When Science Fiction Meets Reality: The History, Fandoms, and Logistics of Atlanta's Dragon Con™

When Science Fiction Meets Reality: The History, Fandoms, and Logistics of Atlanta's Dragon Con™

Tyra Anne Mitchell Burton
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1048-3.ch014
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Eighty years after the first science fiction convention, geek culture has gone mainstream and facilitated exponential growth in the fandom convention industry. With fandom conventions facing increasing competition and changing demographics, standing out in the crowded convention space is essential. Dragon Con founded in 1987 created the idea of the multi-genre convention that has something for everyone. Since its inception, Dragon Con has changed to fit fans' evolving tastes and formed strategic relationships with key partners. With growth comes issues related to registration, wait lines, harassment and security which need to be addressed while trying to take into account the younger and more diverse fandoms.
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What does it mean to be a fan? The word is derived from 'fanatic' a term used to describe someone who is “extremely enthusiastic about and devoted to some interest or activity.” (Merriam-Webster, 2019) Fans exist for a diverse collection of people, things and organizations and often times their obsession can seem irrational or irrelevant to those that do not share the same zealotry. Fans rally around sports teams, musicians, movies, television shows, authors, and comic books to name a few. Kristin Michael (2014) in the forward to Fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century described why she is a fan, “The reasons we become fans are varied and personal: being a fan allows us to express ourselves, it helps us connect to like-minded people, and it allows us to escape into a world devoid of the pressures of life, even if only for 30 minutes at a time. But more than anything, being a fan means being in love” (p. 6). The ideas of finding personal expression and connecting with others with the same interest are keys to what brings fans together to form fandoms. The Oxford dictionary defines a collection or community of fans as a fandom or subculture. Recently, the fandom of Game of Thrones waited impatiently for the final season to be broadcast on HBO. They tweeted and snapped their impatience, posted memes about waiting, and binged watched the entire series. Fans discussed online in chat groups and on social media about who would live, who would die, and who would sit on the throne.

Stephen J. Sansweet (2014) suggests that “Fandom today is all about popular culture, mass media, and the ability to instantly connect with like-minded others — something that couldn’t have been imagined when science-fiction and comic book fans first started small get-togethers in the 1930s” (p. 1) In today's world of instant communication and the ability to easily and inexpensively talk to someone on the other side of the globe, it is hard to imagine a world when the easiest and cheapest way to communicate was through traditional mail. That was the world fandom communities existed in when conventions were first born.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cosplay: Refers to costuming or wearing a costume of a specific character. Cosplayer refers to those who are cosplaying or like to cosplay. It can be used as both a noun and verb. For example: She is cosplaying Princess Leia (verb). Cosplay can be likened to performance art (noun).

Con: Short for convention used in the fandom communities

Product Differentiation: Refers to what is unique about a product/service compared to its competitors.

Con-goer: Someone who is attending a fandom convention.

Manga: Japanese comic books or graphic novels.

Communitas: A sense of community through shared experience and a sense of togetherness.

Anime: Animation from or associated with Japan.

Media Guest: Celebrity or creators connected to entertainment. Media guests at a convention can refer to actors, directors, writers, musicians, costume designers, make-up artists etc... that have achieved notoriety. Media guests are associated with Comic-Cons and are frequently promoting a current work at the convention.

Fandom: A collection or community of fans that like the same celebrity, writer, movie, television show, musician, artist, etc...

Comic-Cons: Originally referred to conventions that were primarily about Comic books and their creators (writers and artist). Today it refers to conventions that have a connection to comic books but also have strong media guest presence. Sand Diego Comic-Con is an example of a modern Comic-Con.

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