I am no stranger to conventions, comic, anime, or otherwise. My first convention was Numa Rei No Con in 2004, when I was but a confused teenager who managed to con (heh) my parents into venturing out to New Orleans for a weekend of nerdy fun. Since then, I’ve been to conventions all over the country, and even managed to make it to London Super Comic Convention in February of 2016. But there is nothing –and I mean nothing –that compares to the annual events in Atlanta, Georgia; just a short (6 hour) drive from my own home.
I’m talking about Dragon Con.
Downtown Atlanta, Georgia
02 – 05 September, 2016
Multi-fandom (comics, anime, television, movies, etc.)
Celebrating their 30th Anniversary, Dragon Con had a record-setting attendance of over seventy-seven thousand people. That means, for one weekend (always Labor Day Weekend), the population of Atlanta was increased by a measurable 17%. This multi-million dollar boon to the city came in the form geeks from every walk of life: young and old, rich and poor, male and female. All of this was kicked off with a parade of over three thousand, and lasted until Monday, when people returned to every corner of God’s green earth taking memories and swag from one of the largest pop culture convention to ever exist.
Last year, 2015, was the first year that I had ever attended Dragon Con, and I was woefully unprepared for the scale. This year, I made sure to plan ahead by downloading the app. It is definitely mandatory when navigating the multiple hotels and convention centers that the event sprawls across. Nearly every local business runs some sort of event or special related to the con; along with an extensive list of privately organized parties.
But even with a good schedule, it is almost impossible to see everything that Dragon Con has to offer.
The Night at the Aquarium, which takes place only a few blocks from the host hotels, is a crucial part of the Dragon Con experience. All of the aquarium’s exhibits are open to the public with the central atrium becoming a massive costume party. This event is also the stage for one of Dragon Con’s most prestigious costume contests.
Cash bars, a DJ, and a man(?) in a whale shark costume that must have danced for the entire duration of the event made it well worth the cost of admission.
These events, the non-stop parties, the cosplay; these are things that Dragon Con is to everyone, that Dragon Con is to the public. The atmosphere is unlike any other. But this year, I wanted to do something different in my review. I wanted to find out what Dragon Con meant to the individual; to the attendee and to the creator alike.
I polled people on the streets, in lines at the bar, and on the hotel balconies. I talked to indie comic creators like Chandra Free, Comfort & Adam, and Jennie Breeden. I even managed to have a midnight smoke with indie author Quincy Allen in the circle in front of the Doubletree. Each time, I asked them what set Dragon Con apart, what made it special to them.
I received a lot of different answers. Some said it was the uniqueness of the cosplay, watching fandoms blend together into professional quality costumes that just couldn’t be seen anywhere else. Some said it was the atmosphere of fantasy that permeated the entire event. Some said that it was the opportunity to reach out and make new fans from different audiences and walks of life.
However there was one thing that was mentioned by nearly every person that I spoke to: inclusiveness. Dragon Con melds not only fandoms, but cultures. Everyone is welcome, and the only goal is to have a good time. After the guests are finished signing autographs, the artist alleys are closed, and the parades have run their route; it’s just people. Attendees come to have a drink, take pictures of costumes, and make new friends.
I think, in the end, that also sums up what Dragon Con is for me. It’s the smaller moments in the chaos, like a Sunday morning beer swap. People from all over the country met in a possibly abandoned level of a host hotel, set up a table, and shared craft beer from their homes. It was quiet, but it was a fantastic opportunity to toast the diversity that makes Dragon Con great, and cheer on a Robert Baratheon as he was shotgunning a cold one.
In closing, if Dragon Con is something that you can attend, then it’s something that you should attend.
Plus, where else will you see a voice-activated, Raspberry Pi powered War Machine?