1987 marked the beginning of Dragon Con. John Bunnell, David Cody, Robert Dennis, Mike Helba, Pat Henry, and Ed Kramer formed the original Dragon Con Board of Directors and most remain an integral part of the convention today.
The inaugural Dragon Con flyers debuted at the 1986 Atlanta Worldcon, ConFederation. By the following year, Dragon Con had been selected to be the host of the 1990 Origins convention, and so had signed a seven-year contract with the Atlanta Hilton, for 1990 through 1996, all prior to the start of the first Dragon Con.
Dragon Con ‘87 featured Guest of Honor Michael Moorcock attending his first U.S. convention appearance in twelve years, Robert Asprin and Lynn Abbey, Robert Adams, Richard “Lord British” Garriott, the creator of Ultima, and Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. Just over 1,200 fans joined in on the fun, a notable number for a first-year convention. Miramar recording artist Jon Serrie delivered his keyboard arrangements from within a real NASA flightsuit, with helmet, during the Masquerade/Costume Contest. Michael Moorcock and longtime friend Eric Bloom, Blue Oyster Cult’s vocalist/guitarist, even jammed onstage, performing the Moorcock-written BOC tunes “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” and “Black Blade”. This launched live concerts as an annual Dragon Con tradition. Thomas E. Fuller and the Atlanta Radio Theatre, who’ve become another annual tradition, performed H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu live at the con and on the air.
Dragon Con’s 1987 and 1988 conventions were held at the Piedmont Plaza Hotel, at the corner of Spring Street and Linden Avenue, now named the Sol Melia Hotel.
Anne McCaffrey was named as Guest of Honor for 1989, and Dragon Con relocated to the Omni Hotel and Convention Center to accommodate the 2,400 fans who attended.
As host of Origins ‘90, Dragon Con moved to the Atlanta Hilton and Towers, and doubled in size, helped in part by Guest of Honor Tom Clancy. Origins ’90 provided the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) with one of its largest and most successful conventions ever.
Dragon Con ‘90 also marked the inclusion of an entirely new facet of the convention, the Atlanta Comics Expo, which was held simultaneously with Dragon Con at a nearby hotel (later to become the Atlanta Sheraton). The Expo proved so successful that even in its first year the name was retained and incorporated into Dragon Con itself.
At the 1992 Worldcon in Orlando, Florida, Dragon Con won the bid to host the 1995 North American Science Fiction Convention, NASFiC. Later that year, Dragon Con also received the bid to host the International Starfleet Conference as part of its 1995 convention.
In 1996, Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell presented the convention with a certificate of acclamation for hosting its tenth Dragon Con in the city. By the time Dragon Con departed the Atlanta Hilton as its host hotel in 1996, the Westin Peachtree Plaza was annexed for game tournaments, the Atlanta Civic Center for the Masquerade Costume Contest, and nearly a dozen overflow hotels for fans to use.
Dragon Con 1997 marked a shift in hotels to the Hyatt Regency and the Inforum, a convention facility two blocks to the west which has since been closed to convention use.
In 1998 Dragon Con retained the Hyatt Regency Atlanta as convention headquarters but shifted some large-scale operations, Exhibit Hall, Dealers Room, and Gaming, to a convention facility called the America’s Mart, consisting of the Atlanta Apparel Mart and Merchandise Mart. These facilities were retained for 1999 and 2000. Along the way Dragon Con dropped the “Atlanta Comics Expo” moniker while retaining all comics programming and guests.
Some of the notable guests in the 90’s include Dr. Timothy Leary, Larry Niven, George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Anton Wilson, Todd McFarlane, Robert Block, Adam West, Jim Steranko, Ray Harryhausen, Harlan Ellison, John Carpenter, Dave Stevens, Julie Schwartz, and musical performances by GWAR.
The close of the 2000 Dragon Con ushered in a change in the management and structure of the convention. A value concept was introduced to the host hotels and rates were reduced in return for longer stays. Using the Hyatt Regency and the Marriott Marquis as headquarter hotels, Dragon Con 2001 had returned to the hotel design with which it had begun. This also marked the year that Dragon Con changed and standardized the convention dates to Labor Day weekend. Guests in 2001 included Don Bluth, Alice Cooper, Anthony Daniels, and Jimmy Doohan. Attendance reached 13,000.
2002 saw the introduction of the first Dragon Con parade to the city of Atlanta. The route was from Centennial Olympic Park into the front entrance of the Marriott Marquis. Later years brought the parade route from Woodruff Park, down Peachtree Street, past the front of the Hyatt Regency to the back entrance of the Marriott Marquis. Guests in 2002 included Carmine Infantino, Nichelle Nichols, and Jefferson Starship.
