We love San Diego Comic-Con, but there's another con that needs to be on your nerd bucket list. Dragon Con is less about industry news and more about geeking out with fellow fans, celebs, and a whole lot of party time and people-watching.
This Labor Day weekend sees the return of Dragon Con to Atlanta, Georgia, where it was born 40 years ago. The convention has become a four-day long cosplay party (and really, the cosplay capital of the con world), though as with any mega-convention, there's more to do there than just hang out with friends; there's programming, celebrities, and a whole lot more going on at any time of the day or night.
Whatever you've heard about Dragon Con, it can't prepare you -- seriously, this is a wild one -- but we'll try to help out anyway. Here's what you need to know before one of the geekiest weekends of the year.
Familiarize yourself with the landscape
Just like Westeros, you should know the various parts of Dragon Con from the start, which will save you a lot of time getting from place to place.
There are six main buildings: the AmericasMart (the vendors room) and five hotels with panels: the Hyatt, the Hilton, the Westin, the Sheraton, and the Marriott (the latter being home to the Walk of Fame, where most celebrities sign).
A lot of activities take place in the Marriott, while the other buildings are somewhat less crowded depending on the time of day. And large panels are spread out over all five hotels.
Get ready to walk
You may walk a lot at other cons, but it's nothing compared Dragon Con; unless you're okay just hanging out at one of the hotels (and plenty of people are), prepare for a lot of walking.
One panel may be at the Westin, and the next may be at the Sheraton. If so, that's close to a half hour of walking in large crowds for several blocks (which is exactly the amount of time between panels).
There's good news and bad news as well: Three of the hotels are connected by indoor tunnels. On the other hand, those tunnels can have major traffic jams between panels.
So it goes without saying: comfortable shoes and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Dragon Con never sleeps
This is one of the few cons that get overly crowded at night instead of everyone clearing out by early evening.
Some of the programming goes very late at night, but the con is technically 24/7, as the hotels never close.
This means if you're not big on huge crowds, check out some of the earlier programming, which starts as early as 8 a.m., and plan to head out before dusk.
However, if you're there for a party, like a lot of people, it's still good to remember: Pace yourself. Having too much fun on Thursday or Friday night could bring your con to an early end -- and don't forget that this party goes through Monday, so it's longer than most cons.
And here's another tip: Those hotel bar drinks can get pricey, so you just might want to bring along a flask.
Saturday is the most crowded day, and that means the dealer's room is almost impossible to get into that day, unless you're very, very patient.
Monday is by far the best day to hit up the vendors, as the crowds are much lighter and, as at any con in its final hours, the dealers are more willing to cut you a discount.
You may not see booths pushing upcoming blockbusters, but you will find booths with eclectic artists, smaller vendors, publishers, and gaming companies. Dragon Con is a great place to find that diamond-in-the-rough souvenir.
Dragon Con is the Super Bowl of cosplay
If you're planning on cosplay, bring your A game. Dragon Con is a showcase for the best of the best.
By the same token, it’s a great way to get inspired if you’ve been looking to improve your costuming skills. Most cosplayers who have achieved any level of notoriety will be there.
What with the party atmosphere, the cosplay tends to be sexier than you might see at other cons, especially at night. Remember the golden rule, though: Cosplay is not consent.
A feast for the eyes
Speaking of cosplay, people-watching is a favorite pastime of many con attendees.
There are great spots to do that, from the platform overlooking the Marriott's Pulse Bar to the High Velocity sports bar. The Hyatt lobby is another excellent place to take photos of cosplayers and slightly less crowded than the popular Marriott.
A personal favorite is the Hilton lobby for taking a load off and people-watching. It probably has the most actual chairs of all the hotel lobbies, and cosplayers gather there for photo shoots (more on that later).
Panels of all shapes and sizes
If you're ready to get your geek on, the celebrity panels are terrific fun, but the smaller panels where nerds get to discuss almost any conceivable topic (though Wallace Shawn is on two panels, if you're looking for the "inconceivable") are a true highlight.
