PRIDE contributor Kossie Gardner III just experienced his first Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend. I can only hope that he, and his posse, had as much fun this year as I did my first year in 2006, when I went with PRIDE contributor Jeremy Harrison. Both groups stayed downtown in the midst of the phenomenal annual event that attracts tens of thousands from across the universe, or at least from the planet Earth. Attendance has tripled from when I first attended, when it was around 25,000, and this year exceeded 77,000. Congratulations to Dragon Con on its 30th Anniversary!
“Numbers have no meaning” is a phrase I have often used throughout my life, and I always need to know what DAY something is, not just what DATE. And by that I also mean that what matters is not the countable, but the comprehensible, the experience that resonates in the mind and heart and soul of a person.
For me the meaningful experience Labor Day weekend in Atlanta was of Dragon Con, not that there were as many people in one place watching an event, such as the record crowd of 75,405 that made their way to the Georgia Dome for that Saturday’s Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game between North Carolina and Georgia, or the tens of thousands at the Falcons game I went to in the Georgia Dome that Thursday night, but that more than 77,000 who partied for a long weekend, and who particpated in creating and maintaining the event through dialogue and action and unique attire and expression.
Instead of representing one of two teams for four hours in one building, fans at Dragon Con represent literally hundreds, if not thousands, of ‘teams’ ranging from anime to zombies, Star Trek to Star Wars, and many many more ‘teams’ of fandoms, and individually feel and are free to represent more than one at any given time. And they are the game, the attendees are the event, not just a few dozens folks, with everyone else just being spectators.
I am deeply grateful for Star Trek, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary on television this month. NBC first aired Star Trek beginning with the episode “The Man Trap” on September 8, 1966. Nashville’s WSM-TV (now WSMV) refused to air it, as did many stations throughout the South, and instead ran a Country Music Showcase in its place. Following a successful phone and write-in campaign by this author and others, WSM finally relented and began airing the program on Sept. 22. Fans united in concerted action, black and white, male and female, in a reflection of the Star Trek philosophy of IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, organized and made a positive change.
I like to think that without Star Trek, there would be no Dragon Con, especially one with over 77,000 attendees, in IDIC in a southern US city. Follow the logic: The show was canceled in 1969 due to low ratings the same summer that Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon.
Loyal fans and programmers watched the program in a then-new format called ‘syndication’ and then started a phenomenon — the Star Trek Convention — in the early 1970’s. Those Star Trek conventions along with Comic Book conventions and gaming conventions inspired the creation of Dragon Con 30 years ago.
On October 22, 1936, a group of six or seven fans from New York City, including David Kyle and Frederik Pohl, traveled by train to Philadelphia, PA, where, for several hours, they visited a similar number of local fans at the house of Milton A. Rothman; they subsequently declared that event to be the first “science fiction convention.” The first official comic book convention was held in 1964 in New York City. San Diego Comic-Con International is a multi-genre entertainment and comic convention held annually in San Diego, California. It was founded as the Golden State Comic Book Convention in 1970 by a group of San Diegans.
Somewhere in this era, science fiction television and movies replaced westerns as the mainstream media and people began to finally focus beyond the prairie frontier to a more final frontier in areas of medicine and science and technology. Astronauts and engineers and doctors and scientists in all fields admit to being inspired to their careers by Star Trek. Without Star Trek there would be no Star Wars, which has also captivated the imaginations of millions around the world, or Stargate, which has manifested in a major motion picture and three live action television series. Battlestar Galactica was a ‘grandchild’ of Star Trek, instigated into existence by Star Wars, and its 21st century version is widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi tv shows of all time. And the list of influences goes on and on in terms of medical and technological breakthroughs and creations.
Dragon Con was launched in 1987, as a project of a local science fiction and gaming group, the Dragon Alliance of Gamers and Role-Players (DAGR). The name “Dragon” for the club was derived from a member’s Dragon Computer (a European version of Radio Shack’s Color Computer), which hosted a local Bulletin Board System (“The Dragon”) that initially served as a central hub for both organizations. The 1987 inaugural Dragon*Con took place at the Piedmont Plaza Hotel, and drew 1400 fans.
This year I was unable to attend (for the first time in seven years) Sunday’s Miss Star Trek Universe Pageant, held at the Westin Hotel, because it was full. On the final day of this year’s Dragon Con, I was among many fans who were not able to watch the live presentation at 10 am in a full ballroom of the Hyatt Regency as the original Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, the face of the Star Trek franchise and one of its two most iconic progenitors along with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, held court. But due to the ingenuity of the convention staff, we are able to watch at our leisure on Dragon Con TV, available online, and I eventually watched the entire presentation when I got home. And these are not the only panels that were full that I wanted to attend and couldn’t; that has not been a major problem for me until this year.. Growing pains indeed!
Utilizing the IDIC concept from Star Trek, Dragon Con has caught lightning in a bottle by uniting fans from all fandoms — board and video gamers and anime cosplayers and scientists and comic book nerds and cosplayers and science fiction TV and movie and book fans and so much more — and grown into the huge phenomenal geek family reunion we all love and hope will Live Long and Prosper!