Dragon Con 2017 brings alternative universe to downtown Atlanta

On an overstuffed Labor Day weekend when 80,000 people will attend the AJC Decatur Book Festival and 135,000 will take in some college football in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Dragon Con still rules.

Calling itself the largest pop culture convention “in the universe,” Dragon Con begins Friday, Sept. 1, and will bring perhaps 82,000 to Atlanta this year, for events at five hotels and at the massive AmericasMart buildings #1 and #2.

The four-day convention fills downtown with dressed-up cosplay fans and takes over the streets on Saturday morning, Sept. 2, with the fabulous Dragon Con Parade.

More than 400 celebrities and personalities will make their way to Atlanta, including television and movie actors, writers, artists, puppeteers and video game designers. They will interact with Dragon Con attendees at panels, book signings, photo opportunities, lectures, dances, wrestling, workshops, costume contests and other activities.

Here are a few highlights of the four-day festival:

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Stan Lee, the dean of the Marvel universe, will be the grand marshal of the Dragon Con Parade this year. CONTRIBUTED BY DRAGON CON (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Stan Lee: One of the architects of the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee returns to Dragon Con for the third time, and will serve as grand marshal of the Saturday parade.

A titanic figure in the world of comics and movies, Lee pioneered the idea of a connected world where events in one superhero’s timeline would affect the stories of another. With such artists as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he created Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men and many others. He appears Saturday, Sept. 2, only.

WilliamShatner: An American wonder, William Shatner can sell anything, including the eternal Captain Kirk, a character who, from inception, was somehow simultaneously a parody and a sincere original. Shatner also attended last year’s Dragon Con, among others. He appears Sunday and Monday, Sept. 3-4, only.

Actor John Cusack (“Say Anything,” “Being John Malkovich”) is among the high-profile guests who will appear at Dragon Con 2017. CONTRIBUTED BY DRAGON CON (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

JohnCusack: Why John Cusack (who will appear Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 2-3)? Is there a Sensitive Man superhero movie that we missed? No?

It doesn’t matter. Perhaps Cusack, star of “Being John Malkovich” and “High Fidelity” and that inimitable boombox scene in “Say Anything,” doesn’t fit the profile of the pop culture figure that you’ll see at cons. But apparently he is unconventional enough to be a convention magnet, because the announcement that he’s coming to Atlanta became the biggest Dragon Con news of the moment.

Until the next announcement followed close behind:

AltonBrownUniversity of Georgia graduate Alton Brown is a food star, not a movie star. But when the “Good Eats” creator was announced as the newest guest, the Dragon Con crowd ate it up. (Sorry.) “This is a fantasy and sci-fi convention, but our fans are huge consumers of all pop media,” said spokesman Greg Euston. Brown will appear Sunday, Sept. 3.

Twitch: For the first time, Dragon Con has added eSports competition, which attendees can watch live as it’s broadcast on the Twitch platform. Do people really want to watch other people play video games? Yes. The eSports world will generate $696 million this year and $1.5 billion by 2020, according to NewZoo, marketing consultants in the online gaming world.

Parade: The Dragon Con Parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday (Sept. 2) though many viewers will have arrived much earlier to secure good vantage points. The parade heads south on Peachtree Street from Linden Avenue to Andrew Young International Boulevard. There are bands, vehicles, floats and dancers, but the volunteer costumed characters are the centerpiece.

Blood: Every year, thousands who buy tickets to Dragon Con also buy some lucky stranger a second chance at life. With their once-a-year blood drive, Dragon Con attendees are the second largest donors to the Atlanta-based nonprofit community blood supplier LifeSouth. The 25,000th Dragon Con donor will be handing over the hemoglobin sometime Sept. 1 or Sept. 2, according to Galen Unold, hospital liaison for LifeSouth.

Ming-Na Wen, of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” will appear Saturday, Sept. 2, during Dragon Con 2017. CONTRIBUTED BY DRAGON CON (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

DragonConTV: Too exhausted to catch that “Star Trek: TNG” panel? Dragon Con this year offers internet streamed coverage of the entire convention ($10 for attendees, $30 for outlanders) that is the equivalent of coverage that attendees can see in their hotel rooms. It will show panels, costume contests, the parade and more.

Participants can also download the Dragon Con mobile app to try to keep up.

Sierra Hubbard will transform into Lexa the commander from The 100. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)

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