This past weekend I was invited to help Boston area band Freezepop sell merch and tour manage a show at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, GA. A little about Dragon*Con… it is one of the oldest Sci Fi/Fantasy conventions in existence, starting in 1987 with roughly 1400 people in attendance. This year it had over 46,000 people in attendance. Freezepop, being very popular with the type of individual interested in this genre, played in front of a crowd of over 2000. We also sold out of all our cds and most of our t-shirts and we met a bunch of really awesome people.
(Freezepop rocking it out, Photo by Mike Gill)
One might imagine with a convention of this magnitude that things might not always go smoothly. As a result of it being mainly a volunteer staff, things weren’t totally pro, but that’s to be expected from an event that hosts thousands. Considering the epic size of the Con, I’d say they did a pretty bang up job, despite certain setbacks. You learn pretty quickly that the best way to respond to it all is with a sense of humor. Laughing your way through it is really key. That and a hearty supply of Xanax… oh and whiskey… lots of whiskey.
(Empty bottle and phaser, Photo by Mike Gill)
The Con was full of the expected. Hectic gear maneuvering through crowds of people wearing costumes that make them both nearly blind and deaf, avoiding the accidental photo bombing of impromptu photo shoots with random assortments of obscure characters, mini raves with terrible djs that were shut down far too early to really enjoy or weren’t well attended, awkwardly long and meandering conversations with socially challenged but well-meaning uber-fans at the merch table. So many tiny hats… so many Indiana Jones characters…
(Cast of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Photo by Mike Gill)
But there was a lot of the unexpected as well. Our back up singer/keyboardist, flustered from the steadily growing masses, mistakenly left her phone by the bathroom sink. We assumed that we’d never see it again, we were in Atlanta after all. To our surprise, the Droid was nearly instantly returned through a series of informative texts by a nice attendee, who “loved her Prince back ground on the screen.” Con-Geeks are considerate people. They say please and thank you and always say excuse me when they bump you with their over-sized fairy wings.
Con-Geeks spend a lot of time on their costumes. Some can be bought on the internet for millions of dollars by Cosplay crafts people, but most of them make them on their own. Some have built in glowing lights powered by hidden battery packs. Some are poised on stilts shaped like monster legs. Some have to carry around large weapons made from heavy plastics for hours. Some have spent a great deal of time on the originality of their costume, often blending two separate genres together to create a mash-up costume. I got a hug from Animal from the Muppets dressed up like a Storm Trooper. It’s actually very impressive how much thought and time goes into prepping for the Con.
(Adidas Storm Trooper, photo by Mike Gill)
Sure there are posers at the convention… there are posers everywhere… but they are few and far between and easy to pick out. You can tell the real fans from the strippers that were hired to dress like Daenerys Targaryen. Con-Geeks don’t care if they look sexy or ugly. They don’t care how hot or uncomfortable they get during the long days wandering through the hotel maze. They just want to be a part of something that they love.
There’s plenty of surreal moments to laugh at for the cynical at heart, like when you see people in full costume sitting on the hotel carpet eating slices of pepperoni pizza, or when you see a person who has spent hours on elaborate facial make up only to put their super nerdy glasses on over it… but Con-Geeks are too endearing to ever make fun of. Also, one must remember, this is their domain, the one place in the world where they can be on the outside who they are on the inside without getting beat up. Making fun of anyone while you are inside a Con just isn’t done. It’s like going to a rugby game and making fun of the players’ stripy shirts.
Adding to the surreal nature of the event is that it’s set in the sultry, steamy, South. Seeing people in fully clothed and bearded Hagrid get-ups or furry Chewbacca costumes makes you instantly break out into a deep southern sweat just looking at them. Southern moms pushed massive SUV style strollers packed full of babies through the crowd. One of them even asked me for a Sharpie marker which she used to write her phone number on her kid’s arm “in case he done wandered off.” Also you have this interesting mix of southern hospitality and wide eyed wonder from the hotel/restaurant staff. Many people from Georgia and other southern states attend the Con. Sometimes these people will have accents so thick they will be completely unintelligible to our Yankee ears. I spoke to a woman dressed as a very graceful vampire elf who had a back woods drawl so thick you could cut it with a knife. Kinda threw off the illusion a bit there.
Being a bit of a closeted* Star Trek fan, I purchased a mid quality, red polyester original series Star Trek dress off of Amazon so that I could slip past the geeks undetected. It worked out fabulously. I wore it the first night and was continually stopped for photographs with my friend Emma, who was also decked out in Trekkie fashion. She went a step further and added Vulcan ears, but we were a lovely pair and ended up as book ends in many photos. The best pay off from this purchase was when we were at Trader Vic’s waiting for our table and spotted Michael Dorn and Johnathan Frakes exiting the restaurant. The first thing we thought was how adorable it was that the Star Trek The Next Generation actors who played Worf and Riker were out having a nice man date together. The second thing we thought was HOLY CRAP LET’S GET A PHOTO! So we ran up and asked and Frakes said “Well, Michael, they are in regulation uniform…” and history was made.
(History in the making, Photo by Mike Gill)
Yes I’m clutching a freshly purchased Tribble… and yes it vibrates and makes a cooing sound.
The con isn’t just costumes and bands though, there are a lot of actual science based talks. I attended one talk by a NASA Jet Propulsion Labratories engineer, Kim Steadman, who talked all about the Curiosity Mars Rover mission. It was very informative and her enthusiasm for the subject matter was intoxicating. Several of my friends went to various talks about the end of the world, which was a popular topic this year. There were, of course, plenty of talks and meet and greets with hosts of actors from the Sci-Fi/Fantasy world, as well as talks by comic book artists and book series authors. The con was dedicated to Ray Bradbury and Anne McCaffrey, both science fiction/fantasy authors who passed on this year.
(Photo by Mike Gill)
Overall I’d say that my first experience at a con of this size and type was a positive one. I think it helped that I’m a bit of a fan of the genre, though I still think a total novice would have gotten a kick out of how enthusiastic and colorful everyone was. I was taken by the genuine feeling of it all, like it wasn’t just an excuse to get dressed up on a day that isn’t Halloween. These are people who have really been influenced positively by the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. These are imaginative and creative people who’s mundane lives were made bearable by the ability to escape into a world where monsters can be conquered, good triumphs over evil, and normal people can become magical if they really try. Or, at the very least, it’s a place that you can meet R2D2… who is a pretty rad dude as it turns out, though he did get a little drunk and asked me back to his hotel like a douche.
*okay fine, I admit that it’s not really closeted… I feel like this past weekend proved that I am, indeed, a full fledged fan.
(any photos not labeled are my own)