Dragon Con 2012 was my 20th year attending the Southeast’s largest fan convention, and if you’ve followed my coverage of it over the past couple of years you probably know most of what I’m going to say about it. Yes, the kinds of things that got me more or less excommunicated from their press list. Hey, I didn’t realize they’d actually go and read my articles. I’m not sorry for pointing out the rudeness and lack of hygiene of the geeks in attendance, nor am I sorry for jabbing at the has-been and never-was celebrities that make up the guest list. The toilets in the gaming area really are the most unsanitary place on Earth, I’m not making it up.
My searing, Hunter Thompson-like honesty about Dragon Con- not to mention the fact that I’m no longer under the professional aegis of Gameshark- means that I don’t get a journalist badge anymore. I’m just a rank-and-file plebe sans the big “PRESS” ribbon. Now I’m expected to pay a hundred and forty freaking dollars at the door to get into this show AFTER waiting in a line that literally wrapped around a city block instead of just walking into the press office and proving to them that I write about gaming, showing them a letter from Bill Abner as credentials.
I had stopped by Friday afternoon to meet with some friends but I didn’t buy a pass- I borrowed a badge from good friend and noted gaming scene socialite Steve Avery. I just wandered around with my two-year-old son and some buddies, slightly tipsy after begging a great Belgian-style IPA (!) off another friend that owns a craft beer boutique. On Saturday, my family and I got there early and just about turned around land left when we saw the registration line.
My wife dropped the “I’m a mom with two babies” card and cut in line, literally lopping off five or six hours of waiting in the hot sun next to a flabby nerd-sow in sweat-glazed latex and some braying jackass carrying on about some piece-of-shit SyFy channel show like Warehouse 13 or whatever. Three day badges were a whopping $90 a piece, which seems especially like a rip-off since most of our time was spent in the dealer’s room and the public areas of the hotels. We don’t go to panels anymore and I could really care less about waiting in another five to six hour line to see Gillian Anderson pretend to be interested in talking about the X-Files. Attendance this year was record-breaking, topping 52,000. Everything was overcrowded and cramped, the thick reek of social desperation and intellectual slavery to pop culture heavy in the air.
It’s not changed all that much in the two decades that I’ve gone. There is still the lingering inability for the convention to attract the kinds of guests that it was able to in the 1990s before founder Ed Kramer was brought up on charges for child molestation. Instead of John Carpenter, Clive Barker, and Neil Gaiman it’s a perennial assortment of fading celebrities and who-the-fuck-is-that people. It was pretty cool seeing Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor, and it’s always surprising how good Adam West and Burt Ward look. Rose McGowan was a huge disappointment. She’s not very pretty when she’s not a witch or an amputee on TV. It’s always sad to me to see the fine cast of Battlestar Galactica there every year, instead of getting hired on for other roles. I didn’t get to see Alice Cooper, which was a letdown.
There was a fun quasi-celebrity moment. My wife was talking to Lucky Yates, one of the guys that does voices on Archer (which I’ve never seen and know nothing about) and this dude came up wearing full-on N7 Commander Shepard armor. He was chit-chatting with Lucky (apparently pals), and I made the obvious nerd joke that Lucky was his favorite non-celebrity at Dragon Con. Turns out he was actually the guy that does Commander Shepard’s voice. I’m not really sure if it’s awesome or not that he was in costume.
The dealer’s room featured the same detritus it always does. I love that you can still buy Space: 1999 badges and collector’s plates featuring the bridge crew of the original Star Trek. If you’re in the market for devil horns, fetish wear, wiggling cat ears, a mace with a giant D20 on the business end of it, Geiger counters, or “hilarious” t-shirts that juxtapose one pop culture franchise with another, it’s the place for you. One booth I swear was nothing but Dominion games. Another had the new FFG version of Netrunner, which retails for $40, priced at $85. Then there was the crafters that were taking used bottlecaps and sticking a laser-printed image of your favorite character in them. I have no idea why in the world anyone would waste their money on that kind of crap. Who’s going to pay $800 for a cast autographed Harry Potter poster anyway? I spent $0, although I tried to convince my son to want a Green Lantern figure to no avail, since he really, really wanted a sword.
The gaming room was the usual cesspit of stinky, overweight, and middle-aged men hunkered over board games, safe in their subterranean womb where all social interaction is handled with dice and cards. I didn’t play a single game, and my friends- most childless- apparently didn’t get the memo that when you have mom and two under-three children along…you don’t sit down and play a two hour board game. They must have asked me ten times, and every time I pointed at my children.
Cards Against Humanity, a game that I had never heard of, appeared to be the big hit. My friends played it, and said it was like “dirty” Apples to Apples. I flipped through some of the cards and all I could think of was that it was like one of those “adult” board games you used to see at Spencer’s gifts in the mall. A bunch of people played Dominion. A couple of old dudes played some moldy wargame I’ve never heard of. My son ran over and pointed at Starfleet Battles and said “what’s that?” and I could not adequately explain it to him in less than 100 pages of rules. I saw a couple of tables running the new Descent, Steve Avery was trying to lure young ladies in to play his new game that involves cactuses and dart guns, and Atlanta gaming king Will Kenyon held court over- of course- Twilight Imperium.
The art area was crap, as usual, unless you like tacky, tasteless fantasy art. My friend Jason Thomas, who does some very cool robot and squid art as Red Rocket Farms, was put next to Neal Adams. Yeah, that Neal Adams that more or less defined the look of post-1960s Batman and put Green Lantern and Green Arrow on the road to combat drug abuse and racism. Jason did a great picture of a macaroni and cheese-serving robot for River. I didn’t see the lady that’s usually there that does all of the furry (read: bestiality) illustrations, which was a disappointment. I make it a point every year to heckle loudly at her pictures of well-hung dog men.
My kids, River and Scarlett were dressed like Batman and Robin and they had the best costumes at the con, apart from this group of folks dressed like Captain Avatar, Wildstar, and Nova from Star Blazers. Bellbottoms ahoy. The biggest problem is that Dragon Con cosplay has become infected with the same “sexy” virus that has ruined Halloween costuming. Now, attention-seeking women will dress in revealing costumes that are “sexy” versions of male characters. I saw not a single male Loki, but I saw several sexy Lokis and a couple of sexy Thors. Sexy Captain America, Sexy Flash, Sexy R2-D2, Sexy Joker. Oddly, I didn’t really see much Star Wars cosplay, which used to be a huge thing. Now you’re more likely to see a bunch of made-up nonsense from people apparently trying to dress as some kind of anime character so obscure that only the costumer has ever seen it. I guess you can’t really fail at recreating a look like that. For the record, it took me approximately three minutes upon arrival at the con to see someone dressed like that white-haired girl Dennis from Game of Thrones.
Regardless of how down I am on the con, I had a great time. The most important aspect to me is meeting up with friends I never see, like the group of high school friends that I went to my very first Dragon Con with in 1992. I reconnected with my Atlanta Game Factory family and we had an exquisite dinner at a Mexican fusion place- one of my friends commented “I’m 36 years old, I’m not eating peanut butter and salsa sandwichs in the Con Suite anymore.” We laughed, made jokes, and caught up with each other. We talked nerd stuff, made fun of bad art in the art show, and reminisced about the Good Times. Sure, we could have done all of that in a bar. But there’s something special about making this pilgrimage to this godforsaken event every year, and I’ll be there again next year.