Con-Report: Dragon*Con 2011, Atlanta GA

September 14, 2011 Conventions, Geek Girl Life, Reviews 5

I’m by no means a con-virgin, but neither am I a totally experienced con-goer. That said, I’ve hit up both ends of the spectrum, from the primarily fan-based I-Con held at SUNY Stonybrook each spring, to the out-of-this-world media circus that is San Diego Comic Con. For that, ladies and gents, I tell you it might be worth paying rent in that fair city just so you don’t have to cat wrangle for lodging on the weekend the entire city opens its doors to nerds everywhere.

But we’re talking about Dragon*Con, and it was my first foray into this one, so let’s get down to brass tacks.

At first glance, Dragon*Con manages to balance somewhere in the middle of cons like I-Con and Comic Con – plenty of fanbased programming as well as the celebrity-encrusted panels that SD Comic Con is so famous for. I have to point out that at this point in this nerd’s life, if I want to discuss the intricacies of the definition of steampunk (it started with Jules Verne, guys, let’s not forget our fine forbearers!) or what is my favorite episode of Star Trek, I’m going to do it on the internet, which I pay a modest sum for and which also gives me my email. I’m not going to go to fanpanels. Dragon*Con boasted plenty of that sort as well as the ones that I found more useful at I-Con: the types of “craft” panels where experts (and those wishing to be granted such titles) get hands-on with the audience about what it is to costume with latex (looks good, but not the best idea ever in the Georgia humidity!), how to sew with clockwork parts and not break your needles, and how to pan for production funds on your first film, etc. Of course, some of these craft panels (I’m told) are just excuses for middleweight names to throw about their mediocre celebrity status and aren’t about enlightening the audience, but nothing’s perfect.

I attended three major panels in three fandoms dear to my heart: Vampire Diaries, Stargate, and Eureka. The first was a delightful one-on-one with Sara Canning (formerly Aunt Jenna of CW’s hit series), because despite printed rumors to the contrary, names such as Michael Trevino (which, speaking to fellow line-waiters, was definitely the reason they were waiting around) were never actually scheduled to be on the panel. David Anders unfortunately called out, so instead of getting the dirty backstory (isn’t it always like that?) about what went on between Aunt Jenna and Papa Gilbert in their wilder days, a much smaller audience was treated to an hour of Sara Canning’s musings on how she creates a character. I don’t believe it was time ill-spent, because Canning was a lovely speaker, acutely cognizant that she was on a panel for a show she was no longer a part of and couldn’t give us any juicy spoilers, yet managed to still keep our attention. Of course, I sat there thinking she manages to play the mature character quite well for someone her age, by which I mean to point out she’s younger than me so I sat there for part of it going “wow, I should probably do something with my life, eh?”.

It got decidedly rowdier from there. Attending the Stargate panel, hosted by Amanda Tapping, David Nykl and Christopher Heyerdahl (Sam Carter, Radek Zelenka and Todd the Wraith, if you weren’t familiar) took a turn for, the moderator pointed out, Dragon*Con history as first Heyerdahl, then Nykl waded into the audience and acted as their own moderators, grabbing the mobile mics and taking questions as they scurried around, leaving Tapping with the corded microphone, tied to the front of the room. The topics ranged from silly to serious (including Heyerdahl walking away from a questioner in good fun when she did not have a question for him, and Nykl undoing a button of his shirt when a fan proclaimed him a sex symbol) and all three were in good spirits, discussing their experiences working with each other, their current and future works and, just in case you were wondering, Nykl really was teaching us all to swear in Czech. I still might be immature enough to rewatch SGA just to learn the good cusses. (Who are we kidding, I don’t really need a reason to rewatch SGA.) Which brings us to one of the important aspects of these panels: if they’re having fun, you’re having fun. The attitude that the celebrities bring to the panels can make or break that hour you’ve been looking forward to all day.

