It’s a definitely a big deal.
Dragon Con has become an Atlanta institution, and since its beginning in 1987, has grown to be the largest multimedia, pop culture convention celebrating scifi-fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art music and film in the country.
This year, over 65,000 people are expected to attend the four-day event over the Labor Day weekend that sprawls over downtown Atlanta, with events held at AmericasMart Building No. 2, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Marriott Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Westin Peachtree and Sheraton Atlanta.
Though one of hundreds of conventions based in fantasy, science fiction, horror and other popular genres in film, television, novels and comic books, Dragon Con is particularly known for being the convention put on for fans by fans.
Just ask Andy Hartley, 29, of Oxford, and Alex Smith, 32, of Covington.
Both men have been long-time participants in the event, Hartley for the last 15 years, Smith for 13.
“It’s just a giant celebration,” Hartley said. “There’s pretty much everything there, from mainstream to the esoteric. For me, I get to see people I haven’t seen in a while. Sometimes, you can only see them at Dragon Con.”
Smith said the workshops, which range from subjects like acting and make up to fabrication, belly dancing and tai chi, is part of the draw of the conference. So, too, is running into famous people, like Grant Imahara and Adam Savage from the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” to former “Hercules” star, Kevin Sorbo.
“People like [them] come just as visitors,” Smith said.
“Kevin Sorbo just wanted to see all the costumes,” Hartley added. “There are people who are too famous to wander.”
In the past, Dragon Con has hosted well-known writers G. R. R. Martin, Neill Gaiman, Laurel K. Hamilton and Ray Bradbury, as well as performers such as Mickey Rooney, George Takei, Sean Asit, John Rhys Davies, Christopher Lloyd, Ernest Borgnine, Carrie Fisher and Martin Landau.
This year’s featured performers will include “Battlestar Galactica’s” Edward James Olmos; “Star Wars” Peter Mayhew; “John Barrowman, David Ramsey and Stephen Amell, all from CW’s “Arrow; and others associated with current and past shows, including “Game of Thrones,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Once Upon A Time,” “Warehouse 13,” and “Doctor Who.”
One of the highlights of the convention is the annual Dragon Con Parade beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. The nine mile route begins at the intersection of Peachtree Street and Linden Avenue and ends on Peachtree Center Avenue between John Portman Boulevard and Baker Street, in front of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. Nichelle Nichols, “Star Trek’s” Lt. Uhura, will be this year’s grand marshal.
The event also includes art shows; a walk of fame where guests can get autographs from participating celebrities; gaming in all its forms, from video and role playing games to cards and board games; live performances and puppet shows; and workshops.
“ There’s everything at Dragon Con,” Hartley said. “You can take a kid and the kid will have a good time. I took my grandmother one time and she had a blast watching people.
“Every year you go, you’ll find or see something you’ve never seen before,” he said.
What Hartley and Smith spend the year preparing for are the costume events, including the Masquerade Costume Contest, Sunday, Sept. from 8:30 to 11 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency’s Centennial Ballroom.
“There are multiple types of costume contests [at Dragon Con],” said Hartley. “The Big Masquerade on Sunday night is a costume contest with different levels of competition, from children to amateur to journeyman to professionals. How many big costume contests you’ve been in determines your level.
“You’ll see some of the people from ‘Heroes of Cosplay’ there,” he said. “There are a lot of costume-themed events put on by local restaurants and bars.”
Smith and he will each bring four costumes to Dragon Con. Smith, a member of the “Georgia Ghostbusters,” will bring his “Ghostbuster” uniform, complete with Proton Pack and gun; his “Star Wars” Storm and Bike Scout Troopers costumes; and a post apocalyptic costume, a la “Mad Max.” Though he currently isn’t planning on taking his steampunk costume, he is a member of the Outland Armoury Steampunk group.
Hartley, who is a member of the Dragonfly Armory Steampunk group, will bring his steampunk costume as well as a dieselpunk costume. He also appears as a Mad Hatter and is creating a “Mad Max” inspired costume for the event.
Steampunk is a genre of sci-fi-fantasy that combines Victorian sensibilities and costuming with 19th-Century industrial steam-powered machinery. Dieselpunk is a genre that combines diesel technology of War I and II through the 1950s, sort of diesel meets Art Deco. Hartley’s costume for the later genre includes a British WWI helmet and a WWII army jacket.
Neither of the men sew, though Hartley says he is starting to learn. They both enjoy the creative process that goes in to creating characters and designing and making the costumes and the sometimes complex and complicated accessories worn by those characters.
The foundation of many of his costumes come from thrift stores, Hartley said. “With alternative history [such as steam- and dieselpunk], you can find reproductions or things close enough to adapt.
“I normally try to barter off skills,” he added. “I’ll make [you] a prop if you’ll sew this for me.”
Hartley said his newest costume if based on a 30-minute short video on “You Tube,” that pays homage to cheesy buddy action films of the 1980s. “The character, ‘Kung Fury,’ was hit by lightening and bitten by a cobra at the same time, which is how he got his supper powers.”
One of the things Smith appreciates about costume making is the challenge of learning new skills. “I made a gun belt, one of those leatherworking projects. I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “There’s so many skills you pick up, like leatherworking and sewing. It’s challenging to try different things.”
Hartley agreed. “I think that’s one of the fun things, especially with alternate history. You see something you like, and you want to try to [recreate it].”
Good costumes, Hartley and Smith said, can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000 to make. Accessories can be almost as expensive. The Star War’s Storm Trooper armor cost Smith between $500 and $1,000, while the Proton Pack he commissioned cost about $1,000.
Still, it’s fun, they said.
“A lot of the costumes bring joy, not just to yourself, but to others,” Hartley said.
It also presents unexpected opportunities. A few years ago, when Al Yankovich was playing at the Cobb while Dragon Con was happening, he wanted Star War Storm Troopers to join him on stage during his homage to the George Lucas franchise. Smith was one of the Dragon Con attendees who got to take part in Yankovich’s show.
The two men plan to arrive at the hotel on Thursday, just before main registrations at Dragon Con begins. It will give them a chance to check in to their rooms, prepare their costumes and meet up with long-time friends.
For more information about Dragon Con, visit http://www.dragoncon.org/. The convention will run from Friday, Sept. 4, through Monday, Sept. 7.