Con Review: Dragon*Con 2009

DragonCon09by Marian McBrine


Dragon*Con 2009
September 4–7, 2009
Atlanta, Georgia

I attended Dragon*Con, in Atlanta, Georgia, from September 4th to 7th, 2009. Dragon*Con is one of the largest media-focused conventions in the country, with an estimated attendance of 30,000. While the convention is media heavy, with many top-tier media guests—this year including William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Kate Mulgrew—they also have several other tracks incorporating many aspects of fandom, and including a strong literary track. The convention featured a full weekend of writing workshops taught by writers Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston. There were numerous other writer guests, with Charlaine Harris and Sherrilyn Kenyon attracting particularly large audiences and autograph lines.

Although Dragon*Con is a large convention, they choose not to host their events in a convention center; rather, they use all available event space in the four official convention hotels. Although there are several main events, their diverse tracks are generally located in one specific area of one hotel. Thus, while this is a very large convention, if you are primarily interested in one of the smaller tracks, it may feel like a smaller convention to you. At least until you attempt to go to a different track or event, and have to make your way through a crowd of thousands to get there. Dragon*Con is a very challenging convention logistically, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to get from one end of the convention to the other in a reasonable amount of time. Luckily, Dragon*ConTV broadcasts many of the con’s main events, which you can enjoy in the comfort of your room rather than having to fight your way to the end of a line just to wait a few hours in the hope of getting a seat.

Dragon*Con is often called Mardi Gras for geeks, and definitely, one of the main attractions at Dragon*Con is people watching. Every night in each of the main hotels, but particularly the Mariott, the lobby/bar areas were filled with throngs of people taking and posing for pictures. Costumes were from all aspects of fandom, including comic book heroes, video game characters, literary figures, “ren fest” outfits and TV/movie characters. Costuming is so important to this convention that Dragon*Con has at least one costume contest every night. The definite “trend” for costuming this year was Steampunk, and that genre had a large showing in the Dragon*Con parade, which takes place Saturday morning on the downtown streets of Atlanta.

In sum, while I don’t necessarily recommend Dragon*Con to a beginning con goer, and while it can be very trying at times and logistically challenging, this convention absolutely has something for everyone, and I think everyone should try this convention at least once.


Con Review: Dragon*Con 2005

DragonCon2005by Robert Kelly


Dragon*Con 2005
September 2-5, 2005
Atlanta, Georgia

If what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, then what happens at Dragon*Con never really happened. It is a fleeting moment of fantasy spread across an all too short weekend. Dragon*Con is a menagerie of every sci-fi and fantasy character you can imagine and some of the actual actors and authors that first breathed life into them. From author Anne McCaffery to actress Marina Sirtis—Star Trek: TNG’s Deanna Troi—to the cast of Joss Whedon’s Serenity. There were storm troopers, Darth Vaders, Jedis aplenty, Aliens and Predators, the Incredibles even made an appearance, and I swear I saw Ben Affleck, the real one.

The filk on the main stage, Saturday night, was fantastic. The talent and genius of the performers and their love of their art was apparent. Along with the regulars was Rob Balder, his first time on the big stage. After a few minutes of banter he performed “Sympathy for George Lucus,” which was featured recently on The Dr. Demento Show. I attended the “Nuts and Bolts of Producing a Webcomic” panel Sunday evening; an informative and inspirational panel featuring Jeff Darlington (General Protection Fault), Erin Lindsey (Venus Envy), Jennie Breeden (The Devil’s Panties), Chris Impink (artist of Fragile Gravity), Bill Holbrook (Kevin & Kell), and Rob Balder (PartiallyClips).

The artwork on display in the gallery was absolutely beautiful. Each piece evoked emotion and imagination. You could create a universe and get lost amongst the surreal images brought to life in oil, bronze, wood, and water color.

Dragon*Con, has once again demonstrated why it is one of the largest science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture conventions in North America—spanning three massive convention hotels. I can’t say enough good things about the staff. They worked tirelessly and tried to accommodate every guest, press member, and con-goer. My personal thanks and appreciation to Star in the press room.


Con Review: Dragon*Con 2004

by DragonCon2004Rob Balder


Dragon*Con 2004
September 3-6, 2004
Atlanta, Georgia

It’s probably time to stop wondering how Dragon*Con manages to exist, how it can flawlessly function with the complexity of an aircraft carrier (and the population of five), while still reverberating with indulgent, joyful chaos. A hundred explanatory backstories could certainly be written. Perhaps it enjoys the protection of ancient gods, or shadowy present-day immortals, or secret keepers of True Magicks, or benevolent time travelers, or the Galactic Council. Whoever they are, they stopped a hurricane in its tracks for this one.