So it’s a good thing Wil Wheaton was in good spirits and Colin Ferguson wasn’t too hungover, because the Eureka panel, also attended by Jordan Hinson (Zoe Carter) and Chris Gauthier (Vincent, the proprietor of the town cafe) and science advisor to the show, Dr. Kevin Grazier, fell victim to the magnetic personalities of Ferguson, Wheaton and Hinson, who stole the show right off the bat and barely looked back. While no one was giving out season five spoilers, Wheaton did disclose that there was no bringing the show back, because the sets were being torn down, to the disappointment of the audience, but otherwise kept the mood light by bantering with Hinson and Ferguson and, despite other opinions to the contrary as to what was the funniest moment, made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe when he deigned to sign Colin Ferguson’s manbreast after protesting that for his first trip to Dragon*Con, no one had asked him to sign a boob yet. When later questioned about which show he preferred working on, Star Trek: TNG or Eureka, Colin could be seen just off camera reminding Wheaton that they’d shared a special moment earlier involving Wheaton’s signature and Colin’s chest, if that might help him make his decision. Instead Wheaton treated us to an introspective answer that he wasn’t the same person at 39 as he was at 14 and comparing the two experiences was impossible. Good show, Wil Wheaton.

One of the things they say is important about con is making “con friends” – those much-abused fellow line-waiters with whom you strike up conversation because hey, we’re all nerds here, and if we’re both standing in line for a Star Trek panel, there’s no possible way to talk out of being fingered as a Star Trek fan. (Let’s no one use the nomenclature associated with the documentary of the same name – I’m still traumatized, fifteen years later. I’ve only recently been able to acknowledge that I used to really enjoy Star Trek of several types. Be gentle with me.) I am pleased to report that I managed to find a connection with several such folks, and my acquaintance pool of nerds grows. I can only blame my thrill of success in this venture on my youth, where I was pretty sure outing myself as a nerd would lead to certain doom. At cons, however, no one’s keeping that a secret.

Lastly, though I have no photographic evidence to back myself up (everyone has vacation disasters – my mother has informed me that I am genetically predisposed to litter America, nay, the world, with cameras filled with my less than stellar photography – someone, somewhere, right now, has my camera. As it has evidence of my meager social life and a rather nice keychain shaped like a Stargate attached to it, I would like it back. But as our favorite slow-witted mercenary reminds us, if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak.), one of the major highlights of Dragon*Con is the COSTUMES. I saw no fewer than two dozen Amy Ponds, at least three Snapes, three Supermans, two Lara Crofts, and seven Commander Shepards (four of which were femSheps! YAHOO!). I was standing by when Tony Stark challenged an LED-glowing Whiplash to a duel and when two screen-accurate Predators were having coffee in styrofoam cups near the hot dog vendor. I got to see an entire gathering of Jayne Cobbs wearing several of Jayne’s signature t-shirts and even found a group palling around looking like they just walked off the set of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. I also managed to be around when every Resident Evil cosplayer in the telephone tree showed up for an RE photoshoot – I tell you, I am thisclose to actually completing an RE game after seeing so many fantastic costumes. I tell you, the time these folks put into screen accurate costumes (of course the infamous 501st Legion were there and no one does a stormtrooper like the 501st) is mind-boggling. I do have to say that I was glad my brain wasn’t victimized by any nude Daenerys Targaryens like those poor sods at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, but instead saw several well-clothed representations – including one with what I hope was fake blood all over her mouth, carrying a paper mache horse’s heart. A good accessory does sometimes a costume make.

And while the elevators are an oft-discussed bonding ritual (I could’ve really invaded Diana Gabaldon’s personal space, but I chose not to, even though the rule is take one when you can get one, “we’re all friends now”), and line-queuing is something D*Con vets are still baffled by, I have to say it was one of the friendliest groups of 40,000 people I was ever a part of. (Except for the fool who has stolen my camera. There’s a curse on it, you know. Just you wait.) Next year, though, if they put Jonathan Coulton on the guest list, they better deliver. I was one zombie song short this time around.