There are bigger conventions than Dragon Con 2019 sure. There are more outstanding guests at other conventions sure. There are more exciting exhibitors at other conventions sure. But no other convention quite has the heart and passion of this year’s multi-faceted Dragon Con which stormed downtown Atlanta for a monumental Labor Day weekend. From an exhaustive catalog of independent vendors to a show-stopping parade that took place on Saturday, August 31st, attendees were able to soak in the broad scope that this year’s convention aimed for where the only enemy to an excited fan who wants to see all that this iconic event of fandom has to offer is time. The spirited cosplay of countless individuals and a diverse schedule of panels makes for an event that frequently elevates itself past just that of fandom. There are the panels targeted at niche audiences and IPs, the short film festivals held in the Learning Center at the Hyatt Regency, the cosplayers who take costuming to a whole other level, and even science discussion including some key astronomers. Point being, there really is something here for everyone, and thanks to a broad span of badge types for every type of person in the fandom industry, Dragon Con 2019 more than encourages everyone to take part in it at least one way or another. It more than stunned me how just a handful of volunteers and a few buildings in downtown Atlanta can create an event where so many ripe and heartfelt memories are just waiting to be experienced.
With the festivities kicking off on the preceding Thursday, it was obvious from the moment I picked up my press badge that Dragon Con 2019 has seen a major boost compared to last year, and I don’t mean in just size. Yes, the reported 85,000 attendees number is impressive and all, but it doesn’t come close in representing just how expansive this year’s convention feels. Beloved traditions like the Dragon Con Parade, the Exhibit Hall in the second building of AmericasMart, and the Art Show are still here, but they’re also joined by a programming of panels that are as different and unique as they come. Each scheduled event, even the seemingly less popular ones, still feature enthusiasm from both the speakers and the audience. Everybody is here for a reason: to celebrate the passion that true fandom can provide, and nothing quite celebrates passion like the Dragon Awards Ceremony.
Marking their fourth ceremony since its original conception, the Dragon Awards, while still not the most popular event in the convention, was most certainly the most star-studded. Sitting adjacent to legendary novelists Kevin J. Anderson and Claudia Gray was an impression that I won’t soon forget. The Dragon Awards consisted entirely out of fan-decided awards for the best in science fiction and fantasy literature, films, and video games. Compared to something like the Oscars or The Game Awards whose preceding honors are decided either fully or partially by an exclusive group, the Dragon Awards, of course, doesn’t hold even a flame to those ceremonies’ prestige, but it doesn’t need to. Sure, many of the winners weren’t there to accept their awards, but each winner felt and was the result of a community of Dragon Con attendees banding together to support a science fiction and fantasy work that moved and touched them. It’s probably the event out of the entire convention, yes including the bombastically fantastic parade, that impressed me the most.
But speaking of the parade, in its own right, it’s still a wondrous time to be had, even for the downtown locals. Yes, even if you don’t have a purchased badge, and I do distinct purchased, you can still attend this monstrous event. With crowds already lining up in droves at 8:30 am with the parade set to kick off at 10 am, anticipation for the parade and all of the gorgeous cosplay to be seen was bubbling, and boy was it satisfied. Lasting for a few minutes over an hour, there, much like the entire convention itself, really isn’t anything else like it, even at the larger conventions.
The most crowded area of the entire convention with lines even shaping around the massive building multiple times was undoubtedly the Exhibit Hall, featuring three huge floors of vendors who are just as, if not more than, excited as the general attendees are. Some big-name exhibitors like 2K, for instance, came out to play, and it’s obvious that attendees were more than satisfied. On the Comics and Pop Artist Alley, there are of course the usual suspects: George Pérez for instance that continued to tide eager fans over. However, new icons arrived to make a splash, including Erica Henderson, Jae Lee, and co-creator of Deadpool Fabian Nicieza. Most signatures were sold at a reasonable five dollars, allowing attendees to swarm the tables and booths without haggling too much about their wallet.
Much like San Diego Comic-Con or WonderCon in Anaheim, Dragon Con is a monumental celebration of what fandom is and it’s never been better. Despite being crowded with 85,000 excited fans, the team of volunteers mind you have done a wonderful job balancing it all into a coherent and colorful event. It’s a complete package that strives for lofty ambitions and frequently reaches them.