Dragon Con celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, and while I am almost as old as the convention itself and an Atlanta native, I’ve never truly attended it before this year. There were a handful of times in past years that I ventured downtown without a badge to people watch or meet up with old friends, and one year I actually purchased a day-badge but didn’t get much use out of it. This year would be different, not only in that I would be covering the convention as press for the first time, but that I would also be spending more than just a couple of hours downtown. It’s a weekend I won’t be soon forgetting.
In the weeks leading up to every Labor Day weekend you hear news stories about Dragon Con; the costumes, the parade, the celebrities, but to experience it all firsthand is a completely different experience as I would find out. With more than 75,000 people in attendance the atmosphere is something else.
Personally, I find the costumes to be the convention’s biggest draw. Netflix’s Stranger Things was a huge hit this year, unsurprisingly. There were plenty of Elevens, both with girls and guys, and I saw a couple of walls with Christmas lights on them and even one wall with the monster starting to poke through. It’s amazing to see how much the show was represented despite only coming out less than two months ago.
Other big presences included Deadpool, who’s always had a big following in the past but more so this year thanks in part to Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool film, and Joker and Harley Quinn duos (thanks Suicide Squad). Fans also got to show off their creativity by crossing franchises/genres or picking something more obscure. I saw someone dressed as the confused John Travolta from Pulp Fiction who had the mannerisms down perfectly. You never quite know who is going to show up to Dragon Con, but I can guarantee you that it’s the go-to event to see some of the most impressive costumes of the year.
One of the best places to hang out and costume watch is at the Pulse Loft in the Marriott Marquis. It’s right in the middle of the hotel and gives you a bird’s eye view of all the action on the floor below. Plus, they have a bar and music playing so you never know when they’ll be an impromptu dance party, like the one I saw between The Fresh Prince and Deadpool.
Speaking of costumes, I had my own cosplay on Saturday, another first for me this year. A group of friends and I went as characters from USA’s Mr. Robot including Mr. Robot himself , Elliot, Darlene, and a masked fsociety member (me). We even created the hashtag #AldersonFamilyVacation (you’re welcome USA marketing team) to chronicle our adventures as we roamed the convention floors. FYI USA, I can play one creepy fsociety member so consider this my audition if you need someone for Season 3.
Dragon Con isn’t just about the costumes. There are plenty of celebrity and fan panels worth attending. The CW was well represented this year with panels for The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, The 100, iZombie, and more. They also covered the parade, live on TV, for the first time so those at home could follow along with all the costumes walking down Peachtree and not have to brave the madness downtown. While I wasn’t able to catch any of the main ballroom panels, I did check out some of the smaller ones including a voice actor panel with Dino Andrade, Jason Marsden, Quinton Flynn, and Dave Fennoy. I also sat in on an improv panel led by Scott Adsit which was very informative and very funny. Dragon Con has something for everyone, so much so that it’s impossible to see it all.
One of my favorite moments of Dragon Con 2016 was attending Project Cosplay on Saturday night, which is set up as a more ridiculous version of Project Runway. It’s a shitshow, as the people running it say, but it’s the most entertaining shitshow you’ll see. The way it works is designers are teamed up with models and are tasked with designing a costume based around a theme with limited time and supplies. It’s a madhouse as designers try to put together an entire costume on the fly. While there are judges who offer their critique throughout the competition, the final say in who wins comes down to the audience. Half the fun is that you never know what to expect. If you missed the show at Dragon Con, don’t worry. Fanbolt hosts a monthly Project Cosplay at Joystick Gamebar every third Thursday so you can come and experience it yourself. Next week’s theme is “TV Shows” so you’re not going to want to miss it!
Dragon Con is something special. It’s a welcoming place for everyone that celebrates the things we love, whether it’s sci-fi, anime, gaming, film or whatever other fandom you can think of. I saw countless families, some dressed in matching costumes, with the biggest smiles on their faces. I remember two separate occasions of seeing two little girls who couldn’t have been older than six, one dressed as Wonder Woman and one as Batman, dancing around and just having a good time alongside everyone else. You won’t get that same experience at other conventions.
Now that I officially have one Dragon Con under my belt, I can’t wait for next year. I now understand all the hype and excitement leading up to that first weekend in September, the passion of putting together a costume to show off on the hotel floors. This is one core memory of mine that’ll be sticking with me for quite some time.