Dragon Con, North America's largest fan-run pop culture convention, was held in downtown Atlanta over the Labor Day weekend. Now in its twenty-second year, Dragon Con is remarkable not merely for its size—the annual show generally attracts more than 30,000 fans—but for its remarkable variety. Dragon Con hosts over 30 different tracks of themed programming, spanning subjects that range from folk music and comic books to urban fantasy and independent filmmaking with a wide array of live concerts and celebrity guests. The con even has its own in-house TV channel, broadcast inside the convention, which shows fan films, fan-themed comedy shorts and popular convention events.
Known for a strong costuming and cosplay element, Dragon Con also holds an hour-long parade of costumed fans that march through the streets surrounding the convention. Acclaimed superhero artist George Perez and equally acclaimed comics writer Peter David, were the hosts of this year's Dragon Con Masquerade, a costume and performance contest that overflows three enormous ballrooms.
Although comics are a small part of Dragon Con, their presence at this year’s event seemed to be growing. Dan Brereton, creator of Image Comics' The Nocturnals, explained. "We hadn't been here in three years and obviously it's changed a lot. There's a lot bigger crowd here, a lot more artists, much more of a comics presence."
While Marvel was not an exhibitor, Jim McCann, publicity director for Marvel Comics, was sighted at the Dark Horse booth. “I'm scoping it out for Marvel, and just coming down to see it,” McCann said. “From what I've heard, it seems like comics are getting more traction at what's generally thought of as a science fiction and fantasy show. Who knows, Marvel might be here next year in some capacity.”
Dark Horse is one of the few comics publishers with a presence at Dragon Con and according to publicity director Jeremy Atkins, the show is worth it. "I think that this show, in terms of revenue generation [for Dark Horse], is second only to San Diego,” Atkins said. "It’s a show that's still exciting — you're not just preaching to the converted. We get people who say 'Oh my god, there's a Buffy comic?' It's nice to feel like you're creating new fans."
Several comics creators in attendance pointed to the differences between Dragon Con and traditional comic book conventions. Mike Mignola, creator of the comics series Hellboy, said Dragon Con was a fun show full of “crazy stuff.” Gina Biggs, creator and now self-publisher of the English language manga series, The Red String, (originally published by Dark Horse), agreed, "We go to a lot of anime conventions, but here it's a completely different crowd, and I like that."
Business was brisk at Dragon Con, despite the economy. Aaron Williams, creator and self-publisher of the comics series PS 238 as well as the web comics Nodwick and Full Frontal Nerdity and writer of Wildstorm's new horror series North 40, was pleased with sales. "Business has been very busy this con, the only lull was during the 501st [an organization of Star Wars costumers] parading out front. Don’t know what that means," Williams said with a shrug. "Storm Troopers are bad for commerce, I guess?"
Bestselling romance and urban fantasy novelist Sherrilyn Kenyon, whose work has recently been adapted into graphic novels by both Marvel Comics and St. Martin's Press, had her own booth and her graphic novels were for sale and prominently displayed. "This is probably the best year yet, she's been coming for about twelve years now. We've sold more merchandise, we got an extra signing because there are so many more people who wanted her autograph," said Kenyon’s booth manager, Erin Matthews.
"Either the economy has no effect, or this is a sign that it really is getting better," said noted comics writer Peter David, gesturing at his table in Artist's Alley early Sunday afternoon. "This table was entirely covered in books. I'm down to one copy of one book."
Joseph Michael Lisner, creator of the comic series Dawn and sponsor of the annual Dawn look-alike costume contest, said he believes Dragon Con gets a boost from the San Diego Comic-con International. "This year at Dragon Con, you can really feel the positive effects of all the publicity for San Diego," Lisner said, explaining that the marketing and promotional frenzy surrounding San Diego serves to build fan enthusiasm for comics at Dragon Con.