Debrief: Dragon Con 2018
Atlanta, GA – August 30 through September 3, 2018
Dragon Con 2018 is in the books and, as always, it was a fantastic show. Crowds were a little lower this year, coming in at an estimated 80,000 against the anticipated 85,000. The vibe seemed a little off this year, but it still provided a chance to catch up with some friends and family.
First things first, I’d like to thank the track directors and their volunteer staffs for welcoming me back and giving me a chance to entertain their audiences.
- Regina Kirby (main programming)
- Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel (American Science Fiction Classics)
- Brandy Roatsey (Star Wars)
- Kellen Harkins (American Science Fiction and Fantasy Media)
- Caro McCully Tidwell (BritTrack)
Second, but by no means any less important, I’d like to thank the volunteers. There are so many who help bring this convention to life every year – in fact, the vast majority of the hundreds who work the con are volunteers – but my deepest gratitude goes out to those who made the American Science Fiction Classics Track a welcoming home this weekend, including Rachel, Rachel, Rosalyn, Jennifer, and T. These folks always push the limits of what they can do to make this show fly, and I promise you that your hard work does not go unnoticed.
Third, I’d like to thank the convention for having me back as an Attending Professional. This was my tenth Dragon Con and my third as an Attending Pro, and I really enjoy spending the weekend having fun and putting on a good show.
The weekend started with the Dragon Con Newbies walking tours and Q&A sessions. This year brought a lot more newbies to our room than we’ve seen before. In fact, the events started at 2:30pm, but the room was filling up an hour earlier than that, and we sent between 500 and 600 newbies on tours before the crowds got too think to navigate. As always, Sue Kisenwether and Kim McGibony are heroes for their tireless work on the tours, and Kevin Bachelder is an awesome leader in this yearly effort. All of our tour leaders and wranglers deserve kudos for volunteering their time and knowledge, especially Kevin Eldridge, Christine Eldridge, and Stuart Grosse for taking out so many eager newbies in the Atlanta heat.
A huge thanks also goes out to those who donated to this year’s charity, Literacy Action, while attending our events. The Newbies raised $222.21 of the convention’s $85,000 total donation.
After the Friday morning Newbies Q&A, I settled in with Gary Mitchel, Bethany Kesler, and Mark H Wandrey to discuss classic science fiction remakes. It was a good discussion that touched on the good and bad of our remake/reboot/reimagining culture, and it also showcased the giant book of deep dive notes that Bethany has on Westworld. It is impressive.
It was an objective affair that pointed out well-reasoned criticisms of the movie and the character, but it was spiced with the love that we all have for Star Wars. I had previously met Sarah on the Carrie Fisher panel from 2017, and it was a joy to work with her again. I was happy to meet Thomas for the first time this year. He’s an awesome fan and superb moderator.
After a small break – I argued a little about Admiral Holdo with my podcasting cohort Denise, then retired to the Classics Track room for the RetroBlasting presentation on the cinema of 1968 – it was time to convene the Council of Michaels. The backstory: Somehow, the panelist rolls of the American Science Fiction Classics Track are weighted toward people named Michael, and there was a joke in the track’s planning forums that we should put all of us on a panel together. It grew into one of the track’s famous roll-a-panels – twenty topics are placed on a custom-built Dungeons & Dragons-style D20 and the audience rolls a new topic every five minutes – that covered twenty famous Michaels and Michelles in science fiction.
- Michael Bay
- Mikey from The Goonies
- Michael Crichton
- Michael Berryman
- Michael Caine
- Michael Ansara
- J. Michael Straczynski
- Michael Biehn
- Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc.
- Michael Knight from the Knight Rider franchise
- Michael McKean
- Sarah Michelle Gellar
- Michael Myers from Halloween and Mike Myers (two for one!)
- Michael Ironside
- Michelle Forbes
- Miguel Ferrer
- Michael Keaton
- Michael J. Nelson from Mystery Science Theater 3000
- Michelle Pfeiffer
- Michael J. Fox
The Council (or a “Drop of Mikes”) was comprised of Michael Williams, Michael D. French, Michael R Bailey, Michael Gordon, Mike Faber, and me, and we had a ball. Sue Kisenwether (an Honorary Michael) was our timekeeper and Joe Crowe (another Honorary Michael) was the MC and die-wrangler. Afterward, we got a photo with all of the Michaels and Michelles in attendance, as well as an added boom mic. Because it was appropriate.
After the Council of Michaels adjourned, I stuck around in the track room for the next hour to watch We Have Always Been Here, a panel about the LGBTQIA+ influence on science fiction. It was an educational and uplifting panel, and it shed considerable light on how the world treats and views some of my friends.
