Photos courtesy of dragon con photography and Geek Behind The Lens Photography
From an aerial view, it looks like an amebic ambush of buoyant red and black, too many to count and far too amusing to turn away. Body by body, the organism grows – absorbing more energy with each addition. Finally, it speaks…via megaphone. Eclectically clad in countless dual-colored versions of Marvel Universe character Deadpool, the ameba responds in loud resound to a bullhorn-brandishing broad in a skirted rendition of the famed fictional antihero; welcome to Dragon Con 2015.
During Labor Day weekend each year, this multi-genre convention transforms a bustling five-block radius of downtown Atlanta into a swarming spectacle of fandom that is anything but bromidic. Warriors and whimsical creatures walk the streets side by side, superheroes and supervillains share a drink at the bar and maidens, vixens and queens pose for impromptu photos. What began in 1987 with 1,500 attendees has grown into one of the most-anticipated events in Atlanta, drawing tens of thousands of people from all corners of the country to a four-day weekend that beckons the bizarre and awakens the imagination.
Kicking off the weekend is the legendary Dragon Con parade on Saturday morning. Gaggles of Ghostbusters, swarms of Stormtroopers and even the Batmobile joined the march down Peachtree Street.
Running hours upon hours of programming in the areas of science fiction, fantasy, gaming, pop culture, comics, literature,and art (and there’s more), Dragon Con seriously has something for every single gamer, reader, TV watcher, and cosplayer (fan who dresses in costume to portray a character).
Each year, the programming runs in more than 35 fan-based tracks that extend from morning to late night; attendees can map out their day or just see where the day takes them because the truth is, there is plenty to do simply in the realm of observation. However, should they choose to keep an eye on the clock, workshops, contests, gaming, and art shows are scheduled throughout the day in a wide range of areas, like anime, science, fantasy literature, costuming, film, paranormal, and puppetry (and there’s still more). There is even a special track just for kids.
Celebrity panels offer an intimate forum for fans to ask questions, hear stories, laugh at commentary and maybe even gain a little insight into projects to come. In the past, guests have included folks like English author Neil Gaiman (creator of Coraline), Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man) and the late Leonard Nimoy (“Star Trek’s” Spock). While taking a stroll along the Walk of Fame this year, guests had a chance to meet Barry Bostwick (Brad in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), Carroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch) and Stephen Amell (title character in the “Arrow” series).
Five downtown hotels host this multi-media convention; between the Hyatt Regency, Marriott Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Sheraton Atlanta and the Westin Peachtree, festooned fans have plenty of room to stretch out and explore.
Whether visitors come to party, people watch, parade and/or play, they come in plurality, they come in peace and most of them come every year.
Along our course of exploration, V3 caught up with some Dragon Con-loving Northwest Georgians. When asked how long he has been coming to the convention, Scotty Hale’s eyes wander to the ceiling and a subtle grin stretches across his face. “Twenty-one years,” he finally says. The look on his face says he hadn’t realized it had been that many. Originally attracted to the convention by comic books, anime and role-playing games, Scotty was 14 years old at his first Dragon Con experience. His wife, Kathryn, initially drawn to the anime aspect, has attended for 11 years.
One of the progressive changes they’ve witnessed in their collective decades worth of attendance is the increase in cosplay; costuming has become a signature staple of the experience. “They’ve always had the Masquerade (costume party/contest on the last night of the convention), but it was more like people saved their costumes for that,” Kathryn says. She recalls years past as she explains that people who wanted to be a bit lower key with their costumes gradually began to gather and model them in the lobby of the Hyatt. “From there, it just got more and more attention,” she adds, “so people started to dress up every single day.”
Kathryn and Scotty’s previous costumes have included Captain Jack Sparrow, characters from the ABC series “Lost,” zombies, characters from “Star Trek,” and Neo from “The Matrix,” to name a few. Since then, they have learned that a simplified costume works best for them. Kathryn sports a blue jumpsuit, portraying Stitch from Disney’s “Lilo and Stitch.” Meanwhile, Scotty sits comfortable in a “Doctor Who”-inspired suit and red bowtie, complete with a red velvet fez. Now 2 years old, their son, Fox, accompanied them to Dragon Con as an infant, but they’ve decided they will wait until he turns 5 to bring him back – “Maybe as a Jedi,” Scotty smiles.
