It has taken me a week to recover from DragonCon. Not only was I exhausted after the travel, but standing in lines, wearing a backpack, fighting through crowds, and sweating in the hot Georgia sun really takes it out of a person. I attended MegaCon in Orlando, FL earlier this year and while the weather was hot, it didn’t bother me because the entire convention took place under one roof. I never had to leave the sweet, sweet air conditioning. At DragonCon, however, the convention encompasses five hotels in downtown Atlanta. The sky bridges between hotels quickly became bottlenecks and the best way to get from place to place was outside in the high humidity. Trust me, it wasn’t a weekend to forego bathing or forget your deodorant. Thankfully con stench was minimal.
The 2014 DragonCon was by no means smaller than last year. It had a record breaking 62,000 attendees, half of San Diego’s annual Comic-Con. Every year the Atlanta convention gets bigger and bigger, pretty soon they’ll be annexing all the buildings in the area just keep up with the numbers. While the convention might be getting bigger, it still keeps close to its small roots of being an intimate convention with a variety of panels. It’s also the best organized convention I’ve ever been to and I’ve trekked the US for my fandom. I also can’t praise the staff and volunteers enough for their courtesy, professionalism, and their overall knowledge of what was going on at all times. I give extra points for Dan Carroll, the head geek behind the entire convention.
DragonCon takes place every year during Labor Day weekend. What better way to celebrate how hard you work every year than to revel in every sort of fandom goodness under the sun? That leads me to point out that DragonCon is very diverse in the amount of fandoms represented there. While all types of geeks are welcome at these conventions, sometimes everything they like doesn’t have a panel or headlining guest. At DragonCon, however, fans don’t have to worry about wandering around the dealer’s room without anything to interest them, because there literally is something for everyone.
What I love about DragonCon is that way it’s organized. The convention uses fandom tracks that divides panels and guests into their separate fandoms, so you can set up your schedule based around your interests. There are over thirty tracks, including the standards like Star Wars, Star Trek, Anime/Manga, Whedon Universe, and comics. The more specialized tracks is what makes DragonCon stand out from other comic conventions. These tracks focus on everything from science, writing, film, British television, and many more. My favorites are the animation, puppetry, comics, and writing tracks.
I arrived Friday with my itinerary all planned, interviews scheduled, and all my technology charged up. You would be surprised how quickly batteries drain when you’re at these things. The first panel I decided to check out was on the animation track with George Lowe. George Lowe is famous for his role as Space Ghost on Cartoon Network’s show Space Ghost Coast to Coast. He informed the audience that whenever he does a panel he always forgets what he wants to talk about, so he wrote down some notes. He proceeded to ignore his notes and humor his audience with stories about his recent eye surgery. His retina fell out of place twice! Lowe used to be pre-med and his doctor was aware of that fact, so the doctor thought Lowe might be interested in learning about some of the more parts of the procedure. Lowe didn’t appreciate the courtesy. He shared some stories about traveling and horrible restaurants he’s eaten at, when he turned back to his notes. Some of his stories bordered on lewd, but no more than late night TV. The audience groaned at some of his humor, so he handed the panel off to a Q and A with the audience.
I pulled out a little early to head to the Walk of Fame, where invited guests mingle with the fans, take pictures, and sign autographs. As I left, Lowe made a funny comment about my hat and me leaving because I was offended by his jokes. That earned a smile from me and I waved him off. One can never take George Lowe too seriously.
I trekked outside to get to the Walk of Fame and a long line had already wrapped around the building for the Patrick Stewart panel at 1:00 PM. I love Captain Picard and was looking forward to meeting him over the weekend, but he was going to be giving another panel tomorrow.
At most conventions, guests are housed in a crowded dealer’s room. While that’s part of the usual convention experience, it’s nice to have an area sanctioned off and you don’t have to muddle through swarms of people… much. Okay, I admit it got loud and crowded, but it keeps moving unless you’re standing in line waiting to meet a celebrity. I made the rounds to locate the names I wanted to meet, then I allowed my fangirl to geek out as I passed Gates McFadden, Karl Urban, and several voice actors I adore. I’ve learned as a professional interviewer that while some celebrities enjoy and often laugh at geeking out moments, many of them find it annoying and awkward.
After locking my fangirl up in my mind and hiding the key underneath my hat, I met some of the Once Upon a Time cast. Lee Arenberg was my particular favorite. He plays Grumpy the Dwarf on the show and he is also famous for his role as Pintel on Pirates of the Caribbean aka the pirate who says, “Alo Poppet.” I asked him how many episodes he would be in the new season of Once, he replied that he would be in about half of them. My next question dealt with how he and Mackenzie Cook, aka the pirate who with the wooden eye worked, on their rapport filming pirates. Arenberg said they spent a lot of time together and from that relationship were able to make their on screen presence hilarious.
I passed by more of the Once Upon a Time cast: Beverley Elliott, who plays Granny, and Rebecca Mador, who portrayed Zalena the Wicked Witch. Each had long lines beside their tables. I walked by Gigi Edgley’s table who played Chiana on Farscape and I paused to watch her interact with fans smiling the whole time. We met each other’s eyes, so I waved at her and she did the same.
