Get the most out of Dragon Con in Atlanta

It’s official. This Labor Day weekend, Dragon Con, downtown Atlanta’s ultra-successful pop culture convention, enters its 30s. If it’s akin to the human lifespan, that means the gathering reaches its prime, boasting superhuman prowess as the King Kong-sized behemoth of the Southeast.

Huh? San Diego what?

Organizers of the event, spanning Sept. 2-5, expect approximately 75,000 guests this year, the capacity of the Georgia Dome. That’s a far cry from year one. Back in 1987, 1,200 visitors darkened Dragon Con’s door.

For 2016, many will rock spandex tights, slather themselves in detailed makeup and tote screen-accurate props. Cosplay — that’s the art of dressing up as your favorite genre character, or maybe a mashup of two or three — remains Dragon Con’s perennial pastime.

Per usual during Dragon Con, downtown resembles an alien world where wizards, vampires, Stormtroopers and an array of other creatures wander among AmericasMart Buildings One and Two and a quintet of host hotels: Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Marriott Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Westin Peachtree and Sheraton Atlanta.

So after three decades, what’s new? A lot, say the geek-friendly party planners. Take a look at some of the tweaks and highlights for Dragon Con 2016.

>>>RELATED: Best events at Dragon Con 2016

Thursday, Thursday, Thursday

Since many out-of-towners arrive a day early anyway, Dragon Con’s powers-that-be will offer a full day’s worth of programming on Sept. 1. Yeah, it still officially launches the next day, but guests can take advantage of panel discussions, Dragon Con-related parties and the elbow-dropping rumble of professional wrestling.

The Amazing Colossal Con

In recent years, Dragon Con crowds can be a challenge even when simply crossing the street. Last year’s dealers hall overflowed with visitors. To handle the throngs, the convention continues expanding its presence in AmericasMart. Do you dig gaming? By moving gaming into this exhibit hall, its dedicated space enlarges by approximately 60 percent. The Comics & Pop Art Alley finds a home in AmericasMart this year, too. Parties and panel discussions reside in the nearby Westin Peachtree Plaza.

Parade

The annual Dragon Con Parade, now in its 15th year, allows more than 3,200 costumed participants to file through the city. It steps off at 10 a.m. Sept. 3 at the corner of Peachtree Street and Linden Avenue, and heads south down Peachtree. The parade gets its first live broadcast on WUPA Channel 69 (the CW affiliate). A Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D. truck, a Batmobile and Robert Bean’s trademark Zombie Assault Vehicle will be among the many functional floats. Want to brave the masses on Peachtree? Get there early.

Celebrities

Conventions allow fans to get up close and personal with their favorite actors, actresses, comic book artists, animators and more. Some of 2016’s highlights include:

Charlie Cox

The star of the Netflix runaway hit series “Marvel’s Daredevil” appears Sept. 2-3 (Friday and Saturday). Catch him before the Netflix series premiere of “Marvel’s The Defenders.”

William Shatner

The original Captain Kirk on the “Star Trek” TV series, its animated spinoff and earlier feature films, Shatner’s name requires no explanation among the faithful. Have him sign your model Enterprise spaceship on Sept. 5 (Monday).

Karen Gillan

“Doctor Who” devotees know ruby-headed Gillan from the BBC series. She also dons serious makeup in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” film series, including its impending sequel shot locally. She’ll be there Sept. 3-4 (Saturday and Sunday).

“Gotham”

A gaggle of stars from “Gotham,” Fox’s Batman prequel series, emerge from the Batcave. Chris Chalk (Lucius Fox), David Mazouz (Bruce Wayne), Sean Pertwee (Alfred Pennyworth), Drew Powell (Butch) and Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin) put aside their good guy/bad guy differences and play nice for Dragon Con. Check availability of each cast member by using the Dragon Con app available online.

Gillian Anderson

Anderson, aka Dana Scully from “The X-Files,” brings the truth out there on Sept. 4-5 (Sunday and Monday).

Jason Isaacs

Lucius Malfoy himself from the “Harry Potter” film series will autograph glossies. Just don’t ask him for a recipe for butterbeer. He’ll be there the entire weekend.

“Star Wars”

Puppeteers Brian Herring and Dave Chapman served as the on-set puppeteers for the droid BB-8 in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” They’ll be there all weekend. The appearance of actor Alan Tudyk, who plays K-2SO in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” teases the December release of the first standalone movie in the “Star Wars” franchise. Tudyk will be there Sept. 2 (Friday) only.

INTERVIEW WITH ALAN TUDYK: THE REAL ‘CON MAN’

A guy like Alan Tudyk may know cons like no one else. With the cred of playing Hoban “Wash” Washburne in the cult sci-fi series “Firefly” and the subsequent film “Serenity,” Tudyk’s been hitting the con circuit for years. Add oodles of other live-action and voice-over roles — he’s been killing the latter in recent years with parts in “Zootopia,” “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6” and more. And come holiday season, Tudyk enters the “Star Wars” universe with his voice and motion-capture performance of the bad-droid-gone-good, K-2SO, in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

His experiences at cons inspired him to create, write and direct the Web comedy series “Con Man” and co-produce with “Firefly” co-star Nathan Fillion and PJ Haarsma. Using Indiegogo.com crowdfunding, they raised more than $1 million in 24 hours to help fund the show. They eventually raised a total of more than $3 million, far above the original $425,000 goal.

Based on some of Tudyk’s own experiences, “Con Man” follows a bitter, failed former sci-fi TV star, played by Tudyk, and his misadventures on the convention circuit. Season two will premiere later this year on Comic-Con HQ, the subscription streaming video service from Comic-Con International and Lionsgate.

We recently caught up with Tudyk over the phone from the “Con Man” production office in Los Angeles.

Q: How much of you is in your “Con Man” character, Wray Nerely? He hates fan conventions.

A: I don’t feel that I’m in that place at all. We’re different in that way. I love conventions. I got a great introduction to that world over 10 years ago. I’m amazed at the community of fans. I don’t think there are many places around these days where you can go with tens of thousands of people, and whether you’re new to the group or whether you’ve been around in the sci-fi con world, you’re accepted. You can put on a costume and say, “I’m Wonder Woman.” And you don’t have to look like Wonder Woman. People will say, “Yep. Yes, you are.” You don’t hear fans trash other fans. … It’s not like the kind of judgment you get from people from the outside looking in, which you’ll still get from people today. They’ll say, “Ugh, these nerd fests.” And that’s becoming less and less, because obviously sci-fi is becoming much more widely appreciated. It’s less fringy with all of the amazing movies and TV. You don’t have to be a con-goer to appreciate sci-fi and be a fanatic fan.

Q: How do studio executives feel about these conventions?

A: Early on when we were pitching “Con Man” to studios and production companies, that was something they just did not get. They would say things like, “Oh my God, these nerds! I went to Comic Con once. You should’ve seen it!” Those are quotes. And the meeting would be over, because I would get offended. I walked out of a meeting. They were with publicists who wanted to promote the show. And a woman said “freaky nerd people” or something like that. And I said, “You’re not listening to me, and you’re missing the point.” And I got up and left. They were gobsmacked, as the English would say.

Q: Since you raised so much funds for “Con Man,” it’s enabled you to create other things, including a “Con Man” comic book and the upcoming mobile game that premieres at Dragon Con.

A: You build your own convention. So it has this “The Sims”-type element, but it also has a fighting element where the aliens from “Spectrum,” the show within “Con Man,” come down and start destroying your con. And you have to use super fans who are cosplaying to fight the aliens for you. And you outfit them with different weapons. You have to take care of your con and grow your con. You have toilets that overflow that you have to fix. There are some characters from “Spectrum” you’ll recognize, but Joss Whedon is one of our custodians. Kevin Smith is our security officer.

Q: You’ve been to Dragon Con before. How does it differ from other cons?

A: Dragon Con is known by the fans as a party (laughs). Actually, several parties and lots of cosplay. And it just gets bigger and bigger every year. … So that’s the perfect place to throw our “Con Man” game party. That’s why we wanted to go there and capture that spirit of a party. … Somebody told me this story, and it kind of encapsulates Dragon Con. It didn’t happen to me, but to another sci-fi actor. He said it was his first time at Dragon Con, and he was standing in the lobby of the Hilton. Tons of people were everywhere in costumes and just having a good time. And through this crowd comes Edward James Olmos. Olmos sees him and recognizes he’s an actor. Olmos walks up carrying a trash can full of lobsters and he says, “Where the hell are the elevators?” And the actor replies, “They’re over there.” And then Olmos just disappears into the crowd. You can’t make that up. That’s the kind of thing I want to highlight on “Con Man.” Anything can happen. And I think Dragon Con, more than any other con, has that reputation and pays it off every time I’ve gone.

EVENT PREVIEW

Dragon Con Schedule

Sept. 2-5. Four-day membership: $130 online until Aug. 19; then $150 online until noon Aug. 30; four-day membership will be available for $130 on Sept. 2 at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. Three-day, two-day and single-day memberships $35-$110 depending on number of days and which days. Tickets available on a day-of basis at the Sheraton. Free ages 7 and younger. Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, 165 Courtland St. N.E., Atlanta. dragoncon.org.

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