Some fans may only need one day to put their costume together, while others spend more than 500 hours to build the perfect character reproduction; and there are plenty of costume contests during the weekend to showcase that hard work.
Creativity is the very reason that Cedartown, Ga., resident Cole McCray continues to return to Dragon Con each year. “I like all the different variations of popular culture you see,” he says. “I like people’s takes on different comic books and TV shows; you see really creative people and great art work, all in a friendly environment.”
However, the attention that cosplayers receive is also the very reason that McCray chooses not to dress up. Potential Dragon Con-goers, be aware: If you show up in a magnificent costume, be prepared to pose for pictures. While the convention rules state that photos must be given consent, just know that plenty of eccentric fanatics and wallflowers alike will think you look awesome and ask to capture that awesome via their cameras. (Note that this is not for everyone and if you don’t want attention, you may need to leave your awesome at home.)
“Nerdcore” is the norm for this pow wow of popular culture and its attendees couldn’t be happier. It’s not uncommon that this is exactly the place that a Dragon Con fan feels at home. To attend the festivities is to experience the open-minded, nonjudgmental air that permeates the perimeters, which is why folks like McCray and the Hales return as often as possible.
“This is our vacation,” Kathryn smiles. “Some people go to Disney World every year; we go to Dragon Con.”
And the Hales know just how to prepare for their vacation at the Con.
In their hotel room on the fourth floor of the Hilton, Kathryn spins in her swivel chair as she explains that she and Scotty have learned to plan ahead. Equipped with a crock pot, an electric flat-top grill, a filtered water pitcher and a plethora of food, their room is conjoined with friends, and so the resources are shared. They recommend going (and rooming) in groups, letting everyone be responsible for bringing something different (even if it’s just whiskey).
Celebrating its 29th year, Dragon Con doesn’t just give fans a place to gather, it also gives back to its community. Each year, the convention holds a massive four-day blood drive as well as a charity auction; for 2015, the event raised over $100,000 for the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
At least 70,000 people from all walks of life leave their daily routines behind to let the imagination and the weird flourish during a four-day weekend that will be remembered until the next time. It’s a place where Darth Vader may wear all pink; Chewbacca may come face to face with his cardboard counterpart, Chewboxa; and riding in an elevator with superhuman cyborg RoboCop is not at all uncommon. And that’s just it: It’s all uncommon on a typical day but here – here at Dragon Con – it’s home … and it’s wide open for interpretation.
Zombie Proms, drum circles and concerts are just a touch of the nightlife. This year, Here Come the Mummies – all dressed as mummies, of course – put on an 80s-infused show with the wail of a sultry sax and lively pumping trumpets. Following them was a late showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (introduced by Barry Bostwick); in attendance, I’m sure, were the fantastic fan renditions of the Rocky Horror cast as seen posing for photos earlier in the night.
If any of the festivities are missed, the convention has it covered; a channel all its own, Dragon Con TV airs in all five of the host hotels, showing sometimes-live footage of panels, parade clips, costume contests and music videos. (You can even reminisce by finding the clips on YouTube.com.)
First-timers, be aware that Dragon Con is a time to let it go (stress, judgement etc.), make all the geek references you please, high five all that you pass on the skywalk between hotels, remember that consent is always important (for photos and free hugs), drink lots of water, don’t forget to eat, and for the love of Hermione, don’t forget your camera!
Take a moment to enjoy the mullet-sporting saxophone player and the swarming sea of Deadpools, and just know that should anything happen, the Ghostbusters have your back, the Stormtroopers will defend you, and you can always make your getaway in the DeLorean from 1985’s “Back to the Future” … pssst, it’s parked outside the Marriott.