Wednesday, September 4, 2030

hello from the Fantasy Fairs of days past

The Atlanta Fantasy Fair, known at first as the Atlanta Comics & Fantasy Fair, was a comics and SF convention that took place yearly at various locations in and around Atlanta, Georgia from 1975 until 1995. For several years it was the largest fantasy, comics, SF, and related media gathering in the Southeast, bringing together people from across the region and the nation. As an attendee and a staffer the AFF holds many memories for me, and I'm sure others remember it fondly or (not-so-fondly) as well.

A few years back, I noticed that information on the AFF seemed to be almost nonexistent on the internet. It's the goal of this blog to rectify that situation by posting any and all data available on the AFF, in addition to information and images of other now-defunct Atlanta conventions and fan organizations from the same era, such as Phoenixcon, Dixie-Trek, etc.

If you have any images, information, stories, rumors, tall tales, or legends about these conventions, please don't hesitate to send them to me at or post them here in the comments.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

1992: Atlanta Fantasy Fair Southside

In 1992, the Atlanta Fantasy Fair made the bold decision to leave downtown Atlanta. Actually, that decision was the result of forces far beyond the control of any Fantasy Fair anywhere; the 1988 Democratic National Convention took place in Atlanta in the summer of 1988 and it threw a wrench into the plans of every single trade show, festival, convention, and gathering that wanted to happen anywhere in the metro area.  Scheduling for every kind of show was wrecked for years to come. AFF lost their coveted Omni/WCC space in 1988, managed to get it back in 1990, then lost it again for the 1991 show. Convention space downtown was in demand, prices were rising, competition was fierce, and the Georgia International Convention Center down by the airport was eager for business. The GICC and the accompanying Hyatt - later a Sheraton - were built in 1985, and in 1992 the place still had that new facility gleam. This would be home for the next two Atlanta Fantasy Fairs.

AFF attendees were there for the jogging and tennis, I am so sure

Guests for the 1992 AFF included author Peter David, Flaming Carrot artist/writer Bob Burden, fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson, Star Trek actor Colm Meaney, Star Trek and future Sex In The City star Kim Cattrall, and Aliens android Lance Henriksen, who cancelled his AFF appearance due to contractual obligations- he was shooting the canine horror movie Man's Best Friend, so I'm told. 

I was on staff this year, having recruited a crew of fellow anime nerds to handle the anime room. When we weren't screening screechy 1970s super robot epics to a bewildered audience, we were roaming the halls using the convention as a location for our goofball SF epic "The Ozone Commandos." Part One of this film is available to watch on YouTube

the Ozone Commandos burst in to blast the nerds (nerds at a different convention)

My recollection of 1992 is it felt really strange not having the AFF in downtown Atlanta. For suburbanites such as ourselves, that Omni-Hilton-Hyatt-Marriott nexus was part of the package, lending an excitement to the convention experience that the GICC, ten miles south of downtown, simply did not have. Sure, the GICC was convenient to the airport. I guess if you lived in College Park or Hapeville it was wonderful. But for the rest of us, it was a bit more of a hike down to Riverdale Rd, where the GICC sat among the pine trees and industrial parks south of the airport. 

AFF 1992 crowd - note the AFF jacket and the Buckaroo Banzai headband

Dining options were limited to the Ruby Tuesday's across the street, if you didn't feel like driving over to Old National Highway and eating a late night breakfast while staring at the giant display of pies and cakes in the diner at Old National & Sullivan that isn't there any more. 

the 1992 AFF industrial vendors warehouse 

The fans grumbled some. I remember seeing the same look of "where the hell are we" on a lot of attendees' faces as they opened their car doors and gazed at this outpost of fandom set among the rolling hills of what, once you get south of Hartsfield, feels less north and more central Georgia. The grumbling intensified as the AFF congoers learned Henriksen wasn't coming. I had particular sympathy for the crew of a minivan that had decorated their windows with Henriksen-themed messages. Who knew he had such devoted fans, and what a bummer for them!

overhead pic of industrial vendors warehouse

I do remember some hallway drama as one of the AFF directors found out another, competing convention was going to host a room party in their room at the Hyatt, and it became a how dare they, this aggression will not stand, man, sort of moment. The AFF was in a transitional phase that year and not just transitioning down I-85. The ballistic arc of the festival's growth had reached its apogee and was now gently bending downwards. Competition between conventions is real, and when fans start having more fun at other shows, your show had better find something fun to give the fans, or start looking at smaller facilities. 