My joy soared when I found may to the voice actor section of the Wall of Fame. It was great reconnecting with George Lowe after seeing him at Mega-Con and at the earlier panel. We exchanged jokes. Bill Farmer was my next stop, though he was on his way out to a panel. Before I introduced myself, he took one look at me and remembered that we had met at Disney convention four years ago. Farmer does the voice of Goofy for Disney, among many others, and like all voice actors I’ve met he’s one of the nicest people in Hollywood. For the first time, I met the talented Erin Fitzgerald. A little Monster High fan was afraid of approaching her and asking for an autograph and she was a little cranky due to it being way past her naptime. Despite us trying to persuade her to meet the voices of her beloved characters, she told her mom to take her home. I also met the kind and wonderful Caitlin Glass, Ona Grauer, Jessica Dicicco, and Dino Andrade.
While there was another panel on my schedule, the Art Show and Artist Alley were calling my name. In my young otaku days, the Artist Alley was reserved for mediocre artists selling their fanart and comics. Keep in mind that I attended small anime conventions that only had a few hundred attendees. DragonCon, however, hosts many talented people exhibiting their works, but what makes it interesting is that artists and comic book people are divided into their pertinent groups. The comic artists and writers have an entire room to themselves, where you browse, chat with the creators, and find a new, great read. What I enjoyed was connecting with people I hadn’t seen since the last DragonCon: Ted Naifeh and Comfort and Adam Love. I also met several new comic book writers and artists and I’m very excited to read and interview them in the future.
Probably the most amazing comic book contact I made was with Don Rosa. who is often lauded as Carl Barks’s heir. From 1986 to 2008, Rosa wrote and illustrated the Donald Duck comic books that starred the titular hero, Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewey, Louis, Daisy Duck, Drake Von Ludwig, and several other famous characters. His booth was situated to the left of the entrance and I did a double take when I saw him. Five feet away from me was a comic book legend and only thing I could do when I greeted him was grin like an idiot and spout off praise for his dedication to continuity and telling a good story. With Dan Carroll’s permission, I was allowed to ask comic book people, artists, and anyone not on the Walk of Fame for an interview. Rosa smiled and thanked me for the compliments, though he downplayed his role and he agreed to a short interview when the convention got slower. More on that later.
The artists, like the comic book people, are sanctioned off into an area that doubles as an art show and auction. Much like other conventions, you can chat with the artist and negotiate over prices, but what is different and amazing in my opinion about this art show is that most of the works exhibited are original. A few artists have fanart floating around their booths, but most of them showcase their own creative ideas. I love fanart. When I’m bored, I go to DevinatArt and search for pairings I ship or to see different interpretations of my favorite characters, but there’s only so much I can want to see. As a reviewer and writer, I am hungry for new ideas and art styles. My biggest disappointment is when I see an artist in full bloom and their portfolio only contains fanart. I understand the argument that fanart usually sells better than original pieces, but I encourage artists to challenge themselves. At DragonCon, I spent a solid hour browsing the booths satisfying my need to for original works and disappointed that I couldn’t afford the nicer, bigger pieces.
I tore myself away from the art show and artist alley to head for an interview I’d been dreaming about since I received approval: Naomi Novik. Novik is the author of the Temeraire books, a fantasy series about what would happen if dragons were around during the Napoleonic wars. She combines history with fantasy elements, which has made me more often than once research historical figures and battles and wish I had my own dragon. As a courtesy to the press, DragonCon has a interview rooms where reporters can meet with their interviewees free from the loud screams, random conversations, and flash bulbs that litter convention floors.
Novik and I were scheduled for 3:00 PM and I arrived twenty minutes early to not keep her waiting. Several other reporters and convention volunteers, were stationed outside the rooms with in one of those quiet alcoves that is rare to find, but exists at all conventions. I was reading through my schedule, when a woman walked up to us and asked where to check in for the interviews. I looked up and asked with a bit of fangirl creeping into my voice, “Are you Naomi Novik?”
She nodded and asked if I was her interviewer. In flabbergasted professionalism, I shook her hand and stated I was very honored she took the time to allow me interview her, though I was disappointed I hadn’t found the time to purchase a book for her to sign. Novik said she was glad to met me as well, but not to worry about an item to sign because she had brought me a reviewer’s copy of her latest book to debut next summer!
When 3:00 pulled around, the DragonCon volunteer informed us we were scheduled for Saturday afternoon instead of Friday. Both Novik and I were confused since we were given the same time, so we decided to venture into humid Atlanta to find a quiet cafe to talk. I’ll post the interview at a later date.
After my interview with Novik, I headed over to the bunraku puppetry demonstration. Bunraku puppetry is also known as tabletop puppetry. Marta Mozelle and Jessica Simon explained that bunraku involves three people maneuvering a doll on a flat surface. Each person is stationed at either the head, torso, and legs and working as a seamless unit to bring the doll to life. Mozelle and Simon are professional puppeteers, who currently working on a their own bunraku project called Ruby and Charlie, which premiered at the O’Neill Puppetry Conference.
Later in the demonstration, the audience members teamed up to work on their own bunraku performance. All groups were given a doll and a prop; we were told to do something creative with the item, i.e. have the doll love it, hate it, be scared of it, be curious about it, etc. You showed these feelings through the doll’s movements and gestures. My team’s object was a coffee filter (the wondrous items you can find hidden in a panel room) and we decided to have our doll be cautious around the filter, then destroy it, and then run off. I was responsible for the feet, so I got to destroy the coffee filter. The hard part about bunraku puppetry, as I learned, was coordinating movements. Mozelle and Simon instructed us that we should follow the head’s lead, because as humans we look with our heads first and then our bodies follow.
Even though I’d only be at the convention for a few hours, I was tired and needed a full night’s sleep for the trek on Saturday.