Things I Loved about… DragonCon 2017

Another DragonCon has come and gone, leaving me (as always) eager to see what the next Con will bring and sad that I have to wait so long to find out. Might my favorite big-name author, Brandon Sanderson, return again next year? His absence was the only disappointment, guest- and programming-wise, of this year’s Con. Everything else was wonderful. Some of my favorite things:

Friday’s Q & A with Megan Follows. Readers of my blog know well my enthusiasm for Anne of Green Gables, both Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel and the miniseries directed by Kevin Sullivan and broadcast on PBS in the 1980s, which made Follows a star here and a superstar in her native Canada. Anne came along when I needed her, at a time when not a single teenage girl character on television represented who I felt I was or whom I wanted to become. Anne showed me that girls my age could be brave, brilliant, unconventional, resourceful, creative — all the traits I admire most. As it turns out, she had a similar effect on a lot of people, enough to form a line around the block in the hot Atlanta sun to hear Follows speak. Even before the panel began, one of DragonCon’s organizers, a gay man, spoke of what Anne meant to him: through her, he said, he learned to embrace being different. (See? Female characters can and do serve as role models for boys.)

Follows, it turns out, is every bit as smart and classy as I wanted her to be, and fully aware of the impact her performance has had. (She offered an example of a letter she’d received from a prison inmate, who thanks to an abusive father had gained a misogynistic outlook at a very young age; watching Anne, he informed her, gave him a far better and healthier view of women.) “What I loved about Anne were the rough edges around her,” she told us. Drawing a line between the sympathetic Anne and the morally dubious Catherine de Medici, whom she plays on the CW’s Reign, as female characters who refuse to be contained by society’s boxes, she declared, “I love strong women. I love them when they’re a mess.” And my heart was full.

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Performing with the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company for their Friday night show. Taking the stage with my friends in ARTC is always a DragonCon highlight for me. This year I got to play a perky robot detective transformed ever so briefly into… something more… in Ron N. Butler’s “Rory Rammer, Space Marshal: The Last Boojum.” And I got laughs! Not many things are more satisfying than making an audience laugh.

Participating in the “Y/A and Away!” panel for the Writer’s Track. Thanks to Nancy Knight, the generous coordinator of the DragonCon Writer’s Track and editor/publisher for Gilded Dragonfly Books, I not only got to talk about my own favorite YA novels and my writing process, but also got to interact with authors Claudia Gray (Lost Stars, Defy the Stars), Diana Peterfreund (the Killer Unicorns series, For the Darkness Shows the Stars), E.K. Johnson (A Thousand Nights, Ahsoka), A. J. Hartley (Steeplejack and its upcoming sequel Firebrand), Rebecca Moesta (the Star Wars: Junior Jedi Knights series), and Kim Harrison (the Madison Avery YA series, the urban fantasy series The Hollows).

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DragonCon Night at the Georgia Aquarium. This special event has been a staple of the Con for several years, and this year Matt and I thought we’d give it a try. So we gathered with a crowd of like-minded fans, most in their cosplay best, to enjoy, among other things, a special costume contest and a Harry Potter-themed sea lion show (at which we, alas, were not permitted to take pictures — though the rest of the aquarium was fair game for photography).

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Monday’s “Women in Comics” panel. I always love it when at least one highlight of the Con falls on its closing day, and this year that bright moment was a discussion led by Jamie Jones, Megan Hutchison, Babs Tarr, and the goddess Kelly Sue DeConnick, all creative forces in the comics industry. Whatever we who attended that panel were expecting, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t what we got. It was announced that as a “tribute” to all the discussions of “Women in Comics” with all-male panels, this all-female panel would lead an examination of “Men in Comics” — and at once, and for as long as the panel lasted, we were transported into a parody world in which women dominated the comics industry, male characters were hyper-sexualized (they had slides), male writers and artists weren’t taken seriously, and male fans were often called “fake geek guys.” This could have gone badly, but the whole audience got in on the joke. (When DeConnick asked a man in the audience, “Did your girlfriend get you into comics?” he struck an aw-shucks pose and responded, “How’d you know?”) What made the parody work were the panelists’ experiences of how talk about women’s roles in comics (as characters, as creators, and as fans) too often goes. While we were laughing, we were learning.

So my husband and I made our way home in satisfied spirits, already contemplating next year. Such is DragonCon’s effect.

(Up next: Wisdom from DragonCon 2017.)

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