To the casual observer, it’s a lovable freak show.
But for those who live by its creed — and spend the year preparing for Labor Day weekend, when painstakingly designed costumes can be displayed and new friendships formed among the faithful — it’s a religion.
More than 60,000 attendees are expected at Dragon Con this year, its 27th incarnation, and despite its massive growth, the event still stays true to its roots.
While other “cons” around the country cater to Hollywood studios and incite hype with sneak peeks at the next summer superhero blockbuster, Dragon Con is content to placate genuine fans of sci-fi and fantasy, animation and gaming. And Joss Whedon. Always Joss Whedon.
Of course, Dragon Con can trot out instantly recognizable names with the best of them — Sir Patrick Stewart, Cary Elwes, Ralph Macchio and Terry Gilliam are some of this year’s marquee offerings.
But there remains a purity to Dragon Con’s mission and a scrappy sweetness to what it manages to accomplish every year: harmony.
Here is a look at what to expect this Friday through Monday in downtown Atlanta.
The Dragon Con Parade
It means getting up early.
It means coming prepared with enough bottles of water to get you through a typically gross and sticky late-summer morning in Atlanta.
But the Dragon Con Parade is such an experience that it’s worth the hassle.
And, actually, there are plenty of ways to make the experience relatively painless.
Start with … don’t even try driving downtown Saturday morning. Between the parade route and staging area running down a chunk of Peachtree Street, Andrew Young International Boulevard and Peachtree Center Avenue (see the map for specifics) and the combined crowds from Dragon Con and Saturday night’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome with Alabama and West Virginia, your trusty Toyota doesn’t stand a chance.
Last year, Con officials estimated about 75,000 people crowded the area to watch the (literal) parade of Darth Vaders, zombies, steam punks and Super Girls, and a similar number is expected this year.
So take MARTA. The Civic Center and Peachtree Center stops are the closest to the action, and you’ll be much less cranky upon arrival.
Speaking of arrival, if you wait until five minutes before the 10 a.m. start time, there’s a good chance you’ll be standing on tippy toes behind a Wookiee while trying to catch a glimpse of the colorful controlled mayhem in the street.
Most years, fans begin arriving before 8 a.m., so plan accordingly. The parade will start on Spring Street and end on Peachtree Center Avenue, between John Portman Boulevard and Baker Street, in front of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Once you’ve staked out your spot, it is advised to stay put. Parade organizers also would appreciate it if you could refrain from standing or sitting in the street. You never know when a Batmobile might peel out and guess which one of you would win that battle.
Try to remain respectful of the 3,000-plus parade participants as well. That might seem like a no-brainer, but when 75,000 people and heat mesh, manners are sometimes forgotten.
See that member of the Box Heroes? Well, he can’t really see you. So abide by those traffic rules that most Atlantans usually ignore and give him the right of way.
In fact, just stick with that theory for the entire weekend.
The Dragon Con stars
More than 400 stars will roam the hallways of Dragon Con’s five host hotels (the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel and the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, so you can strategize your people-watching schedule).
That isn’t counting the dozens of graphic designers, writers, professors, musicians, animators and puppeteers, as well as the plethora of vendors setting up their T-shirts, crafts, books and magic wands (not to mention some incredibly cool clothes) at the Atlanta Convention Center at AmericasMart.
And this year, proceeds from the charity auction and other charity events will benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank. As well, a food drive will be held during the convention, with collection bins located in the Sheraton near registration.
So prepare to spend much time navigating crowds.
But here is a glimpse at some of the big names you might bump into:
Sir Patrick Stewart — “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (“Captain Jean-Luc Picard”), the “X-Men” series (“Charles Xavier”).
Karl Urban — recent “Star Trek” movies (“Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy”), “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (“Eomer”).
Manu Bennett — “The Hobbit” trilogy (“Azog the Defiler”), TV’s “Arrow” (“Slade Wilson”).
Katie Cassidy — “Arrow” (“Laurel Lance”).
Evanna Lynch — “Harry Potter” franchise (“Luna Lovegood”).
Ralph Macchio — “The Outsiders” (“Johnny Cade”), “The Karate Kid” (“Daniel LaRusso”).
Cary Elwes — “The Princess Bride,” (“Westley”), “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” (“Robin Hood”).
Walter Koenig — “Star Trek” original series (“Pavel Chekov”).
Lou Ferrigno — TV’s “The Incredible Hulk.”
John Ratzenberger — “Cheers” (“Cliff Clavin”), voice in Pixar movies (“Hamm the Piggy Bank” in the “Toy Story” series, “Mack the Truck” in the “Cars” series).
James Gunn — writer/director of “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Terry Gilliam — screenwriter/director (“The Fisher King,” “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”) and Monty Python troupe member.
Also participating in panels and autograph sessions are multiple main cast members from TV shows including ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”; SyFy’s “Warehouse 13”; TNT’s “Falling Skies”; HBO’s “True Blood”; Fox’s “The Following”; and Syfy’s “Being Human.” Several actors from Joss Whedon creations “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Angel,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Dollhouse” and “Firefly” also will be in attendance.
Other TV guests will come from classic shows such as “Doctor Who” (Colin Baker); “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (Gil Gerard and Erin Gray); “Sid & Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost” (Wesley Eure, Kathleen Coleman and Philip Paley); and several from “Stargate” and the “Star Trek” franchise (including Jeri Ryan and Jonathan Del Arco).
The Dragon Con app
A couple of years ago, Dragon Con entered the app world with a functional, if unspectacular presence.
But this year, they have perfected the digital complement to the convention.
Among the highlights of the free app (available for Android and iOS devices):
- A downloadable PDF of the 128-page pocket program.
- A direct link to Twitter to read Dragon Con-related tweets and post quickly, with hashtag (#dragoncon) already in place. As well, there is a direct pipeline to Facebook.
- A customizable schedule that requires the simple touch of an on-screen star to add (or delete) an event from your personal itinerary.
- A link to local places, including information about the local hotels’ courtesy shuttles (and maps); the Dragon Con stores and vendor halls; the Georgia Aquarium (which holds its traditional Dragon Con night at 7 p.m. Saturday); and parade routing.
- A searchable list of presenters arranged alphabetically.
- A list of tracks (e.g., Animation, Paranormal, Star Wars, Whedon Universe, Young Adult Literature) that can be browsed by day or track name. Sessions within each track also can be bookmarked and, following their occurrence, rated.
For coverage of Dragon Con 2014, check AJC.com and AccessAtlanta.com throughout the weekend.
GETTING INTO DRAGON CON
“Memberships” can be purchased in the Georgia Ballroom at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel (165 Courtland St.) during the convention in four-day ($130, Friday-Monday), three-day ($100, Saturday-Monday), two-day ($60, Sunday-Monday) and single-day increments.
Four-day passes are available for purchase on Thursday and Friday only (starting at 10 a.m. Thursday); three-day passes on Saturday only; and two-day passes on Sunday only.
Single-day Friday ($40), single-day Saturday ($50) and single-day Sunday ($40) can be purchased in the Capital and Georgia ballrooms at the Sheraton beginning at 8 a.m. on the respective day only.
For information, visit www.dragoncon.org.