Note: While the author intentionally waited until after Dragon Con had concluded to write a comprehensive retrospective of the event, unforeseen circumstances delayed this piece from running before now.
I've been fortunate enough in my time with 52 Weeks of Horror to cover some cool events. From movie screenings and film festivals to conventions and more, I've had a chance to experience and share with you some amazing stories. While all of it is fun, nothing can quite compare to my yearly pilgrimage to Dragon Con in Atlanta. Every Labor Day weekend more than 80,000 people flock to Peachtree Center to celebrate fandom, friendship, and all things geek.
What is Dragon Con?
Well, if you've skipped out on my annual Danno Does Dragon Con coverage from 2017 and 2018, let me hit the highlights. Dragon Con began in the Georgia metropolis in 1987 and has steadily grown from an event attended by hundreds to one brining in close to a hundred thousand each year. Celebrating science fiction, fantasy, horror, anime, comic books, cinema, history, and nearly every conceivable fan interest that exists, the convention separates itself from West Coast contemporaries like San Diego Comic Con in one crucial way. Dragon Con is completely fancentric
Other conventions including SDCC offer fan experiences and interactions but are largely industry driven events. That makes them a great place for trailer and product announcements as well as press junkets and other media events, but the main focus of the event isn't the overall fan experience. Dragon Con, however, was founded by fans, is organized by fans, and is oriented towards giving those fans the best interactions and entertainment with the people who make fandom possible.
They shop at the same store.
A Cosplay Extravaganza
Taking that fan focused mission to the next level, Dragon Con encourages, creates contests for, and brings out some of the best original cosplay in the world. A mixture of professional, hobbyist, and amateur cosplayers assemble for a non-stop showcase of their talents. Everything from the minimalist "My Name Is..." sticker slapped on a t-shirt to life sized monsters and robots roam the streets of downtown Atlanta.
On Saturday morning during the con you'll run into the Dragon Con parade, an event that seems to get larger every year. A steady stream of video game, anime, scifi, fantasy, and horror characters march down Peachtree Street accompanied by bands, boom boxes, and this year, a Jawa Sand Crawler turn ice cream truck. The parade ends as any decent parade will, with Futurama's Robot Santa Claus waving to the crowd.
For the practical effexcts, make-up, and costuming afficianodos, the cosplay alone is worth the trip.
But What About the Horror?
I thought you'd never ask.
Dragon Con offers a much wider range of horror and macabre interests with both their Horror Track and Post Apocalyptic Track. These programming tracks offer fans a chance to sit in on panels, Q&A sessions, and workshops relating to the genres. A number of horror legends make appearances at the con including Robert Englund and Amanda Wyss. There are also a number of vendors, including Troma, that set up shop to sell movies, books, merchandise and memorabilia that you likely won't find anywhere else.
From Rear Window to Rocky Horror and all points in between, horror was everywhere you looked at Dragon Con.
Then There's the Music!
The Marriott Marquis, or as some refer to it as The Food Tube is one of the convention's central hubs where there are restaurants, bars, pop up food vendors, large event halls, and parties galore. But on the bottom floor of this dizzying, beautiful hotel, you'll find the inner core of the building lined with tables where musicians and performers are selling CDs, signing autographs, and entertaining fans with song. All of the acts are genre focused with many being filk singers or geek oriented rock. But there's something surprising that happens as you start to take another pass around this ring of music.
Nearly a third of the booths --by my estimation, that is-- are devoted to acts with a distinct horror, macabre, or goth element to them. Performers and groups like Aurelio Voltaire, MC Chris, Jess-O-Lantern, Fable Cry, and many more, the music of the night was the soundtrack to Dragon Con.
But Wait, There's More!
It isn't all about play, at Dragon Con. Like any event of this kind organizers try to use the size and devotion of the fanbase to give something back. In addition to a major charity that the event will support each year --2019 was the American Heart Association-- Atlanta area Life South partners with the Heinlein Society for an annual blood drive. Given that Labor Day weekend is one of the deadliest holidays in the U.S. and that, at least this year, a hurricane was bearing down on the coast, the need for blood, plasma, and platelets was at an all time high. Out of 85,000 confirmed attendees this year, more than 3,600 donated over 10,000 units of blood that will travel to 150 hospitals across Atlanta and the Southeast.
If you didn't attend or didn't get a chance to donate, check on the Life South website, Red Cross, local hospitals or blood banks and see about donating today. An hour of your time could save a life.
Why Did You Wait to Tell Me?!
In years passed I've tried live streaming events and doing on site reports about Dragon Con. Simply put, as a freelance writer, I'm neither equipped to or have the time to stop in the middle of this con and do reports. Besides, I like to take it all in and, upon returning from it, take just a bit of time to process my experience to give the best, most honest view that I can offer.
Dragon Con is a gargantuan event that requires some forethought and planning before you arrive. Once you're their, you can either adhere to a rigid, self created schedule or just go with the flow and see where you end up. Either way, you'll never be able to see or do it all.
Take my advice if you plan to attend: be patient, be polite, and be generous with your time. Talk to people in que. Take pictures of the incredible costumes. Enjoy a symphony of new music. Open yourself up to new experiences.
To find out more about my experiences at Dragon Con, follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @dotdblog or through @52weeksofhorror. Be sure to look for the hashtag #dannodoesdragoncon. You can also check out the rambling first episode of my new podcast, Danno of the Dead Pod, which is all about Dragon Con.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan on social media @dotdblog and read his stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.