Monday, September 01, 2008

The Dragon*Con Experience

I went to Dragon*Con in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. For those unfamiliar with the event, it's a science fiction/fantasy convention that takes place every Labor Day weekend. Over the course of five days, tens of thousands of people from all walks of life descend on the four hotels that host the event. It's a lot of insanity, but a lot of fun.

I've always been into science fiction, both films and books. I grew up reading the Dune series, watching the Aliens and Predator movies, and generally being into things that revolve around space or science. Currently, I'm very much into Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and other naturalistic sci-fi. While, yeah, I have watched Star Trek and Star Wars, I'm not really a big fan of either series at this point. ST is just too vanilla, and Star Wars... well... have you seen the Prequel Trilogy? Ugh.

Before I go on, I'd like to clarify a few misconceptions:
  • Misconception One: A convention like this is just a bunch of geeks running around in weird costumes yelling "Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!".
    The truth: That is really, really not the case. Yes... yes there is a bit of that going on, but it is a miniscule (and, um, frightening) part of the event. However, there really is something for everyone at this event. Sure, you can meet actors from your favorite sci-fi or fantasy shows, but that's a mere fraction of the activities.
  • Misconception Two: Everyone at these cons is a sweaty, fat, white guy with no life who spends his life playing WoW and D&D and wishes he could get a girl to talk to him based on the roll of a 20 sided die.
    The truth: While there are definitely some that fit the above description, we saw young and old, male and female at the con. Punks, goths, steampunk, and just about everything else was represented. Little old ladies in fairy costumes. African American Link from Legend of Zelda. Lots of fun, cool people enjoying themselves with people who share similar interests.

    As far as physical fitness goes: From a male perspective, there were a huge amount of unbelievably beautiful women walking around the con, both in and out of costume, and most did not look like they'd been dragged there by their boyfriend. From my wife and my sister's perspective, there was the platoon of Spartans straight out of 300, complete with abs and codpieces. The stereotypes did not hold up at all.
How it Works

The convention schedule is split up into what are called "tracks" - basically event schedules built around single subjects. For instance, there's the Tolkien track for Lord of the Rings fans, a Star Wars track for Force monkeys, and a Star Trek track for wannabe Klingons. That's the kind of subject matter you'd expect to see at a sci-fi convention, and they do have plenty of it. And of course, there are the prerequisite folks who dress up as Gandalf, Darth Maul, or Red Shirt #1 (you know, the one who always dies).

What you don't hear about often are all of the excellent artistic, educational, scientific, and entertainment tracks that run alongside the sci-fi tracks. Examples of these include:
  • Independent film track
  • Music track
  • Writing track
  • Robotics track
  • Science track
  • Comedy track
  • Asian track
  • Gaming track
This con really gives you value for money.

Let's say... you're an aspiring writer and want to learn how you can improve and sell your craft. You want to take some classes and talk to different people about different aspects of your work.

Option 1: You can go to a site such as http://www.ncte.org/store/webseminars (one-hour seminars at $75.00 to $95.00 a pop) or http://www.latimes.com/extras/festivalofbooks/writing_seminars.html (two-hour seminars at $100 a pop). That's a lot of money.

Option 2: Or, you can go to Dragon*Con. For the price of a 5 day pass - $90 - you have access to every event in every track on every day.

Just in the Writer's track, over the course of the conference's four main days (Fri-Mon) you can do all of the following. Each event is at least an hour long, sometimes two or more.
  • Friday
  1. How to Write A Story in One Hour
  2. Making a Critique Group Work for YOU
  3. The Secret to Selling Your Fiction
  4. What Editors Want from You!
  5. Interpreting What Editors SAY.
  6. Fightin' and Writin'
  • Saturday
  1. Goal, Motivation, and Conflict
  2. Writing for the Young Adult Market
  3. What Every Writer Needs to Know
  4. Writing in Shared Worlds
  5. Writing Bestselling Fiction
  6. 101 Delectable Ways to Kill a Character
  • Sunday
  1. Should I Kiss Him or Kill Him?
  2. Looking Back at SF/Fantasy/Horror Through the Years
  3. And, Then What Happened?
  4. The Long and the Short of It
  5. Writing for Small Presses and Magazines
  6. Today's Filmmaker - Big Productions or Indie
  7. Screenwriting 101
  • Monday
  1. Characterization and Plotting
  2. Now, That's Funny
  3. Developing Exciting Secondary Characters
  4. Question and Answer Roundtable.
I mean, there's just no argument. $90 and you get four days' worth of access to all kinds of information, education, and people. Not only are these events awesome, many of these events are conducted by best-selling authors, including Harry Turtledove, Laurel K. Hamilton, Kevin J. Anderson, Rachel Caine, and more. You get to meet and discuss all of these subjects both with people who write for a living, and with those who are in the same situation as you. You gain a lot of useful information and experience that can help your own situation.

