Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dragon-Con 1989

Dragon-Con, or Dragon*Con as it likes to be known, is now the big dog in the Atlanta fandom scene, a permanent fixture on the calendar not only of the nerd world but of the city at large, with media attention, parades, traffic congestion, and the kinds of  inexperienced-with-the-big-city crowds that make grifters, scam artists and panhandlers salivate from as far away as Warner-Robins or perhaps Waleska. But at one time it was just the new kid on the fan convention block, and this is what their advertising looked like at that embryonic stage.

I've often thought of the growth of Dragon-Con and the concomitant shrinkage of the AFF / Dixie-Trek as emblematic of a paradigm shift among Atlanta's fan community - the older Trekkie/Whovian fan power structure being replaced by a younger crowd more interested in D&D, fantasy, and Bettie Page Look-A-Like contests. And sure, I probably think about this too much.

Dragoncon started in 1987 and quickly swelled in attendance to match that of the AFF. Dragoncon's administration has freely admitted inflating their attendance figures in the early days, but it's the truth, that was one crowded show. By 1989 they were infringing upon AFF's turf, which was the Omni / World Congress Center downtown.

I'm pretty sure I went to this show and wandered around all weekend without a badge, setting a Dragoncon tradition that many thousands would repeat over the years. I'm not a gamer, not a fan of fantasy or horror movies, so there really wasn't much for me to do at the show other than gawk at the nerds. Again, a tradition many thousands would repeat over the years.

Wow, $65 a night for a hotel room in downtown Atlanta! At the Omni! Did the Omni still have the skating rink in 1989? The late 80s saw the transformation of the Omni complex into "CNN Center", when it was an oasis of light and order amidst the wasteland of Marietta Street. Which, thanks to the Olympics and subsequent urban renewal and the construction of a few parks, Coca-Cola Worlds and aquariums, is now tourist central. How things change.

I spent many a fine convention meal at that Chick-Fil-A in the Omni, as well as a fine convention quarter in the Gold Mine arcade. At one point CNN Center had a movie theater that showed first run films AND "Gone With The Wind." Every day.

Whoever had this flyer before me helpfully listed some video room programming, which included Dune, Robocop, Alien, Aliens, three Star Trek movies and the always-entertaining Star Trek Blooper Reel, required by law to be screened at every SF convention forever. Apart from the blooper reel this could very well be USA Cable's schedule for any given weekend.

Ten years can zip by in the blink of an eye and suddenly it's 1998 and Dragon*Con is the Last Con Standing among Atlanta's science-fiction-comics-gaming-movies crowd, presaging the kind of all-embracing pop culture attraction that is now merely called "(Name Of City) Comic Con" and happens everywhere. '98's Dragon*Con had a big squarebound program book with a cover by Roger Dean, hundreds of guests, and dates for Dragon*Cons through 2005.

Dragoncon is still going, in spite of scandals and assault and the baleful eye of the fire inspector. It's become the de facto Nerd Mardi Gras for costumers, fame mongers, gamers, and the newly empowered geek demographic as they parade through downtown in all their Klingon finery and Stormtrooper armor. And they said it couldn't happen here!

No comments: