Dragon Con 2018: It’s Changed…For the Better

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of opinion (lament) about how Dragon Con has changed.

“It’s become way too crowded.”

“It’s turning into a frat party, with too many drunks.”

Call me an optimist, but even with the inherent costs of burgeoning attendance as geek moves more mainstream, I see Dragon Con moving its pieces around to retain its core as a mecca for fandom to revel in their various passions. The event, in partnership with the host hotels, appears to be strategically moving big events into peripheral settings, relieving some of the congestion that usually clogged the arteries of the Marriott. I saw hotel staff working quietly and effectively to settle rowdy behavior before it escalated into drunken melee. In short, the convention is certainly enduring uncomfortable change which naturally follows explosive growth. But Dragon Con and its volunteers are evolving their management and planning to address and correct what can be improved just as quickly. If you were as shocked as I was to find actual elbow room in the Marriott on Saturday night…it’s not due to fewer attendees. Dragon Con’s shrewd planning to accommodate their expanding audience is proving effective. Thanks, Dragon Con!

On a personal note, this year has been immensely challenging. Due to issues on the home front, any costume work was shut down as I navigated some important life changes. That’s cool, though. Priorities. But I confess that coming to Dragon Con without a new project to inhabit was going to be an uncomfortable first. I decided to revisit ‘Seraphina’ and make all the color corrections she needed (honestly, I originally worked on her in dim light, and the color conflicts revealed in photography were just awful). I also made repairs to ‘Inquisitor Oriza’, whom I’d only worn once and briefly. They both got a second wear this year.

“Seraphina” Image by Dave Lee

‘Inquisitor Oriza’ Image by Orami Kantama

My friend, John Strangeway (KittyBear), was watching my real bad year unfold and knew I was secretly sad about lacking the bandwidth to work on a new project. So, in his generous way, he made and assembled something NEW for me to wear at Dragon Con. Under the superior tutelage of Stephen Taylor, John spent months learning how to make chain mail. He also tracked down Crusader robes, courtesy of Dave Lee (Hatton Cross). My dear friend did all of this, just so I could become…

That’s me. In the beard. Looking old. With John Strangeway (Senior) and Austin Polifka (Junior) — “Choose friends, wisely.”

…The Grail Knight from Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. I spent Friday night as a dusty old man soberly following Henry Jones Sr., Henry Jones Jr. (“We named the dog, Indiana”) and the exquisite Gambi as an as-yet-not-fallen Elsa – as we made our way through the Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. It was hands-down, the most fun I’ve had in costume! Even though, KittyBear (John) is my treasured friend, we NEVER hang out at Dragon Con. He’s got his things, I’ve got mine. So this was the first time we actually did a thing together. It was hilarious and wonderful. 10/10 would do again. (Thank you, Kitty!)

There was a late development heading into Dragon Con 2018 that challenged my normal expectations. I was contacted by Jaclyn Shultz, features reporter from The Atlanta Scene at Fox 5 Atlanta. They were interested in doing a story on Costuming at Dragon Con, and using me as a focal point. Cognizant of the honor, but profoundly uncomfortable with the specific attention…it took a few phone calls with my superiors at the convention to get me fully on board. It turns out that Jaclyn is a costuming/fashion enthusiast herself (in addition to being absolutely charming!). Her natural interest in the topic and her team’s consummate professionalism made it much easier to commit to the interview, filming and interior viewing of my experience at Dragon Con. And although I’m still profoundly uncomfortable with seeing my face and hearing my voice, the result is a respectful and complimentary piece, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

And about those friends. I’m blessed with the most extraordinary roommate situation. For the past several years, I’ve been welcomed by my special friends April, Terra, Vicki and visiting Erin (plus their significant others in a rotation of awesomeness). We get a lot of time to reconnect, catch up, hang out and socialize. But spread across the enormous footprint of Dragon Con are a multitude of others that its nearly impossible to connect with. Some friends, I only see in the passing blur of a crosswalk. Others are shouting distance away in a crowded ballroom, thumping with music. I only see certain friends among a panel audience, with no real time to visit before we’re rushing to our ‘next thing’. And there’s a handful of texts flitting around with variations of ‘WYA?’, ‘ETA?’ and ‘Where…in the Marriott?’. It can feel like a LOT of missed connections. But, really…even these fleeing recognitions and hellos are little miracles. If you think about the sheer size of the event population, its sprawling landscape…every running ‘Where’s Waldo’ encounter with a friend is our astounding good fortune. I got lucky this year. To every friend who shared a hollered name, a guerilla hug, an elevator debriefing, a crosswalk commentary or otherwise hurried connection with me — Thank you! It’s not quantity time, but it certainly counts as quality time, all things being equal.

It was great to see you at Dragon Con!

 

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PHOTOGRAPHY: Steampunk Tooth Fairy at the Lyric (#2)

Steampunk TF costume Lyric Birmingham Paige Smith v1

This is the SECOND set of images of the entire Steampunk Tooth Fairy costume and gear, captured by Dim Horizon Studio at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Steampunk-inspired Tooth Fairy is one dark-as-hell vision of a night-time tooth collector who doesn’t always wait for teeth to come out on their own.  She’s equipped with vintage dental tools for extraction, irrigating (and digging when necessary). If she’s feeling especially generous, she can also dispense spirits (via her “swish & rinse”) that may take the edge off her procedure.

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Steampunk TF costume Lyric Birmingham Paige Smith t2

Steampunk TF costume Lyric Birmingham Paige Smith s2

Steampunk TF costume Lyric Birmingham Paige Smith p

PHOTOGRAPHY: Steampunk Tooth Fairy at the Lyric (#1)

Steampunk TF costume Lyric Birmingham Paige Smith s2The Steampunk-inspired Tooth Fairy is one dark-as-hell vision of a night-time tooth collector who doesn’t always wait for teeth to come out on their own.  She’s equipped with vintage dental tools for extraction, irrigating (and digging when necessary). If she’s feeling especially generous, she can also dispense spirits (via her “swish & rinse”) that may take the edge off her procedure.

These are the first images of the entire Steampunk Tooth Fairy costume and gear, captured by Dim Horizon Studio at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama.

Steampunk Tooth Fairy

Steampunk Tooth Fairy

Steampunk Tooth Fairy

Steampunk Tooth Fairy

Steampunk Tooth Fairy

Steampunk Tooth Fairy

PHOTOGRAPHY: Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Dim Horizon)

Steampunk Bird Hybrid | Costume by Paige Gardner Smith | Image by Dim Horizon Studios

Steampunk Bird Hybrid | Costume by Paige Gardner Smith | Image by Dim Horizon Studios

Most of my work is inspired by one simple item; a vintage element or salvaged piece that begs a costume to grow organically around it.  For example, the Steampunk Bird Hybrid idea grew from an earring that looked like the tip of a bird’s talon.  As the costume evolves and develops, so does the story behind it.

For example: Miss Ava Fortune was once a lovely and celebrated high-wire artist known as “The Bird of Bombay”, but hungry for even broader fame, she sought the help of a disreputable Calcutta doctor – a man whispered about as dabbling in forbidden and fledgling genetic science. She paid him to imbue her with bird-like traits that would enhance her high-flying performances. But alas, the experimental treatments only left her disfigured and deformed, and a bit demented (hence, the muzzle on her beak.) Now Miss Fortune flits among the shadows, an exotic outcast in the Bombay underworld.

The following images were captured by Dim Horizon Studios during a visit to Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama.  The costume “Miss Ava Fortune” was crafted by Paige Gardner Smith almost entirely from salvaged, re-purposed and re-cycled materials.

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