Making A Decision

There is a catch, and to illustrate I'll bring some ATC into this. When you've got two airplanes inbound to one runway, sooner or later you're going to have to make a decision: "THIS guy is number one. And THAT guy is number two." You have to choose, because it's generally a bad idea for planes to share the same physical space. :)

Dragon*Con, unfortunately, forces you to make some pretty crazy decisions. Given that there's about 45 tracks going on simultaneously, it's a given that several things you'll want to see overlap. If you've got a lot of interests, you're going to be disappointed. Unless, of course, you can borrow someone Cloning Ray and make 50 clones of yourself.

I myself could literally spend my entire time at the convention going to events in that one Writer's Track. But... I also like music. And animation. And Firefly. And science. And...crap... there's a writing event, animation event, and Firefly event scheduled at the same time. You end up having to buckle down and force yourself to choose one thing over another.

For example, the things my wife, sister, friends, and I went to included:
  • Firefly panel: Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, and Morena Baccarin from Firefly answer questions about their work from the audience. When you have those four in the room together - especially Nathan the prankster - hilarity ensues.
  • Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow: 6th Annual Recruiting Session, Membership Drive and Bake Sale (?!?!): Actual scientists in a number of different fields such as biology and chemistry discuss the most efficient ways to conquer and destroy the Earth. It's all done in good fun, but some of the stuff they talk about will scare the crap out of you. Two words: "Weaponized anthrax". Two more words: "Yummy brownies!" :)
  • Indepedent animators: Up-and-coming animators talk about their films and their techniques.
  • Battlestar Galactica panel: The main cast of BSG - Edward James Olmos, James Callis, Michael Hogan, Tahmoh Penikett, Aaron Douglas, and more - answer questions from audience. An awesome and funny group of people.
  • Disney vs. Pixar: A very "animated" discussion between an animation expert and the audience over why Disney animation continues to suck while Pixar just gets better and better. This actually got quite heated.
  • Crossed Swords: A sword fighting demonstration where a pair of talented fighters dissected movie sword fights and demonstrated how so many of them are inaccurate. They also tore into all the sword
  • Paul and Storm: A musical comedy duo with song subjects including Nun Wrestling, Pirates, and the inventor of the chicken nugget. Absolutely hilarious. They were joined on stage by Dana Snyder - a.k.a. the voice of Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Sheer insanity.
  • Emerging Infectious Horrors: My friend the micro-biologist went to this one as well. Biologists talk about all of the new diseases and organisms that can kill you, maim you, or otherwise ruin your day. Pretty scary stuff.
  • Mean Streets: Urban Fantasy: My sister's big into urban fantasy, so she attended this panel where some of her favorite authors talked about how they create living, breathing worlds in their work.
  • Live Music: Interesting music abounded, all of it themed around sci-fi, gothic, and fantasy themes. My favorites were Abney Park (steampunk) and the Rum Runners (pirate music).
  • Short Films: I sat through a couple of the short film segments they were presenting. Some excellent work out there by independent filmmakers. Each one or two hour segment contained films in a certain genre - action, superhero, horror, etc.
  • Star Wars Panel: We went in here literally to kill some time while we were waiting for the Firefly event. Guests included David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewie), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett in the original movies), Daniel Logan (Boba Fett in the prequel trilogy), Jake Lloyd (Young Anakin in Phantom Menace), and a sound designer. The room was like 1/5 full. It was kind of sad actually. While I don't have the interest I once did in Star Wars, in the end I found them all pretty charming.
It's a lot of fun. You just need to keep an open mind due to the nature of the event - you will see all kinds of crazy, "out there" people in all sorts of costumes playing the part of their character. It's just awesome to stand in a public area and people watch. You never know who's going to walk by, whether Link, Master Chief, Hellboy, or the Predator.

My next post's going to be photos from the events. You'll see what I'm talking about.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. You say it's every Labor Day Weekend and always in Atlanta?

Wicked Penguin said...

Yeap - every year in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend.

It's absolutely huge. They take over four enormous hotels in the downtown area - the Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, and Sheraton. All of them are located right next to each other, so you just walk back and forth between them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I may try to make it next year. As an ATCer from a Z in Tx, I find your tales from Fl very interesting. Keep up the good work.