26 September 2009

The DragonCon Report, 2009 Edition

DragonCon's Steampunk Morgan Le Fay.

A dozen DragonCons, and I still want more.

The 2009 edition of the World’s Greatest Summer Camp for Wayward Adults featured a worthy attempt at the world’s record for number of people dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, amazing Steampunk costumes and programming, and four—count ‘em, FOUR—of the biggest stars in the Star Trek universe in the summer they re-launched the franchise.

The headliners included William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy (who was honored with the 2009 Julie Award for achievement in more than one SF, fantasy and horror genres and media), Kate Mulgrew and Patrick Stewart. I’m surprised nobody tried to shoot a movie, but the cost might’ve been prohibitive, especially if the stars charged by the frame.

As soon as Shatner signed on two weeks before the con, the blogs were alive with the sound of outrage—at the $120 fee he and Nimoy were asking for posed autographed photos. Then somebody reported Patrick Stewart’s going rate: $200 per shot. I’m told the charge kept the autograph lines manageable. Ya think?

Monetary concerns in no way affected the stars’ panels, though. The only scheduled Shatner/Nimoy panel started 10 a.m. Friday. Con organizers knew it would be wild, even though it was set several hours earlier than the con’s official kick-off. They had no idea how wild.

It should come as no surprise there were more
Red Shirts than usual in this year's DragonCon

As my roommate and I exited the Voltaire concert at, um, I think it was a little after 1 a.m. Friday, we nearly tripped over a circle of teenagers in costume sitting on the carpet outside the Centennial Ballroom (the Hyatt Regency Atlanta’s biggest). We didn’t think anything of it, since Voltaire’s biggest hit, “BRAINS”, was written for the cartoon series The Grim Adventures of Bill and Mandy. Then one of the young women asked my roomie Dorie if she was with the con. Dorie said yes. As they guessed from her badge ribbons, Dorie volunteered on the media staff and after hours security.

The young woman immediately brightened. “Oh, then you’ll know—can we stay here tonight?”

Both Dorie and I both went a little white around the gills. “Don’t you have a place to stay?” Dorie asked.

The young woman waved the question aside. “Yeah, we’re fine. But we don’t want to miss out on the Kirk/Spock panel. If we’re really quiet, and don’t make any trouble, do you think Security will let us stay until they open the doors?”

Security was of the opinion no one would be allowed to line up until 7 a.m. I suspect the fans simply retired to the Hyatt’s 24-hour coffee bar to wait it out, because they—or somebody much like them—were at the Centennial doors at 5 a.m.

I’m a bad fan. Dorie and I hooked up with friends, and I don’t think either of us saw the inside of the room until… Well, let me put it this way, I told my husband I got in at 4. Yeah, that’s what I said.

Not that I was worried. None of my eight panels were scheduled for the first day of the con, and after seeing teenagers whose parents weren’t even born when the original show aired in line eight hours before showtime, I knew I wasn’t going to get within shouting distance of the ballroom, much less the actual program.

As it turned out, I did get within shouting distance. At 9:14 a.m., I was awakened by the roar of a bullhorn on the street five stories below my hotel room window: “Attention! Attention! If you’re waiting in line for the 10 a.m. Bill Shatner/Leonard Nimoy panel, the Centennial Ballroom is already one-quarter full. If you are standing outside the Hyatt at this time you will not get to the ballroom. The panel will be televised in the Atrium Ballroom at the Marriott. Please, proceed to the Marriott.”

If I ever cherished the vaguest notion of throwing myself together in time to make the panel, that killed it. Happily, I rolled over and again abandoned myself to the pleasures of Morpheus. Nine minutes later…

“The Centennial Ballroom is full. Go to the Marriott. Now. I repeat, the Centennial Ballroom is full.”

More amazing Steampunk costumes.

Needless to say, I actually made it to a Friday morning panel: the 11:30 “Captain Jack Experience” in the British Sci-Fi Media track, which possessed three inestimable virtues: James Marsters, Gareth David Lloyd (Torchwood’s Ianto Jones) and a location as far from the Shatner/Nimoy panel as it was possible to get and stay on the con reservation. Just so you know, Marsters’ hair was green this year. He dyed it for the occasion—or for his photographs, which were going for half the Shatner/Nimoy rate.

On the other hand, a signed photo of yourself in the company of a green-haired James Marsters just might be worth $60, but I digress.

Despite having my lack of panels, Friday may have been my busiest day. In addition to pimping my new art book (Fantasy Art Templates, coming from Barron’s Educational Series in March 2010) and lining up related programming for next year, I had parties to attend. Lots of parties, including the Time Travelers Ball, the Art Show Reception and the Baen book launch, where John Ringo announced he was separated at birth from Rogue of the Cruxshadows.

From left to right: Cruxshadows singer and frontman Rogue,
back-up singer/dancer (and Rogue's wife) Jessica Lackey, back-up
singer/dancer Sarah Kilgore, and John Ringo.

