Dragon Con is over. Long live Dragon Con.
The 2018 con is in the books. 80,000+ attendees, over a thousand panels and events, and exactly one Ewok/Thanos cosplay mashup (that I saw).
For those of you who don’t know, Dragon Con is a pop culture convention that combines artists, makers, and fandom from just about every conceivable media and gaming iteration in history. Four days across multiple massive buildings and several city blocks that dominates a fair chunk of downtown Atlanta and utterly baffles the random unaffiliated drivers who find themselves stuck behind colorful human traffic jams.
The magic has been over for a week and a half now, and I’m just coming out of the post-Dragon Con funk. Not the good kind of funk, but the kind you get upon returning to real life after eighteen-hour-a-day submersions in beautiful madness.
Why does it have such an effect on me? I’m generally too lazy or intimidated (or both) to cosplay, so I lack that connection. And I’ve attended for many years, so novelty can’t be the reason. I do get a press badge for the privilege of writing about Dragon Con’s Star Wars events for Outer Rim News, but that’s fairly dry work…
So what is it about Dragon Con, that je ne sais quoi?
It occurred to me the other day that this was the first time I didn’t take any pictures at the con. None. I’ve never been a big picture taker in any part of my life, but not taking photos at the con is like not breathing. If Dragon Con is a heart, social media photos are the red blood cells (please don’t scrutinize that metaphor). It’s not that I think taking pics is bad. Quite the opposite—all that wildly inventive cosplay demands documentation. This wasn’t even a specific choice; it just didn’t occur to me to take any.
I think that’s part of the answer. This will sound ridiculous (because it is), but taking pictures sort of breaks the spell for me. Everywhere you look—literally almost any place you can direct your eyes when you’re at the con—you see unique expressions of art and fandom. Taken all together, it builds a mini-universe with its own specific energy. You’re surrounded by not just people in costumes but people inhabiting their dreams. It gets in the air. Dragon Con is a celebration of many and diverse fictional worlds, but the con itself also becomes a world. The building of a world through a celebration of world-building.
Whoaaa… ok Walker, reel it back in. I won’t break out any poetry, promise. Hang with me.
What I’m clumsily trying to express is that the scale and scope of the con overwhelms me. I think it would overwhelm anyone, fan or not. Anytime I’m tromping toward a panel or event for some niche fandom I’m a part of, it’s like being a bit of data in a big colorful computer network. All around me at almost every moment, in a hundred rooms down a hundred corridors on a hundred levels, people are attending a myriad of panels on subjects dear to them.
Most will be on topics I’ve never even heard of. At this con, there were 39 separate events dedicated to Military Sci-fi Media alone (I wrote on a SW one here). The “Puppetry” track had 47 events. When was the last time you saw new puppetry in any form? Quite a while, I’d guess. But for the fans and makers attending those events, this art form sets them on fire, and that’s all that matters.
Even the strange geography of the con does something for me. Once a year, I crisscross the same four blocks and four hotels, traveling by bridge and tunnel from one to the other and back again until they feel like home. At my first con, I was lost 100% of the time. Now it’s down to 10% (probably can’t ever get it to zero).
Even the inconveniences are beloved to me now—getting stuck in human traffic jams in the tunnels, waiting in long lines for fast food in the underground Peachtree Mall, sweating a liter just by walking outside to get to a different building, getting shouted at by security guards because I’ve accidentally tried to exit through an entrance, being asked to “turn my badge around” roughly 10 times an hour…it all makes me smile.
How does one supervise and organize all this? I have no idea. My responsibility level at Dragon Con is zero, and yet I feel anxiety on behalf of the management. Are they superhuman? Do they bleed? Do they love what they do, or are they always cry-screaming on the inside? The volunteers, at least, must find meaning in what they do, because they’re volunteers—but when I try to envision the endless, undulating, managed chaos that is Dragon Con through their eyes, I can only think of Martin Sheen punching the mirror in Apocalypse Now. We probably aren’t far off from having a robotic Dragon Con staff controlled through a giant superintelligent AI (named Dragon of course), but until then, I salute them.
All I’ve done in this post is gush like a fanboy, and I concede it’s just too syrupy-sweet. I feel obliged to say something negative to balance things out.
Here it goes…
Dragon Con still hasn’t found a way to stop my feet from hurting. I do more walking in those four days than I do in all the rest of the year combined, and for some reason this causes uncomfortable sensations. I accept no blame for this phenomenon. Dragon Con, fix this.
So that’s it. The end of my love letter. I ask you to pardon my uncharacteristic earnestness, but I wouldn’t blame you for some epic eye rolls.
I have a friend who regularly makes posts like “Yesss!! Only nineteen more days!” or “Yesss!! Only three more days!” each year during the month before Dragon Con. I’ll leave you with the post she made about a week after the con ended:
YESSSSSS!!!!!! Only 357 more days!!!!!!!!
*One drawback to my dreamy-poetic (i.e., weird) disinterest in taking pictures is that I had no Dragon Con 2018 pictures to share in this blog. Thus the low-media post, and full disclosure: the one pic I did include is from the 2017 con.