Even in a period as packed as Labor Day weekend, with Atlanta Black Pride and the Decatur Book Festival, Dragon Con – America’s largest annual convention for fans of science ﬁction, fantasy and horror, comics and art, games and computers, animation, science, music, television and ﬁlms – has always brought in the masses. This year’s version looks to continue the tradition.
Known for its LGBTQ inclusiveness, Dragon Con – now in its 33rd year – has a schedule this year high in LGBTQ representation. George Takei, who will be in town for an individual panel as well as a “Star Trek” panel, is one of the highest-proﬁle guests. Also coming in is Colton Hayes on behalf of his show “Arrow.” Both men are gay.
Other big names include William Shatner, also of “Star Trek” fame, David Tennant of “Doctor Who” and many cast members from the TV series “Cobra Kai.”
Tony Gowell came aboard as a volunteer 19 years ago but now he is a full-time staffer with Dragon Con. The openly gay Gowell is the director of convention ofﬁce relations and his responsibilities include day to day administration as well as moderating Q and A with A-list talent.
One of his favorite memories was an improvised one. “We had a guest – Kevin McNally, who was a pirate from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, and he happened to be married to Phyllis Logan from ‘Downton Abbey.’ He was booked as the guest and she was his plus one. He introduced me to her and we were able to sneak her onto a fan panel in celebration of ‘Downton Abbey.’ She did a Q and A for an hour with fans. You would have thought we took them all to church.”
While there are lots of different types of genre conventions around the country, Dragon Con is a homegrown and fan-owned convention, not a sponsor-bought one. That makes a difference. “When money is involved from companies they tend to want to drive the train a little bit,” he says. “We are careful in how it’s cultivated so that it becomes a hands-on experience for the fans.”
He expects more than 85,000 of those fans and 700 celebrities over ﬁve days.
Gowell feels the event has always been known for its welcoming environment. “They invited me to be a part of the show way back in 2001,” he recalls. “One of the guests that I remember seeing wrote gay erotic ﬁction and another was Glenn Shadix, who did the voice of the Mayor of Halloween Town in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ He was an openly gay actor. There were already elements that would attract a gay boy like me. From my perspective, it has always been that way here for the LGBTQ community.”
The Spectrum Party is one of Dragon Con’s most crowded events and a draw for LGBTQ participants. “It’s a beautiful celebratory party, built by Lee Cox, who is openly gay,” Gowell says.
This year’s event will be at the Hyatt Regency on the evening of August 31. An annual popular element is the annual Dragon Con parade, which is free and brings in thousands of spectators. The parade has over 3,000 participants and kicks off at 10am on August 31.
The typical Dragon Con attendee is “super eager to come home and be with the people who know what it’s like to be a fan,” says Gowell. “Some of them may be outsiders and they can connect with someone like themselves and have a sense of family and connectivity. That’s what has made us last.”
He acknowledges that lots of friendships have been made at Dragon Con and even some relationships, including two of his friends.
Gowell’s advice for getting the most out of the event is to download the app, have a sense of the schedule and not overwhelm oneself and cram too much in.
Dragon Con August 29 – September 2
Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta Hilton & Towers, Atlanta Sheraton hotels, Atlanta Westin Peachtree Plaza, and Buildings 1 and 2 of the AmericasMart