Like so many out there, I wasn’t much for public events in my younger years. Parades bored me, concerts and live events overwhelmed me, and I never thought much of conventions…up until 2006, at least. A friend at the time convinced me to hop a train into Philly one day and see a show hosted by my favorite voice actor of my favorite show: “Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s” Dana Snyder. This eventually led to my first visit to the juggernaut known as San Diego Comic-Con. It was there I found out from Mr. Snyder that there was something even more magical and jam-packed with a bigger fan-based experience.
Dragon Con (normally held the weekend of Labor Day), is “the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science-fiction, & fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe.” While that may be a mouthful for some to get out, it’s definitely an easier way to put it than “It’s like a Comic-Con,” mainly because 1: It’s vastly different from a Comic-Con and 2: A lot of people still have no idea what a “Comic-Con” is, believe it or not.
To give a bit of backstory on the convention: Dragon Con was established in 1987 by Pat Henry (who acted as chairman of the convention until this year), Robert Dennis, and Ed Kramer, among others. It began as a local meetup for Atlanta-based gamers and RPG-type people. The name “Dragon” came from Kramer’s “Dragon” computer. Since then, the convention built up a following of over 50,000 attendees as well as generating revenue of over $40 million for the Downtown Atlanta area.
It goes without saying, like many conventions, Dragon Con is definitely marred in its internal drama and politics. This year, Henry announced he was stepping down as chairman while Kramer (after making his own waves in recent years, even inciting a boycott of the convention), was cashed out of his stocks this year. Despite that, there’s still an allure to the convention as a whole. I can elaborate on this in three parts:
The Convention – As I alluded to earlier, it’s not so much of a “Comic-Con.” While the biggies (San Diego and New York, respectively), take place in large convention centers from the hours of 10am – 9pm, with the occasional after-parties, Dragon Con takes a different approach. The convention takes place in the Downtown Atlanta area…not in a convention center, but in five “host hotels,” plus a sixth building – a mall that, as of this year, houses vendors and swag you can purchase. I didn’t have the privilege of entering the building this year, but I’ve heard from many people that the floor plan needs work.
These hotels were specifically designed to hold conventions like Dragon Con. Each hotel has been streamlined to host specific things: for instance the Hilton is the place to find guest celebrities like “Walking Dead’s” Norman Reedus, “Incredible Hulk’s” Lou Ferrigno, or even Mr. Sulu himself, George Takei, all who are willing to give autographs and/or photos for your Facebook profile… for a nominal fee, of course.
Many of the other hotels host specific themes, or “tracks,” as they call them. For example, the Hyatt Regency is currently the home of the Animation Track (which I’m glad to say I’m a part of, having hosted many fan panels in regards to Cartoon Network’s [adult swim]), which features panels from many cartoon creators as well as voice actors. This year featured some high-profile voice acting panels with “Up’s” Ed Asner and also a sort of “reunion” for “Pinky and the Brain’s” Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche. There are way too many other tracks to name, but they range from the usual (Star Trek, Tolkien, Whedonverse), to the outright bizarre (they have an entire track dedicated to “the music of science fiction, fantasy, and horror fandom“). You may be wondering what makes each track unique and pretty awesome. Well…
The Fans – While most of the heavy lifting is done by track directors and guests, many of the panels are organized and operated by the average fan. That’s right, they essentially let the inmates run the asylum…but rest assured it’s a rather fun and enjoyable asylum…if those exist. For those who don’t know me personally, my wheelhouse (outside of classic videogames and Arnold Schwarzenegger films), includes a little block of late-night programming on Cartoon Network (you may have heard of), known as [adult swim]. For the past 5 years or so, the AniTrack has graciously allowed me to host fan panels pertaining to the network, as well as show-specific panels such as “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” “Squidbillies,” and “Venture Bros.”
In addition to panels, fans with followings can also have their own tables. If you command a big legion of fans who dress in Stormtrooper uniforms, furry animal costumes, or a jerkin with butterfly wings, you can contact the Fan Table Dept. and (as long as you’re willing to sit at a table and give out info on your group, some freebies, etc.) you can spread the word on your own little bit of fandom. I have to say, it’s also a great way to network.
Speaking of costumes, possibly the biggest thing that separates Dragon Con from the rest are the cosplays. This is the convention the show “Heroes of Cosplay” was designed for. Not only do you get the most obscure cosplays (one of my first years, I actually saw someone dressed as “Associate Bob” from “Demolition Man”), but also the most elaborate. This year, someone actually took the time out to figure out the patterns in the carpeting in the Marriott Marquis and designed army-like camo suits using said patterns. Astounding!
The Hours – I mentioned at the beginning how “normal” comic conventions have set hours (usually 10a – 8p) with the occasional afterparty thrown after hours from 9p until the early hours of the morning. The beauty of hosting a convention in a group of hotels is…the party never really ends. Your “normal” convention experience at Dragon Con will end around 8p-ish. At that time, the “nighttime” events will begin. You could find yourself from 8p – 10p watching the latest installment of Cinematic Titanic, hosted by some of the cast members. At 10, you’re sitting down watching the “Gonzo Quiz Show,” hosted by Fred Entertainment’s Ken Plume, and starring a slew of convention guests like Sylvester McCoy, James Urbaniak, Adam Savage, Bill Corbett, and more! By the time midnight hits, you may be headed to the Hilton for some late night karaoke or into the basement for some Cards Against Humanity. On the way there, you look in the Hilton’s bar (Southern Elements) and notice James Urbaniak from “Venture Bros.” chatting it up with some drop-dead gorgeous fan ladies. By 2 or 3am, you’re either wrapping stuff up at the bar OR you’re continuing the party elsewhere at the local rave, pub crawl, etc. OR watching people dub over Hentai OR sitting outside the Hyatt with random fans and/or celebs…and personally, this is just the stuff I’m aware of. The events are endless at Dragon Con!
In closing, I can say this about Dragon Con: If you want to go to a convention that lasts easily five straight days, has endless amounts of panels, parties, and other forms of entertainment, and gives you possibly the truest fan experience(s), then Dragon Con is for you. Also, something to keep in mind: things at Dragon Con may not go 100% your way, but you’ll still love every minute of it…I guarantee it*.
*and not in a Men’s Wearhouse-type way either… maybe a little bit.
Check out my walkthrough video of the con below:
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