Dragon Con 2014: The Year I Mostly Did Comics Stuff

Once again, Dragon Con has come and gone. Panels were attended, costumes were worn, and a lot of drinks were drunk. A lot. There was a $12 rum bucket at one point. I am not ashamed.

Still, after last year’s determination to be chill, what was my Dragon Con experience going to be like this year?

In one word: comics.

COMICS.

COMICS.

Yep, for the first time ever at Dragon Con, I was mostly focused on comics this year. Which really makes sense considering how much they’ve taken over my life in the past year. I even skipped the Guardians of the Galaxy panel with James and Sean Gunn just so I could see John Lewis and Andrew Aydin talk about March. I saw Guardians three times in it’s opening weekend. That’s kind of a big deal for me, but more on that later.

In all honesty, my main draw to the comics and pop art track this year was Kelly Sue Deconnick. I had already gone to HeroesCon earlier this year mostly to meet her, Matt Fraction, and Chip Zdarsky. Now I was planning on cosplaying one of her characters, seeing her talk at least once a day, and giving her a wallet made out of the same materials as my Captain Marvel camera bag that I have taken with me to all my conventions this past summer. It was a little terrifying at first, but she really did end up shaping a lot of my experience at the con this year.

On Friday morning, after a night of reveling in the start of con with Playboy bunny cosplayers and nachos, I made my way down to the welcome panel for the comics and pop art track where Kelly Sue was giving the Comic and Popular Arts Conference keynote address. I have to admit, after that address, I felt 100% ready to take on the convention (after I got a shower in, of course. 5-2-1, guys). The speech was about destroying the myth of the default human being and learning it by trial and error. It was laced with profanity, filled with choice quotes such as “You’d ALL buy an evil Oprah,” and completely fueled by sugar free Red Bull. In other words, it was perfect for Dragon Con.

Deconnick during the keynote.

Deconnick during the keynote.

Also, bless whoever told Kelly Sue that you go to San Diego Comic Con for spoilers, but you go to Dragon Con for secrets. This is not sarcasm because I learned way more about Bitch Planet at 10 a.m. on a Friday than most anyone else that isn’t Deconnick has learned so far. I can’t tell you what I learned otherwise the last thing I will see before my death will be Kelly Sue’s shade of red hair, but I’m going to treat it like a media embargo and let you know when it comes up in my inevitable review of the comic.

Later that night was the Carol Corps meet up and oh man, I was already riding high at that point. Kelly Sue told me I looked smashing and gave me the biggest hug for the wallet I gave her, but it was even better at the meet up. The room in the bottom of the Hyatt was completely overfilled with members of the Carol Corps, who didn’t seem to mind at all.

Everyone was so excited and enthusiastic to share with each other, be it their love for Carol, more secrets from upcoming issues of Captain Marvel, how we all want Kamala to meet Carol (this whole thing was prompted by the best Kamala to ever Kamala), or other comics that we’re reading that are perfect for the Carol Corps, which included a giveaway of Princeless by Jeremy Whitley. I know Kelly Sue said to tell Kieron Gillen and Ed Brubaker that she mentioned The Wicked + The Divine and Fatale first, but I prefer to mention the fact that one of her recommendations was “literally anything Kate Leth touches.”

I’ve said it before, but I am so proud to be a member of the Carol Corps. Without them, I think I would still be the casual comic book fan I was for years. They populated my Tumblr feed with images of Carol, which lead me to reading Pretty Deadly and then finally reading Captain Marvel when I needed her the most. Once I was in, I felt a love so overwhelming that it actually drives me in weird ways. I could feel it in that room that night, with a fandom so kind, excited and creative! Seriously, the meet up organizers made 160+ handmade bookmarks that all had Carol-esque themes, and no one tried to take more than their share.

Basically, if my last ever fandom interaction was with the Carol Corps and getting my own Carol Corps card to carry in my wallet with my S.H.I.E.L.D. ID, I would have been more than okay with that.

Stay fly, Carol Corps.

Stay fly, Carol Corps.

The next day was basically my Image Comics cosplay day, where I dressed as both Deathface Ginny from Pretty Deadly and Suzie from Sex Criminals. Which really just made it the perfect day for character inappropriate duck face hour with Kelly Sue and joking with Roc Upchurch of Rat Queens that there was an unofficial Image meeting at his table while I was standing there with an Alanna and Marko from Saga as well as making it to the Creator Owned Comic panel. This panel was massively entertaining between Kelly Sue, Princess Ugg creator Ted Naifeh, Paul Jenkins, and Van Jensen. I only wish there had been more women on the panel, but I can’t argue with a panel that included Jenkins starting to drink “juice” in the middle of the panel, the panelists joking that Jensen should name his baby “Dragon Con,” Kelly Sue yelling at Naifeh for calling her part-Hobbit, and Jensen admitting that he likes making his readers cry.

