2016 was my first time attending Dragon Con. It was Dragon Con’s 30th anniversary, and being there among 77,000 of my fellow con goers was a pretty overwhelming experience. Despite feeling like a dust particle swirling in a whirlwind of geeks, I learned some valuable lessons about what you can do to make your Dragon Con experience the best it can be. If you’re looking at all of the things going on and don’t know where to start, here are a few things you should plan on doing.
See Someone Famous
There are a lot of celebrities big and small that make an appearance at Dragon Con. You should make it to one of their panels just to say you saw them, if for nothing else. Being a huge Daredevil fan, I had really wanted to see Charlie Cox, but time conflicts with commitments to the podcast track prevented me from making it to either of his panels. I had some free time Sunday morning, and I found a panel with Jason Isaacs. I didn’t even know he was going to be there until I reviewed the schedule Saturday night. I’m a huge Harry Potter geek (Isaacs plays Lucius Malfoy) and thought he was the best part of Dig (where he played the lead - Peter Connelly), so I got in line. I’m so glad I did. The man was ridiculously charming, told some fascinating stories from behind the scenes of projects he’s worked on, and even answered any questions the audience threw at him. Plus, I got to take his picture and say I saw someone famous! Get in at least one of the long lines to a panel with a famous person. You get to see them out of character, and you’ll likely get to learn something.
Check out the Cosplay
Cosplay is a big deal at Dragon Con. It’s impossible to avoid as you will see cosplayers in every direction you look. Still, take a little time to really see some of the incredible work the cosplayers have put together. In the lobby of the hotels, there will be professional level cosplayers posing for pictures. Just make sure you ask before taking pictures, and for crying out loud don’t touch (cosplay is not consent). Some of the notable cosplay I saw were the Lego Ghostbusters (OG cast) dancing to the Ghostbusters theme in the Hilton lobby (because why not), a woman dressed as the girl from the grudge who refused to break character as she moved painfully slowly around the Marriott lobby, a perfect Han and Greedo shooting it out in the Marriott atrium, Bill Doran’s (Punished Props) perfect Fallout costumes, and an eight foot Cthulhu complete with a man on stilts that was truly terrifying. If you want to see the best concentration of cosplay, find a good spot for the Dragon Con parade and take in all the madness.
Check out a Panel that Celebrates your Geekdom (or Lack Thereof)
On Sunday I attended the panel “Fantastic Beasts and Upcoming Movie Trilogy”. A discussion/prediction of the upcoming movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, which takes place in the Harry Potter universe. As I mentioned before, I consider myself a Harry Potter geek; I’ve read the books multiple times, listened to the audio books, and watched the movies more than I can bother to count. I walked into this thing feeling like I knew a thing or two about the world of Harry Potter. I was wrong. I know nothing, Dumbledore. Within minutes of the panel starting I realized there was another level of Harry Potter geek I was unaware of. I only understood about 75% of the things they were saying. It was fascinating. These people had knowledge of Harry Potter I didn’t know existed. It was intimidating, but I recommend experiencing it. If you consider yourself an expert, you may not be. You can find something new to geek out about that you didn’t even know existed in this universe you love. You may find a new friend to share your obsession with.
Explore the Vendor Halls
I’ve been to Jerusalem. Within the old city walls is a labyrinth of pathways lined with makeshift stalls filled with a myriad of items for purchase. Multicolored curries, junk souvenirs, random trinkets, intricate jewellery, knock-off electronics, and t-shirts you would probably get shot for wearing. The vendor hall at Dragon Con is a lot like that, except there are way more Funko Pop vinyl figurines. The vendors covered all three floors of the America’s Mart, and aisle after aisle contained booths filled with anything you could possibly want and didn’t know you wanted. Board games, poke balls, swords, wands, comics, trading cards, original art, steampunk supplies, plush dragons, corsets, Japanese candy, t-shirts, video games, and so much more. You can even find hentai and other adult content without looking particularly hard. I was on a hunt for something to bring back to my wife that had to do with Jurassic World, her current obsession. I found a hand painted greeting card with Owen and a raptor that said “I’m Raptor Round Your Finger”. Win. Seriously, you can find anything in the vendor hall.
I’m not being metaphorical here. I encourage you to literally give blood. Make your way to the Dragon Con Blood Drive (there are signs everywhere that will direct you), and open a vein next to a fellow geek. Not only will you save lives and do something good for your fellow man, but you will also score the most exclusive Dragon Con t-shirt of all: the Dragon Con Blood Donor shirt. Just make sure you drink plenty of water, eat three hours before, and partake in the snacks and drinks after you donate to replenish. I donated next to Sailor Jupiter while listening to The Beatles and sipping on a Capri Sun. You’re not going to have a blood donation experience like that anywhere else.
Hit the Tracks
When in doubt, hit the tracks. These are pre-determined schedules that fall under a certain category such as Alternate history or Young Adult literature, and they allow you to follow a series of related, non-overlapping panels, shows or events. They take some of the guess work out of planning your time effectively. Browse around one that strikes your interest and see what you can find. You have absolutely no reason to be bored at Dragon Con. In fact, you should plan some down time to sit, rest, and eat. People watching at Dragon Con is an experience like no other. I guarantee you will see something you have never seen before.
Of course this isn’t the full list of all the things you can do at Dragon Con. I never made it to the gaming hall, but there are games of all kinds to participate in if that’s your thing. I didn’t attend any of the balls or parties because I’m an old married man, but they looked like a lot of fun from a distance. I’m kicking myself for not making it to a music show, with so much going on it’s easy to miss something. So, get to Atlanta and make the best Dragon con experience you can for yourself. You won’t regret it.