Hardworking AFF events staff

The AFF at the time seemed to be staffed by two different sets of people - a crew of younger fans who'd grown up with the show and wanted to kick it up a notch, expanding into new events and areas, and an older administrative circle that was mostly interested in selling shirts and vendors tables, meeting low-level Hollywood types, and otherwise not rocking the boat. The AFF had lost its contacts with the major comic book companies, didn't have the knowledge base, the budget, or the interest to push the show in new directions, and was seemingly content to deliver guests other conventions didn't want, in venues other conventions didn't want. That's not a strategy for success. 

AFF costume contest crowd

In the meantime there was enough of a crowd at the 1992 AFF to make things seem like business as usual, for a little while anyway. The convention would hold its 1992 and 1993 shows at the GICC. In 1994 the Atlanta Fantasy Fair would move to the exact opposite side of Atlanta, to the Crowne Plaza at Perimeter Mall, subsequently wrapping things up at the Castlegate in 1995, just in time for Anime Weekend Atlanta to have its first show at the Castlegate later that year. 

gamers in 1992, gaming

Coincidentally, our anime convention would continue to follow in AFF's footsteps, holding AWA 3 and 4 at the Century Center site of AFF's 1979 show. And in 2001 and 2002 AWA would find itself down at the Georgia International Convention Center and its attendant Sheraton, formerly the Hyatt. The facility hadn't changed much in ten years, it was more or less the right size for three and a half thousand anime fans to get together, even if that Ruby Tuesday's was still awful. 

hard to read the mood of the crowd at this 1992 AFF event. Sullen? Confused? Belligerent?

AWA might have stuck around there for another year or so. However, the GICC informed AWA that the convention center and the hotel were both about to be demolished to make way for a new runway at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Not to worry, a new GICC was being constructed a few miles away on the other side of I-285. Would that suit AWA? Well, turns out that new GICC wasn't going to have a hotel attached to it at the present time, and that was a deal-killer for the anime con. Probably a deal-killer for any other fan convention, to be honest, where half the fun of the show are late night room parties and social gatherings, hard to do in a convention center that shuts its doors at 7pm. At any rate, that new GICC wouldn't wind up opening until 2009. 

the ghost town GICC today (okay, 2012)

The new GICC eventually got some hotels nearby, but AWA moved north to the Waverly and the Cobb Galleria Convention Center in 2003 and has been there ever since. In the meantime, what of the former GICC and the Sheraton? Apparently Hartsfield-Jackson didn't really need that runway extension. Both buildings are still standing and have been used for a wide variety of purposes in the past decade - housing Katrina refugees and becoming a movie soundstage for several different film productions, including parts of Avengers: Infinity War. Things have come full circle, I suppose. 

catch the excitement, I guess, if you want to

If you want to experience a little bit of AFF 1992, please check out Christine Klimshuk's video of the convention and her award-winning costume contest presentation!  Thanks to Christine and to Matt Murray for some of the images used in this post.

-Dave Merrill


Saturday, June 27, 2020

Atlanta Fantasy Fair 1987 photos

1987 saw the 13th gathering of the tribes under the banner of the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, meeting in downtown Atlanta at the Omni Hotel and the World Congress Center. Recently my pal Lloyd Carter, himself no stranger to the world of conventions (we started AWA together) unearthed a roll of film he shot at the 1987 AFF,  and he was kind enough to scan 'em in and send them my way. 

