I awoke on Saturday dripping in perspiration. It wasn’t even 10:00 AM yet and the humidity levels were like a water balloon ready to burst. I wanted to stick a needle in the sky and watch the water pour down to the relief of Atlanta, except for the cosplayers in fragile gear. I spend a little of the morning people watching as I waited for the Farscape: The Puppets I’ve Seen panel to start. Scanning the crowds, I was surprised to see very few people dressed like Walking Dead characters. Last year you couldn’t turn a corner without a Michonne ready to cut your head off or a Carl wielding his hat and gun. The trends this year was more Sailor Moon, steampunk, Frozen, Disney princesses, and large costumes that took up more hallway space than comfortable. DragonCon, though, has a huge literary presence, more so than many other conventions. Many fans dressed up as obscure characters from books and when I identified them I was hugged and thanked. It’s a great feeling to not only have someone compliment your costume, but also recognize what it’s from.
When I first started attending conventions, I counted myself among the many cosplayers, but limited time and money for a decent costume usually keeps me from joining my costumed brethren. Another factor is a that many costumes are uncomfortable, delicate, and hot, not to mention you spend half your time fending off photographers. Some revel in this attention, but when you’re trying to get to a panel ten minutes away and it starts in five, a hand tapping your shoulder is annoying. Plus being on your feet for hours in high heels hurts.
I had brought my Zatanna costume, based off the Smallville version of the character, in case I wanted to sport the black wig and sequins. Waking up in sweat, though, soured that idea for me and the wig decided to transform into a rats nest overnight. One of the first rules of cosplay is if the hair doesn’t work, then the entire costume can be ruined. I took a few photos of my favorites, but head over to Samaze for more cool photos. Also my camera decided it didn’t want to focus or have a flash.
Another amazing thing about cosplay I’ve noticed over the years, is that more and more people are dressing up. It used to be considered extra to wear a costume, but now it’s the norm. If you don’t wear a costume, you’re the one who looks out of place. Maybe that will be a costume for me in the future: a shirt that says “a fan” or a “journalist.”
DragonCon takes over five hotels in downtown Atlanta in the heart of the business district. The place is usually reserved for retailers purchasing products for their stores at AmericasMart dressed in business casual. When DragonCon happens, people wielding phasers, swords, fake heads, masks, leather, and more women showing skin than considered suitable swarm the hotels. My favorite thing to see is someone dressed as a superhero or a tough character in the food court buying a sandwich or in the CVS searching for hair dye. The surreal meets reality and reminds you that these are normal people having fun. These situations are prime inspiration for fanfiction writers.
Finally enough time had passed and a quick room change led me to the Farscape panel. Farscape was a sci-fi show filmed in the early 2000s and produced by the Jim Henson Company. It was about John Crichton, an Earth astronaut, who flew into a wormhole and was transported to the other end of the galaxy. His shuttle collided with the living ship Moya in the middle of an escape attempt from the militaristic Peacekeepers. Crichton joins the crew of convicts as they pilot the galaxy and he searches for a way home. Gigi Edgley who played the sweet thief Chiana and Victor Yerrid a puppeteer on the show were the panel guests. The pair were asked about their experiences on the show, especially how the puppetry was different from other Henson productions. Edgley mentioned that when she was playing Chiana she literally embodied her. The filming schedule was so tense she would wake-up, go to make-up, work, then take the make-up off, and go to sleep. Victor Yerrid and I met last year on the puppetry track. He flattered me by remembering who I was and we chatted about puppetry, before I zoomed away for John Ratzenberger’s panel.
Animation is my favorite track after puppetry and comic books. While they had many big names in the animation industry, I was disappointed with the limited offerings for animation this year. I had planned my schedule days in advance, so I hadn’t noticed when Cliff the postman from Cheers was going to make an appearance at DragonCon. I never watched Cheers nor cared about the show, but I do love John Ratzenberger’s place in Pixar history. Unless you’ve been living in the Disney vault for years, you’re probably aware that Pixar loves to insert Easter Eggs into its movies. My favorite Easter egg is John Ratzenberger. In every single Pixar movie he has played a cameo. His voice has brought to life Hamm the Piggy Bank from Toy Story, P.T. Flea from A Bug’s Life, and Mac the Truck from Cars.
Ratzenberger has never graced the convention circuit before, so I knew this was a monumental event. The only problem was that his panel was taking place at the same time as Patrick Stewart’s and Terry Gilliam of Monty Python. Pixar animation always trumps British comedy and Star Trek, so I rushed to claim my spot in Ratzenberger’s panel.
After watching a reel chronicling the voices he’s played, Ratzenberger entered the hall to giant geek fanfare. He appeared a little taken aback by the giant crowd, but he quickly adjusted and fell into an entertainer’s role. He told a few jokes about showing up at DragonCon at the last minute and being coerced into doing a panel. He then opened the floor to questions and most people asked him about his time on Cheers. I’m familiar enough with the show to enjoy stories about what Cliff would be doing now (he won a billion dollars and spent it all) and how fake beer was disgusting (if they were on the last shot of the day they would switch it out with Heineken on occasion), but he was advertised as a Pixar star. I wanted to hear more about working as a voice actor and what he liked about working with the best animation studio in the US.