2003-2004 saw little in the way of changes to the overall convention space, but several new tracks were added to the lineup, including Gothic/Horror, Robotics, Costuming, Science Fiction Classics, Independent Film, and Young Adult Literature. Guests included Ray Bradbury, James Marsters, John Rhys Davies, Ray Park, Olivia, Warren Ellis, Dr. Demento, and Peter Davison. Dragon Con staff reached 1000 volunteers.
In 2005, the convention expanded to meet the growing need for convention space into three hotels by bringing the Atlanta Hilton in again as a co-host hotel. Convention registration was moved to the Hilton. Guests included Robert Jordan, Anne McCaffrey, Basil Gogos, and Jonathan Harris. Convention attendance climbed to 17,000 and with the help of Kevin Sorbo, $20,000 was raised for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation and A World Fit for Kids.
2006 marked the 20th anniversary, and featured such guests as George Takei, Mickey Rooney, Summer Glau, and George Romero. Podcasting, Star Gate, and Silk Road tracks were added, as well as the Friday Night Costuming Contest. Also, the popular and collectible commemorative room key featuring original art made its debut. Attendance reached 22,000 and $12,000 was raised for National Multiple Sclerosis and A World Fit for Kids.
2007 marked a year of continued growth with the addition of the Atlanta Sheraton Hotel as a co-host venue for the Dragon Con event. Guests included Lewis Gossett Jr., Tara McPherson, Erik Estrada, and the Mythbusters build team. The convention grew to 27,000 and $15,000 was raised for The American Diabetes Association.
In 2008, author Laurell K. Hamilton, Sean Astin, Mickey Dolenz, Robert Llewellyn, James Randi, and Hayden Panettiere were featured guests among a roster of over 300 guests and 30,000 attendees. New tracks included Anime, MMO, and Skeptics. The Dragon Con staff increased to 1500. $25,000 was raised for The American Heart Association.
At Dragon Con 2009, fans enjoyed convention appearances by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Adam Savage, Terry Gilliam, Malcolm McDowell, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mike Mignola, and Tom Felton. The show registered 35,000 attendees and raised $27,000 for The American Alzheimer’s Association. The Hilton added a sky bridge to connect the Hilton and the Marriott. “Four Days at Dragon Con,” a public television produced documentary, was filmed. It aired in August of 2010 just weeks before the 2010 Dragon Con.
2010 saw the addition of the Westin Peachtree Plaza as a host hotel and the addition of the Paranormal track. The best-selling t-shirt of all time featured original artwork by renowned low brow artist Derek Yaniger. Comic greats Stan Lee and Neal Adams, who appeared in the Batmobile in the parade, were featured guests along with Sherilyn Kenyon, Scott Bakula, Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman, Luke Perry, Tom Savini, John Zaffis, and artist Donato Giancolo. The Hyatt opened its sky bridge to the Marriott and one could then traverse three blocks of Dragon Con while staying indoors. Dragon Con received a proclamation from the City of Atlanta and the convention topped the 40,000 mark in attendance. $40,000 was raised for the Lupus Foundation.
2011 celebrated 25 years of fun at Dragon Con! The streets of Atlanta’s downtown district displayed banners welcoming Dragon Con to the city. The Atlanta City Council presented a proclamation in recognition of the event. Returning for the anniversary as featured guests were Michael Whelan, Richard Garfield, Ralph Bakshi, Richard Garriott, and Jefferson Starship. Other guests included Christopher Lloyd, Ernest Borgnine, Boris Vallejo, Carrie Fisher, Amanda Tapping, Martin Landau, and Sylvester McCoy. The parade grew to 1800 participants, including floats, vehicles, and marching bands, making it the largest parade in the city of Atlanta. Attendance reached 46,000 and charity events raised $40,000 for the National Inclusion Project.
For our 2012 show, we invited everyone to Find Your Inner Geek with us at the 26th annual Dragon Con. Expanding our fan track programming, we added the Puppetry Track and Video Gaming Track. Registration continued to be the quickest experience yet for our members with us expanding our use of the barcode system and selling Saturday ONLY pre-registered memberships. Returning guests included Neal Adams, Alice Cooper, Stan Lee, Sylvester McCoy, John Rhys-Davies, and RA Salvatore. Other guests added to our stellar lineup included Richard Dean Anderson, Gillian Anderson, John Barrowman, low brow artist Coop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator, Kevin Eastman, and Katee Sackhoff. For the first time in history, participation in the parade was capped prior to the show keeping us as the largest parade in Atlanta with over 3000 participants. Attendance increased to over 52,000 and charity events raised $45,000 for the Georgia Chapter of the ALS Foundation.