Words fail to express the complete and utter weirdness of the moment. Ringo’s the guy with the brush cut and utili-kilt. He used to jump out of planes and helicopters—usually with a parachute—for a living, and like a lot of ex-military, he never lost the ‘tude. Rogue is the one with the dancers.

On another level, though, I can see it. Ringo’s latest hardcover, Eye of the Storm, takes its name from a Cruxshadows song. In addition, Rogue was a military brat, and his peripatetic childhood, like Ringo’s, set the stage for the artist he would become.

For regular readers of this blog, however, highlight of the day was the dinner hosted by Samhain Publisher Christina Brashear for the Samhain writers and staff at the con. There proved to be fewer Samhellions than I expected: M/M star Ally Blue, bestselling vampire romance writer Rosemary Laurey (who also writes World War II fantasy as Georgia Evans) and her husband George, Samhain Office Manager Jacob Hammer and his lady Alex Ross.

From left to right: Your fearless girl reporter, Rosemary Laurey
(aka Georgia Evans), her husband George Laurey, Christina
Brashear, Ally Blue, Alex Ross and Jacob Hammer.

With a line-up like that, I knew the company would be first-rate. What I never, ever anticipated was the venue: Nikolai’s on the Roof, the Hilton’s rooftop restaurant with spectacular views of Atlanta and a food-gasm in every bite. If you don’t believe me, check out my DragonCon 2009 Flickr photostream. The last one of Jacob, smiling through his tears of bliss, says it all.

From a trend standpoint, however, I’d have to say the con was all about the Steampunk. Aficionados reveled in a track of their very own (their first at DragonCon), a Time Travelers Ball so well attended latecomers couldn’t get in until someone left, and some of the most exquisite costuming I’ve seen in years. My only regret was not having a fast enough camera finger to document the Steampunk X-Men or do justice to Steampunk Star Wars.

Another key component of this year’s con was the effort to capture the world’s record for the number of people dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. The rehearsals started Thursday night—hours before the concert I mentioned earlier. The organizers of the bid dotted all the “I’s” and crossed all the “T’s”—using nine minute version, registering and documenting all nine-hundred plus participants, even filming the dance from multiple angles to verify the numbers. But in the end the Guinness Book of World Records opted to give the palm to the Mexico City event held on Michael Jackson’s birthday, August 29. Even though the Mexico City crowd only danced the short version, they did pull in over thirteen thousand folks to do it.

Thurdsay night's "Thriller" rehearsal.

Once again, I lucked out on panels. All eight were great in their own way, but some moments inevitably linger in the memory—hearing fantasy grandmaster Katherine Kurtz talk about researching Dublin and causing Van Plexico to bury his face in his hands for the second year in a row. (And Van said we didn’t go far enough on the late night “sex panel”…)

I also enjoyed the rush of the first DragonCon Rapid Fire Reading with my buds from Broad Universe, an organization dedicated to promoting women science fiction, fantasy and horror writers. Unless you’re a national bestseller, solo readings can be really lonely; RFRs, never. Even if no one else shows, you still have each other. Our Sunday night reading did better than that: we had more people in the audience than readers—and at eleven readers, that’s saying a lot. Plus, I learned about a lot of new writers to watch out for.

But from the perspective of my inner fan girl, the con saved the best for last: “Under Raven’s Wings: 200 Years of Poe”. You know all that stuff I said about being a bad fan with respect to the Shatner/Nimoy panel? Well, I made up for it at Monday’s Poe panel. I got to sit between the Kat Richardson (author of the wonderful Greywalker series) and Rogue. In case you didn’t pick up on it before, let there be no doubt, I am a music total geek. At DragonCon, I typically take in two or more concerts a night and as many daytime shows as my schedule allows me to catch. The highlight of the musical side of the weekend is usually the Cruxshadows show. To share the stage with Rogue while he’s reciting “Annabel Lee”… well, there was only one way it could be topped.

A woman raised her hand during question and answer period at the end of the panel. She was curious about Rogue’s hair, and wanted to know how hard it was to style.

“It’s a pain in the ass,” he admitted.

“What’s it look like when it’s down?” she asked.

“Really thick. I look like Conan the Barbarian.”

DragonCon's finest Red Sonja and Conan the Barbarian.

Again, words fail.



Roxanne the Reticulan said...

Almost felt I was there! Great job!

Jean Marie Ward said...

Glad you liked it. Brought back memories, I bet. Cheers and smiles, Jean Marie

Marcia Colette said...

Awwwwwww! I was so close to coming this year and had to cancel almost at the last minute. Entering into my third trimester had pretty much nixed that idea. *sigh* Nevertheless, I am so going next year. No way am I missing out on this fun. Heck, I might even pay for both me and Baby Girl to take a picture with "baby daddy" James Marsters. ;-)

Jean Marie Ward said...

WooHoo {{{{Marcia}}}}! I look forward to seeing you both there. *bbg* Meanwhile, you and Baby Girl take care. Big hugs, Jean Marie