Attending DragonCon has become a family tradition. I started attending over twenty years ago; my wife has been to nineteen. My daughter has been every year since her birth. I’ve seen changes over that time, some good, some not so, but the biggest, most startling change happened right underneath my nose. I don’t know that I would have noticed it except for the events that happened at the end of the con this year.
The conevntion has always been a vacation for us, a time to relax as school starts back (my wife and I teach), and as we’ve gotten older – and since the little one has come along – we’ve moved away from the central craziness of the original hotels to the relative quietness of the Sheraton. We have to walk a bit more, but, hey, it’s peaceful at night and we don’t have to fight for an elevator. As the con winded down, we would always call to make our reservations for the next year, something you could never do in one of the other host hotels. Been doing it for as long as we’ve been staying there. Never had a problem. Never until this year. And that’s when it hit me: DragonCon had become huge.
Every year, the con had gotten bigger. It had spread out a little more. It had gotten more and more guests. But none of that registered until I failed to get a room this year. It struck me then how things had acually changed. I remembered how I used to be able to go to any panel I wanted to attend. Even those with the “big stars.” All I had to do was show up a few minutes before and I’d get a seat. It was usually toward the back, but it was a seat. This year, and the few previous, if I wanted to see someone like Sir Patrick, I had to be in lines hours in advanced. I therefore sought out the smaller, more obscure panels this year. Full houses. I tried tp get into one about commercial space flight – turned away.
So here’s my major gripes with the new DragonCon:
- Massive lines to big events. Yep, if you want to see big names, you’re going to have to sacrifice other events. Never really had to do that before. I was used to walking from one event to another. Now, it’s hours of standing – people are not allowed to sit because of fire regs. This was the first year, too, I had to stand in line to get on an escalator.
- Total stand still. Trying to get through the lobby of the Marriott sometimes is horrible at best. There are times, esepcially in evening when the cosplayers come out, that you cannot even move. I’ve had to stand for minutes out a time, just to go through the lobby. And the walkways between hotels are great for the most part, but when it rains, everyone tries to use them. They clog up too. Makes for a very unpleasant experience when all you’re trying to do is get from point A to point B.
- Displacement of writers and comics. This is the saddest one for me. Don’t want to be all hipster, but I remember when the writers and comic guests ruled the con. They still do to an extent when you get a name like Salvatore. But the grand old men like Niven and McDevitt are pushed to the nether regions. On a good note, these are the few panels you can always get into. Writers created and drove SF&F, but now they’re being replaced by movie stars and glamor girls. The comic artist have their location, too, but try to buy a comic – good luck. They were five comic dealers this year. The con started out comic heavy. I reckon SDCC is going through the same transition.
- Mad dash for rooms. Then there’s the mad dash for hotel rooms. This is the first year I’ve purchased memberships without having a room. My usual spot sold out for next year’s DragonCon weeks before this year’s even started. And when the hosts hotels open blocks for the con-goers, servers crash and phone lines are jammed for hours while the rooms disappear in minutes. I feel like I’m being pushed away from something that I felt I belonged to. Rooms are available a mile or two away, but that’s just too inconvient for the family. Before, we would separate, meet, and come and go as we pleased. Those days may be gone for good.
Yep, I had an epiphany. If I’m going to have a “full” con experience next year, I’m going to have to change my way of thinking. I’m happy for the producers and staff. They are undoubtedly sucessful, and they make lots of happy people. But I’m going to have to change my way of thinking. It’s not my little vacation anymore. It’s an event, and I’ll have to get out and tangle with everyone to get those panels and to secure that room.
I really don’t know if DragonCon will get as big as SDCC. It doesn’t seem to be the corporate entity that ComicCon has become. That makes me glad. DragonCon, at least, still seems to be for the fans and by the fans. There’s just a lot more of them now. A whole lot more.