If we do accept Dragon*Con as a beautiful impossibility, as the blessed event that it is, then we’re still left with the near impossibility of describing it. Numbers are not adequate, but this one was roughly a match for last year’s 30,000+ attendance. The record twenty-seven tracks, each like a con unto itself, boasted a total approaching 500 guests, panelists, speakers and performers. You could be a happy Trekkie or Buffista or pervy hobbit-fancier and wallow in your favorite fandom from dusk to dawn for four days straight.

But you’d miss some of the outside-the-box offerings, such as a pro wrestling show (featuring midget wrestling), Robot Battles (featuring an antweight division), or the Independent Film Festival (featuring many short films). Don’t ever say there’s nothing small about Dragon*Con. A really interesting and fun addition this year was Dr. Demento, who hosted several concerts featuring filk and fandom parodies from Tom Smith, Tony Goldmark, The Great Luke Ski and the omnipresent goth-magnet Voltaire.

But honestly, it would be possible to come to Dragon*Con, never get an autograph, never see a show, never attend a workshop, never watch a video, never play a game, never buy a shirt, never listen to a panel… and still have the best weekend of your year. That’s because the greatest attraction of Dragon*Con is the other con-goers. The costumes are incomparable, as is the camaraderie.

So go in a group, a big one. Have a base room to work from. Have booze, snacks, and a well-stocked medicine cabinet in your base room. Get your garb on, and go mingle. Wander the halls, the bars, the restaurants surrounding the hotels. Talk to everybody about everything. The sheer mass of people in meatspace can get a little nerve-racking, even if you’re not agoraphobic. All you have to do is just keep in mind that all of these people are your friends: your weird-ass, wonderful friends.

And if you have never been to Dragon*Con, you must put it on your “Things To Do Before I Die” list. Move “have a threesome” off of there to make room if you have to. It was never gonna happen anyway.

Once again, Nth Degree would like to salute the hard-working, seamlessly competent staff of Dragon*Con, particularly Star Roberts in Media Relations. If there are ancient, secret, advanced, alien, or magical forces involved, she is certainly one of them.


Con Review: Dragon*Con 2003

DragonCon2003by Rob Balder


August 29 – Sept. 1, 2003
Atlanta, Georgia

The world’s biggest Geekcchanal grew even bigger this year, as Dragon*Con boasted a huge jump in attendance over the already staggering 20,000 it had attracted in ’01 and ’02 (no surprise with Worldcon being held in Canada). I heard estimates of the attendance ranging from 22,000 to wildly speculative numbers like 36,000. We should be hearing an official number before too long, but it’s really just a footnote. This party was record-breaking by any measure.

Once again, I am left in awe of the sheer competence of those brave and dedicated souls who make this thing happen. The potential for disaster in such a gathering staggers the imagination. Yet we saw no fights, no injuries, no accidents, no arrests, no fires… nothing to ruin the fun. As last year, Dragon*Con was brilliantly planned and executed. If you didn’t have an incredible time, it was your own bloody fault.

Having said that, there were some growing pains associated with this larger crowd. Most programming panels at the Hyatt were standing room only (the ones at the Marriott seemed to be smaller… reason unknown). The elevator situation—bad last year—was absolutely miserable. You could count on a ten-minute delay every time you went between floors. Between the packed-solid conference rooms and sardine elevators, the pungent odor of my fellow geeks became a buzzkill. “Aren’t you glad you use Dial?” I kept thinking, “Don’t you wish Dragon*Con did?”

But these problems were tertiary and there wasn’t much that could reasonably be done about them. They did not appreciably detract from the insane amount of stuff available for a con-goer’s amusement. As it always will, what we didn’t get to do dwarfs what we did. We missed the Klingon Beauty Pageant AGAIN, dangit. We never got to any concert, not even Cruxshadows or Voltaire. We barely met any celebs (our fault—they were totally accessible on the Walk of Fame) except Gil Gerard, who I sought out to ask if he would submit some poetry to Nth Degree. He said he’d consider it. We missed the Masquerade, but it was available afterward on the Hyatt closed-circuit channel and I caught most of it. I dunno who won, but the Pac-Man skit was my pick.

What did we do? Well, I for one could have been satisfied doing nothing but Writer’s Track programming. And that’s just what is so great about Dragon*Con. It has full tracks for everything… enough to fill an entire themed con around each. People come and do mainly Buffy programming, or British Sci-Fi, or Comics, or Tolkien. There was an entire track for Pern, and Anne McCaffery or her son were personally involved in most of it! It made me realize that there is a level of fandom honor above mere GoH—if they have a full programming track or a complete con just for your stuff, then you have reached a new level.

