It may look a little different this year, but Dragon Con will be back in person in 2021, offering more than 3,500 hours of comics, film, television, costuming, art, music, and gaming over five days as part of Labor Day weekend. This year — the 35th annual event — will be a hybrid affair with the same guests, parties, and LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere, but a virtual component offered to those unable to attend, according to Tony Gowell, the gay director of convention office relations.
The beloved convention will be as safe as the Dragon Con staff can make it. The most exhaustive efforts the Dragon Con team have put in has been working on precautions, constantly keeping themselves up with new COVID-19 guidelines. “We have incorporated those into our policy,” Gowell told Georgia Voice. “We waited until August 1 to put up our definitive plans.”
Precautions include a 100 percent compliance in mask wearing everywhere on show property. The audience size has been capped at 50 percent of the usual attendance, which allows for twice as much space among the seven venues. Saturday-only memberships have been eliminated this year, and the ballrooms in use will have scheduled cleaning throughout each day. Furthermore, the spectators allowed at the Dragon Con parade have to be members, although the popular event will be available to watch on CW69 and YouTube.
Among the LGBTQ guests are Dominique McElligott of “The Boys,” Anthony Rapp and Mary Wiseman of “Star Trek: Discovery” (in which Rapp stars alongside Wilson Cruz as a gay couple), Harvey Guillen of “What We Do in the Shadows,” and Ross Marquand and Nadia Hilker, who play LGBTQ characters on the locally filmed “The Walking Dead.” All the voice actors for the TV series “Steven Universe” will also be in attendance.
Other events of note for fans looking for queer programming include a burlesque show, the Spectrum Party (which is probably the most LGBTQ event of Dragon Con) and Masquerade, deemed the queen of the costume competitions, co-hosted by Gowell. He looks forward to seeing what everyone is wearing this year and what kinds of costumes will be popular. “We want everyone to come out and celebrate their individuality,” he said.
This is the first year that Dragon Con had the option to do a hybrid version. “Last year we had to go completely virtual as we weren’t allowed to have a show in person,” Gowell said. “Once you open Pandora’s Box you can’t shut her back in.”
The virtual aspect was wildly successful in 2020, reaching six continents with over 600,000 individual viewers. It allowed for a much further reach than a normal show would allow. “We said it’s not fair for those people who do not come to our show to leave them out,” Gowell said.
Going virtual last year gave them some practice, but there was a learning curve. “We had to pull up our bootstraps and put our heads together and find out what were clever softwares that could reach people in the easiest way that are user friendly,” he said. “We do reach an older clientele and understand that not everyone is as cool and hip with the newest and latest technology and gadgets. We wanted to make it sure it was something that was uniformly easy to understand.”
A streaming membership is available for only $10 and has content filmed exclusively for virtual viewers. Patrons also get access to older fan panels recorded over the years. Some fan favorites are panel discussions with Carrie Fisher, Jason Momoa, Stan Lee — the executive vice president and publisher of Marvel Comics — and “Star Trek’s” William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. The Dragon Con parade will also be available on the streaming platform.
Gowell started as a volunteer 20 years ago and has been full-time with Dragon Con for 13 years now. His responsibilities include day-to-day administration as well as moderating Q&As with A-list talent. He expects attendance this year to be somewhere between 40,000 and 45,000 patrons.