I’m Dan Berry, I’m the Senior Editor for The Convention Collective and, for the first time, I and one of our writers, Madeleine Caffarel, (as well as the site) attended DragonCon, held over the weekend of 2nd to 6th September 2021… and damn, we had so much fun, we’re already eagerly planning on returning!
The event itself was spread out between a number of host hotels (Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta Hilton & Towers, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, Westin Peachtree Plaza, as well as at the AmericasMart Center area) which I felt helped to ease any congestion. The vendor hall itself, the AmericasMart, was nicely organized and didn’t feel too crowded with vendors on three of the floors and the Artist Alley on the fourth, with the hotel locations being used for various panels and meetups.
The vendor area had a nice mix of styles and tastes that included comic book vendors, merchandise vendors, gaming, cosplay/clothing, collectables, and more. I personally spent the majority of my convention time wandering the various vendor areas and the Artist Alley, purchasing items including a new messenger bag, a DragonCon tumbler from Wild Bills, and some sketches in the Artist Alley section from Sorah Suhng and Rob Retiano.
However, before all that, I did have a first impression on arrival: I’d had always heard how great the cosplay was at the convention, but until you actually see the quality and the quantity of the cosplayers there, you really have NO idea! On Saturday morning before heading to the AmericasMart location, we took in some of the sights and sounds of the annual DragonCon Parade in Downtown Atlanta, and that was definitely one of the highlights of the day – the cosplayers having a chance to parade down the streets and the crowds cheering them on was electric!
While I didn’t attend many panels, the one I most looked forward to ahead of time was the Twisted Toonz one, and it didn’t disappoint at all. Veteran voice actors including the legends that are Maurice LaMarche, Jess Harnell, Rob Paulsen, Jim Cummings and Fred Tatasciore (alongside Moderator Jeff Zannini) read through a section of Roald Dahl‘s WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. But they didn’t just read through the text, of course – they did so voicing characters from the movie in various voices including some of the roles they have made famous throughout their careers.
All-in-all, I had a terrific time at DragonCon, with my only regret being that I didn’t travel out to the event earlier on Thursday, having to go back home reluctantly on Sunday afternoon. When I return for 2022, I aim to rectify both of those oversights and stay later and arrive earlier.
This Dragon Con was not only my first major con in over two years, but my first time attending, despite wanting to go for over a decade now and living on the west coast and being in school most of that time always got in the way. I know, I picked a hell of a time to try attending for the first time since it was reduced in size this year and from what I heard nowhere near the level of party con it is in normal years, but that was personally more motivation to go, as having skipped out on the 2019 con season for grad school only for everything to suddenly be shut down as soon as I was ready to go get dressed up and see all my friends again, I realized there really isn’t any way to know for sure what next year will hold for cons, so I decided yeah, I’d do whatever I had to to make it. And yeah, it was worth it.
Safety-wise, I’ve seen a lot of critique on how dangerous it is to have large events at this point of the pandemic, even with full vaccination, but with proof of vaccination and masks enforced in all indoor spaces except while eating and drinking and most attendees still wearing theirs outside (I kept mine on most of the time between buildings until the humidity started getting to me, and even then it was only a fraction of the crowds I saw who had theirs off while crossing between buildings) and the cap for badge sales, it felt as safe as the organizers and attendees could make it. It wasn’t my home con, and I only knew a handful of folks there, but I know I wasn’t alone in just being so happy to be back at any con that we’d do whatever to make it safe and make it work. And make it creative, too, from all the Loki-Delta-Variant cosplays I saw over the weekend, to brilliantly creative masks matching folks’ cosplays. The main parade was restricted to badge holders also, so even that crowd had to be vaccinated and was mostly staying masked.
As for the con itself, I was there primarily as a cosplayer, and sweet baby Cthlulhu it was good to be back around other cosplayers again. I’ve heard for years about how intense the cosplay scene there is, and while wow yeah there some amazing outfits that were equally engineering as art, it felt like everyone was also mostly just there to be there, and the somewhat subdued costuming scene is also likely a result of the capped attendance and everyone just wanting to be chill. I know I was, what with walking around between halls and hotels I realized there was no way to comfortably (or safely since overheating is a thing) stay wrapped in foam armor for 12+ hours, so it’s one for whatever I can move easily in and spend a full day wearing, and save the fancy, light-up pieces for photoshoots or a con where I can change part way through the day. One impression that sticks out the most was how calm it was, with fewer large groups and events, and even the Marriott lobby party on Saturday night felt like everyone was there more to chill than to party (for anyone who was there, I was the Ty Lee sitting on a table to see all the passing cosplays better). Not that the party wasn’t there, but it was more the careful first steps back into socializing than full-on shenanigans late into the night. That’s next year, maybe.
Dragon Con 2021 was a success, y’all, and despite a few reports I’ve seen of attendees not wanting to comply with the mask rule, overall everyone there followed guidelines and also wanted it to be a safe, fun weekend. I know it was an odd year to pick for my first time out there after hearing stories about it since I was in high school, but the lighter traffic flow through the halls made it easier to get around and there was still a decent turnout. All fingers crossed we can all make it back next year, and hopefully the safety measures the con and all attendees took will prove effective going forward as cons begin to happen again.
You can see all the photos – including many photos of the wonderful and creative cosplayers – that Dan and Madeleine took during their time at DragonCon, as well as a few pictures from the plane on our way to Atlanta, in the Flickr album below:
Did you attend Dragon Con 2021? What were your thoughts on how the convention was handled this year? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!