I told them after the panel that I will never consider them broken and that I will do whatever I can to help. The same goes for the rest of the of LGBTQIA+ community.
A group of us talked into the wee hours of Saturday morning before getting some sleep before one of the busiest days at the convention. After standing in line for what I called the Starbucks Panel, I popped into the Classics Track room to watch a panel (and sing-along) for Schoolhouse Rock!, followed directly by the panel on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and its legacy.
I was joined by Gary Mitchel, Jonathan Williams, Jon Carr, Matt Betts, and Brock Parker, and we had a deep discussion about the film, how it’s viewed now, and even some of the sociopolitical analysis behind it. There was a fantastic Judge Doom cosplayer making the rounds the day before the panel and I was hoping that he would stop by the panel, but alas, no. We did have a couple of fantastic Jessica Rabbits, though.
After a brief break for coffee at the “Secret Food Court” – the Sun Trust Food Court is usually only open on weekdays, but they extended their hours to Saturday for the convention – I went across the Marquis Level to the American Science Fiction and Fantasy Media Track to discuss Lost in Space. Lindy Keelan was a great moderator – I may be a little biased – and the lively discussion with Susan Griffith and Will Nix made the hour fly by. We covered the 1960s series, a bit of the 1998 movie, and how deep and accessible this new Netflix approach is for audiences new and old.
From there, Lindy, her husband Dan, my wife Rosalyn, and I went down to Epic Photo Ops for a date with Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie. This was the first Dragon Con in the ten I’ve done in which I have even wanted to do a professional photo op. I simply loved Capaldi’s run in Doctor Who and the last season with Pearl Mackie was one of favorites from the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure.
Knowing that we would only have about thirty seconds (or less) with the celebrities, we were trying to decide on our approach. Do we make it a standard hug-and-run or do we goof it up a little? I had the sonic screwdriver that bridged the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi runs, my wife had the second (more awesome) sonic, and Dan and I had our Fourth Doctor scarves (knitted to perfection by Rosalyn). I also had Percy, the plush dragon I have been carrying for a couple of years now and who earned his own Fourth Doctor scarf after WHOlanta 2018. It was only right that he joined us.
When we went in to the booth, we shook hands with the stars and said hello, and then I asked Pearl if she would be willing to hold Percy for the photo. She enthusiastically agreed. Moments later, we were on our way out when my wife and Peter had a moment. You see, he was doing most of his photos in one of two poses, and since Rosalyn had a sonic screwdriver, he wanted to use it. As we were leaving, he teased her a bit by holding on to the screwdriver before handing it back with a grin.
Peter Capaldi was wandering the convention floor and having a blast saying hello to fans, popping into panels – who knew he was such a fan of Planet of the Apes? – and even visiting the late night parties like Last Night on Alderaan. I love it when the guests feel free to be a fan just like us. It transforms the convention into a community.
On that particular high, I went back upstairs to the Atrium Level for the panel I was on about toxicity in fandom. This was the panel that I was simultaneously most excited and nervous about: Excited because it’s a discussion that needs to happen on every level, but nervous because it has every possibility of going sideways on a moment’s notice.
Thankfully, it didn’t.
The discussion was moderated by Shaun Rosado with Britnay Ferguson, Swara Salih, and Sue Kisenwether. I’ve known Shaun and Sue for what seems like the longest time, but this year was my first meeting with both Britnay and Swara. Everyone had great viewpoints to offer and even better advice for people who asked us how to be better fans. I really like how this civil discussion turned out, and I’d love to see it happen more often.
Right after this, three of the panelists ran back down to the Classics Track room for a celebration of Jurassic Park and the franchise that followed. Sue, Shaun, and I were joined by Darin Bush, John Hudgens, and Craig Goldberg and Jacob Walsh of the Yes Have Some podcast, and fun was had by all. The big downside was that there were no open-shirted Ian Malcolm cosplayers. Following the dinosaurs, there was tasty dinner, a classified (not really) dessert experiment, and a late night party with adult beverages and Cards Against Humanity before the bed lured me to dream land.
My wife and I were up early to snag coffee and get in line for the Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie Q&A session. There were casualties in the process, but we got good seats for the panel.
During the panel, we learned a few interesting things about the actors. First, Pearl Mackie really, really wants to meet Beyoncé. (If anyone knows how to make that happen, we’ve got to get those two connected.) Second, despite being a huge geek and genre fan, Peter Capaldi is a consummate professional. He was asked numerous times if he would change anything about his time on the show or had a favorite moment, and his responses always came back to getting the job done regardless of his opinions. I have a lot of respect for that.
