Friday, September 10, 2010

Dragon*Con Part 2: The good, the bad, and what I learned.

Things that were awesome this year:

The Dragon*Con 2010 shirt -
surprisingly cool!
The shirt. Isn't a shirt the most obvious souvenir to purchase at any event? And yet I've never bought a Dragon*Con shirt in the past.
That's because they are always lame.
Seriously. Mostly they feature Boris Vallejo-like fantasy art. It's a style that definitely has fans, but it only represents a small segment of the many things that Dragon*Con is about. Then there's the annual Dragon*Con tie-dye, which is always a print of a dragon on a lightning-pattern tie-dye. Yawn. The yearly lame t-shirts are made worse by the fact that every year, they have a wide variety of artistic talent present in the multitudes of comic book and pop artists that attend, with diverse styles that span well beyond western fantasy dragons and babes with large breast plates. Ted Naifeh, David Mack, Brandt Peters, Kathie Olivas, Doktor A - the talent is immense, and diverse, and of course it's always nice to have a t-shirt design contributed by an artist in attendance in order to win them some recognition. My dissatisfaction with the shirts runs even deeper because the organizers of Dragon*Con put together a short-lived convention called Atlanta Comics Expo, and one of the shirts in their 2-year run was an incredible design by Tara McPherson - which of course, was sold out in my size by the time I got there (I was actually told later that it was out in my size almost before the con began, because of the number of volunteers who grabbed up the shirt before the con was officially open).
McPherson print used for ACE shirt
just to get our hopes up
The Tara McPherson shirt at ACE made one thing clear - Dragon*Con could make a cool shirt. They just chose not to, which made the hideousness of their shirts all the more painful.
So imagine my surprise when this year, the Dragon*Con shirt was an awesome design by one of the pop-artists in attendance, Derek Yaniger! They also had an adorable kid's t-shirt illustrated by artist Bobby Chiu, which was also the badge image.
As a result, I bought my first ever Dragon*Con t-shirt. Please keep up the good work.

The parade. The parade is always a highlight that I never miss, and it was larger than ever. I think it's the most visible thing Dragon*Con does to show good-will to the city. On Sunday while I was walking outside between hotels, a local stopped me for a photo (my large steampunk blunderbuss made from a dillapidated trombone drew lots of photographic attention) and asked "when is the parade?" When I told her it was on Saturday, she was genuinely disappointed that she'd missed it. It just goes to show what the face of the con is, and how spectacular the parade really is.

The blood drive. This is the less visible show of good-will, but Dragon*Con has an enormously successful blood drive. At one point I heard one of the organizers say that the 2009 Dragon*Con blood drive collected more blood than any other non-emergency related drive. I don't have the numbers on the 2010 drive, but it is really amazing the amount of support the drive gets. It's certainly meaningful to me because I've had to receive blood before.

Bob and Carl, Sci Fi Janitors. There's this thing Dragon*Con does called Dragon*Con TV. While you are waiting on panels, it shows on the screens in the room, broadcasting very popular panels, coverage of the parade, the masquerade, and etc. It also shows on the hotel information channels in the hotel room, which is nice when you are getting ready for an event and want to see a panel that you missed.
In between con footage, it shows amusing videos that were made for the con. They are amusing, but feature amateur actors (usually the same ones over and over) and can get a little old with repetition.
Until this year, when they introduced Bob and Carl, Sci Fi Janitors. Apparently you can never go wrong with hand-puppets. Bob and Carl were an instant hit, and people broke out in applause whenever one of their videos showed up on screen.
Yes please. More of this.
Click here to see what Bob and Carl have to say about Transformers.

Nice people. It's crowded. It's smelly. Everyone has had too few hours of sleep. Everyone is either drunk or dealing with drunk people. It's really easy to get into a foul mood.
So the presence of people who are nice is always a fantastic thing. At times even surprising, when you're in a crowded elevator with a loud surley man in the back who seems like he's going to spend the entire elevator ride annoying everyone. When we stopped on a floor with a man in a wheel chair trying to get down, loud surly man ordered some people in the front "ok, you have got to get off. This guy can't take the stairs down. Get off now and let him on, and walk down." He was loud and surly, so no one argued. Folks got off, the man in the wheel chair got on. Nice.
Or the hotel employee in the Hyatt who kept manning one of the elevators. He would ride it up and down all night, directing traffic, preventing shoving when people were drunk and inclined to shove, demanding that everyone make way for handicapped persons, skipping straight to floors that people riding actually needed when the elevator was full (instead of stopping at every floor where someone had pushed the "up" button, which was every floor), and promising people who protested when he cut off the number of people allowed in the elevator "I'll be back for you."
Or the cool people we saved seats for in the food court. Turns out that one of them worked for In thanks for us saving their seats so they could all go get dinner (instead of the usual way of saving seats in the food court, where one of your group saves the seats while the rest get food, meaning that the person who saved the seats will be the last to finish eating), she gave us some free ThinkGeek flashlights. Win!

