Once again, Labor Day weekend saw Atlanta, Ga., invaded by more than 30,000 science fiction/fantasy, gaming and comic book fans. With attendance figures this large, one can’t help but wonder if Dragon*Con, arguably the South’s premier sci-fi convention, may be outgrowing itself.
Founded in 1987, the convention has occupied two hotels in recent years: the Marriott Marquis and the Hyatt Regency. Last year, largely due to renovations in the Marriott, activities spilled over into the nearby Hilton. However, as all three hotels are more or less across the street from one another, everything the convention had to offer was centrally located.
This year, despite additional facilities provided by the Marriott, more space at the nearby Sheraton was required. Hosting the popular Star Trek track, it is rumored the Sheraton next year will be home to the comic book panels and guests. With the Sheraton a block from the primary hosting facilities, this creates something of a “kids’ table” perception for some attendees. However, since some convention guests pay for their own accommodations, it helps to keep costs down for comic book-related guests.
With such significant growth for the convention, it may someday result in certain aspects of the con, such as the comic book track, breaking off from Dragon*Con entirely into its own convention event. Earlier this year, Dragon*Con organizers put together the Atlanta Comics Expo, which had been absorbed into Dragon*Con in 1990. Though sparsely attended, it is unknown if February’s event was intended to be a relaunch of the Expo or merely a dry run for future years.
As with any convention, there were a number of celebrity guests, which included cast members from Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Stargate and Battlestar Galactica. However, inflation has struck the Walk of Fame as prices for autographs have risen dramatically. Edward James Olmos, who plays Commander Adama on Battlestar Galactica, was reported to be charging $60, with proceeds going to charity.
Adam West, arriving 30 minutes late to the Walk of Fame, was asking $50, a price many attendees regarded as woefully unrealistic for an actor whose salad days are 40 years in the past. The former Batman actor quickly wore out his welcome among a number of longtime admirers when he failed to appear at one of his panels scheduled for Sunday morning. It was reported he was instead in the Walk of Fame making $50 a signature.
One convention volunteer that declined to give his name explained that because film and television celebrities are often expected to pay for their own travel expenses and hotel accommodations, some will often set their own schedule. The convention itself makes no guarantee to fans regarding availability of any celebrity guest.
Nevertheless, each guest is provided with a “handler,” who escorts their charge from panel to signing, sometimes making food runs and other forms of assistance. It is this person’s responsibility to make guests aware of where they are expected to be according to the published schedule given to all attendees. Fortunately, such instances as the Adam West situation are rare, but as such they do tend to stand out.
More often, celebrity guests will go above and beyond for the benefit of their fans, as in the case of Cinematic Titanic. Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu, who were among the creative masterminds behind Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 1990s, are back with a brand new show, doing what they do best – riffing on bad movies.
After a brief Q&A session, during which they gave away a handful of DVDs of their show, audience members were shown Cinematic Titanic’s treatment of the 1959 movie, The Wasp Woman. Afterwards, all three stars were available for pictures, meeting fans and signing autographs for a mere $5. Though almost midnight, Hodgson, Conniff and Beaulieu remained available until each fan was satisfied.
Gail Kim (Photo by Doug Larson)
One aspect of Dragon*Con that sets it apart from many other conventions is the sheer volume and creativity of the costumes among the attendees. During registration on Thursday night before the convention – if officially starts on Friday at 1:00 p.m. – fans can be seen wearing Princess Leia slave girl costumes, super-hero uniforms or dressed as video game characters. This continues all weekend at virtually every con function.
“I Love Dragon*Con,” said TNA wrestling star Gail Kim, one of the celebrity guests. “I came last year and I was just blown away. I do lots of conventions and people dress up at some of them, but this is like a big Halloween party. It’s so fun. It’s a really fun atmosphere.”
Saturday is often the great masquerade, as fans mix and mingle to the delight of photographers in the hotel lobbies. Often you will see similarly clad fans gravitating toward one another, sharing variations such as the 1960s Batman, Michael Keaton’s version and Christian Bale’s Dark Knight.
Photo by Doug Larson
Sunday night marks the big costume contest, beginning with the 10-entry children’s division, then 50 entrants in the adult category. Held in the largest of the hotels’ ballrooms, the show is broadcast over closed-circuit TV. This year’s highlights included a Transformer who actually transformed (children’s division, no less) and a Dragon Rider.
For all this fun and frivolity, it is only expected that next year’s convention will be bigger and more heavily attended. It is encouraged that tickets be purchased now and hotel rooms be booked well in advance. For more information, visit www.dragoncon.org.