Dragon Con pulls in crowd

Most days Rachel Miller's hair isn't blue, but most days she's not masquerading as a comic book character, either.


The Evans mom has an annual tradition. She takes a day at the salon to get into character before suiting up in a head-to-toe costume for DragonCon, a convention that bills itself as the largest multimedia, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music and film in the country. It starts today in Atlanta.

This week, a stylist dyed Mrs. Miller's hair blue with black tips, like the comic book character Domino from X-Men .

Her daughters, Lizzy, 13, and Sarah, 11, are also comic book characters this year.

"Geeks are finally coming into their own, but conventions are still the only place we can go and geek-out and no one judges us," Mrs. Miller said.

The convention draws about 30,000 people, who come to meet popular sci-fi actors and writers, compete in gaming tournaments or just soak in the convention culture.

The first DragonCon was held in 1987. It has grown to include more than 500 guest speakers and bands, this year including actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Anthony Daniels, Malcolm McDowell, Lou Ferrigno, Louise Fletcher and director Terry Gilliam.

Between the Miss Klingon Empire Beauty Pageant and the independent short film festival, there's always something to do, said Pam Hartle, manager of the Book Exchange, a comic, gaming and used-book store off Bobby Jones Expressway.

"It's a 24-hour experience," she said. "It can be overwhelming."

The event's "pocket guide" tallies 136 pages.

The Millers booked their hotel in February because space in the four host hotels books quickly.

"To say it's popular is an understatement. We have friends who fly from all over the world to come to these conventions," said Frank Miller, Rachel's husband.

A four-day pass to DragonCon costs $100, and many also shell out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for hotels, parking, costumes and purchases.

"Geeks have buying power. We aren't to be underestimated," said Scott Hamilton, who traveled from Augusta to attend his first DragonCon two years ago.

He points to Disney's recent purchase of Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion.

"There are more of us than people think," he said. "The guy who fixes your computer, he's going to DragonCon. The guy at the bookstore, he's going to DragonCon."

The convention attracts an audience of all ages, backgrounds and political leanings, he said.

"It's a great event because it's diverse. The commonality is acceptance," he said.

Anime fans mingle with Trekkies who mingle with gamers.

"It's all OK. It's an entire niche fantasy world. It's a counterculture," Mr. Hamilton said. "I get to be a Sith Lord for a day. I might not have a dark side. I might be an insurance salesman, but for three days, I'm a Sith Lord and no one knows any different."

Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or kelly.jasper@augustachronicle.com.


Veteran convention-goers offer these tips for navigating the massive, four-day event that starts today in Atlanta:

- Plan ahead. "Sit down with the book and a highlighter. It's overwhelming, but if you plan it out you can make the most of your time," said Pam Hartle, manager of the Book Exchange.

- Bring walking shoes. "There's more ground to cover than you'd think," she said.

- Carry mints and body spray. Southern heat takes its toll, and plenty of DragonCon enthusiasts skip a shower or two for fear of missing out on the action, Rachel Miller said.

- Sunday is the most budget-friendly day. "You'll find the best deals," said Mrs. Hartle, who has hit the convention for custom artwork and gaming gear. "Play the demos and pick up free gifts and things when you can."

NEW FOR 2009

- It's a long walk between the hotels, so a shuttle has been added. DragonCon's announcement notes that "Google Maps lists it as a hike that takes the average person 10 minutes to walk. What Google does not take into account is that the DragonCon fan is not the average person." Catch the shuttle at the Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton or Sheraton.

- Registration has moved to the Sheraton this year.

- Host hotels will broadcast main events on DragonCon TV. Keep a program handy for the schedule.

- At 7 p.m. Sunday, convention-goers will attempt to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of dancers performing Michael Jackson's Thriller dance. Register at the Sheraton and join the practice session at 4 and 5:30 p.m.