While all the panelists had great insights into having creator owned stories versus working with the big two, I feel like the real take away from this panel came at the very end. A local playwright asked Van Jensen how he broke into comics being from Atlanta. Jensen began to answer, but Kelly Sue interrupted him to go into a rant about how other writers and editors don’t have time to go through scripts and that you need to come to them with completed stories. This jokingly turned into an interruption fest between all the panelists, but it concluded with Kelly Sue’s sage advice of “WRITE SOME FUCKING COMICS!” Jensen assured the person asking the question that he was going to give the same advice, but without the f-bomb.

Really, that ended up being my biggest takeaway from the entire weekend. As some people reading this may know, I wrote my first ever comic story earlier this year for Red Stylo Media’s Killer Queen anthology. I’m excited for its release, but I’m also kind of terrified because I don’t know what to do next. However, because Ms. Deconnick always seems to know what I need to hear, I’m currently in a stage of working on stories and worrying about the next step later. In the case of one, much later.

Right after that panel, I rushed back to my room in the Hilton (though a bit slowly because a sudden rainstorm made street level not an option in my Ginny costume) to wash off my makeup and change into Suzie for the Saturday night Page to Stage contest. Suzie was one of my favorite costumes that I worked on this year, but I was so sad that no one really got it. Well, except for that girl who had a wonderful costume of Betty from Rat Queens that ended up getting an honorable mention along with her Dee in the contest. I feel like it could have gone better if I had actually planned ahead and grabbed ‘Fat Bottom Girls’ before the con and if George Perez had known how to say ‘Brimper,’ but there are worse things to do on stage than play up a random inside joke from a comic about sex and stopping time. (Meaning that I lip synched the song anyway.)

Image family girls.

Image family girls.

There are things I wish I could have done better in the contest, but hey, the fact the winners had an amazing sense of humor to combine Wakanda and Coming To America and I was only one of two entries to feature an Image Comics character. The contest was run fairly smooth as well with my friend Gretchen Swales running point on it for the first time, but I was kind of disappointed with how few entries there were this year. This contest used to run 50-60 entrants deep, but this year only had around 25. I don’t know if it’s lack of awareness or tradition or if people just want to do something else on Saturday night, but I really hope the Saturday night contest doesn’t die out.

I spent the rest of the night lamenting the fact that the Burlesque show doesn’t broadcast on Dragon Con TV (THANKS FCC) and enjoying the company of a $12 rum bucket and some hot Velmas. Because Dragon Con.

The next day was a bit more serious business. Well, after putting in even more Captain Marvel sketch commissions on the artist’s alley and taking the best duckface selfie ever with Kelly Sue with my new Hawkguy friend who ended up borrowing my bow for the big Marvel photoshoot I didn’t get to do this year. Maybe next year when I have a Kate Bishop costume that isn’t a t-shirt and blue jeans.

No, the reason it was serious business was the two panels I went to. The first was a panel on the graphic novel series March by Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Lewis and Aydin were there to talk about it and I can tell you, it was definitely one of the most emotional panels I’ve been to at Dragon Con. If you’re not aware or you missed Sam’s review, March: Book One is a graphic novel about Lewis’ life growing up in the Jim Crow era South and how he eventually became involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as well as lunch counter protests in Tennessee. Book Two of this planned trilogy will focus on the Freedom Riders, which has often been an untold chapter in the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s. According to Aydin, the book will release in January.

Lewis speaking on "March."

Lewis speaking on “March.”

As for the rest of the panel, it was filled with stories from Lewis on his time during the Civil Rights Movement as well as advice on how to become involved in social justice movements going forward. Aydin and Lewis feel as if the next leader is somewhere out there, so that is why they have been touring with March so much. They keep the price point low to keep it accessible to individuals and libraries, and they encourage being completely present and showing up when you see injustice in the world. Aydin also shared a great story of how the graphic novel came to life after a chance meeting with Jimmy Palmiotti at Dragon Con one year. And who says cons aren’t important?

Later that evening, after endless Young Avengers selfies and leaving a room party full of drinks and heckling the Masquerade (side note: thank GOD Grant Imahara hosted this year. I did not want a repeat of Vic Mignogna’s creepy ass) to attend a panel on race, gender, and sexuality in comics. It was 10 p.m. on a Dragon Con Sunday and it was completely packed. Some of that draw probably was because of Kelly Sue, but from the discussions in the room about the experience of fans needing to see themselves in comics and how superhero comics have mishandled rape stories for way too long, it was definitely a panel that was needed. I missed the rest of the Masquerade and two of my friends dressed as Velma making out, but it was worth it.

