Monday, February 9, 2009

Got Con?

On this blog, Natalie regularly explores fandom (be sure to come back tomorrow and comment on her post!) and, boy, there's no better place to see fandom up close and personal than at a convention.

In elementary and middle school, I was mostly a nerd. Once I hit high school and AP classes, I found other likeminded souls, but until then, a lot of my peers simply knew me as "that weird book girl." And even then, FoxTrot was my favorite comic (with Jason, the nerdy little brother most likely to quote Star Wars verbatim and camp out for opening night tickets to Lord of the Rings, my favorite character.) One of the first friends I made when I went off to college had his own StarFleet uniform and Klingon dictionary. I was fairly secure by college, but I still thought of myself and a fair number of my friends as being on the outside of some invisible social norm. (Some people still see it this way. I was on a panel with some fellow published authors and asked one writer if she'd ever been to DragonCon--the woman to my left wrinkled her nose and actually said to me, "Isn't that where the crazy people with no life go?")

Now, frankly, I no longer think of myself as that far on the outside--it's fairly mainstream to see Harry Potter movies, read Kresley Cole (since she's on the NYT list, I know I'm not alone in buying her books!) or watch Supernatural (and let's face it, those Winchester boys are way more fun to look at than Harry and Ron *g*). I mean, it takes almost ten minutes of conversation before I start trying to discuss the philosophical importance of the Impala or sing you the entire Dr. Horrible Soundtrack, so if I'm quiet (and you ignore my Browncoats shirt), I almost pass for normal.

Peripherally, I've been aware of fan conventions (most commonly associated in pop culture with Star Wars or Star Trek) for years, but I never saw myself going to one. I don't have a lot of time or money to spare and it just seemed...odd. Going to a Renassiance Festival for a day of family fun was one thing, but actually trying to find room in the budget to travel to something where I'd spend a few days with strangers? I was content to share my raving FANaticism with friends on-line or try (possibly in vain) to beat my dad at Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit. But that's before I heard that Joss Whedon might be coming to DragonCon (held every Labor Day weekend in downtown Atlanta) and since he's a writer I've always wanted to meet, I decided to boldly go where I'd never gone before. (Ironically, Joss being on the guest list was apparently a misunderstanding, but I never regretted my decision. Now, I plan my family calendar around DragonCon, although I did miss it when my brother got married over Labor Day weekend.)

Now, conventions come in all flavors and sizes. I believe there are conventions dedicated SOLELY to Supernatural in Chicago, LA and Australia--I know Natalie's going to some kind of con or event soon and can't wait to hear all about it! Then there are events like Comic Con (this past weekend in NYC...I hear Jared Padalecki was there, which begs the question: why wasn't I?) The bigger cons have programming tracks from everything to music, anime, paranomal shows like Supernatural, Lost and Heroes, movies, novels, gaming, and comic books. Between attendees, guests and volunteers, DragonCon here in Atlanta involves approximately 40,000 people.

The noise and the color (and the costumes!) can be dizzying when you walk into one of the FOUR ginormous hotels that hosts the event (and that doesn't even count the numerous smaller overflow hotels). But once you've adjusted to the sensory overload and long lines (just bring a deck of cards, a good book, or strike up a debate with the girl behind you over whether you're SamGirls or DeanGirls), an amazing thing starts to happen. A bizarre camarederie with people you've never met before. It was like 40,000 people all sharing the same inside joke. (Trish and I were thoroughly entertained when we saw two women walk by in jerseys that simply stated on the front: "Bitch." "Jerk.") I got very little sleep and it felt like a zillion humid degrees, but I didn't care. In fact, my ONLY complaint about the weekend was that there weren't more panels dedicated specifically to Supernatural (and, of course, that Jensen Ackles wasn't there.)

I made new friends, picked up new insights, sang my heart out with a hundred other people (normally, something that only takes place in my shower [alone]) and stood in line at a local food court restaurant behind two Jedis, a dementor, Laura Croft, a few Cylons, a half dozen Dawns, and some guy so into his discussion of World of WarCraft that they had to call his order number four times. (This year, I'm going in costume!) Two of my biggest pasttimes are reading and writing, both pretty solitary, but I underestimated how much I would love the energy of the crowd and meeting people who have the same passions and laugh at the same jokes and get annoyed at the same cliffhangers and plot devices and memorize the same lines.

What about you? Ever been to a convention? Thinking about going? Do you think you'd prefer the small, intimate crowd of a con dedicated to just one thing or the crazy energy of one where you're likely to share an elevator with a Wookie, Jack Sparrow, the Yellow-Eyed demon and some dude toting bagpipes?