CK’s DragonCon Diary: Day 2 Controlled Choas

Sep 5, 2015

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There’s a lot going on here, y’all.

Yet somehow, DragonCon is more manageable than I expected. The couple of times I mentioned this was my first con, folks expressed the same sentiment: You came here first? But everyone agreed that if you’re going to make the most of your first con experience with a big con, DC is the way to go.

After my first full day of con attending, I wholeheartedly agree. The five host hotels seemed intimidating Thursday, but yesterday I discovered the con is easy to navigate and trips between hotels are brief. Today’s important tip: unless you are stopping on purpose, never stop in the middle of a crowd. Try to avoid people setting up for pictures, of course, but unless you’re about to walk in front of someone AS the flash is going off, photobombing one picture is better than holding up a big crowd in a tiny space.

I started the morning attending a newbie reporter walking tour, expertly hosted by Dan Carroll of the DragonCon media relations team. Another tip: never say no to newbie tours. The DragonCon team hosts walkthroughs for new attendees on Thursdays (which I missed, due to travel) and a Newbie 101 panel early Friday (which I coincidentally missed due to newbie tour).

The tour was invaluable. DragonCon is a staggeringly large event, and without the tour I think I would have wound up too overwhelmed to do anything but huddle in my hotel room after a few hours. Even as a former volunteer wrangler, it’s tough for me to conceive of finding 2300 volunteers, much less being able to engage with them efficiently. DragonCon manages both, and the results of the excellent management and the hard work of their volunteer teams are clear each day. Panels are clearly labeled, information booths are always fully staffed, and there will always be at least one volunteer stationed near you who can point you in the right direction if you get lost.

Without the tour, finding my next stop would have been impossible: thanks to our pit stop at the Walk of Fame, it only took me a few minutes to find Froggy’s photobooth on the international level. And, yes, I did in fact buy a photo-shoot this weekend. I don’t have much frame of reference for photo op costs, but the experience with Froggy’s team was so overwhelmingly pleasant that the cost seems worth it. Lines were quick, even for the Nichelle Nichols photo op, and I had a physical copy of my photo immediately (and a digital copy the same day, though I paid $10 extra).

One of my other two photo-shoots had been rescheduled, and I found myself with a much-needed break before my first real panel of the day. I’d packed a bag full of snacks and my own water bottle, and regretted not relying on both more when I bought lunch in the hotel. The food prices don’t seem too bad around DragonCon for event food ($5 for a hefty slice of pizza) and there’s a food court and a plethora of street vendors nearby with some intriguing choices.

But if you’re looking for ways to save a few dollars, this is it. Bring a water bottle, and fill it often — there are plenty of water coolers around for precisely that purpose. And given the amount of walking you’re doing, snacks and hydration are an urgent necessity. I put in eight miles yesterday, and that’s a low estimate. Having a granola bar or two will come in handy.

Lunch achieved, I set out after eating to explore the con proper and make my way to my first panel. I swung by the Walk of Fame for another minute (Candice Patton of The Flash hadn’t arrived yet, but the cute little girl who was so excited to meet her made my brief time in line worth it) and took in some stellar cosplay, particularly a family dressed as some of the Big Hero 6 team. Honey Lemon was adorable and Hiro looked like he was having the time of his life. The craftsmanship was amazing, though I not envy Hiro and Gogo having to navigate Baymax around the con!

By now it was coming up on 4pm (I am not ashamed to say I gave myself a lot of quiet time to help keep congoing manageable) and my first panel was on deck. Diversity in the MCTU proved to be a great choice. Panelists Karen, Page (Level 7 Access), Jamie Broadnax (BlackGirlNerds), moderator Melissa, Lila Vandenburgh (writer for BBC’s Uncle), and Andi (Women at Warp) led a fascinating and informative conversation about the state of the MCU at all intersections of diversity. As someone passionate about these issues, I also know that I live in a bit of a bubble — these are not conversations that get to happen in all geek spaces, but they are important, and it is incredible to see a geek event as big as DragonCon giving space to panels like this. I took copious notes, and can’t wait to share more with you next week.

Diversity in the MCTU Panel

Diversity in the MCTU Panel

After a trek back to the Hyatt, I ticked off another first con experience by setting up camp in my first panel line: the line for Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Carol Corps meet-up. Earlier this year she announced she would be leaving the Captain Marvel title to focus on her creator-owned works and her joint venture with husband Matt Fraction, Milkfed Criminal Masterminds. Since this was likely her last Carol Corps panel before the relaunch of the title, the line grew fast.

It was an emotional experience. Captain Marvel became a phenomenon, and it was easy to see that everyone in the audience had been deeply touched by this title in some way. Kelly Sue took questions for the full hour, sharing stories about her time on the book and her experiences with the Corps. Fans asked what she hoped for from the new team, but DeConnick made it clear that even though she’s stepping away from the title, she wants nothing more than for the Corps to support the new creative team as they’ve supported her. To paraphrase, “Are you in this to support the book, and the community? Or are you in this for your ego?”

Kelly Sue is an incredibly talented writer, and a warm and funny person whose passion for the Carol Corps and comics in general is readily apparent. The meet-up was an amazing experience, and I can guarantee I was not the only person who teared up when the Carol Corps cosplayers president stepped up to present a book of letters they’d written to share their gratitude. It was a privilege to be there, and an experience that will be hard to top this weekend — and it was only Friday.

Carol Corps!

After drying my eyes, it was time to round out the Milkfed Criminal Masterminds experience with a round-table including her husband Matt Fraction (who also happens to write some stellar comics of his own). Moderated by Vickie Willis of Georgia State, the round-table on History of Gender and Race in Comics was another incredible panel on the more problematic elements of comics as a medium. Panelists Kari Storia (University of Southern California), Daniel Amrhein (Independent Scholar), Jonathan Flowers (SIU Carbondale) and Matthew J. Brown (UT Dallas) led a fascinating, more academically-oriented discussion on the roots of women and characters of color in comics. It was utterly fascinating to hear these issues discussed from a systematic historical perspective, and the more modern perspectives of the panel attendees enriched the panel even more. This panel will be worth a deeper dive next week, but all of the panels hosted as part of the Comics and Popular Arts Conference are worth your time.

When I first became aware of DragonCon in my early teens, I was definitely not the kind of person who would think academic conference panels on comics would be worth my time. While I wish I’d been able to start doing cons earlier in my life, I’m also immeasurably grateful to be coming to this experience now. It’s tough but valuable to be a privy to conversations about problems facing the comics community, and equally important to know these panels and others are also celebrating things the community is getting right (like the Carol Corps). So if there’s a tip I have to close out my day two diary, it’s this: you can con and learn at the same time, and it will make your experience all the better.

Day three preview: the second-largest parade in Georgia, taking bets on how early I’m going to have to queue up for the Flash panel, and the continuing Dipper Pines cosplay count.