Every year on Labor Day Weekend, tens of thousands of people descend on Atlanta, Georgia for an event that, despite the recent rise of fan conventions across the country, is still one of a kind. DragonCon is a cornucopia of geekdom spread across 5 hotels and two additional venues. With thousands of hours of programing packed into a five day weekend, there is something for everyone, whether it be Cosplay, Celebrities, workshops, film festivals, art show, concerts, plays, wrestling, or competitive teapot racing. It is a party that starts Thursday night and doesn’t stop until Monday morning when we all stumble back to the realms of normalcy once again.
In no particular order, these are some of the best things about DragonCon!
Its not hard to get star struck at DragonCon. The list of celebrities this year included stars from recent Marvel movies and Tv shows, Superheroes from the CW’s DC universe, and the kids from the wildly popular Netflix series Stranger Things. Other shows represented included Kiljoys, Lost Girl, the Librarians, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Supernatural, the 100, American Gods, and more. It is impossible to attend all of the panels, Q&As, ops, and autographs but the ones that I attended this year were top notch.
DragonCon ultimately, is a convention for fans, by fans, which provides a completely different atmosphere for those who attend. Occasionally, the celebrity guests also want to experience the convention themselves. In previous years, we’ve found out that cast members from Doctor Who, and Lost Girl were seen enjoying all that the convention has to offer. This year, Peter Capaldi was seen wandering the convention and taking pictures with fans.
I’d never gotten to see Felicia Day in person before this weekend. I’ve been a fan since the music video “Do you Want to Date my Avatar?” Then I loved her portrayal of Charlie Bradbury on Supernatural. But I never really knew much about her until her Sunday morning panel. She talked a little bit about her current work on MST3K and the return of Charlie on Supernatural, but what I found most interesting was her personal struggles with mental health, being a new parent, her thoughts on geek culture, and the creative process.
When asked about what advice she would give to a new creator she answered, tell your truth and tell your story, then practice. She advised that if you ever feel like you are burning out on the thing you love, go back to square one and approach your craft as a novice in order to rediscover your love for it.
Evangaline Lily’s panel, while touching a little on Lost, the Wasp, and the Hobbit, focused primarily on her upcoming book series called “The Squickerwonkers.” She discussed her process and how she never meant to become an actor. “Writing is actually my passion,” she explained while talking about her upcoming 18 books of poems and children’s stories. She had actually given up on her writing until she got the chance to see the Wetaworkshop in action while working on the Hobbit. Here were all these people creating, while also having their little side projects, and she wanted to have her own side project. Thus “The Squickerwonkers” were born. These collections of poems about flawed marionette puppets are beautifully illustrated by Brazilian artist Rodrigo Bastos Didier and hopefully will be in stores Spring 2019.
Monday morning of DragonCon can be one of the hardest to get up and go to panels, but the Star Trek panel was worth it. The panel was made up of 3 Voyager cast members (Ethan Phillips Neelix, Robert Duncan McNeill Tom Paris, and Garrett Wang Harry Kim), 2 from Discovery (Mary Chieffo L’Rell and Kenneth Mitchell Kol), and Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov) from the original Star Trek cast. This was a fun panel. I never would have expected that Walter was a prankster, but according to his fellow actors, he enjoys pranking them at conventions on a regular basis.
When asked why they thought Voyager has become so popular in recent years, the cast of the show agreed that Captain Janeway was the primary reason. When the show came out, they got a lot of angry responses to the fact that the Captain was a female, but now that the landscape of geek culture has changed and the strong female Captain fits right into that more inclusive and empowering world. They added that they make sure to tell all the girls that they meet at conventions to watch all the episodes, because “when they grow up, they’ll find better husbands (or partners) and a better job because Janeway wouldn’t settle for subpar either.” As a fan of Voyager, I’d have to agree with their assessment.
The panel was also asked “what lessons did they learn from Star Trek.” Their responses were “inclusivity,” “patience,” and that “strength comes from diversity.”
