The Faces of Dragon Con 2013 – Cosplay is the Only Way
Not sure of what Dragon Con is, and afraid to ask? The formal definition – it is a conference of various Science Fiction themes, aka tracks, with experts, writers, actors and directors based in each. Each track has panelist sessions and social activities to enrich and inform the attendees about sci-fi worlds related to their interests. The first Dragon Con was held in downtown Atlanta in 1987, with a crowd of 1,400, and has consistently grown each year, reaching its peak number of attendees this year somewhere in the range of 50-60K. The less formal definition of the weekend – it’s a convention of sic-fi brethren, who take advantage of the Labor Day weekend to trade in their normal daily lives for a temporary existence within one or more of their sci–fi fantasy worlds. As all who attended Dragon Con can attest, the con is a place for sci-fi geeks to go and release their alter personalities, and lots of cosplay. People from all over the world come to bond, eat, drink, dress up and be merry.
Festivities begin on Thursday night before Labor Day, this year being Aug. 29, and run through Labor Day, Sept. 2. This year, there were 45 tracks, expanding sci-fi into the areas such as a Podcasting Track, a Skeptics Track and Costuming Track, bringing large volume crowds to the street as fans traveled among the track venues. Ubiquitous security ensured Dragon Con passes were visible in order to enter the venues, but through all of the hassles, people remained happy and calm. People were truly enjoying themselves.
With such emphasis on costumes and cosplay, logically the most populous event was the Saturday morning iconic parade, traversing through the streets of downtown Atlanta. The parade entertainers included the expected Star Trek impersonators from all generations, zombies of all genres, blockhead superheroes, Star Wars villains and warriors, “Game of Thrones” personalities, creepy crawlers from the Netherworld, Harry Potter and his entourage, Fozzie the Bear and Kermit the Frog among many space Muppets, as well as some other groups I don’t know how to describe. But of all of the characters, the most imposing were two women tied to stakes on the front of a combat style vehicle, as if prisoners on display from some crude, apocalyptic society. This was just one example of the many obscure reenactments that truly create the Dragon Con cosplay synergy.
To define the Dragon Con cosplay solely by the parade would be an injustice. With the con’s large nucleus based on the clumping of five major hotels west of the I-75/I-85 connector (Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton and Westin), walking anywhere within the area exposed attendees to a constant line of incredible and colorful, and sometimes disturbing, displays of fantasy. One could see a costume of incredible brilliance and vibrance, only to see an exhibition more spectacular 5 minutes later. I spent many hours sitting in the Marriott’s hotel bar, watching and photographing all of the wild cosplay taking place all around me.
And then there was the Miss Star Trek Universe Pageant, one of the many staged cosplay events. With host Garrett Wang, aka Ensign Harry Kim from “Star Trek: Voyager,” it proved to be a beauty pageant of true intergalactic proportions. It was quite the eye-opening, yet entertaining exposition of a commune of women linked only by a single attribute, the universal definition of being female. Even with this ambiguous standard, there was nothing else remotely similar among the participants. The talent competition ranged from a dry and witty comic routine, and singing alien songs to something I would call a Romulan River Dance. As for the winner, there was not a single Romulan smile or tear of happiness to be seen among the audience for the crowning of the Romulan native as Miss Star Trek Universe.
Matrimony was a common motif throughout the weekend, whether it be newlywed zombies at the Zombie Ball, intergalactic beings attempting to share vows in the Dragon Con parade (unfortunately they could not stop the moving lines of people long enough to get through the vows), or the numerous proposals that spontaneously arose every time one turned a corner. The most monumental proposal I experienced was an onstage, on-knee presentation from Captain America to his dancing sweetheart. Of course she accepted, but you have to wonder if the 100 plus spectators helped in her decision.
As panelist events dominated the afternoons throughout the weekend, many costumes were seen on the long lines of people waiting to get into the events. Among the numerous assemblies, anything among the Whedonverse and Trek tracks were the most popular, and had lines that twisted around hotel corridors. Trek’s “Guests from the Next Generation” had a line that threaded all the way through the Sheraton garage, while the Westin ballroom for Whedonverse’s “Guests of Whedonverse” could not accommodate all in line, including those who had been in line for an hour. The rule of thumb of all of the popular sessions was to be in line at least an hour before the doors opened, or risk a seat where nothing was visible.
Overall, Dragon Con is a smorgasbord of potential experiences, and a sight to be seen, if nothing else. The sport of people watching can be the sole weekend activity, if it’s your cup of tea. From the introvert perspective, to sit, watch and photograph can be very gratifying. For those willing to explore, there are no barriers of interaction with the characters. In fact, it is welcomed and expected. It’s common ground for a group of strangers in costume to spontaneously role play, inviting reporters and photographers to observe, document and even partake. Of course, none of this would be possible without the panelist sessions and other formal events, providing encouragement for the popular fantasy playing.
Acknowledgment, respect and acceptance are the true philosophies of the weekend gathering, so no matter how you may choose to experience Dragon Con, you’re never an outcast.