Dragon Con 2014 Post Mortem
By Philip Schweier
September 9, 2014 - 10:32
I have spent all but one of the past 13 Labor Days in Atlanta, attending DragonCon. It has grown to become the biggest multi-media event on the East Coast. However, this expansion has created problems for many of the attendees. Finding a hotel room has become an almost insurmountable challenge, and some events are simply so congested, they’re not even worth attending.
As this year’s event got under way, I briefly toyed with taking next year off, but now that it’s all done, I can’t imagine not attending. Despite the challenges that come every year, the rewards make it worthwhile. This year, I joined the Classic Sci-Fi Programming track, and had the opportunity to be a part of the Kolchak, Buckaroo Banzai, and Rankin Bass panels.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Dollars
This year, my friend Dr. Doug shared a few stories about the nightmare of DragonCon photography. First, there was a senior convention photographer whose three hotel rooms were confirmed months ago, only to have those reservations disappear from under her. In fairness, it sounds like more of a hotel issue, not a DragonCon screw-up. It brought into question her ability to even attend DragonCon, but convention staff intervened and she got at least one of her rooms back.
Then there was Dr. Doug’s own experience at the Marvel cosplay shoot. Each year, DragonCon invites cosplayers to a group photo for their chosen fandom, and other photographers are welcome to participate so long as they are not disruptive. Usually it’s all very informal, but starting last year, any cosplayer participating in the Marvel shoot was required to sign a release form. This year, they added a second layer of tomfoolery in the form of restricted photographers.
According to superherocostumingforum.com (SCF), who organized this year’s Marvel shoot, the plan was for 15 sanctioned photographers, a mix from SCF, DragonCon, and Atlanta-area press. However, according to Dr. Doug, approximately 25 showed up, including two people with cell phones. Only designated photographers – of which there were about five – were permitted to even attend the shoot. Others, including some working for DragonCon, were kept at arm’s length.
This raises questions as to what criteria was used for the unknown shooters participation. Organizers of the shoot certainly entitled to establish their rules, but it’s not unreasonable to expect accommodations for general fan photographers who are not privy to inside information. It would make sense for such details – as well as release forms – to be made available in an obvious place, e.g. the DragonCon website.
Once again, it sounds like someone outside of the DragonCon organization pulling the strings – most likely a handful of over-aggressive copyright attorneys for Marvel Comics’ parent company, Disney.
Overheard on the escalator in the Hyatt…
Goth Girl with fangs: Hey, Superman. If I bite your neck, will I absorb your powers?
Guy in Superman t-shirt: You’ll have every super-human ability I have, but they still won’t be enough to deal with an angry Lois Lane.
Copyright or Copy Wrong?
There actually was a panel regarding copyright issues held for the benefit of artists attending DragonCon, presumably explaining how artists are able to create imagery featuring copyrighted properties and sell it at conventions or online.
One artist pointed out several of his colleagues who were clearly violating a number of trademarked properties. He explained to me that many companies view such work as a form of “free” advertising. While companies may have the legal right to issue a cease & desist order, it would be a PR nightmare for a corporation to go after an independent artist eeking out a meager living selling portraits of the cast of Star Trek.
It seems to me the logical alternative would be to offer the artist a full-time position in the company’s marketing department.
In generations past, comic book artists worked on a freelance basis. Today, as they approach their senior years, many comic book creators struggle to maintain a work-flow that will support themselves, and often have inadequate health insurance to meet their needs. Perhaps a sudden illness put them financially behind, or maybe a check they were counting on from a less-than-reliable publisher never came.
That’s where the Hero Initiative comes in. The Initiative raises money by publishing benefit comics and hosting events so that comic creators in need can get a helping hand and hopefully find steady work. Comic book artist George Perez is on the board of the Initiative, and he often raises money for the Hero Initiative through convention sketches.
A few years ago, Perez drew me a Doc Savage; last year I got a Superman. This year, I approached his table, trying to decide between The Shadow or another Superman, a gift for a friend. “I just drew a Superman. I’d rather do The Shadow,” he told me. Sounds good.
As he drew, it occurred to me that The Shadow is an upturned collar, a hat, and two eyes in between. Maybe I should have gone for the Superman.
