The average Atlantan’s concept of Dragon Con, the Labor Day weekend celebration of pop culture, science fiction and fantasy, arguably starts and stops with its over-the-top parade.
That’s when a vast procession of costumed attendees, many decked out as spot-on re-creations of their favorite film, TV or comic book characters, takes over the streets of downtown Atlanta. A garrison of “Star Wars” stormtroopers march in single file. Batman might be piloting a full-size, street-legal Batmobile. And celebrity guests, such as Lou “the Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno, may be seen perched on the back of convertibles waving to fans. We’ll see the colorfully nerdy images on the news, all over the Internet and plastered on newspapers.
Dragon Con, however, remains more than simply an excuse for a geek parade. Just ask the 57,000 attendees expected to converge upon the convention’s host hotels. While some opt to bypass Dragon Con ticket prices with a free parade fix, others may be intimidated by the sheer vastness of the convention.
It’s big. Godzilla-sized big.
Yep, navigating Dragon Con can be as daunting as exploring some unknown galaxy, far, far away. Having chalked up more fan boy hours at past conventions than we’d like to admit, we put together the following guide with not-to-miss suggestions and a few tips and tricks to help guests make the most out of Dragon Con 2013.
First things first
Download the Dragon Con app (www.dragoncon.org). Once you’ve arrived, grab a free pocket guide. Although you’ll have to wade through mountains of information, both will help you process the weekend with schedules, maps and more. When perusing the guide and app, you might see unfamiliar lingo. A track, for instance, is a category of interest. Flip or click to, say, the “Star Wars” track category to find out when certain actors will be doing Q&As or when “Star Wars” fan gatherings will be taking place.
Walk of Fame
Countless genre celebrities from the TV and film worlds can be found signing autographs at the Walk of Fame located at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. Biggies this year include the first-time appearance of Lee Majors (“The Six Million Dollar Man”). Fans can score a bionic coup by getting signatures from both Majors and his TV love, Lindsay Wagner (“Bionic Woman”). Although he’s no stranger to Dragon Con, William “Captain Kirk” Shatner easily draws legions of “Star Trek” faithful. Recently added guests run the gamut from Lucy “Xena” Lawless to Ed Asner. Actors from hot TV properties such as “True Blood,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Walking Dead” and “Doctor Who” are on the schedule, and that ain’t all. Most Walk of Famers charge a fee for autographs. This typically includes an 8-by-10-inch photo, and Dragon Con says most of the autographs are still $30 per signature, although some guests charge more. Need to craft an autograph budget? Make a wish list by perusing the guest roster on the Dragon Con website. Although the Walk of Fame is only for actors, directors and producers, they aren’t the only featured guests. Comic book creators are normally in the Comic and the Pop Art Alley, while other artists and writers can be found in the exhibit halls.
Dealers and exhibitor halls
If you have a weakness for geeky collectibles, from T-shirts and toys to comic books, movie posters and animation cels, you can find all of that and then some. The sheer amount of products is exhaustive, and it’s a great way to stock up on holiday shopping for the nerds in your life. Deals can often be had, especially on the last day of the show. Remember, these dealers have already packed and unloaded this stuff once; often, they’d rather price stuff to sell than haul it back home. Although the Dragon Con Dealers Hall proved excessively crowded in recent years, it looks like they’re addressing the issue. This year, in an effort to provide more elbow room, the Dealers and Exhibitor Halls will be moving to the Atlanta Convention Center at AmericasMart.
It’s never a dull moment at Dragon Con with events taking place at a near-constant pace. It’s impossible to attend everything, so we culled the following suggestions, although Dragon Con has more where these come from. “Dragon Con Burlesque: A Glamour Geek Revue” blends fan culture with the art of the tease. There’s enough diverse live music to qualify as a festival. Among the acts are a pair of actor-led bands. Ghost of the Robot features James Marsters (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). “Torchwood’s” Gareth David-Lloyd fronts Blue Gillespie. Fans of kabuki rockers Kiss get the next best thing with a tribute band, Kiss Nation, which performs in full costume.
Costumers of all kinds go mask to mask at the Masquerade Costume Contest, a huge competition and one of the more popular events at the con. Costumes are so hot at Dragon Con they have more than one, from the Cosplay Contest to the Miss “Star Trek” Universe. Speaking of the latter, a fleet of fans will be going after a “Star Trek” world record attempt to break the record for most people dressed in “Star Trek” costumes. The Late Night Puppetry Slam, a puppet-laden adult-oriented event, seems to get more popular each year. Kids and adults join forces for Robot Battles when two robot makers and their remote-control robots face off against each other on stage.
There’s no denying this centerpiece of Dragon Con. Onlookers line the sidewalks as cosplayers and dedicated fans get a chance to take center stage. Expect a huge variety of characters including aliens, spectacled wizards, tight-wearing titans and sword-slinging pirates. The latter can sometimes be seen piled upon a massive ship on wheels cruising the parade trail. For newbies, the parade is a great introductory to the Dragon Con experience. This year, it’s a quarter mile longer, which means more room for spectators.
You don’t need a convention badge to attend, and it’s something kids won’t soon forget. The parade steps off at 10 a.m. Aug. 31. The route has been changed this year due to streetcar construction. It begins at West Peachtree Place near West Peachtree Street. The parade will turn north (right) on Spring Street, east (right) on Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, south (right) on Peachtree Street, east (left) on Andrew Young International Boulevard and north (left) on Peachtree Center Avenue. It will end on Peachtree Center Avenue between John Portman Boulevard and Baker Street, in front of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
DRAGON CON 2013
Aug. 30-Sept. 2 at Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel and Westin Peachtree Plaza (all five host hotels are sold out). One-day convention “membership”: $30-$50. Sunday-Monday, $60. Saturday-Monday, $100. All four days: $130. 404-669-0773, www.dragoncon.org (go to “About” and “Memberships and Pre-sales”).