Panels are divided among "fan tracks" covering all areas of fandom, from Star Wars to British media (hello, Whovians!) to horror, comics, puppetry, and more. If you think your fandom is too obscure to be covered, think again.
- The Dragon Con parade is an annual tradition, and something anyone should see at least once. It's a chance for cosplayers to let their geek flag fly in the city of Atlanta ... and it's free! Stan Lee will be among the celebrities there as well. Warning: It gets very crowded, so arrive early. It starts at 10 a.m. Saturday morning along Peachtree Street and travels around the Hyatt and Marriott.
- Make sure to check out the free parties thrown by the various fan tracks, from the Star Wars track's Last Party at Alderaan (one of the biggest ragers of the con) to the Doctor Who Ball to the Zombie Prom.
- DCW Wrestling! Yes, the con kicks off with wrestling every year, starting Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Hyatt.
- There are cosplay photo shoots of all kinds around the con, but two of the best are put on by the Superhero Costuming Forum: a giant DC photo shoot on Saturday and a giant Marvel shoot on Sunday (both starting at 3:30 p.m.). Obviously, this is a must if you're cosplaying any characters from Marvel or DC … or if you just want to see more Spider-Men, Harleys, Lokis, or Wonder Women gathered in one place than you've ever seen. It's really something to behold, even more so than the many cosplayers at the parade. (You haven't lived until you’ve heard someone say in a megaphone, "I need all the Batman villains in a group! Batman villains only, no Superman or Flash villains!")
- Cosplay and sea life is a surprisingly awesome combination, for Dragon Con Night at the Georgia Aquarium on Saturday night starting at 7 p.m. (FYI, there's an extra admission cost involved).
- "Kilt Blowing with Jennie Breeden" is one of those "only at Dragon Con" events, involving kilts and a leaf blower early Sunday morning at 1 a.m.
- This being a cosplay-heavy convention, the Masquerade cosplay contest on Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. is one of the best you'll ever see (or take part in) ... but prepare to wait in line for a while beforehand near the Hyatt Centennial ballrooms.
20 can't-miss panels:
- Nathan Fillion Panel: Friday 10 a.m., Hyatt Centenniall II-III
- Stan "The Man" Lee! Excelsior!: Friday 1 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom
- Zombies: Surviving the Modern Age: Friday 5:30 p.m., Location: Westin Chastain F-H
- Classic Sci-Fi Legends: Fisher, West, Landau, Paxton & More: Friday 7 p.m., Marriott M103-M105
- George A. Romero: Remembering the Man Who Changed Film: Friday 10 p.m., Hyatt Learning Center
- Richard Hatch Remembered: Saturday 1 p.m., Hyatt International South
- Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor: Saturday 1 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Taserface sends his regards: Saturday 2:30 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom
- Being John Cusack: The Classic American Movie Q&A: Saturday 2:30 p.m., Hyatt Centennial II-III
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Saturday 4 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom
- The Barrowman Show!: Saturday 7 p.m., Hilton Grand Salon
- 100th Anniversary of Comics Legends: Saturday 7 p.m., Jack Kirby & Will Eisner: Hyatt International South
- Match Game in the 25th Century: Saturday 7 p.m., Marriott A601-A602
- Gonzoroo Comedy & Music FestiCarnivale: Saturday 8 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom
- Star Trek: The Next Generation Guests: Saturday 1 p.m., Hilton Grand Salon
- Lucifer Cast: Sunday 2:30 p.m., Westin Peachtree Ballroom
- Good Eats … the Panel: Sunday 4 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom
- Star Wars’ Iconic Chewbacca and Boba Fett: Sunday 4 p.m., Marriott Imperial Ballroom
- An Hour with the Ponds: Mother, Father & Daughter United with Doctor Who's Karen Gillan, Arthur Darville, and Alex Kingston: Sunday 5:30 p.m., Marriott Atrium Ballroom
- John Barrowman Presents Disco Karaoke: Sunday 9 p.m., Hard Rock Cafe (must purchase ticket)
And if you want to psych yourself up for the Con, check out last year's Conography cosplay gallery.