded at his site on www.voltaire.net)
Even cooler about Voltaire is his need to create music, comics, stop-motion and animated films, decorating books, etc. He's one of these typical obsessive New York people who loves it there and brings the energy of the alternative scene to where ever he happens to be. Buy his albums and stuff, eh? He does typify the "genuine Goth" attitude without the posing.
There were LOTS of poseurs in corsets (with and without pants) at the con, did we mention that? Most seemed to be in the lobby of the Hyatt hanging out at the makeshift bars, where basic drinks cost $6 apiece. It was like spring break with these bars set up all over the place. There were a lot of "no photography" signs all over, though we don't know what that was about. I doubt anyone really cared about those.
There was also the Masquerade which was not the Mardi Gras-esque party you might think it was. Instead, cosplayers performed songs, skits, fights, dances on stage. Our favorite ensemble was "The Island of Misfit Toys" ... love the spotted elephant! We also liked Leia and Luke lip synching, "Baby, it's cold outside" in Hoth-gear. We don't know who won, because the MCs for this one didn't entertain us. They played Mighty Mouse cartoons instead, which would have been fine, but we were tired and grumpy by then!
There was also the aforementioned "Firefly" panel, and other panels with authors, artists, actors. Some gave advice on your work and how to approach publishers and others in the industry; some talked about developing fanfic characters or comics. It was all pretty laid-back, but there was a mix of professionalism as well as fandom, and both garnered equal respect. It was awesome, so much better than the "we need to make tons of money, buy this collectable" we suffered at C3. It put our faith back in cons as fun places to be where people were not constantly trying to gouge us.
While waiting in line for panels in the Hyatt, a duo called the Bedlam Bards sang their Celtic jiggy things which often allowed for people to sing along. One of their most popular pieces: "The Hero of Canton" from the Jaynestown episode of Firefly, and yes, everyone from the Witch King to Exar Kun sang along with varying degrees of tunefulness! They also sang the filk based on the Bare Naked Ladies song, re-named, "If I Had a Million Ducats." And when they weren't singing and flogging their CDs, a nearly perpetual hackysack game was in progress on the little stage. Our favorite player was the stormtrooper, simply because we know how well one cannot see in those helmets!
MONEY and TIME: Sage Advice
No matter how controlled we were about eating, drinking, gaming, being merry (or Pippin), etc., going to a con is a pricy thing. Most of us took Friday to Monday off (it's Labor Day weekend), and bought our memberships in advance. There is a sliding fee for Dragon*Con membership, and the further away it is, the cheaper. You can buy one-day passes, but just buy the membership. It's not too bad if you buy early ($45, we think? Or $85 closer to the dates), and everyone who runs this thing is a volunteer.
Including airfare, hotels (shared twin, one assumes, unless you're a very "private" person or are using the lure of a single room to enhance your social life), meals, and a few souvenirs (autographs, t-shirts, that sort of thing), tips, the fees ran us about $600 to $1000 per person, not including costume costs. In addition, if you had a big or overweight piece of luggage for the plane ride, expect to pay $25 to $100 in fees there, too.
How to save money? Some suggestions:
As for time, it's hard to get to everything you want to get to even over four or five days. So, budget your time too. In general, it's better to get autographs in the morning — most of the celebrity panels are not till the afternoon, so they will be more likely to be available for signings in the morning ... but do check the schedules and lists. Also, if you plan to go somewhere wearing your costume, not only should you allow for extra "mobility" time, but be expected to be stopped for photos. Expect to miss your session if you don't start an hour ahead of time in some cases!
Dragon*Con organizes on "programming tracks" which may or may not have anything to do with anything other than space availability. The downside of this is that there were like six things we wanted to attend, but they all met at 4pm on Saturday ... we had to divide and conquer, but it's never the same as being there. You might prefer to decide in advance that you will follow a programming track per day or half-day. And try to find out where stuff is, so you aren't in the wrong building or the wrong floor!
Be sure to sleep and shower at least daily, too. We know you don't want to miss anything, but you don't want to be shunned or ejected for lack of good judgement or bad hygiene, either.
FUN FUN FUN: More!
Wow, that saving money and time section was way too heavy ... well, once you get rolling, you end up pitching a lot of stuff at each other. Which is the fun of going as a group to a Con, actually. We used vacation resources (time and savings) to see friends we'd met online or in person. We have a lot in common, and got to feel like kids again, in many ways. And it's nice to see that Cons are family affairs, too, with many kids and babies (dressed up, too!) in attendance. It's like your favorite theme park, minus a lot of brainlessness.
This is addictive ... We've already started to talk about the next Con we want to attend. It's not likely Lucasfilm will push for C4, so we can safely start planning around other cross-genre already-established cons. We're looking for diversity of offerings, interesting locations with decent hotels, and times of year. Some of us are in the education industry, and this was a difficult squeeze in terms of time (school's already started for many). Recommend the Con of your choice, and maybe we'll come and write a report about that, too!
Disclaimer: All contents are personal observations, and no profit or lucre is expected, solicited, advocated or paid by anyone, including those being observed. This is all just for fun. Any comments, please e-mail the author or WOOKIEEhut directly. Flames will be ignored. This report may not be posted anywhere without the author's knowledge, consent, and permission.