Thankfully questions started to veer in that direction, though they were a repeat. One person asked what his favorite Pixar character that he voiced was: P.T. Flea, and the following person asked which character he voiced should get his own movie, P.T. Flea again. It was funny when someone asked Ratzenberger why he continued to voice Pixar characters and the response is what drives many stars in their careers: money. It was my turn at the microphone and something had been bugging me about Toy Story for years. In the first movie, Woody mentions the toys will have to break a few rules to scare the toy destroyer Sid by showing they’re alive. I’ve asked Andrew Stanton and Victor Navone at Pixar what the governing rules for toys were, but my reply was “In Toy Club the first rule about Toy Club is to not talk about it.”
So I wondered if Ratzenberger would be willing to break the silence, but he said if Andrew wouldn’t talk neither would he. One of these days I’ll get someone to tell me what those rules are.
The panel continued on with other questions that don’t strike my memory. Ratzenberger appeared to have a good time and many fans, including me, followed him to the Walk of Fame to get his autograph and say hello. I introduced him to my podcast Animation Interviews (check it out for a fun and informative listen) and we discussed Pixar, the studio’s atmosphere, and how people who work there are gosh darn nice.
Standing in line to meet Ratzenberger made me late for the Marionettes 101 panel, but I walked in on the last thirty minutes, enough time to test out a puppet. Presenter Anamaria Cristina Craciun explained how pulling on different strings yielded different movements and could change the character’s personality and emotions. I was allowed to play with one of the marionettes. It was a boy puppet wearing a nightgown and I practiced walking the character, which is one of the hardest and most important actions for a marionette.
When Marionettes 101 ended, I headed down to the Walk of Fame again and I ran into Garrett Wang aka Ensign Harry Kim on Star Trek: Voyager. We connected last year at DragonCon and we caught up on the past year, while I complimented him on his performance on the show. Before heading to Georgia, I had binged watched hours of Voyager, in particular Wang’s episodes. Just as I parted ways I was blocked by a line that snaked in on itself and blocked my exit. The line was for James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy. Sitting next to James Gunn was a guy looking sad and forlorn, playing with Sharpie marker. His card said he was Sean Gunn, was the stand in actor for Rocket Racoon on set, and was James Gunn’s younger brother. Since no one was talking to him, I asked if would he mind if I chatted with him about his work on the movie.
Sean Gunn told me he had to wear a green screen suit during filming and spoke Rocket’s lines to give the actors something to work off. As the stand in for Rocket, I wondered if any of his facial features were used to animate the space racoon. Gunn responded that a eyebrow position here and there was used, but character was based off a different concept. James Gunn turned to us and said his brother was on set to keep him company. We all laughed at the comment, when I noticed a line was forming behind me.
I headed out of the Walk of Fame and made by way to the dealer’s room. You never know what you’ll find for sale at a comic convention. Sometimes it’s a great deal on books or a rare collectible, other times it’s really cute plushie you must squish and love. I was extremely unimpressed and astounded at DragonCon’s dealer’s rooms. It was organized better this year with all dealers located on two floors of AmericasMart, but the merchandise was limited. I counted less than a dozen booths selling comic books or related memorabilia, only one or two was even selling the older stuff.
A large portion of the dealers were selling steampunk clothing and jewelry, bellydancing costumes, or cosplay accessories. This supports my theory that it’s more common for someone to wear a costume at a convention these days than regular clothes. Doctor Who and Disney’s Marvel Universe merchandise burst out of display cases. A entire portion of the dealer’s room was taken up by tabletop and roleplaying games booths. The usual anime dealers were there selling Japanese imports, knockoffs, and US made items, but there weren’t any manga books. Plushies dominated these tables and their cuteness made me want to fork over my life savings and cuddle them forever. The T-shirt tower was present in more than one area and there was even a Tribble claw machine game.
People are saying that the convention culture is shifting from comic books and a diehard male dominated population to TV and movie offerings and larger female fanbase. Comic conventions are also becoming more of pop culture conventions, offering more secular fans, including women, the opportunities to bask in their hobbies. The shift doesn’t bother me except in the instance that I like to read more than I like watching TV and I attend these events to find comics. It’s difficult to imagine a convention without much of a comic presence, but I hope the medium will be sustained and represented in the future.
Artist Alley had an hour before it closed, so I visited Don Rosa again and we sat down to a twenty minute interview. I’ll transcribe the interview soon for your reading pleasure. I learned he was a major celebrity in Europe, many countries reported his visits on the front pages of newspapers. Rosa hated giving interviews over the phone or email, so I was very lucky he made time for me. The Donald Duck comics Rosa wrote loosely inspired Disney’s DuckTales, but he is adamant that the comics are different from their regular Disney counterparts due to licensing and problems he’s experienced over the years with royalties.
After speaking with Rosa my feet were pounding and I wanted to devour a french fried Storm Trooper. While other panels were starting, a reputable and inexpensive sushi place was calling my name. I ended my day a few hours earlier than planned, but delicious raw fish and miso soup are hard to come by.