How the Dragon Con parade comes together

This year’s participants include Muscle Nerdz, Georgia Ghostbusters

In 2000, Dragon Con co-founder Pat Henry spied a small Salvation Army parade in downtown Atlanta and thought, “We could do that!”

So the next year, he invited some “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” groups, Netherworld Haunted House characters, and the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” acting troupe Lips Down on Dixie to march from Centennial Olympic Park to the Marriott Marquis on Saturday morning of Dragon Con. About 100 people showed up to the seemingly makeshift parade. The “Star Trek” crew good-naturedly threw Beanie Babies at the “Star Wars” group yelling “Ewok attack!” Drag queens did the “Time Warp.”

The parade, over four blocks, lasted all of 20 minutes. Spectators were largely incidental.

But many of those who took part loved it and each year, the parade has grown in size, length and scope, evolving into a distinctly Atlanta institution.

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

“I would love to tell you this was very scientifically and business based,” Henry said. “It wasn’t. We shoot from the hip a lot.”

Before the pandemic, tens of thousands of spectators would line the sidewalks to watch thousands of cosplay lovers walk the 1.1-mile route. This year’s parade will be the first since 2019 with no COVID-19 restrictions. (The parade didn’t happen in 2020 and last year’s version only allowed paid Dragon Con attendees to watch in person.)

Parade goers this year will see 57 different groups covering everything from dragons to Vikings. All 3,250 individual spots were quickly filled up in February. There are also slots for 50 floats and vehicles.

“I’ve done conventions all over the country,” said Chace Ambrose, who oversees the Georgia Ghostbusters. “Not a lot of them do parades. It’s kind of rare. Not every convention has the financial backing of Dragon Con or such a good relationship with the city.”

Families often bring their children to cheer on the procession. “I love seeing the little kids’ faces light up,” said Jerry Peacock, who runs the Muscle Nerdz group. “They see their heroes in person. It’s magical.”

Putting something this huge together is not for the faint of heart. It takes patience, logistical know-how and people skills. Atlanta native Annie Carter is only in her second year as volunteer parade director but has spent the past decade gleaning knowledge from Jan Price, the beloved original parade coordinator who succumbed to cancer last year. Price, Carter said, was the glue that kept the entire parade from collapsing on itself.

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

There are always no-shows. Cars break down. People get sick and require medical attention. There are protesters who see the convention as a horrifying celebration of sin and the occult.

“Jan was one of those people who was so wonderfully optimistic and happy,” Carter said. “Even when things went wrong, she handled it with a smile.”

Carter, who works in TV and film production, said she tries her best to emulate Price’s calm. One of Carter’s big jobs: placing the 57 groups in what she thinks is a reasonable order. But she does keep some things consistent: The final group is always an array of “Star Wars” characters, followed by a man dressed up as Santa from the animated series “Futurama.” “Jan loved ending the parade with a Santa,” said Carter.

The parade’s appeal is often its DIY feel, with folks spending weeks or months designing one-of-a-kind costumes, be it oddball characters hardly anybody recognizes or multiple renditions of Spider-Man and Batman.

“We get to share our fandom not just with other nerdy conventioneers, but with the public,” Carter said.

The only tangible celebrity presence is the Grand Marshal. Past marshals have included “Ghostbusters” star Ernie Hudson, classic movie legend Mickey Rooney, Marvel comics impresario Stan Lee and the recently deceased “Star Trek” star Nichelle Nichols.

Carter looks forward to the parade every year, no matter the logistical headaches.

“I’ll do this,” she said, “as long Dragon Con lets me.”

Credit: DRAGON CON

Credit: DRAGON CON

Here’s a sampling of the groups that parade attendees will get to see:

Credit: CONTRB

Credit: CONTRB

Georgia Ghostbusters

What is this: This celebration of the original 1984 movie and subsequent films also includes a mini-convention PKE Surge within Dragon Con featuring a mixer and special panels. The group has been so enthusiastic, it once brought nine “Ghostbuster”-related vehicles to a single parade a few years back, which led organizers to cap vehicles from the same franchise at four.

