By Isadora Pennington
Dragon Con, a Labor Day weekend tradition, bills itself as the largest multi-genre science fiction and fantasy convention in the world. Locals and visitors alike book hotel rooms and don their best cosplay outfits before heading into the fray to purchase artwork, comics, meet celebrities, attend panels, screenings, pose for pictures, party, and participate in the massively popular parade along Peachtree Street in Downtown.
This year, I had the opportunity to attend Dragon Con and meet some influential Atlanta people affiliated with the event. After a decade of volunteering at the event, Dan Carroll has been media relations director for Dragon Con for the past seven years. “Dragon Con is such a cross section of American culture and brings together the best people in fandom to enjoy the things that make them squee,” said Carroll.
Since the convention’s inception in 1987, the convention has grown from a few hundred fans to 70,000 at this year’s event. “The growth of the convention brings new challenges and new opportunities,” Carroll explained. Navigating the crowds and trying to get a view of the parade can be tough with so many in attendance, but at the same time the growing popularity of the event also allows the organizers to bring in high-profile special guests. In recent years more local businesses like the Georgia Aquarium have gotten in on the fun, hosting special events and promotions during the Con as well.
While only pass holders have access to the sprawling interconnected hotels Downtown, the parade is open to all and has become an Atlanta tradition. “Our parade is the ‘public face’ of Dragon Con and introduces many to the wonderful variety of things you’ll find there,” said parade director Jan Price. Her favorite part? “The enthusiasm of the participants, and the amount of time, effort, and investment they make each year putting together what they bring to the parade.” Price also said she enjoys watching the response of the audience, especially kids who are meeting their heroes face-to-face along the route. “Absolutely delightful to watch!”
John Bradford, the COO and president of aerospace engineering firm SpaceWorks Enterprises, has been attending Dragon Con for many years. “The first parade was over in about five minutes,” Bradford recalled. “Nichelle Nichols from Star Trek was going by in a minivan just waving and that was it.” In contrast, this year Bradford arrived more than two hours early to get a good spot for the parade. It just so happens that Nichols was the 2015 parade grand marshal.
He has also been witness to changes in the programming and booking of the convention throughout the years.
“The space and science track early on covered pretty obscure topics,” said Bradford. “They were doing things like the face on Mars and, ya know, magic crystals and things.“
While he admits that there is a place and time for those topics, he feels that the programming has matured to brings in guests from highly respected institutions, in turn improving the quality of the information being conveyed to the public.
In addition to cosplay and science, there is also an impressive array of cartoonists and artists who attend Dragon Con. I spoke with Dave Cook, a local artist who has been attending the convention for many years. For six seasons Cook designed the posters for the Roller Girls here in Atlanta as well as pursuing his own comic projects like Splatter Comics, a series he described as “a 1980s thrash metal version of the Tales from the Crypt.”
These days Cook works with local productions like the Walking Dead thanks to connections he made throughout the years here in Atlanta. “Atlanta is a very small community of artists and great people,” said Cook.
Just a few tables down from Cook in Comic Book Alley sat the booth of another well-respected local artist, Bob Burden, creator of the Flaming Carrot comics. “One day I came up with the dumbest idea ever for a superhero,” said Burden. “He has no superpowers, he has no secret identity, and he’s not very smart.”
Burden was inspired by preposterous cartoon characters he had seen on television and wanted to push the envelope in creating a new character. The popularity of the comic took off and gained a cult following which in turn led to Burden creating the Mystery Men series.
For many die-hard fans preparations have already begun for their 2016 Dragon Con experience, working diligently on their handmade costumes, booking hotel rooms and arranging flights back to Atlanta for next Labor Day weekend.
To learn more about the convention and next year’s programming as it is announced, go online to dragoncon.org.
See more photos below!
Photos by Isadora Pennington.