Here Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols entertains the AFF crowd with stories and songs from her days on board the Starship Enterprise. Somebody warn her not to do "Star Trek V."

Caroline Munro has faced interstellar villainy in "Starcrash", international intrigue in "The Spy Who Loved Me", the wrath of Dracula in "Dracula AD 1972", the forces of black magic in "Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger", and the lustful gaze of Adam Ant in the video for "Goody Two-Shoes." Here she meets what might be her greatest challenge in what I believe is Herb from the accounting department (No offense, guy - I know everybody looked kind of square at 1980s conventions).

Out of the nightmare realm of horror and special effects rises Tom Savini, here to disgust and repel and amaze in equal doses. At this point he had probably wrapped on "Creepshow 2" and was knee-deep in the "Tales From The Darkside" TV series. Not sure what his little buddy there was featured in, but he's definitely creeping me out. 

From the world of comics, DC editor Julius Schwartz lurks behind a table in the lower meeting rooms of the Omni, opposite the Marietta St. drop-off area where your parents would let you out of the station wagon. Schwartz rose from 1930s science fiction fandom to decades helming characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Batman and Superman. 

Here Julie hams it up for the camera. Unfortunately, Julie's sense of whimsy extended to the occasional unwanted physical contact with female fans and pros, one of the reasons we use the irony quotes around the phrase "good old days."

Marvel editor Tom DeFalco, here shown in maximum 1980s cosplay, is no doubt thinking of how he spearheaded the Archie Digest line when he worked for Archie Comics in the 1970s, thereby ensuring children would continue to read comic books even after the rest of the industry would move to direct distribution for adult collectors. At this point in history DeFalco was in fact Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, all part of his long-term plan to write the "Maximum Carnage" Spider-Man storyline.

I believe this is Louise and Walt Simonson discussing both Walt's groundbreaking work on Thor and Louise's groundbreaking work editing X-Men and X-Factor and writing New Mutants and Red Sonja, and how they both look forward to cameos in the Thor movie that will be made in twenty four years. The man on the right is unidentified at this time. 

Also in a similar World Congress Center exhibit hall is Tom DeFalco, Marvel writer and former EIC Archie Goodwin, and Unidentified Glasses-Wearing Man holding forth on an important topic. Let's say the Iran-Contra scandal. 

Of these two panelists,  I know one of them - superstar artist Bill Sienkiewicz seen on the right - is definitely dressed for the Atlanta summer, which would be great if he was outside. However, he's in a meeting room at a downtown convention facility, which means the AC is cranked and the temperature is probably sixty-five degrees, so he's probably shivering.  I don't know who the other fellow is, but I'm going to assume he worked for Marvel Comics in some capacity.  (Thanks to AFF veteran Scott W. for the Sienkiewicz ID!)

I wanna say the guy on the right is Elfquest publisher Richard Pini. and I have no idea who the guy on the left is. A balding white guy with glasses and a close trimmed beard? That's the face of the comic book industry in the 1980s. 

Looking at these photos 33 years later (!!) it's striking at how.... boring the attendees look. Everybody's in golf shirts or button-down business clothes. I know there were costumers (we didn't call them "cosplayers" back then) but they weren't as prevalent as they'd later become.  The cargo shorts and T-shirts that would be the American Male uniform had yet to take over.  In a few years, we'd see more young people start attending conventions and subsequently more graphic Ts, more skater shorts, crazier hair, and the sort of hall-costume culture we now take for granted would begin to be seen. But in 1987 things were still pretty square. 

I do want to thank Lloyd Carter again for these photos, and ask everyone two questions - 1. if you know who the unidentified people in these photos are, let me know, and 2, if you have any AFF photos or memorabilia yourself, please send those scans or pix my way at, thank you!

Thanks to 7-Tardis-7 (deep in Center Neptune Gallifrey, no doubt) for the 1987 AFF lenticular pinback badge image!