So what else did we do? I performed in the Trek Trak filk-sing and it was an absolute train wreck. The less said about that, the better. If you really want the details, the whole Charlie Foxtrot is available on video, so that future generations may mock my plight even long after I am dead.

I went to an X-Track panel on cryonics, hosted by some folks from Alcor. I learned some interesting details about how to get frozen and had some of my long-standing questions answered.

I sat on a webcomics panel that had to be about the best one I’ve ever done. The chemistry among the five of us was great, the room was electric, I got cheered twice for saying I quit my job, and the panel got a standing ovation… a first! There was a second webcomics panel that I was not on, but most of the people who were had been in the audience at the previous one. I made a lot of new friends in the field.

The ’zines went like crazy. We put out four of the five boxes right away, and then followed up with the final box as a reserve. Probably we could have put out another three or four boxes. Nth Degree’s name recognition is really growing, based on some conversations I had.

The hallway costumes were amazing, again. They should rename the Lower Lobby the Cleavage Mile. The costumes were heavily tilted toward LotR this year, with Uruk-Hai and orcs very nearly outnumbering Imperial Stormtroopers, even with the 501st there in… uh, force. And where we saw ten Spider-Men last year, we saw about that many Lara Crofts this year (and no Spider-Men). Again, we saw only one Borg… a different Borg than last year. Collective, my ass. “No Face” from Spirited Away loomed large and spooky over the crowd almost all the time.

Many more things happened, many bottles were drained, many hangovers were suffered, many unique personal experiences were experienced, and a car was totalled. But these should be told at future con parties. Next year’s Dragon*Con will be held September 3-6. For photos from this year and more info on next year, visit


Con Review: Dragon*Con 2002

DragonConby Rob Balder & Karen Edelstein


Dragon*Con 2002
August 30 – Sept. 2, 2002
Atlanta, Georgia

Let me say this, to sum up our overall experience at Dragon*Con: THAT MANY interesting people having THAT MUCH FUN in one place shouldn’t be possible under the Law of “Whatever the Fundamentalists Don’t Ruin, the Lawyers Do.” And yet, there it was. What an incredible event!

So what did we see? We saw three concerts out of more than a dozen that were held. We met artists of jaw-dropping talent, absolute “A List” pros like JP Targete and Artist GOH Alex Grey, and were overwhelmed with how friendly and engaging they were. We partied way too hard with Pete Abrams, Joe Sunday, and Trillian from Sluggy Freelance. We saw a seven-foot Vader, two guys in fully mechanized battle armor suits, an enormous yeti, many mostly-naked chicks in itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny homemade-chainmail steel bikinis, a walking piece of modern sculpture, a stormtrooper from Germany (*shudder*), and one, yes only one, Borg. How ironic. “Yes! We are all individuals!” “I’m not.”


Dragon*Con Artist GOH, Alex Grey, poses with Nth Degree’s Convention Liaison Karen Edelstein.

We saw so many cool things in the exhibitors’ hall and dealer’s room that we went into ferret-shock. We saw at least eight Spider-Men in one place, and we weren’t even looking on the ceiling. We saw a guy with a lighted tinfoil box on his head and a sign reading “Free Mammograms.” We saw the best-performed rendition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show we have ever seen, by Lips Down on Dixie. We saw a horde of goths fit for the sacking of Rome. We saw all this and hundreds of other remarkable things, some of which traveled in pairs.

And I would estimate that we missed more cool stuff than we saw.

What did we miss? Well, the celebrities, mostly. We missed the Trek stars leading the parade and judging the Klingon Beauty Pageant, etc. We missed the MST3000 guys emceeing battle bots. We missed the Babylon 5 reunion, and the Jefferson Starship concert, and Traci Lords, and Linda Blair, and I never even got to a single writing panel, not even John Ringo’s “101 Interesting Ways to Kill Off Characters.” However, we partied with John and half the staff of the upcoming StellarCon for two nights, talking Sluggy and singing filks on the Hyatt’s bar patio. Huge thanks to everyone who made it possible; you are an estimated 20,000 of our closest friends.


Lighter Side of Sc-Fi creator Tye Bourdony taking a minute to chat with Nth Degree Submissions Editor, Rob Balder.

But most of all, we want to thank Star Roberts and the rest of the Dragon*Con staff. They REALLY came through for Nth Degree. Our Press badges allowed us access to any event, even when they were blocking people at the stairs. They had a press room, which amounted to a special-access con suite full of beverages and snacks and reading materials. They were as nice as could be, helped us find anything we asked about and answered all of our questions. There was absolutely no hassle, and the few rules we were given were completely common-sense and easy.

If you are breathing and have a pulse next Labor Day weekend, get to Dragon*Con. It’s like Woodstock for geeks, but with clean towels.