Dragon Con: 2023 guide

Dragon Con 2023 panels will feature ‘heavier moderation’ this year due to the SAG-AFTRA strike

Dragon Con 2023: Futurama's Billy West discusses convention, upcoming autobiography.Featuring "heavier moderation" at panels, Dragon Con 2023 is feeling the effects of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike.Futurama's Billy West, however, said there is still plenty of fun to be had."You could stay all day long and there’s stuff to eat and stuff to do, and it’s kind of a natural 'no brainer' that you’d want to come out and hang out at a place like that." — Billy West.Futurama's iconic voice actor also revealed that he is currently preparing to publish an autobiography currently in the works

Dragon Con will return this Labor Day weekend with a bang — but also with a few challenges. Due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, things will look a little different this year. The convention’s panels — moderated discussions between featured celebrity guests and their adoring fans — will require heavier moderation, with guests unable to discuss their upcoming projects.

Superstar Andy Serkis — the man behind Gollum from Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” film adaptations — will be attending the convention for the first time. This year’s event will also feature an exciting series of Magic: The Gathering tournaments using Wizards of the Coast’s pre-released “Wilds of Eldraine” set.

To break down all the fun coming to Dragon Con this year, we spoke to Dragon Con media engagement director Dan Carroll and featured guest Billy West of “Futurama” fame.

What is Dragon Con?

Dragon Con is a yearly convention that takes place in Downtown Atlanta. The convention is a sprawling attraction for cosplayers, fiction writers, game designers, actors, musicians, and droves of pop culture icons and their corresponding fanbases.

“Dragon Con is an internationally-known pop culture festival that takes place in Atlanta every Labor Day weekend,” Carroll told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re the only convention in the world that’s fan run and provides coverage of film, comics, games, literature, art and music. Every year, at Dragon Con, we have 40 or so bands playing nearly constantly throughout the convention.”

Each hotel hosts a number of panels where patrons can speak to their favorite content creators, as well as contests, special events, creative workshops, art shows, vendors and much more. The convention attracts tens of thousands of attendees from across the globe each year.

“We have a celebration of television and film with our celebrity guests, but we go beyond that. Bringing 65,000 people into Metro Atlanta every Labor Day weekend to talk about the things they love. And if there’s anything that’s pop culture related, you’ll find it and you’ll find it being discussed and celebrated at Dragon Con.”

When is Dragon Con?

Dragon Con is a Labor Day weekend event. The five-day convention begins Aug. 31 and ends Sept. 4.

Where is Dragon Con?

Dragon Con is hosted by five top Atlanta hotels in the city’s downtown area: Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Marriott Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Westin Peachtree and Courtland Grand (formerly Sheraton Atlanta). Dragon Con guest passes can be picked up at the Courtland Grand at 165 Courtland St. NE.

AmericasMart Buildings Two and Three will also host the convention’s vendor hall, art show, comics, Pop Art Alley and nearly three acres of gaming.

When is the Dragon Con parade?

Among the most popular events — attracting around 75,000 people every year (more than the convention itself) — the Dragon Con Parade is as integral to the convention experience as it is iconic for Atlanta residents. Featuring thousands of cosplayers, and capped off by the imperial march of the legendary 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, the parade is unlike anything else that comes to the Peach State’s capital.

“There is no doubt that the number of people seeing the parade exceeds the number of people inside Dragon Con, and the parade is Dragon Con’s gift to the city of Atlanta,” Carroll said. “It’s a mile of people walking. We have 3,200 folks in costume. The people who march in the parade? That fills up in five minutes in February when the application goes online. And you’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. It’s the largest parade in Atlanta, and it’s going to be available on TV (channel CW 69), but it’s also going to be available on DC TV.”

The parade will be open to the general public this year, with no COVID-19 restrictions. The parade begins at 10 a.m. on Sept. 2.

The Dragon Con parade is something you’re never gonna see anywhere else,” he said. “It’s not anything any other convention has. It’s nothing (you) can even imagine. The number of costumes, the folks coming down from the Star Trek universe, the Star Wars universe, the world of literature — there’s lots and lots of hobbits, and one of my favorite sections is the video game costuming.”

What is there to do and see?

From author signings to the iconic Palmetto Knights Tournaments, it’s hard to describe just how many events occur at this 65,000-patron convention. To keep up with it all, Dragon Con has an official app that can found here.

“Well, there is so much going on at Dragon Con with 3,500 hours of programming over the five days,” Carroll said. “What we always recommend is download that Dragon Con app. It’s available in the App store and in Google Play.”

From MythBusters legend Adam Savage to Andy Serkis, there are a lot of big names coming to participate this year.

“The guest list this year is absolutely amazing,” he said. “Marty Croft will be coming. We’ll have Lee Majors and Lindsey Wagner, who were very popular on TV in the 70s. We’ve got guests from many of your favorite television shows. Some of the folks I’m looking forward to seeing for the first time are Adrianne Palicki and we’ve got cast members from other shows that she’s been on. I’m really excited to see many of my favorite writers coming.