On the elevator in the Marriott…
A woman got on the crowded elevator carrying a 4-ft. Claymore sword, much like the one Mel Gibson had in Braveheart. Another passenger commented on it. “It’s for my husband,” she explained. “His 50th birthday is next month.”
“When I turned 50,” came the reply, “all my wife got me was a prostate exam.”
Mildly brandishing the weapon, the woman added, “Great! That makes this purchase a two-fer.” Ouch.
On my 10th birthday, I received a copy of Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes #205 in the mail. My sister sent it to me from Indiana University, where a friend of hers was taking Michael Uslan’s comic book course. It was a great birthday gift, as far as I was concerned, though my real gift (The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer) still awaited.
Anyhoo, Legion #205 featured a profile on its new artist, Iron Mike Grell. His work was so distinctive to me that it made me sit up and take notice of other artists, instead of viewing as “house style” like Archie or Harvey Comics.
I followed Grell’s work very closely, from Legion to Warlord to Jon Sable, and sought out the handful of isolated issues of various titles he did over the years: Phantom Stranger #33 and Weird War Tales #67. In my teens, when I wanted to be a comic book artist, his was the style I would try to emulate.
And here he was, at DragonCon 2014, and here I was, willing to pony up the money for an original sketch. As with Perez, I debated what to get: The Warlord? Jon Sable? I decided something a bit more mainstream but still Grell: Green Arrow. He drew the Emerald Archer as a back-up feature in several issues of Action Comics, and later during a brief stint on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, followed by an extended run in mid-1980s.
So after 39 years, 10 months, two weeks and six days, I now have an original Mike Grell drawing. I doubt it will be my last.
Stars My Destination
I visited the Walk of Fame only briefly. There are some celebrities who always attend DragonCon, mostly people whose TV shows went off the air years ago. Then there are others that rotate, such as various cast members of Firefly, Star Trek and other recent projects.
Curran seems to genuinely appreciate the opportunity to meet the fans. In my brief chat with him I never felt as though he was eager to send me on my way in favor of another fan with more disposable income. If he should come to an event in your area, he’s well worth seeking out.
Merchants of Disaster
In recent years, DragonCon has managed to resolve many of its more frustrating issues, such as registration. I understand the wait in line to pick up your badge was dramatically reduced this year. Kudos to the staff.
The dealers room, not so much. For many years, the dealers room was located in the basement of the Marriott, where it became increasingly congested. The fact there was only a single entry/exit didn’t help.
Last year and this year, the vendors have been moved across the street, occupying exhibitor space at the America’s Mart. This has helped, but it’s still a work in progress. There are two exhibitor rooms on the first floor, one hidden behind the other. They both get extremely congested, as customers pause to make a purchase, thereby impeding the flow of traffic.
The dealers room is on the second floor. Its biggest issue is a lack of traffic flow. As a result, many DragonCon attendees end up backtracking along their path, sometimes wondering if they’ve been down one aisle or another. As with the exhibitor space, there is a second area that may get overlooked.
On the plus side, DragonCon can now host more vendors than ever before, leading to more competitive pricing on merchandise, and in some instances a greater variety. While book dealers, t-shirt vendors and comic book merchandise can be found in ample supply, there is also a growing number of costumers, steampunk fabricators, and Doctor Who memorabilia.
Cosplay is a big part of DragonCon. Some attendees step out of the every day clothes and donning Starfleet uniforms, Jedi robes or HALO armor for the entire four days. Inevitably, you have a mix of a variety of body types, racial mash-ups and gender-bent characters. Taken to the extreme, I don’t mind. It’s DragonCon!
But when it’s a little more sedate, the shock value may not be there, but it’s no less disturbing to see a 40-year-old Harry Potter, an exceedingly thin slave Leia or a white version of Luke Cage. Let’s face it – no matter how hip-hop one might be, you’re still too pale to pull off a Power Man cosplay.
Most Ubiquitous Costume: a tie between Velma from Scooby Doo and Peter Quill, the “legendary” Star Lord, both seen in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and genders. Honorable mention goes to Deadpool.
Most Unique Costume: Sgt. Storm from the Maj. Matt Mason line of action figures. Look him up; he's a treasure to baby boomer boys. Honorable mention goes to Jake from State Farm. And yes, he was wearing khakis.