Friday, February 8, 2019

1979: Atlanta Comics & Fantasy Fair

1979 was the year the AC&FF, or the ACFF, or what we'd later just call the AFF, well, they moved locations up I-85 to the popular Century Center location on Clairmont Rd, just north of the site of their first 1975 show.  

I don't personally have any materials from the 1979 show - I would have been nine years old at the time and while I would have loved to have been there, at the time I didn't even know it existed. So I've had to dig these images up from the depths of the Internet, and once again I'll ask anyone out there with some old convention flyers or program books or photos of Atlanta Comics & Fantasy Fairs past to take an afternoon and do a little scanning and send them .jpgs my way. 

The program schedule for the 1979 Atlanta Comics & Fantasy Fair was a folded newsprint poster that boiled the essentials of the convention down to a few pages worth of text and some illustrations by the guests. 

From the vantage point of 2019 we can enjoy the charming five-point list of rules, and we can nod approvingly at the lady con chair, which is becoming more common but in 1979 must have been a novelty.  Judging from the welcome message's references to "circumstances beyond our control," there must have been some pre-convention drama happening behind the scenes, and let me say that this is an aspect of fandom conventions that has not changed at all. 

The full spectrum of fandom entertainment circa 1979 is on display as the ACFF gives you, the attendee, a main events room filled with classic movies, SF TV favorites, vintage serials, and Star Trek, Star Trek, Star Trek. What's that? You note they're only showing the Star Trek Bloopers ONCE? Well, let's check out another, perhaps more accurate version of the 1979 schedule. 

Looks like the Friday night crowd demanded their Bloopers!  Apart from the enigmatic inscription "Century Center Hotel - No Money", this schedule also tells us when the dealer's room is open. I for one am appalled at how late this convention lasts on Sunday. By 5pm I am ready to shut these things down, but the 1979 breed of fan had a lot more energy, for some reason.

Here's the guest list - John Byrne was still a rising star drawing the X-Men, Howard Chaykin had yet to set the comics world on fire with his American Flagg, Gil Kane and Jim Steranko were legendary titans of the field, and Dave Sim was (a) still married to Deni Sim, and (b) just getting into the groove his 300-issue run of Cerebus The Aardvark. Dr. Kenneth Smith, the only guest to attend the first five Atlanta Comics & Fantasy Fairs, was years away from being insulted by gamers and leaving AFF in a huff, never to return, and Richard Meyers was right on the cusp of becoming completely infatuated with Asian martial arts cinema and becoming one of North America's experts in the field. 

The Cerebus piece on the back of the program guide is a wonderful example of exactly how the rest of the world saw Atlanta in the 1970s - Atlanta was the place where Gone With The Wind happened, and that's it. That's all. Nothing else. 

The Kenneth Smith program guide artwork also was featured on that year's T-shirt. 1979's show would set new attendance records for the Atlanta Comics & Fantasy Fair, and if they got anywhere near the 1800 attendees the program book was claiming, then by golly that was one crowded show because the Century Center just isn't that big.  1980 would see the convention move back to the Dunfey's Royal Coach which, for all its faults, at least had plenty of meeting space. 

Thanks to the Cerebus Fangirl Site for the program guide images! 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Atlanta Fantasy Fair 1984

Ah, yes, 1984. The year George Orwell picked for his dystopian novel of global brutalist authoritarianism, the year Apple Computers really broke through to the national consciousness with an ad referencing the 1984 novel, and the year Michael Radford made a film version of that selfsame novel that was chiefly noted for its Eurythmics soundtrack. 

1984 was also the year of the tenth annual Atlanta Fantasy Fair! So come on down to downtown Atlanta the first weekend of August to get your Fantasy Fair on!

signed by the model
The tenth annual... or the tenth anniversary... if the con started in 1975 then the 1984 show would be nine years after their first, but you don't start conventions with 'zero' so it's their tenth... aw, who knows. It was the tenth AFF. Guests included Robert "The Deadly Bees" Bloch, Larry "adviser to Ronald Reagan on the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative" Niven, Forrest "dammit quit calling me we're trying to shoot Destination Moon here" Ackerman, and Howard Weinstein, whom Wikipedia tells us was a Star Trek author.

I attended AFF 1984 as a young teenager in the company of my older brother and a gang of friends, who, in those pre-helicopter-parenting days, were allowed to roam freely the Omni Hotel and the World Congress Center back in the days before Centennial Olympic Park, back when the area was a steel and concrete vision of a dystopian Orwellian future, only with Chic-Fil-A.

poster courtesy "Timelord Cardiff"
I can vouch for the panels, the costume contest, the huge dealers room, the amateur film festival, and it being a terrific show for a 13 year old nerd to spend all his hard-earned lawn-mowing money at.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Look Away Look Away Look Away Dixie Trek

In 1980 the Atlanta Star Trek Society was formed to further the ideals of IDIC and the vision of Gene Roddenberry throughout the United Federation of Planets, or at least Atlanta GA. They hosted their first convention on the Emory University campus. In 1982 they changed their name to Dixie Trek and organizers William Smith, Owen Ogletree, and Ron Nastrom moved off-campus and into the wider world of Atlanta fan events.

Personally I was never a big Star Trek fan – beyond the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic and the overwrought 1960s TV writing there isn't much there for me – but if you became a science fiction nerd in the late 1970s, Trek was an ecosystem that you moved through and dealt with regardless of your personal feelings about the show. As a teenage nerd for whom conventions were the most fulfilling social events, I wasn't going to miss one, even it was mostly about Star Trek.
Mark Lenard and fan at Dixie Trek '84 - photo by Don Harden

As near as historians can figure, the modern-era Dixie Trek began in April of 1984 with a two-day show at the Oglethorpe College Student Center, a venue which would later host the one-day Dr. Who event "Brit-Con." Guest Mark Lenard - Spock's father Sarek, the first TV Romulan, and many other roles - was a hit with the fans.

Moving out of the collegiate atmosphere, 1985's Dixie Trek happened May 17-19 at the Northlake Hilton, which is now a Doubletree and which was the site of many small Atlanta fan events in the 1980s. Guests at the '85 show included Jon "Dr. Who" Pertwee, Terry "I Invented The Daleks" Nation and Majel "Nurse Chapel" Barret. The video room at this convention may have been the first time I ever saw Blake's 7. It is certainly the first and only time I was ever in the same hotel suite eating Moon Pies with the guy that invented the Daleks.

I was more of a Dr. Who fan than a Trekkie (I blame Monty Python), so Dixie Trek's growing emphasis on British entertainment was a welcome development, helped by organizer William Smith's connections to Atlanta's PBS station, then airing Dr. Who among its other, tweedier BBC programmes.

For their 1986 show Dixie Trek moved slightly west to the Sheraton Century Center, a fine establishment with a management that understood the nerd market. Guest Peter "Dr. Who #5" Davidson absolutely charmed the pants off Atlanta, both at the convention and via live remotes broadcast on PBS. My memories of this show are fuzzy but I believe they involve carting a load of fellow geeky teens around in my Mom's van, and being pulled out of a room party that involved people drinking BEER and SMOKING.

"Do I want to go to the Star Trek con, or stay home and watch Star Trek?"

Dixie Trek's 1987 show was May 22-24 downtown at the Hyatt Regency, an Atlanta landmark whose revolving restaurant, the Polaris, was a fixture of the city skyline for decades. Dixie Trek was poised for the big time, but tragedy struck; their headline guest Leonard Nimoy canceled to go work on "Three Men And A Baby." The show had to soldier on with Robin "Saavik #2" Curtis, Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund, comic artist George Perez, Janet "Tegan" Fielding, and Mark "Spock's Dad" Lenard. I believe I wound up dropping in and out of this show but not buying a badge. I'm sorry guys.

Dixie Trek '88 was held May 13-15 back in the Sheraton Century Center, with guests Johnathan Frakes from ST:TNG, along with Julie "Catwoman" Newmar, Paul "Avon" Darrow, and SF author Brad "I am at every convention" Strickland. Our anime club programmed a weekend of Japanese animation for the show, which meant hauling our VCR and a box full of tapes down to the hotel and screening 4th-generation untranslated copies of films like Project A-Ko and Macross.

we're talkin' FUN

Dixie Trek '89 - June 16-18 - moved to the Radisson, which was at one time known as the Dunfey's Royal Coach and later the Castlegate, a well-known fan convention destination with overbearing and confusing architecture and a staff that didn't care what went on as long as the bills got paid. It's my recollection that I spent much of this convention wandering around with my anime nerd pals, scoffing at the Trekkies and distributing insulting literature. At the time if we weren't on staff running an anime video room, our custom was to show anime out of our own hotel room and bring snacks and drinks and have what punk band Black Flag would call a "TV Party." So we probably did that. Details are spotty but apparently one of the guests was Dr. Who #3 Jon Pertwee.

1990's Dixie Trek was June 15-17 in the selfsame Radisson/Castlegate, and the listed guests included Gates McFadden and Denise Crosby from ST:TNG and Marta Kristen, Billy Mumy and Mark Goddard from Lost In Space. It's my understanding that a pregnant McFadden had to cancel, which is just as well as the Castlegate was not the healthiest place for children or other living things. I'm pretty sure I did not attend this convention.

Dixie Trek '91 happened on May 10-12 in the now officially named Castlegate. Guests included ST:TOS's Walter Koenig, ST:TNG's Suzie Plakson, Lost In Space's June Lockhart, comic author Peter David, and comic artist George Perez. I did not attend this show either; my spare time was taken up with seeing bands and college, and my convention-going time was taken up with visiting Dallas for anime stuff and trying to get Phenomicon started. But more on that later.

are we still talkin' fun?

In 1992 Dixie-Trek moved to the Century Center for a May 17-19 show. The Century Center may have at this point been a Marriott - it's switched back and forth a few times - and Denise "Pet Sematary" Crosby and Jonathan "Oh the pain, the pain of it all" Harris made return visits. I was not there.

Dixie Trek '93 was again at the Sheraton Century Center with guests Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols, Gary "Land Of the Giants" Conway, and David Hedison, one of only two men who portrayed James Bond's pal Felix Leiter twice.

In 1994 Dixie-Trek was back at the Castlegate May 14-16 with a rare convention guest appearance by Christopher "Superman" Reeve and Noel "Lois Lane" Neill - and that was it for Dixie-Trek. Star Trek as a fandom-inspiring franchise was on the wane in the 1990s; diminishing returns on films and a cycle of lackluster TV programs failed to keep the public's interest in the face of newer, fresher genre offerings, and like many other conventions Dixie Trek struggled to get new attendees and to keep the ones it had. The Castlegate was cursed to be the hotel where conventions go to die; in 1995 the Atlanta Fantasy Fair's final convention would take place there as well, and a series of smaller shows would fail to survive its fake Olde English exterior. Of course, 1995 would also see Anime Weekend Atlanta premiere at the same hotel, and it's still going 22 years later. Incidentally, the former site of the Castlegate is now a Wal-Mart, which seems to be doing fine.

Dixie Trek may have remained obscure if not for the October 19 2009 episode of "Big Bang Theory," in which the character Sheldon relates the story of his feud with TNG actor Wil Wheaton and how it began at a Mississippi convention called, yes, "Dixie Trek". One might think that if REAL nerds were writing "Big Bang Theory," they'd know Dixie Trek was a real convention, one Wil Wheaton never attended. Then again, highlighting the Atlanta SF fan scene of the 80s is what this blog is about, so maybe we should have written about Dixie Trek sooner so that these overpaid fake-nerd Hollywood writers would be able to look this stuff up on the Google. You're welcome.

So long, Dixie Trek. May the infinite diversity of infinite combinations grok your Spock... always.

Special thanks to William Smith, Owen Ogletree, and Ron Nastrom