“I’ve done a lot of conventions,” he said. “I certainly have, and I always love going to conventions because I’m the sort of person who would go to conventions before I got this gig. But, Dragon Con is very special. Of course I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s entirely volunteer run, that it’s by the fans for the fans — also just the way the actual physical logistics of Dragon Con work out. In a typical convention, you are going to have a venue that the convention is held at. And then at the end of the day, everybody scatters and goes back to their accommodations and there might be several hotels that a lot of people stay at, but Dragon Con is unique in that you never have to go home.
“You are already home when you’re at Dragon Con. I think that contributes to, essentially, the party atmosphere that Dragon Con has. It’s been compared to a five-day-long Halloween party, essentially. Because again, the percentage of people in cosplay is noticeably higher than at a typical convention. In general, even big cons, they don’t quite have the same sort of nightlife and party atmosphere and, let’s face it, family atmosphere that Dragon Con has.”
It all begs the question: What precisely is Dragon Con?
What is Dragon Con?
About 65,000 people are expected to flock to downtown Atlanta this September to participate in Dragon Con. The convention will feature parties, autograph signings, self-defense classes, writing classes, burlesque shows, dancing and much more.
Featured guests are still being announced for the event, but William Shatner and Walter Koenig from the original “Star Trek” series will be in attendance, as well as Meer and Nolan North. A handful of guests from Georgia-based productions will be there, including actors from “Fear The Walking Dead,” and DC’s “Doom Patrol” and “Stargirl.” All in all, the convention is expected to feature a whopping 400 guests from a spectrum of authors, artists, game designers and experts from a range of fields. About 30 bands will be playing night and day across the convention’s multiple stages, and DJs will helm the parties every night.
To the inexperienced and uninitiated, the convention’s kaleidoscope of cosplaying patrons and featured events can be dizzying. When it comes to cons, prolific actor North has experience in spades.
Most famous for his performance as Nathan Drake in Naughty Dog’s iconic video game series “Uncharted,” North will be making his first appearance at Dragon Con in a few years. But, conventions are nothing new to the veteran actor who has voiced numerous iconic characters and was featured in Alan Tudyk’s “Con Man,” which is an expert look into the world of conventions and geek culture.
“I think what people, too many shows, they try to make fun of the con-goers,” North said, commenting on “Con Man’s” heartfelt dive into the world of conventions. “They think that’s funny and it’s like, well that’s just mean spirited and the craziest people are the ones behind the curtains. You know, they’re the ones that ... the fans are the normal people. The wack jobs are the egomaniacs and the managers back there. And then, you know, the PAs who want to please everybody.”
Sometimes at hefty prices, convention patrons collect piles of autographs and memorabilia during their visits. While fans donned in intricate cosplay wait in line for hours by the thousands to get a signature from their favorite content creators, North said the scene behind the curtain is something else entirely.
“In terms of Dragon Con, ‘Con Man’ and the parallels there, you see the cosplayers and things like that,” he said. “The thing I loved about ‘Con Man’ is it shined the light on behind the scenes. And people really don’t realize that there are people who are like Wray Nerely (the show’s main character). There are people who are the huge stars. There are the people who are bitter. There are the people like Jerry (North’s character) who’s basically like, ‘We gotta get in there, make some money … .’ I’ve seen more of the reality of that show behind the curtain than I have in front, because most fans are just sitting there like it’s going to the zoo. They might as well. And that was a funny thing during COVID when cons first came back. They put up the big plastic screen, and it was like I was in an aquarium. People were like, ‘Oh, look, he did the Penguin look, honey.’ You know, that’s amazing.”
North’s first venture into conventions was not a pleasant one. The “Pretty Little Liars” actor walked out before signing a single autograph.
“My first convention I ever went to, I think, was an Anaheim friend of mine that invited me down.” he said. “I printed pictures at Kinko’s. I didn’t think anybody knew who I was. I think ‘Uncharted Two’ had come out. People are like, ‘No people wanna see you.’ I drove down there, walked up and there was a table, small table with my name, spelled wrong. I put the things down and I saw a friend of mine and I said, ‘So what do you do? ‘Oh, green room is down there.’ I’m like, OK. ‘They have food and go check it out.’ And as I walked down there, I saw a guy who was in an episode of ‘Love Boat’ just sitting there. It reminded me of Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler.’ And I started getting like, oh, this... I don’t know if this is for me. It was years and years ago. I don’t even remember what it was. And there was this guy that had done two episodes of ‘Happy Days’ screaming at someone about how there weren’t enough chicken wings.”
North dropped his pictures in a nearby trashcan and walked out the door. No one from the convention ever called him. After getting a booking agent, North decided to give conventions another shot.
“I hesitated at first, because who would want my autograph?” North said. “Well, what changed it for me is I remember going to England for ‘Uncharted Three.’ Sony flew me there to do an E3 kind of deal. And people are like, ‘Oh, it’s very nice to meet you. You know you got a three-hour queue?’ And I’m like, I’m sorry, three-hour queue? You mean like a line? ‘Yeah.’ I said, you mean to get in? They’re like, ‘nNo for you.’ What, what do you mean? People are waiting three hours to meet me. And it sounds a little hokey, but it really is empowering. It’s like, wow.”
It’s then North said it clicked, that he realized his place in the pop culture community.
“It affects people,” he said, speaking on his work in video games and television. “And when you, when you realize that, you get to do something that has made people a little happier in some way. I’ve met people who are like, ‘This saved my life because I was depressed and I started playing.’ A lot of people now, because of COVID, are like ‘Thank God for games and animation and the stuff we do.’ But the other thing, selfishly, is we get to see our friends, especially since I moved to Atlanta, that’s my point.”
Meer, on the other hand, came into the entertainment industry as a superfan. For him, Dragon Con was love at first sight.
“I am definitely a geek who got a gig,” Meer said. “So I certainly knew the ins and outs of conventions and was in love with the fandom right away. It was pretty easy. The sort of crowning moment of getting this entire gig was, when at Dragon Con, someone... walked by in just this immaculate Commander Shepard costume with lights in the back and a helmet that looked screen worthy. That’s when I sort of knew, I think ‘Mass Effect’ is a success.”
When is Dragon Con?
Dragon Con 2022 is just around the corner. The five-day convention begins Thursday, Sept. 1, and finishes Monday, Sept. 5.
Where is Dragon Con?
While passes are picked up at Sheraton Atlanta, 165 Courtland St. NE, the convention itself is hosted across five downtown Atlanta hotels. The Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Marriott Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Westin Peachtree and Sheraton Atlanta will all be participating in Dragon Con 2022. These are where the convention’s many featured classes, signings, parties and various events will be held.
Meanwhile, AmericasMart Buildings Two and Three will host the convention’s vendor hall, art show, comics, Pop Art Alley and almost three acres of gaming.
Joystick Game Bar will also be returning with a pop-up arcade at 161 Peachtree Center.
When is the Dragon Con parade?
The largest spectacle of Dragon Con is its world-renowned parade. Every year since 2002, thousands have shown off their cosplay in a march down Peachtree Street. While the parade was limited to badge holding members last year as a COVID-19 precaution, the public is invited to attend the 2022 event. It will be Saturday morning, Sept. 3.
To his excitement, Meer will be co-hosting the parade once again. For “Mass Effect” fans, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“I’m looking forward to another thing that has become a tradition in recent years, co-hosting the parade,” he said. “Chris Lloyd was the one who first invited me to do that, and I always have a great time. Because the Dragon Con parade, that is another really focal aspect of Dragon Con. And I marched in it the first few years that I attended full time. I marched in it the first year I was a guest with the N7 Elite Costume Group (in my Commander Shepherd armor).
“They’re the ‘Mass Effect’ cosplayers. And that was kindly built for me by a fellow named David Carpenter. And it’s always been just a fantastic time. ... There were a couple of years where I wasn’t marching in the parade. My favorite thing to do was to order room service breakfast, and just watch, have breakfast in bed and watch the parade before starting my panels and stuff for the day.”
What is there to do and see?
With 65,000 visitors expected , Dragon Con has a bevy of events planned to keep everyone entertained. For starters, more than 3 acres of gaming space will be featured, from dice rolling to button mashing.
