Dragon Con 2014 Post Mortem
By Philip Schweier
September 9, 2014 - 10:32
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
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
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
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
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.
Stepping Close to the Mike
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
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.
I prefer to “visit” with those who may be unlikely to return, and
who seem to have avoided entering the realm of “kitsch value” (Kevin Sorbo, I’m
looking in your direction). This year I waited in line to speak with Tony
Curran. You may have seen him – or not – as the Invisible Man in the League
of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), and as Vincent Van Gogh on Doctor Who.
He first showed up on my radar as King Stephen in Pillars of the Earth
(2010), a mini-series I highly recommend. Currently, he is featured on the SyFy
Tony Curran as Vincent Van Gogh on Doctor Who
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.
An extraordinary entry from the Maj. Matt Mason action figures of the late 1960s.
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
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.
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