Con REVIEW: DRAGON CON 2022 - A Return to Normalcy
By: Felix Tao
For many attendees out there, the last two years have been a trial of frustration as it pertains to DragonCon. After the cancelation of its 2020 show (a first in 33 years of holding the internationally known science fiction, fantasy and pop-culture convention in downtown Atlanta Georgia) and then a drastically scaled back version of the event for 2021 (because of COVID precautions), this year's show was a breath of fresh air for those who had been trapped at home without the yearly escape from reality provided by this beloved show. Though there were still some policies enforced from the waning COVID pandemic (i.e. mask requirements), this year’s DragonCon felt like a big step towards a return to normalcy.
Despite having an attendance cap of 60k attendees (up from 2021’s 40k attendees), this year's show brought many fans back to their favorite annual event. While the 2021 convention felt like a compromise of reduced programming and Covid restrictions, this year’s convention undoubtedly brought back many of the feelings felt from before the pandemic. For instance, the convention was back up to having enough programming where one needed to choose one event over another that they wanted to attend in overlapping time slots. Additionally, similar to prior years (before the pandemic), roaming the convention floors the crowd felt thick and full of interesting cosplays.
As in prior years, creativity flowed freely in DragonCon. This year showed a high number of cosplays from all genres and periods in science fiction, fantasy and pop culture. The convention, as usual, brought a combination of costumes of recognizable characters from modern pop culture as well as characters from books, shows, & lore that many may have forgotten. You could also see many one-of-a-kind creations showcasing the creativity of the cosplayers who attend DragonCon. One such instance of this would be the expanding aspect of cosplay known as mash-ups. Mash-ups or the mixing of different costumes from different fandoms is a popular goal at DragonCon. Mash-ups of Captain America themed stormtroopers or inflatable T-Rex costumes mimicking the iconic Marriot carpet, example, have become more and more common.
"What Is There To Do?"
Programming felt very familiar to any who had attended before the pandemic: boasting a very rich and full schedule of Q&A sessions, workshops, panels, and nightly parties. This year’s guest list included actors from a variety of shows such as Warehouse 13, Locke and Key, Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Strange New World, and Supernatural just to name a few. Unfortunately, with the return of programming also came the return of the infamous Dragon Con panel lines.
Though these lines were rather long as they extended outside of the host hotels, they were still well managed and worked like well-oiled machines. For example, lines in the dealer’s hall extended around a couple blocks as they wrapped around the America Mart and badge pickup; however, they all moved at a decent pace and people were generally content with waiting in them. Another commendable aspect to how Dragon Con was run this year was how they made accessibility an important aspect of every event during the convention. People with disabilities were provided seating for all panels and Q&A sessions before the event so that they did not have to stand in line and seating for people with disabilities (when loading the room) was arranged in a way where people with disabilities were not stepped over.
The Rise of the Cults
Aside from the increasing occurrence of cosplay mashups, another trend that has similarly spawned from convention goers within the last few years would be The Cult of Jon. Started in jest back in 2019 by some creative attendees decorating a standup Fed-Ex sign (outside of the Marriot’s FedEx office), the ongoing gag has seen the sign, in the years since, get additional items, such as googly eyes and other objects placed on and around it . Though the tradition managed to continue last year, In 2021, this year the tradition spawned multiple Dragon Con cults. It's in this occurrences such as these that Dragon Con has established a unique presence when compared to other conventions.
This convention remains, even after 35 years, the largest fan run convention where people can feel at home among friends and just be themselves. Throughout the convention there is no hint of any industry involvement and DragonCon prides itself on not being industry driven as we see at conventions such as San Diego Comic Con or Wizard Word. Even the dealer’s hall, which consumes all four floors of the Americasmart in downtown Atlanta is filled with small discrete vendors and devoid of any major manufacturer booths.
There Always Has to Be Something
Now, with the awesome, unique features stated above about the show, you may think that this has not blemishes to speak of. Well, not exactly...
With the return of events and crowds there was still drama on display at the convention. This year, the ire fell upon the Hiton Atlanta hotel, one of the three connected host hotels for DragonCon. Due to a change of tradition and a likely truthful rumor regarding new management, convention attendees were annoyed with the new policies (i.e. where outside alcohol was banned from the public spaces and bag checks were reinforced with security guards placed at every entrance). On top of the additional security, Hilton also removed all seating from the lobby and introduced a pricey option to have gatherings in their new Ice Lounge. It was not till the outcries on social media and the negative publicity of not having seating in the lobby with disabilities who needed a place to sit and rest, before the Hilton moved some seating back out from storage into the lobby by the second day of the convention. For the Ice Lounge, attendees spoke their opinions in the strongest voice they had, with their wallets. By the third day of the convention the fee to enter the lounge had been reduced to just ten dollars. Even weeks after the convention, it wouldn’t be out of norm to see a comment where the Hilton is the punchline on social media. Hopefully, if they are indeed under new management, they'll learn from the experience and improve the guest experience for DragonCon 2023 attendees.
The Parade in all Its Glory
This year’s DragonCon parade was exceptional and had returned to the glory it had before the pandemic. The parade is always a crowd pleaser as every genre was covered and had its group. Each year there are always new additions to the parade and this year we saw groups such as the Marriot Carpet TRex’s and the cardboard box superheroes. Many classics also made a return to this year’s parade such as the Star Wars sand crawler and the Netherworld display of terrifying floats and monsters. In 2021 we saw a shrunken parade and spectators were limited to only convention badged attendees. This was a departure from past years where the parade was open to the public and fans of the parade from nearby states would come see the parade. It was great to see that the parade for this year returned to normal and spectators came from far and wide to see the amazing DragonCon parade.
As Monday arrived, the close of the convention started rearing its head as many facets of the shkow's awesomeness had subsided. Gone were the amazing cosplay and the high spirits of attendees who for four days were able to escape their reality if only briefly. All in all, I look forward to returning Dragon Con next year and many more thereafter where one can hang out & party with one's fellow geeks.