A Trip to DragonCon 2017

Jason Nimer
In Short
Next stop on Jason's summer con tour, DragonCon 2017.

DragonCon, held in Atlanta every year towards the end of summer, is almost a surreal experience for me at this point. It has just gotten so' huge. Some might even say it's second only to San Diego ComicCon in size and scope, and I don't think that descriptor is too far off the mark. This year, DragonCon attendance was estimated at 80,000, with a major section of Atlanta's nicest urban areas shut completely down with throngs of people in costume flooding the streets. This DragonCon, a very mainstream experience, is not the strange, wonderful DragonCon I began attending more than 20 years ago. But whether or not it's a completely different animal is a moot point; this DragonCon is possibly the best event to attend in Atlanta, and a can't miss for anyone into anything even remotely nerdy.

The DragonCon from more than two decades ago was a transcendent experience for me. I was 14 or 15, and got dropped off in the city for a day of hunting comics missing from my collection. Believe it or not, DragonCon's main focus used to be comics; these days the vendor areas have only a handful of booths selling comics, with most others opting for toys, merchandise, video games and clothing. Anyway, back then, attendance was much less, and the stars attending much, much further from the A list. I'll never forget my first DragonCon, where I met exactly three 'celebrities'; Alley Baggett, a Playboy model, the 'living anime girl' (her name escapes me but she had the moniker before Anastasia Shpagina assumed it in more recent years) and Debbie Rochon, the maid from 'Tromeo and Juliet'. Having Mrs. Rochon sign my VHS copy of the film was the highlight of my summer, with a close second being finally being able to find Preacher #17, the only issue I was missing at the time. The entire affair was a much more subdued, underground experience and I reveled in its bizarre tone.

Twenty plus years later and I'm attending the same DragonCon, only this time as a married man. My wife and I roamed the streets dressed as Androids 17 and 18 from Dragon Ball Z, and while dressing up in the old days was more rare, these days the weirdos are the ones who AREN'T in costume. The vendor area has positively exploded, taking up almost two full stories of the massive AmericasMart. The con has spread to three or four surrounding hotels as well, and spilled into the streets with not just the parade, but just the sheer amount of fans going from panel to panel, attraction to attraction. The guest list has come a long way as well, with the standouts this year being Nathan Fillion of Firefly and Castle, William Shatner of Star Trek, Charles Martinet, Mario's voice, Stan Lee, and Alton Brown, a local who has made a name as a chef on the Food Network. There were literally dozens more great guests, including personal favorite Ron Paulsen, who you probably know better as Raphael from the 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, Donatello of the current TMNT cartoon, Pinky of Pinky and the Brain and dozens of other recognizable voices. Another treat was Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Forrester) and Frank Coniff (TV's Frank) of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that, judging by attendance at their events, still is as loved today as it was when it was first airing, possibly more so.

Though the comics part of DragonCon has been scaled back, there were still a few greats in attendance, signing autographs and holding panels. Among these were Jim Mahfood of Clerks fame, Peter David and local Mark Bagley, the Marvel Comics artist famous for his work on Ultimate Spider-Man and Thunderbolts, a 90's game-changer in the comics industry. I was lucky enough to have him sign my first issue of the series, and being an all-around nice guy, it was great to see a local talent in attendance. The comics aren't completely gone from DragonCon, and though smaller, the artists and writers featured scratched the itch of just about every kind of comic or graphic novel fan.

Since DragonCon has exploded, there are outlets for almost every type of fandom out there. Remember HeroClix? Neither do I, but there were plenty of tournaments going all weekend. Video games have a much stronger presence now than they did in the old days, with a full arcade available to try out and plenty of demos of all kinds of current and upcoming games. My only complaint is the shocking lack of any kind of Dragon Ball programming. No panels, no discussions, nothing. With Dragon Ball Super currently airing in Japan (and America now), the property is more relevant than ever, but nothing was offered at this year's DragonCon. The demand was definitely there; a Reddit thread popped up mid-con wondering where the series' love was, and there were plenty of Dragon Ball cosplayers (besides us) in attendance. I don't know, maybe next year.

Overall, DragonCon in 2017 is just as amazing as it was in 1995, but it's a different kind of amazing. The event has exploded in popularity and scope. Every kind of fandom is represented, the guests are true A-listers and the attendance is absolutely insane. It's sad to see comics fade into the background and no Dragon Ball programming is an odd disappointment, but this is still the main event when it comes to fandom on the east coast. The parade is amazing, the vendors have just about everything under the sun and the whole vibe is extremely positive. DragonCon might not be San Diego Comic Con, but it's about as close as you can get without a plane ticket to California.

Transmitted: 1/20/2019 8:13:56 AM