I returned to the Classics Track room where I was conscripted onto a panel about They Live. Some of the scheduled panelists were unable to make it, so a few of us jumped in to keep the wheels turning. Luckily, I had seen the movie a year prior in preparation for a John Carpenter panel for 2017’s convention, and sitting on this panel was quite fortuitous since Melinda Mock, Michael French, Gary Mitchel, and Daniel Griffith taught me a few things about the movie that I did not know.
I followed that panel with a trip to the BritTrack and a recording of the Earth Station Who podcast about Peter Capaldi’s tenure on Doctor Who. From the Angry Eyebrows and the struggle to be a Good Man to his ending where the Time Lord’s journey began, Mike Faber, Michael Gordon, Mary Ogle, Sue Kisenwether, and I discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Twelfth Doctor’s life. The official panel recording, Episode 193 of the podcast, is available now.
Sunday ended with another good dinner with friends followed by a group podcast for the ESO Network that will be released to their Patreon subscribers. It was a good night punctuated by laughs and a few glasses of Pie.
Monday began with a whirlwind of packing and a Star Wars Track panel asking whether or not Luke Skywalker is still a hero in the aftermath of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Just like the fandom toxicity panel, I was expecting a far amount of turbulence based on the venom surging through social media. Nanci Schwartz of Tosche Station expertly moderated the discussion among Bryan Young, Thomas Harper, Bruce Gibson, and I that sailed in the mythology of Luke Skywalker without getting grounded on the shoals of Rian Johnson’s vision or toxic fandom. The audio is available now courtesy of Tosche Station.
My final panel of the convention was a celebration of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Michael French, Michael Bailey, and I talked about the show with a lively and passionate group of fans, and discussed it’s place in Superman’s 80-year history. Our audience was in love with the show, and I argued for its cheesy charm based on the parallels to the 1966 Batman television series.
And that was it. After a little tidying up, lunch, and goodbyes, we hit the road, took the last elevator ride of the con (at the MARTA station), and went home. With the badge off and the dog home, Dragon Con 2018 was over.
There are some other smaller (but cool, nevertheless) items to note:
First: Jessica Fletcher, Serial Killer.
Second: Remember how I said that some of the funniest moments on the Classics Track are born from jokes in the secret Facebook discussion group?
Try an epic moment as inspired by a promotional image from The CW’s Supergirl series, all because we poked fun at the crotch-enhancing low-angle shot framed by the lightning storms over National City. It’s moody, it’s epic, it’s… The CW! After some discussion of duplicating the shot with each panelist (with requisite musing about buying some spandex and a codpiece for effect), Joe decided that it would be perfect for our track room.
So he bought the backdrop.
Because he’s Joe, and he always goes for the laughs to keep the party good.
Third: Michael Bailey got local screen time.
During the convention, he was interviewed by Fox 5 Atlanta – and was credited as “Michael Bailey: Superman Expert” – during a segment about Superman’s 80th anniversary. We ribbed him a little about it (#FakeNews?) but also congratulated him because it’s true. Michael is a Superman expert, and all of his hard work researching and creating within this mythos that he loves so dearly is paying off.
If you want to see the full interview, including a brief interview with Alex Sinclair of DC Comics, you can check it out here via YouTube.
Fourth: The Dragon Con Exercise Plan.
Fifth: My Desert Dolphins.
While we were in line for the Capaldi/Mackie photo op, a lady asked if she could take a picture of the pins and patches on my con bag. I’m currently using the ThinkGeek Bag of Holding (Con-Survival Edition) which has a big velcro space on the front for attaching patches and pins. I had already fielded a few questions about the bag and collection during the weekend, so I didn’t think of anything of it. I told her it was cool, she snapped the pic, and that was that.
A moment later, an older gentleman came over and stared pointedly at the bag. He asked me if one patch in particular, my Submarine Warfare officer insignia (commonly called “dolphins”), belonged to me. After a little discussion, I figured out that we were both submariners, and that he had served on a previous class of boat than I did. It was pretty cool to run into another submariner, and it was the first time that I had been asked about my dolphins while at con.
The insignia that I have on my bag is a bit of an oxymoron. After I detached from the Philadelphia, I was assigned to a shore tour in Tennessee. Shortly after arriving, I was sent on temporary deployment to United States Central Command. The uniform there was the standard desert camouflage for each service, and I had to get a “desert” version of my warfare badge.
The idea of dolphins thriving in a desert had me snickering for a while, and that insignia picked up the nickname Desert Dolphins.
Sixth and final: A tease of things to come.
And that’s that. What a ride.
If you want to join us, the next Dragon Con will be held from August 29 to September 2, 2019. Memberships (badges/tickets) are on sale now, and hotels will be available soon.