Meer regularly hosts the convention’s Late Night Puppet Slam improv show, while North said he expects to participate in the return of the Twisted Toonz show. For a complete breakdown of Dragon Con 2022′s events, visit here.
Prices vary depending on the number of days you’ll attend. For the full five day experience, visitors can purchase a membership for $160. Each individual day is priced differently, with the cheapest being Thursday’s $20 price point. For $4,000, patrons can become eternal members, which grants you access to every Dragon Con “from now until it no longer exists.”
To purchase tickets or a membership, visit here.
In order to have the optimal Dragon Con experience, it is best to book a stay at one of the host hotels. If that’s not in your budget, MARTA’s Peachtree Center Station will put you right in the action.
Dragon Con also suggests booking parking in advance through ParkMobile or Spot Hero. Dragon Con’s transportation page, which features more useful travel information, can be found here.
Dragon Con’s virtual option
“As we all learned in 2020, it’s sad when there’s no Dragon Con on Labor Day,” Meer said, discussing the convention’s virtual offerings. “We had virtual Dragon Con, which I participated in quite heavily. I did a number of panels and things like that. That was a balm to soothe the pain of missing Dragon Con.”
Due to the pandemic, Dragon Con relied on its virtual offerings heavily. For fans unable to attend in person this year, there will be streaming on Dragon Con TV.
For $10, Dragon Con Gone Virtual can be accessed here.
Dragon Con COVID-19 protocols
To promote health and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic, patrons must follow protocols, which can be found below, as listed on Dragon Con’s website.
- Well-fitting and appropriate masks are required indoors at all our convention venues, including all five host hotels and AmericasMart Buildings Two and Three.
- This year’s convention will have reduced capacity compared to 2019′s but more than in 2021. A limited number of Saturday-only memberships will be available, and memberships at all levels are expected to sell out.
- In order to reduce congestion, increase social distance and improve traffic at badge pickup in the Sheraton, there will be no onsite membership sales. If any memberships are available, they will sold online only through Growtix.
- Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test are not required this year. The convention highly encourages everyone to get vaccinated, however. If you are not feeling well or have been recently exposed to somebody with COVID, you are asked to stay home.
- There will again be a virtual marketplace September 1-9, allowing fans both at the event and at home to purchase from and support their favorite vendors and artists.
The bottom line
As Atlanta continues to face the pandemic, inflation, a fluctuating housing market and more, Dragon Con is coming back strong this year — offering a respite of fun for tens of thousands. According to Meer, who will be performing at Dad’s Garage on Aug. 31, it’s an event that has a little something for everyone.
“If you like any aspect of pop culture at all, there’s a very good chance it’s somehow represented at Dragon Con,” Meer said. “Cons used to be a lot more specialized, as in this con is for Star Trek. They still have specialized cons. This one is Star Wars. This is strictly for comic books. Dragon Con casts a very wide net. If you’ve enjoyed almost any sort of entertainment, or if you’re just interested in science or NASA, there’s probably a panel for you.”
To those who make it down to Atlanta for the convention, North said thank you.
“Just thank you for the support, because without that support, without that fandom and without all the hard work of all these developers and everything making these games, I don’t have a table to stand behind to meet everyone,” he said. “I think it’s such a good symbiotic relationship. It’s such a complimentary relationship that we have as fans. Thank you so much for coming to the con. Thank you for coming to con because, if you didn’t come here, I wouldn’t be able to come here. If you didn’t play these games, if you didn’t watch these shows, I don’t get this opportunity. It’s not something that I grew up aspiring to. It’s because it’s so surreal that you people would want to stand in line — just to meet you and have you sign and pay for you to sign something. It’s like, what? Growing up, I always thought I wanted to be a baseball player. I remember, as a little kid, I would take old baseballs and I would practice my autograph, like that’s where I’m gonna sign it right there.
“It was just so ridiculous. And now you do it and it’s in a whole different way,” he continued. “I would say just thank you to everybody. And I look forward to meeting everyone and spending a little time. I’m not one of these guys that, I can’t take too much time at the table because there’s a line and people got to keep moving, but I really am grateful and humbled by all the attention. And the thing is that I just wanna keep going. I just wanna make more things and keep going and just keep doing this for as long as they let me.”