Things that sucked this year:
Registration. Worst. One. Ever. It went entirely too slowly. The people working it were really, really awful at it. When my two hour wait was over and I finally got some face time with one of the volunteers working registration, what is the first thing she did? Leave me to go talk to someone else working registration. They were talking about getting a badge for another volunteer - why? Why would they handle that here, with general registration? Why aren't all the volunteers fixed up before registration opens? Why are you wasting my time? Then they just sort of chatted with each other. I used this time to flip through the book where I have to sign to show that I got my badge, which is basically identical to the book she has to flip through to get the sticker for my badge. I can tell you from handling that part myself that the layout of the book is completely stupid, with the relevant information (last names, to be specific) printed in the tiniest text possible.
Even with the bad layout, all she had to do was take my pre-reg postcard from me, look at my ID, get me to sign the book, slap my sticker on a badge, and hand it to me. Now, this is way too many steps, and a really stupid way of handling such a massive registration in the modern age. But still, it should have taken 3 minutes at most. Instead, I probably spent 15 minutes just standing there waiting on her to return her attention to me and get it together. Incompetence played a very large role in this equation.
According to Dragon*Con, they were trying something new this year that clearly didn't work - which is funny because it looks just like last year's registration, only slower for reasons that were unclear. They claim that they will try barcode scanners next year, which come closer to the way things need to be - instead of going to a line that covers the first letter of your last name (as well as 3 other letters - no letter gets higher preference, no matter how many names are covered by that line), you will just give them your card, they will scan a barcode on it, and the appropriate label will print, so you can be helped anywhere. It should be faster.
I propose that they also start using paid staff only in registration instead of volunteers. If this is simply not possible, they should at least use experienced and reliable volunteers. Everyone is excited to be at the con, we understand, but that's no reason for you to run around chatting instead of getting all these people through the line.

The 501st -
definitely not bank
Rowdiness. Things were unusually wild this year. On Friday night one of the elevators in the Hyatt stopped working. I heard lots of rumors regarding why, but they all involved a con-goer damaging the elevator. The Hyatt elevators also had little monitors in them that ran advertisements - one of these was stolen from an elevator early in the con. Attendees broke into the Comic Artists' Alley one night and stole a lot of merchandise (this one really pisses me off, too - comic book artists are not the wealthiest people in the world, which makes stealing directly from them extra low). And in the worst example of rowdy behavior of all, someone in the Hyatt broke out his hotel room window, which fell to the ground outside and smashed a friend of mine in the face. He was lucky - he just suffered a little tenderness on the bridge of his nose. The guy next to him was not so lucky, and got cut up by it. Rumors abound on this incedent too, but apparently the guy who broke the window claims that he "accidentally fell against it" (um, yeah right). Sounds to me like he just needed a fast excuse to avoid spending the night in an Atlanta prison.
Rowdiness was so abundant at the con that I even heard a rumor that guys dressed like Stormtroopers robbed a bank on the first day of the con, placing a bag that they claimed was a bomb in the middle of the lobby, which was actually full of cogs. I googled all the obvious keywords, and it seems this one was just a rumor - obviously a Stormtrooper bank robbery would have made the news, just like that Darth Vader bank robbery about a month ago. Still, it speaks to the general rowdiness of the con this year that people were very willing to believe that something this crazy would happen.
In this situation, it seems to me like Dragon*Con simply needs more security. I won't criticize the effectiveness of the security they have, because I'm sure they do the best they can in a fairly thankless job. If they aren't on the paid staff, however, they should be. Considering the hotel damage, Dragon*Con should really consider having security calm down rowdiness in all public hotel areas, including the elevators, just to make sure they don't create so much bad will that the hotels refuse to host the con. Obviously security can't be in the rooms stopping crazy guys from breaking windows, but there are a lot of places where they can make things better.

Mean people. It's crowded. It's smelly. Everyone is drunk, or sleep-deprived, or malnourished, or all three. Would it kill you to be nice?
My biggest complaint here is jerks who crowd handicapped people out of the elevators. I genuinely hope the people who do this are in a wheelchair one day. It could happen to anyone, and some people deserve that kind of justice.
Second runner up - while riding the meanest elevator we were on during the entire convention, we stopped on a floor where people begged us to let one more person on so he could go up to his room and get medicine that he needed. The elevator was crowded out to full capacity - one more person and the doors wouldn't be able to shut. After the drunk bitch at the front of the elevator told them no, Superman (yes really, a guy dressed like Superman) got off and told them to send their friend up. The guy did not get on, however. Instead, he and his friends stood outside of the elevator, arguing with the dumb bitch who told them no. They felt like this was the right time to fully explain his entire medical situation in an attempt to make her feel guilty (by the way, have you ever tried to make a drunk bitch feel guilty? It never works). From the middle of the elevator, I shouted "just get on!" They did not. Superman was so offended by them that he got back on, and we took off without them.
Moral: shut the hell up and get on the elevator when Superman gives you his spot. You lose the moral high ground rapidly when you try to hold us all hostage with guilt and whining. Not to mention, your spot on the elevator.

Something else that makes the elevators
miserable? Um, us. And our giant
Elevators. Have you noticed how many times elevators come up in the list of things that sucked? They are a gigantic hassle. They also seem to be the site of most of the rowdiness and mean behavior. There was the Hyatt employee mentioned in the Nice People section above who rode one of the elevators and forced everyone to play nice. It's really too bad that there couldn't have been more guys doing what he was doing. The elevator problem is worse because it's basically unsolvable - there are only so many of them, and during busy times they can't handle all the needs of the guests fast enough.

Lessons learned:
The Masquerade. Not worth it. It was fun, and people really liked our Katamari Damacy costumes, but it takes up so much time.

You can only stand so many cold sandwiches. We always bring food, drinks, chips, and snacks to the con to save a little money. This year we brought about half the bread, cheese, and snacks back with us (apparently we got just the right amount of sandwich meat, though, because it was gone). It's a nice idea, but everyone seems to wear out on sandwiches much faster than they think they will. Hauling some of it back home is kind of a pain, so next year we will bring much less.

So that wraps up my 2-part review of Dragon*Con. Even with the bad things that happened, I bought my pre-registration on site this year and am already thinking about costumes for 2011. Even at it's worse, Dragon*Con is still Mardi Gras meets Halloween, and if you can't find a reason to love that, there is something seriously wrong with you.

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