Parade slots requested: 100

Number of years participating in the parade, counting this year: 14

Credit: CONTRIBU

Credit: CONTRIBU

Cage Crew

What is this: The idea to celebrate Nicolas Cage came from 33-year-old Midtown video producer Kyle Hebert’s whimsical brain. “He’s got a unique niche in pop culture and it’s been growing over the past decade,” Hebert said. “You never know what he’s going to bring to a performance.” Cage even released a meta-movie about himself called “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” earlier this year that poked fun at his unpredictable and sometimes over-the-top acting style. So last year, Hebert and some friends created oversized Cage masks from various notable films of his like “Con Air and “The Rock” and walked around the convention on a lark. Reaction was so strong, he decided to do it again this year, but also participate in the parade. “One guy last year told me he was seeking a moment of intense joy since the pandemic began and this was the first time he felt that in nearly two years,” Hebert said. “That was extremely sweet and shocking given we were just goofy people in cardboard masks.”

Parade slots requested: 20

Number of years in the parade, counting this year: 1

Credit: CONTRIBU

Credit: CONTRIBU

Cult of Jon

What is this? In 2019, East Atlanta resident Lisa Misciospied a life-sized cutout of a FedEx delivery man that had been embellished with googly eyes, stickers and glitter. The cutout, dubbed Jon, was eventually discarded and people began placing mock effigies and candles in his place. Someone then dug Jon out of a dumpster and placed him back in his original space. “Jon had risen!” Miscio said. People created a Facebook page and website about Jon. Someone designed enamel pins. A meetup group was started. Miscio and her husband gathered 10 folks in 2021 to parade on behalf of the Cult of Jon in religious outfits. “I was a monk,” she said. As an inside joke, Miscio acknowledges most parade goers were confused last year by their presence and may remain equally confused in 2022. But she is fine with that. “I’m kind of a cosplay-adjacent person and I can kind of make this my own and feel like I’m still part of it,” she said.

Parade slots requested: 25

Number of years on the parade, counting this year: 2

Credit: Neal Gruber

Credit: Neal Gruber

Muscle Nerdz

What is this? Nerds are not known for their toned bods, but a group of weight-lifting, core-loving Dragon Con regulars decided to blend brains with brawn. Since 2017, they’ve held a costume/bodybuilding combo contest during the convention. “We’ve been slowly building our presence at Dragon Con,” said Muscle Nerdz organizer Jerry Peacock. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback so we thought we could take it a little further and have our finalists walk the parade and show off their stuff.” His fellow organizer Ryan Crissey said many Dragon Con attendees “grew up out of shape and picked on for what we enjoyed. But some of us ended up gaining the physiques of the superheroes we idolized. We can be physically fit and have nerdy interests as well.”

Parade slots requested: 20

Number of years on the parade, counting this year: 1

Credit: NETHERWORLD

Credit: NETHERWORLD

Netherworld

What is this? Netherworld Haunted House, now in Stone Mountain, opened in 1997 and is now one of the most popular haunted houses in the area with more than 400 employees. Netherworld has sponsored the parade telecast on the CW since 2016, bringing out characters like the Mangler and the Collector on an elaborate float. “It’s a dress rehearsal for us,” said Netherworld co-founder Billy Messina, 49. “It’s incredible timing for us and incredible fun.”

Parade slots requested: 80

Number of years on the parade, counting this year: all 21

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Star Trek

What is this? Kathy Peck, a former Atlantan who now lives in Nashville and is a volunteer parade organizer, has been attending the convention since 1991 and now runs a “Star Trek” podcast with her husband called StarPodTrek. She said participation was relatively light last year. Only 12 Trekkers showed up and she had to give back eight slots. “Sorry,” said parade organizer Carter. “‘Star Trek’ can’t touch ‘Star Wars.’”

Parade slots requested: 20

Number of years on the parade, counting this year: all 21

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Star Wars

What is this: The most popular theme at the parade is anything “Star Wars” and those who show up each year hail from a conglomeration of different groups such as 501st Legion, Rebel Legion and Mando Mercs. Josh Mueller, who wears a Stormtrooper outfit each year and does public relations for the Georgia Garrison of the 501st Legion, said he thinks “Star Wars” has broad, timeless appeal and the costumes are fun to wear: “The story of an underdog fighting the good fight against an obviously bad guy is easily digestible and translates well across the world.”

Parade slots requested: 200

Number of years with the parade: all 21

IF YOU GO

Dragon Con parade

10 a.m.-noon. Saturday, Sept. 3. Free. The route starts at Linden Ave. and Peachtree Street, going south to the Westin, east on Andrew Young International Blvd., north on Peachtree Center Avenue, ending at the Marriott Marquis. More details at dragoncon.org, also available live to view on the CW or the Dragon Con TV Facebook page.

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