Dragon*Con 2009: Terry Gilliam, Malcolm McDowell, Cosplay and the Bluth Company
This Labor Day weekend marked the 23nd annual Dragon*Con, the U.S.'s largest multi-genre convention for science-fiction, fantasy, gaming, anime and comic fandom. For four days, hordes of costumed con-goers took over several city blocks of downtown Atlanta to revel in all things geeky. This was the first convention of this nature that I'd ever attended, and I didn't know what to expect. Needless to say, it was a total blast.
[Above: It certainly helps that the interior of the Marriott-Marquis looks like something out of TNG-era Star Trek.]
The early-morning double-header of panels from William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy was enough of a draw that lines for tickets were already wrapped around the block when we arrived around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. But still, I was mildly incredulous at first that this convention was booked for four whole days. How much time do you really need to show off your sweet custom-painted Warhammer 40,000 figurines and get peer edits on your fan-fiction manuscript about a showdown between the Daleks and Cylons?
I choked down the snark pretty quickly, though. It's easy to be overwhelmed until you get your bearings, because there's so damn much to do. Everywhere you turn, overstimulation awaits in the form of a panel, or a discussion room, or a dealer's booth, or a gaggle of neon-haired cyberpunk-samurai. After arriving, I tentatively peeked into different panel rooms to take some pictures and oh-em-gee! Who should I see but Malcolm McDowell, in a panel about Clockwork Orange! (He was right in the middle of talking about filming the Ludovico Technique scene, to a chorus of queasy laughs from the audience.)
[Above: If Microsoft Word was a better program, it would automatically capitalize "Ghostbusters."]
The entire day proceeded basically at that same rate: I had no idea what to expect, and was perpetually pleasantly surprised by the entertainment. People were all-too-eager to do video interviews about their con experience, and their meticulously-crafted costumes. One group cosplays as colonial marines from Aliens to benefit local charities. Another group born on the messageboards of Yahoo builds scale replica remote-controlled R2D2s (see photo below). We stumbled into one discussion room where a group was engaged in a heated debate about The Lord of the Rings' Aragorn as an allegorical representation of Jesus Christ.
The largest chunk of my day was spent at a panel hosted by Terry Gilliam for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, after which I did an interview with him (video coming soon to these very pages). Shortly after that, as we trolled the food court of a nearby mall for lunch, I was offered a replica lightsaber for my "Bluth Company" t-shirt. Now, this wasn't some $20 glowstick dealie; this was the genuine article from the Lucasarts surplus catalog. I briefly considered making the trade, but my Arrested Development shirt is one-of-a-kind. And the implications of spending the rest of my day shirtless at DragonCon was a particularly sour thought, given the numbers of shirtless tweens in cat ears being led around by their girlfriends on chain leashes (furries keep their con game strong, as always). It was with a heavy heart that I told the breathless Kit Fisto cosplayer no.
It's something of a cliché that events like these are the magical weekends where the world's biggest introverts get to become the world's biggest extroverts, and there's some truth to that. But really, that's just a backhanded bit of nerd-bashing. Dragon*Con is an exercise in shared culture: this is the geek Talladega, Woodstock and Superbowl combined. People come here because they know that the other con-goers share their values, their humor and their cultural predilections. It's the same damn reason people gather around the television on Monday nights to watch adult men beat the crap out of each other, or congregate in musty warehouses when the next Brooklyn-born piece of blog-fodder comes through town.
So now the lights have gone down on the Hyatt-Regency, and the costumes are boxed back up until next year. And in our private moments, we'll let loose a knowing chuckle at the fedora-clad IT guru whose desk is freshly-adorned with the figurines of the Jedi Guardian Council he traded his replica Highlander sword for. Laugh all you want, but he's just had the best weekend of his year, and you don't know what you're missing.