One never knows what to expect when attending a panel with John Barrowman. Add Catherine Tate into the mix and you know that it is going to be a wild ride. My sides were hurting from laughter by the time the hour long panel was over. Many panels at DragonCon consist of panelists sitting behind a table and answering questions from the audience. Barrowman and Tate are not known for doing what everyone else does. Instead, they began the panel by running through the very large room, packed full of hundreds of people, searching for whoever had come the farthest to attend the convention. This ended with a Doctor Donna cosplay being pulled on stage, and Barrowman taking a tour around the room on an electric scooter (with permission). I have to say this was one of the best starts to a panel, i’ve ever experienced.
Also unlike most other panels, where the questions are asked from a line in the audience, those asking questions were pulled on stage. The questions asked revolved mostly around their experiences working on Doctor Who. Particularly interesting was Catherine’s story about keeping her appearance at the end of Tennant’s first series a secret. She explained that she was so worried that it would be the one to spill the secret that she forgot the name she was supposed to check in under at her hotel for filming. She was recognized but ultimately, the secret was kept.
Many years ago, the vendor hall of DragonCon could fit into a single room inside the host hotels. Now they have their own building. Housed within Building 2 of the America’s Mart, the Vendor Hall now encompasses three entire floors, with the Comic Book and Pop Artist’s Alley on the fourth floor. If you want it, you can probably find it in the rows upon rows of vendors. Kilts, fancy socks, funko pops, handmade horns & flower crowns, board games, comic books, costuming, tshirts, and stuffed animals are just a few of the wares available. The vendor halls are a major attraction on their own, with lines wrapping the building to get in every morning and nearly all day Saturday. It can take hours to see everything, and its worth every moment. Some people wait all year, just to take on the adventure that is the DragonCon vendor hall.
And if you need a break while you are shopping, they make sure to have food options waiting for you right outside. The scent of Chicken & Waffles, Corn Dogs and Pizza, were certainly helpful in letting you know that you were nearing the main doors on a particular floor.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, people start to line the sidewalks along Peachtree Street, as it cuts through the heart of Atlanta. The parade would not start until 10am but there are people in their camp chairs, or sitting on towels & blankets as early as 7:30. The spectacle always attracts large crowds, with thousands of local attendees on top of those taking part in the convention. And it’s no surprise why it’s such a popular event. Hundreds of cosplayers walk the mile long parade route, accompanied by numerous fan vehicles.
Highlights from this years parade include, a menagerie of DeadPools, (most of which were fun mashups with other fandoms), Jawas and their own SandCrawler vehicle, Captain America on his motorcycle, bellydancers, the Lakewood High School Marching Band, Stormtroopers. There were characters from Game of Thrones, Overwatch, Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine, and Supernatural with a 1967 Chevy Impala (who we all know as Baby). There were Daleks, Spartans (both from Halo and the 300), Elves, Dwarves, Zombies, Wizards, and dragons. The parade is always a delight. It is a slice of the convention presented for those who don’t want to attend the full event. It is a showcase of cosplay and fandom and is truly a must see attraction for DragonCon.
Parties & Special Events
DragonCon is the convention that never stops. To some, it only starts to pick up after the sun goes down and the parties start. Different themed parties and events happen each evening and always attract large crowds and even more fun cosplays. This year kicked off with the Wakanda Welcomes the World party (presented by the new Diversity track) on Thursday night. Also on Thursday night was the Bunny Hutch party, where cosplayers mash their favorite fandoms with the Playboy aesthetic. Later in the weekend, the Yule Ball was a popular event, with the line stretching through the hotel for hours. Zombie Prom, the Doctor Who Ball, the Spectrum Rainbow Flag party, K-Pop Dance Party, Evening at Bree, and The Heroes & Villains Ball also draw big crowds to dance the night away.
If dancing and parties aren’t your jam, you can attend the special DragonCon Night at the Georgia Aquarium. This event takes place off site and requires additional admission, but offers the chance to see some amazing cosplay against the backdrop of the beautiful Georgia Aquarium. Many cosplayers dress as aquatic themed characters but some just bring their A game. This year the Legend of the Chosen costume contest was hosted by Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luther from Smallville) and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite). A magnificent cosplay of the Monkey King took home the top prize.
