Con Report: Dragon*Con, Atlanta, GA, Labor Day Weekend
I had the pleasure over Labor Day weekend of getting to go back to Dragon*Con, just in time for the 25th anniversary. If you don’t live in the South, or you aren’t a fan of science fiction and fantasy movies, television shows, and books, you might not have heard of Dragon*Con. I’ve even met people who live in Atlanta who haven’t heard of it, even though over 40,000 people attended this year, filling five downtown hotels and hosting a parade on Saturday morning that featured 3,200 costumed participants! But if you do ever get a chance to go, you’ll find that Dragon*Con offers a wide range of fan-run programming, plenty of opportunities to hear your favorite movie and television stars speak, and some of the best costume gawking around.
My reason for going to Dragon*Con was to moderate a panel called “Graphic Novels for YA,” part of the Young Adult Literature programming track. The YA Lit programming track is run by the amazing Bev Kodak, who in real life is a middle school librarian. Bev set up a terrific slate of people for our panel: librarian and writer Davey Beauchamp, Owly creator Andy Runton, former DC and Marvel comics editor and current Capstone author Laurie S. Sutton, Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer writer Van Jensen, and Crogan’s Adventures creator Chris Schweizer. The panel discussed graphic novel creation, with each writer/artist chiming in with how he or she plots, scripts, and creates dialogue. Andy assured us that even with a wordless comic like Owly he still needs to plot out what the characters are “saying.” Then we moved to talking about great comics for kids and teens. There were simply too many titles mentioned to list here, but they ranged from new releases such as Sara Varon’s Bake Sale (First Second) to classics such as Essential Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel) and from kids’ graphic novels such as Jennifer and Matt Holm’s Babymouse (Random House) to titles for older readers, such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (Pantheon).
There was a wide variety of programs to pick from for the rest of the weekend. The Young Adult Literature programming track offered panels on dark fantasy, steampunk, dystopias, alternative sexuality, and more. There were even two book club meetings, one discussing Lauren Oliver’s Delirium (HarperCollins) and the other covering Beth Revis’ Across the Universe (Razorbill). If your tastes ran towards Japanese comics, the Anime and Manga programming track gave you a chance to talk about symbolism in anime or attend a Satoshi Kon retrospective or hear American voice actors discuss their craft. The new Kaleidoscope track gave tweens ages 9-13 their own programming. They explored Nickelodeon and Disney shows and even had events such as a live fighting demonstration. The Institute for Comic Studies offered their fourth annual Comics and Popular Arts Conference as part of Dragon*Con. Their panels included scholarly discussions such as “Contextual Interpretation of Anime/Manga,” “Using Fan Fiction in the Classroom,” and “Sociopolitical Theory of the Whedonverse.” And not to be missed is the Dragon*Con Parade. Many local families attended, as well as the thousands of Dragon*Con participants. The Stormtroopers of the 501st are the highlight of every Dragon*Con parade.
My husband is not much of a nerd, except by association with me, so his favorite thing to do is to photograph costumes and he got some great ones this year. Here are some that I believe children’s librarians will particularly enjoy:
A young zombie ready for the Zombie Walk, which leads into the Zombie Prom. The evening was a fascinating mix of zombies and ballgowns.
Xena Warrior Princess hugging her Gabrielle doll.
Mary Poppins, Mrs. Banks, and Bert the Chimney Sweep.
Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters (who stayed in character the entire weekend!)
And, of course, we found Waldo.
As an adult who has no children, but who works with kids and teens on a regular basis, one thing I like about Dragon*Con is that it does a fairly good job of combining fun for kids with fun for adults. Mature programming is in the evenings, whereas kid-friendly programs are scheduled during the day. This isn’t to say that there weren’t skimpy costumes during the day, but it’s really at night when adults decide to truly let down their hair. The only problem I have ever had with Dragon*Con is simply a lack of time to see everything I want.
This is not the first time I’ve gone at least partially for work purposes, and every time, I’ve gotten something out of the panels I’ve attended and the people I’ve spoken to. The panels are fan-led, so not every panel is going to be well-organized and informative, but the leaders of the Young Adult Literature track are particularly professional and they consistently offer good programs. The same can be said for the Anime and Manga track and for the organizers of Dragon*Con itself.
For those who aren’t sure an entire science fiction themed weekend is their cup of tea, the Decatur Book Festival, a free street festival that includes readings in various places around Decatur, takes place at the same time. The hubby and I took MARTA over to Decatur for only nine dollars round trip and got to see YA author Libba Bray and Eric Wight, creator of the graphic novel hybrid series Frankie Pickle.
If you’ve got the time and you’re at all interested, I highly recommend a trip to Dragon*Con. It’s got a little something for everyone, and I believe that teachers and librarians, especially those who are already fans of science fiction and fantasy, will find Dragon*Con particularly useful. This year I got the opportunity to talk with several teachers and parents about graphic novels for kids while I was standing in line for the next panel or to see a favorite television star! And I’m already planning on heading back next year.
About Snow Wildsmith
Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.
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