Every September, Atlanta plays host to the Mardi Gras of geek conventions. It’s known as Dragon*Con and is packed tightly with geeks like myself, all of us congregating together, waxing philosophical about the popular culture. But it’s so much more, too. It’s chock full of booze, boobs, debauchery and more partiers in costume than any Halloween party you could ever imagine.
I’ve written about other conventions, but this con is like no other. In fact, I was so blown away by the culture I witnessed that as soon as I came home from my first time there, I wrote a book about it. Sure, Lost at the Con is a largely fictional account of a drunken journalist sent to a Dragon*Con-like convention, but it was the most efficient way for me to communicate how fascinating the culture really is. This column will be able to give only the barest of tastes.
Because of my book—and my unwavering love of all things Star Wars—I was invited to appear on a number of panels at this year’s Con, and I was immersed once again into a world unseen by the eyes of the uninitiated.
Aside from the raucous parties, D*C is known for its reputation of bringing fans and celebrities closer than anywhere else, interacting in an incredibly social setting. Since there’s no actual convention center, all the con-goers, fans and celebrities congregate indiscriminately in the hotel lobbies, bars, ballrooms and meeting spaces of the three main host hotels. You simply walk out of your hotel room and have some of the most bizarre experiences of your entire life.
This year alone, I got to talk to Wesley Crusher himself, Wil Wheaton (who made me sign a copy of my book for him); I got to ask Carrie Fisher and Temuera Morrison (Princess Leia and Jango Fett from Star Wars, respectively) questions; and I got to watch the cast of Battlestar Galactica carouse onstage, regaling one other with war stories from the set. Afterward, I got to stand up while Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) ended the panel by leading us in an inspiring round of “so say we all!”
For the most part, the conversations are fun and civil, though you still get the occasional fan who asks Carrie Fisher about the amount of sweat on her boobs while shooting Return of the Jedi. Yes, that actually happened.
Interacting with celebrities is fun and makes your friends jealous, sure, but there’s something to be said about the expert fan panels. My favorite panel (even though I was a panelist) was devoted entirely to The Clone Wars, the 3-D animated show on Cartoon Network set in the Star Wars universe. Locally, I often feel alone and unable to properly discuss the show with people as equally invested in it as I am. Getting to speak to a crowded room full of fans about the intricate details of the show was somehow cathartic.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Dragon*Con, though, is the costumes on display. From Thursday night until Monday afternoon, every available inch of lobby space is crawling with convention-goers in the most elaborate costumes you’ve ever seen—from life-size costumes of The Electric Mayhem and Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor, to every sort of cleavage-baring female heroine you can imagine. The vast majority of the costumes are handmade, crafted by people who care.
And who can forget the alcohol? It’s odd being in a place that understands that people want to spend money on booze to have a good time. There were multiple mobile, temporary bars on every level of the host hotels, and, as long as you stayed in the building, you could take your open containers with you wherever you wanted. It’s a time to cut loose—and I think more people, regardless of what they’re geeky about, could learn a lot from the party known as Dragon*Con. It’s a great time.
In the meantime, don’t hesitate to read more about cons to get a feel for what they’re like. I can think of at least one good book that will make you feel like you’ve been there.
Bryan Young is the editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.