What we saw at Dragon Con 2016

Among this year’s sightings: Pokémon, Prince, and political parodies
Dragon Con 2016

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

Atlanta’s annual celebration of all things geek turned 30 this year, drawing an estimated 77,000 fans into downtown over Labor Day weekend. As usual, the cosplay was impressive, the crowds were monstrous, and the people-watching was unparalleled as we wandered the host hotels for some 45 hours over the course of four days.

(All numbers are approximated, and costume statistics exclude the parade)

What we saw
157 characters from Pokémon, one of the most popular franchises represented this year thanks to a popularity boost from Pokémon Go. Along with classic Ash Ketchums and Pikachus, we spotted plenty of Go trainers and lures, not to mention tons of Team Instinct/Mystic/Valor wear.

76 Harley Quinns, both in both classic jester and Suicide Squad outfits. Suicide’s dismal reviews didn’t deter cosplayers—we saw plenty of Jared Leto-esque Jokers as well.

50 Reys from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Speaking of Star Wars, we also spotted 7 characters from the upcoming Rogue One film, 4 Old Luke Skywalkers, and 4 Matt the Radar Technicians from this brilliant SNL sketch. And just 13 Stormtroopers, far fewer than we’ve ever spotted before.

21 characters—mostly Elevens (with Eggo boxes, of course)—from the Atlanta-filmed Netflix hit Stranger Things

20 Daenerys cosplayers and 5 George R. R. Martins

13 female Ghostbusters

4 Negans (with Lucille) from The Walking Dead

1 Puppy Monkey Baby, which is just as disturbing in real life as it was in the Super Bowl ad

1 clever guy who dressed as in an all-white ninja outfit and carried a bucket of sharpies. By the end of the night, every segment of fabric was covered in colorful signatures.

35 babies

1 three-legged dog

4 confused flight attendants and 1 pilot, all of whom happened to find themselves staying at host hotels

Check out our full gallery of costumes from Dragon Con 2016

Dragon Con 2016 Superlatives
Most welcome relief:
The crowds were still massive and often overwhelming, but somehow it seemed easier to navigate the skybridges this year compared to last. (Maybe something to do with posted signs that informed con-goers that both photography and Pokémon Go were banned in the tubes?) We also didn’t have to fight nearly as hard to get to the parade on Saturday morning, possibly due to a combination of better crowd control and the fact that the parade was televised for the first time.

Best tributes: The celebrities we lost in 2016 were well-represented on the convention floor. We saw Prince (including the Chappelle’s Show parody and even the Purple Rainger), several of David Bowie’s iconic looks, Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape.

Second-best tribute: Despite the fact that the Marriott Marquis’ wild geometric carpet has now been completely replaced by a much more subdued brown stripe pattern, the beloved print was well-represented in costumes, lanyards, and purses. A group even marched in the parade with cars and trucks covered in the iconic pattern.

Most awkward pacing: The long gaps between parade groups made the entire spectacle just drag. We’re not sure if the pacing was as bad in other spots along the route (we were perched directly across from the Hyatt Regency), but the lack of momentum is an issue when many con attendees are quite sleep-deprived at 10 a.m. Saturday.

New trend: While personal speakers have always made an appearance at Dragon Con, their popularity exploded this year. We saw boomboxes crafted out of trash cans, suitcases, and cardboard Mario blocks, and also heard music blaring from the costumes themselves (because why shouldn’t 8-bit Pokémon Red background music accompany your trainer getup?)

Biggest political gestures: We weren’t surprised to see Donald Trump-related costumes at Dragon Con, but it was amusing to see just how many fandoms the Republican presidential candidate appeared in. We saw a group of “Make Westeros Great Again” supporters, a Trump Joker, Harry Potter-universe supporters, and one person with sign that announced plans to build a Death Star and make the Rebels pay for it. On the other end of the political spectrum, we saw one Bernie Sanders-related outfit and nothing whatsoever mentioning Hillary Clinton.

Most controversial moment: File this under “What were they thinking?”—Two people inexplicably showed up at the convention dressed as the burning Twin Towers, with dangling Barbie dolls meant to represent those who jumped from the buildings on 9/11. The tasteless outfits went over about as well as you’d expect—con attendees quickly expressed their offense on social media and according to 11Alive, a Dragon Con official called the outfit “offensive, distasteful, and completely inappropriate” and didn’t believe the pair had badges allowing them to be on the premises.

Thursday is the new Friday: We noticed in the official Dragon Con media fact sheet that the length of the convention was listed as “4 days 4.5 days.” They weren’t kidding—more programming was featured on Thursday, including an official offsite masquerade ball at the Center for Puppetry Arts and a “Nerdy New Year” celebration. How long until Dragon Con finally, officially makes this a five-day convention?

Most skin bared: Despite the fact that the weather was cooler this Labor Day weekend compared to last year, we did notice a lot more pasties and banana hammocks out on the convention floor.