If you travel to the Marquis level of the Marriot, the tables that ring the elevators represent the various bands and artists performing at the convention over the course of the weekend. No DragonCon would be complete without the sound of Cruxshadows’ dark electronic melodies filling the floor and dazzling audiences so late on Sunday night that its actually Monday morning.
Other bands this years included Abney Park, Aurelio Voltaire, The Extraordinary Contraptions, and even the Atlanta Swing Orchestra. Additionally, the Filk Track had its own spectacular lineup of performers this year. Filk is a musical genre, primarily present at conventions, and focus on fandom, fantasy, and science fiction themes. Typically, filk is a type of folk music, though that distinction has broadened over the years to incorporate many different sounds. This year’s filk track included artists like Tom Smith, the Brobdingnagian Bards, The Doubleclicks, Toucan Dubh, LandLoch’d, and Geekapella.These concerts are always a blast. I always leave with my sides hurting from laughing so hard at what these talented individuals come up with.
With the vendors inhabiting America’s Mart Building 2, Gaming is at home in Building 1. Open for 24 hours during the 5 days of DragonCon, the Gaming Rooms offer almost every type of game you could want. Board Games, LARPs (Live-Action Role Play games), Dungeons & Dragons, Card Games, PC gaming, and even dedicated space to games of the con favorite “werewolf.”
This year the gaming was even more popular than in previous years. It is always amazing to see so many people interested in tabletop gaming in such a fashion. At one point I saw a line of people all filling out new 5th edition D&D character sheets. The interest in this element of DragonCon has definitely increased in recent years.
This year, once again the game room played host to numerous free to play arcade games. There is something amazing about watching a woman in full steampunk costume playing pinball for 30 minutes. Other games included Dance Dance Revolution, Pac Man, Centipede and an entire Japanese game section. It’s hard to know what all the Japanese games are, but there is always a crowd and a line of people wanting to try their luck on these unique games.
There is so much to do that it is easy to get overwhelmed or miss something, but there are a few other activities that you might find interesting to get you away from the crowds. In the lower level of the Hyatt, there are rooms that play movies non-stop starting on Thursday and ending on Monday, this year movies including the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Labyrinth, and more. On thursday night, there are Wrestling matches. Lips Down on Dixie performs Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. Drum Circles gather every evening. You can paint your own miniatures in the gaming hall or attend tea-pot racing with the Alternative History track. The costuming track gives workshops on how to create your own cosplays, and successful authors teach you how to write your own novel. There is always something going on, even far away from the large crowds.
Every year, DragonCon chooses a local charity to work with for the year. The official charity for 2018 was Literacy Action, which works with undereducated adults in the Atlanta area gain better literacy, life, and work skills. Through fundraising efforts, including donations and charity auctions, over $85,000 were raised in support of Literacy Action.
The charity selected for 2019 will be The American Heart Association’s Georgia Chapter, chosen in honor of the long-time director of the Comics and Pop Art division of DragonCon, Thom Trainor. Thom passed away over the summer.
In addition to its charity efforts, DragonCon also hosts an annual blood drive. LifeSouth and the “Pay it Forward” blood drive has been a staple at DragonCon since 2002. Throughout the con, cosplaying volunteers direct attendees to the largest convention-based blood drive in the nation. This years over 3,000 donors contributed nearly 6,000 units of blood, and received a unique T-shirt as their reward for “feeding the vampires.”
Possibly the best this about DragonCon is the cosplay. Cosplayers from around the country and many from across the globe, bring their best cosplays to show at DragonCon. They gather for large group photoshoots, enter into numerous costume contests including the largest of the event The Masquerade, which is held on Sunday night, or simply walk the floor of the Marriot and pose for pictures. The creativity and craftsmanship of these cosplays are truly exceptional and I don’t believe that words can fully describe them, nor can any one article showcase every amazing cosplay showcased at DragonCon.
DragonCon is truly a unique experience. It’s a party that starts on Thursday and doesn’t stop until Monday, with something for everyone no matter what your interests. For this writer, DragonCon always feels like going home. When I started attending the event 15 years ago, it was in two hotels with maybe 20,000 people, now it spans 7 venues with an estimated 80,000+ people attending this year. It keeps growing and keeps getting better and better, with more guests, more cosplay, more events. And you can bet, that I’ll be back once again in 2019.