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Madness at Dragon*Con: A savage journey to the heart of America's nerdiest event

Ross Hardy

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I’m exhausted, sitting on itchy carpet in the basement of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta. To my left is a wild-eyed youth in four-inch platform boots; to my right is a mountain of a man wearing a kilt, a cycling t-shirt, and a handlebar mustache. My feet hurt, I’m covered in glitter, and a horde of zombies is making its way towards me.
Welcome to Dragon*Con.
I’m sure most of you have heard of Dragon*Con—it’s the “largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe”—that’s what the website says, anyway. People from all around the country make the pilgrimage to get a chance to meet actors and authors, to see concerts, and to share costuming tips. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the convention, with guests such as William Shatner, Christopher Lloyd, Ralph Bakshi, Terry Brooks, and more steampunk cowboys than you could shake a clockwork blunderbuss at.
Dragon*Con reminds me of nothing so much as an exotic bazaar from some epic fantasy movie. You see people from all walks of life, of all ethnicities, many of them wearing outlandish outfits, all while visiting booths packed with wares from the far reaches of the world—or, at the very least, the closest Think Geek wholesaler. Buy a sword, then go to the panel that tells you how to use it. Buy a corset, then go to the panel that’s hosting the South’s foremost corset-maker (corseteer?). Buy a piece of Mark Hamill’s hair, then—well, that’s the one thing you can’t buy, but I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t tried it in the past.
Dragon*Con is also a prime cosplay event. Many costumes range from intricately crafted and meticulously researched replicas to a little bit of body paint and a foam sword. But regardless of the quality of the craft, everyone is there to be seen. Both all-ages and “adult” costume contests are held throughout the week, a reward for the participants and the observers.
Even academia is getting involved—this year marked the Fourth Annual Comics and Popular Culture Conference, a scholarly conference that hosts papers and presentations on philosophy, science, and art in popular culture. This year had presentations on the X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and far more.
The thing about Dragon*Con is that it’s actually two events. From 10:00 am all throughout the day, it’s just a convention. But as the day wears on, as clothes start to come off and bottles start to get passed around, something happens, and those 40,000 people start to party. I didn’t go to Woodstock, but I can only imagine it’s something like this. There were probably more Klingons here, though.
All joking aside, the scope is vast and the possibilities are endless. Anything you could possibly want—and almost everything you don’t—is under those four roofs. Concerts, professional wrestling shows, stars, bars, books, booze, babes; it’s all there. It’s a bizarre place, but not an unpleasant one. I hope I get a chance to go back.
I just hope next time, there’s less glitter.

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Madness at Dragon*Con: A savage journey to the heart of America's nerdiest event