“Some of my favorite Star Wars writers, like Delilah S. Dawson from here in Georgia, Timothy Zahn and Kevin J. Anderson are three examples. We also have Jim Butcher coming.”

Joining the long list of featured guests this year is Billy West, who has voiced everything from Bugs Bunny to numerous Futurama characters. The voice-acting will be making his first appearance at Dragon Con in roughly 10 years. West will be signing autographs and speaking to fans, a perennial pastime for beloved content creators at Dragon Con.

“People come and they want autographs, or they wanna just spend some time talking, which I love doing,” West told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as he laid out his dance card for the upcoming convention. “You know, I don’t like hustling people along. If anybody has stuff they want to talk about, I get into it, you know?”

To West, it’s an opportunity to make real connections with those who love his work. It’s also about seeing the best in Atlanta’s people.

“I find that I find out more about what’s going on in life by talking to real people rather than looking at the internet,” he said. “You know what I mean? And I’ve never been disappointed. I’ve always been really happy about meeting everybody and it gives me hope for the future.”

While the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes will affect panels at Dragon Con this year, West said coming out to the convention this year is still the smart move for savvy pop culture fans.

“Everything is suitable no matter what age you are. Whether you’re an old geezer or whether you’re a little kid, there’s something there for you. You could stay all day long and there’s stuff to eat and stuff to do, and it’s kind of a no brainer that you’d want to come out and hang out at a place like that.”

SAG-AFTRA strikes presence will be felt this year

Due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, actors can not promote upcoming projects during Dragon Con 2023. Dragon Con revealed in an early-August press release that the conventions’ panels will consequently be quite different this year.

“Guests who are members of SAG-AFTRA – which is almost all of the actors – will participate in panels, but they can’t talk about the shows or movies they have worked on,” the release stated. “In all cases, panel conversations will be closely moderated.”

According to Carrol, it’s all about supporting the actors.

“Dragon Con has always been about connecting people and connecting people to what they love, connecting guests, our celebrities to their fans, connecting the fans to celebrities,” he said. “We will continue that tradition. We will, however, make sure that we are respecting the boundaries that the actors are working under.

“We will ensure that they are not put in situations where they have to answer questions or they’re asked questions that would violate their agreement with the union. And there’s going to be heavier moderation. The panels might be promoted differently than they’ve been in the past, but we are coming up with creative, surprising and original ways to have engaging and compelling panels for our fans.”

West is not concerned about the panel moderation, as he’s setting his sights on opening some dialogue with his fans.

“I can’t really promote any of the shows because we are on strike,” West said. “But I can talk to people. People can ask me like, ‘How did I get involved in this business?’ What advice I have... I’ve come by all my advice for others honestly, because when I started there were no teachers. There were no signposts. There was no nothing. You were on your own, and it’s cold out there alone when you decide to leave your hometown.”

According to an Aug. 2023 Variety poll, 67% of Americans surveyed support both the WGA and the SAG-AFTRA strikes.

“There’s just a few people that basically are sitting on top of trillions of dollars, and there’s 160,000 creatives that are struggling to make ends meet,” West explained. “And the inequity is something that’s very wrong. And all the union is asking for is some kind of security, some kind of boost in wages. We haven’t had a good contract in quite a while. This is just a fact of life. You always get to this point between you and management and you have to say, ‘Look, we need this.’”

In West’s opinion, it’s something convention patrons have been incredibly gracious about in his recent convention appearances.

“I welcome questions about the business and everything,” he said. “I just can’t promote shows... and people understand, you know, they get it. I don’t even have to say what I can’t talk about. They’ll come up and say ‘we get it.’”

Ticket information

Depending on the number of days you wish to attend, Dragon Con’s five-day convention offers different price points. For the full five-day experience, visitors can purchase a $175 pass. Passes for individual days vary from as low as $35 to as high as $75.

To purchase tickets or a membership, visit here.

Parking information

For those that plan to walk to the convention, MARTA’s Peachtree Center Station is the perfect drop-off point. For those driving, Dragon Con suggested booking parking in advance via ParkMobile or Spot Hero. The convention’s page of travel tips and tricks can be found here.

COVID restrictions have been removed

COVID-19 has made an unpredictable return to Georgia this summer. COVID hospital admissions are increasing in the state on a weekly basis. Hundreds of Fulton County (the home of Atlanta and Dragon Con) school staff members were recently diagnosed with the virus. This year, however, Dragon Con is doing away with its COVID-19 policies.

“We have no specific COVID policy,” Carroll said. “However, we are keeping an eye on it. We understand there’s some numbers going up, but they’re not severe numbers and they’re not showing an increase. According to the consultations we’ve had with the CDC... as always, we have been closely working with the CDC on our COVID awareness and COVID reactions. At this point, we see no need for masks.

“We welcome costume masks, obviously. But, this will be handled like any other Dragon Con. Should things change before the convention, we will always act in the best interest and safety of our fans.”