It was also very telling that I walked by a giant line for a panel about Dragon Sex on my way in. Dragon Con: It’s like that.

I wish I could also talk about my experience with the feminism and comics panel on Monday as well, but I didn’t get to have it because the panel was completely full! At one p.m. on a Monday! I’m sad that I missed it and didn’t get to say goodbye to Kelly Sue before she left, but good for them that they managed to fill a room on what is collectively the con’s hangover recovery day.

Hannibal Selfie!

Hannibal Selfie!

Of course, comics weren’t my only experience at the con this year. I still had a great time at the second annual Pacific Rim meetup where we had more drive suits and at least one chanting of “BILL BILL BILL” and returning to the Venture Bros. panel was absolutely wonderful, even  if it devolved into Doc Hammer talking about his masturbation habits, talking about his failed arching relationship with Voltaire, and greeting every woman he meets with “I approve of you.” I was also super psyched to see some of the bands this year after missing so many last year. Unwoman especially was a treat, and Marquis of Vaudeville and The Cog Is Dead blew my mind with just how good they were. I was even psyched to see Professor Shyguy do a guerilla performance at a room party in the Hyatt. I just wish Dragon Con would book him as a performer already! He’s going to show up anyway, just make it official!

The cosplay this year was amazing as usual. I think my favorites had to be the guy who was dressed as a Jurassic Park employee with a raptor puppet and Documenter Octopus, who was a photographer who set up his flashes on a Doc Ock rig. There was also Voltaire just hanging out as Doctor Strange? That blew my mind completely because in the near decade I’ve been going to Dragon Con, I can never recall seeing him in costume besides ‘what he wears on stage’ and ‘rum drunk.’ Even though I’ve kind of been over Voltaire in the past few years, I’m kind of with Doc Hammer on this. How can you not love a guy who dresses up like Doctor Strange?

Also: ALL THE GROOTS. ALL OF THEM.

Also this. *sigh* Stupid ball pit.

And this. *sigh* Stupid ball pit.

Of course, with any event as big and as fantastic as Dragon Con, there are some downsides. In this case, it was the fact it might actually be getting too big to handle. I’ve always been appreciative of the fact the con clears big ballrooms between panels, but I’m not certain if the smaller rooms do the same thing. I missed out on Stephen Granade’s Science of Pacific Rim panel because the door was closed before the panel even began and I was in the line for ten minutes before someone on the track told us the panel was full. It was disappointing, especially compared to the comics track who were really good about their door monitors. However, the big ballroom system also let me down at one point when I tried to get into line for the Marvel Now panel and the downstairs was just a big cluster of line between that and  the Battlestar Galactica panel that no one seemed to know which line they were actually in. Instead of getting to see the panel, I just gave up.

The harassment problem also seems to be getting worse, or at least more pronounced. While my story isn’t as bad as getting my ass grabbed on the escalator like an acquaintance of mine, I still had to scream at a drunk guy who was leering at me and a friend of mine after he tried to touch me. Dragon Con still doesn’t have an official harassment policy nor do they cover harassment in their policies outside of “report it to security.” I don’t think it doesn’t exist in the same vein of San Diego Comic Con not wanting to publicize it because they don’t want people to think there is a problem, but I have to know why a convention that claims to care about their fans so much hasn’t moved to put that policy in place. Granted, this was also a con that was tied up in legal issues for years to drop one of their founders who just plead guilty a year ago for child molestation charges in the 90s. Beasts as large as dragons move a little slowly sometimes, but they can also be quick to protect what they see as their own. I want the con to do the latter.

I also really appreciated the private security guard who was looking at her phone on Saturday instead of keeping an eye out for badges. I know the hallway between the Hyatt and the Marriott gets super crowded, but at least pretend to do your job.

Here, have some homeless S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Don't worry, they were collecting money for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Here, have some homeless S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Don’t worry, they were collecting money for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

The con did add booth numbers in the dealer’s room, so there’s that.

In all seriousness though, this con was one for the books. Even with issues getting into some panels, the con brought back a motivation that had been hibernating for a few months. I was definitely in a better place mentally this year than I was last year and it was awesome to get to share a little bit of the con with Kelly Sue Deconnick, whose work I credit for a lot of my recovery over the past year. Getting my Carol Corps card and getting to hear my representative talk about the importance of comics were definite highlights for me.

Plus, I just had a lot of fun, which is why I keep coming back after all these years. Next year will be my tenth Dragon Con and I don’t have any plans of slowing down now when there’s so much more Kate Bishop to cosplay and Unwoman covers to record.

To see more pictures from Dragon Con 2014, check out our Facebook album. To learn more about the convention and how to attend next year, visit Dragoncon.org for more information.

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