Forget Comic-Con, the annual West Coast convention of spray-tanned film execs, toy makers hawking plastic Thor hammers, and (shudder) casual sci-fi and fantasy fans. Hard-core geeks prefer Atlanta’s Dragon Con, which takes place every Labor Day weekend. These cosplayers spend all year brainstorming, researching, and sweating over every stitch of their costumes. Why the obsession? Sure, it’s fun to impress the throngs at the annual parade. Better still to one-up your peers in the hotel lobby. But ultimately, Dragon Con is about community, from Avengers to zombies. At last year’s convention, we invited attendees to tell us their stories. One thing’s for sure: They’ll be back this year.
from Iron Man 2
Russ Meyerriecks, 34
2nd Dragon Con
I made this costume last year for my first Dragon Con. I just wanted to fit in, but it was a big hit. Originally I was going to be Judge Dredd, but I couldn’t get the lettering on the helmet right. I figured with the body armor, I could either pivot to Iron Man or War Machine, and War Machine has more guns. It’s acceptable to wear the same costume in back-to-back years, but you’d better soup it up. This year I’ve added a computerized voice command that closes my mask, “arms” my cannon, and replies with actual voice clips of JARVIS (actor Paul Bettany) from the Iron Man movies.
Jasmine Mackey, 24
3rd Dragon Con
Dragon Con rules because the costumes take over downtown. Most cosplay events are contained in one hotel or a convention center, but since Dragon Con is in multiple hotels and lots of people stay off-site, you’ll see cosplayers at the Hard Rock, Peachtree Center, and even on MARTA. And while other cons are only during the day, Dragon Con is on at all hours. My favorite is the burlesque ball. Every year there’s a different, nerdy theme. One year it was Tron, and everything was lined with lights in the dark. We line up three hours before the doors open at midnight, and it is totally worth the wait.
Top left: Smaug the Dragon from The Hobbit, Brigette Ellison, 28, Las Vegas, 2nd Dragon Con
Top center: Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit, Janette Jolman, 32, Knoxville, Tennessee, 12th Dragon Con
Top right: Bifur from The Hobbit, Tracy Garner, 55, Atlanta, 28th Dragon Con
Bottom left: Kili from The Hobbit, Melody Hunter, 37, Pitusville, Florida, 2nd Dragon Con
Bottom right: Gloin from The Hobbit, Ed Garner, 58, Atlanta, 28th Dragon Con
Janette: I relate to Thorin, the displaced dwarf king. As the only female cop working with about 30 other guys, I’ve always felt like an outcast. But through cosplay and conventions, I’ve met a group of like-minded souls from all over. I love being Thorin—even when I open my mouth and kill the illusion with my high voice. The shock on people’s faces when they realize I’m a woman is the ultimate compliment.
Right: The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Tom Morfoot, 54, Atlanta, “20-somethingth” Dragon Con
Center: Caractacus Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chris Lee, 50, Nashville, Tennessee, 10th Dragon Con
Left: Truly Scrumptious from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Leah D’Andrea-Lee, 34, Nashville, Tennessee, 14th Dragon Con
Leah: Chris and I met here in 2006. We were both huge into Star Wars.
Chris: We were introduced by a mutual friend who does Chewbacca. I proposed to her six years later at Star Wars Celebration VI. I was Luke; she was Leia.
Leah: We do a big costume every other year. The only movie we have in common besides Star Wars is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Tom: I met the Lees here a few years ago. I like dressing up as characters nobody else does. So much so that I don’t even go to the panels; I’m afraid I’ll miss out on seeing the best costumes.
Matthew Silva, 27
11th Dragon Con
Vintage Japanese “pin-up” girl
Emily Coughlin, 24
3rd Dragon Con
Matthew Silva: My dad brought me here when I was a kid. He was into Star Trek, and I was into general sci-fi. Back then, I’d have been scandalized by seeing a 50-year-old man in a pink leotard and tutu. Now I’m like, “Hey Tom, how’ve you been?”
Emily: Matthew and I are both make-up artists for film and TV, and we met on a job years ago. Even though we had each been to Dragon Con, this is only our second con as a couple.
Matthew: It’s fun to show our own work—I have two fake beards this year—and it’s fun to see others’.
Emily: It’s also just a nonstop party with so many new and interesting people.
from Super Mario Bros.
Spencer Murrill, 31
10th Dragon Con
For me, Dragon Con is just an excuse to build a puppet. It’s really the only cosplay I ever do. I’m a freelance artist, making props and molds and sculptures, but I’ve been a puppeteer since I was nine. I played Super Mario Bros. when I was a kid, and I always thought the piranha plant would make a good puppet. Dragon Con has a puppetry track, and everyone here is very open-minded and supportive, no matter what the skill level. This place is one of my few outlets, one of the few places where I’m just free to create.
from Final Fantasy VII, crossed with Tron Legacy
Michael Schaffer, 25
3rd Dragon Con
I’ve been into cosplay since 2008 and go to events all over the country. Dragon Con is well known for its variety and quality. Everyone brings their A-game. You see real craftsmanship and attention to detail. It’s competitive, but in a friendly way. People help each other, and you make a lot of new friends. This year’s costume took me about three months. I really wanted to incorporate the reflective, glow-in-the-dark look of Tron. But instead of just being armed with the little Frisbee-like rings, I’m wielding Cloud Strife’s giant (cardboard and wood) sword—just in case.
a Twi’lek from the Star Wars universe
Skye Bedell, 20
Durham, North Carolina
1st Dragon Con
My first mistake was only packing one day’s worth of paint. I’ve had to sleep in this, no shower, for four days. My mom got me into costuming and conventions when I was a kid. Everyone always told me I needed to go to Dragon Con. It’s so much bigger than I had expected, and the cosplay is at a much higher level. I’ve learned so much—not just from panels, but from other people. For instance, a new way to airbrush on my makeup so it won’t cake up as much. And next year, I’ll definitely bring more paint.
from Twisted Metal 2
Collin Royster, 29
8th Dragon Con
Twisted Metal 2 was my favorite video game growing up—a sort of demolition derby on steroids and acid. I found an old Power Wheels, a purple Escalade, in a junk yard for $5 and put six months, $500, and about six boxes of pop rivets into it. It can hit about 22 miles per hour. After the con, my dad and I will race in a little Power Wheels series back home.
Astrid and her dragon, Stormfly
from How to Train Your Dragon
Gabrielle Carter, 13
4th Dragon Con
It’s hard to lug 25 pounds of cut-up yoga mats and craft foam through the crowded Hyatt lobby. My mom and I worked on the costume every night for five months. Stormfly broke his right toe somewhere along the way. Thankfully, my mom, who owns a party supply company, is never far away with a roll of tape.
from Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Fear, Joy, Anger, and Sadness
from Inside Out
Travis Cox, Sarah Shoulak, Baxter “Bucky” Durham, Allie Blackmon
Steampunk bandit and East Asian steampunk
Danielle Keyes and Alan Akira
from The Shining
Fernanda Martin and Stephanie Carson
from Fairy Tail
Las Vegas Mad Max
from League of Legends
from The Venture Bros.
from Game of Thrones
This article originally appeared in our September 2016 issue under the headline “Return of the Con.”