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DragonCon 2022: Return of the nerds
Dragon*Con comes roaring back into Atlanta like a dragon all hopped up on Mountain Dew
Alabama fans aren’t used to being outmanned and outgunned. But here they were, a couple crimson-clad Tide bros, leaning over the railing in the midst of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis and looking as lost and overmatched as, well, cupcake teams do against Alabama. All around them were Deadpools and Daeneryses, hobbits and Harley Quinns, a sprawling cavalcade of comic book and fantasy characters so vast and overwhelming I felt a little bad for the Bama boys.
They weren’t in Tuscaloosa anymore. They had wandered right into the middle of Dragon*Con, and woe betide them.1
Dragon*Con, which gathers 80,000 or so fantasy fans in a mass of swords, spandex and sweat, is an Atlanta Labor Day tradition, right along with the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic and the Atlanta Black Pride parade. These three events bring together people who haven’t shared a room since their high school graduation auditorium, and it’s the kind of glorious revelry you only see when people are free to be their true selves … or true elves, as the case may be.
The Chick-Fil-A game, a college football spectacular pitting two top teams from different conferences against one another — you know, like Thor vs. Darth Vader — takes place just a few blocks away from the five enormous hotels that host Dragon*Con. A few years back, in the hours before kickoff of that year’s game (Alabama vs. Florida State), I decided to wander upstream from Mercedes-Benz Stadium and figure out exactly what the midpoint was where football and fantasy mix. Where did Roll Tide meet May The Force Be With You?
The answer: a Waffle House, of course. (Specifically, the Waffle House at the corner of Centennial Olympic Park Boulevard and Andrew Young International Drive.2) Walking from the crimson-and-garnet crowds of the stadium, that was the spot where I spotted the first green-tunic, pointy-eared faerie. She was texting on her phone, just like the faeries of old.
This was one of those assignments for which I am supremely well-qualified. Yes, I get paid for being a sportswriter, but friends, my nerdery runs deep. To this day, I can tell you without looking the exact numbers of the best X-Men issues3 or name all the bounty hunters Darth Vader sent after Han Solo4. I’ve always loved Dragon*Con and other comic conventions, for the simple reason that everyone there is able to present exactly the image they want to the world, without fear of being mocked or laughed at, dismissed or ignored.
Sure, maybe Batman has a bit of a Bat-belly, and maybe Princess Leia’s hair buns aren’t quite even. So what? Every single hero, villain and BluesBuster is happy to pose for photos:
(First, if John Belushi had lived, there absolutely would have been a Blues Brothers/Ghostbusters crossover5. Second, please ignore my cargo shorts. It was the mid-2010s, and like all dads of the era, I was issued them in the hospital when my children were born.)
Comic books, sword-n’-dragon TV shows, superhero movies, epic fantasy novels — they’re escapism, sure, but more than that, they’re identity. A skinny white suburban kid — just to pick a totally hypothetical example — can kill time imagining how he’d run his high school if he had super powers. More crucially, a kid struggling with their sense of self, their gender, their sexuality, their place in society as a minority can hear the stories of misfits and outcasts triumphing over immense odds and not feel quite so alone and hopeless. You put on the cape or tunic or armor of your hero, and in some not-insignificant way, you become them.
Yes, that’s a whole lot to put on what’s basically the South’s largest costume contest, but Dragon*Con can handle it. If you’re ever able, it’s so worth it to check out one of these collections of nerds — and no, that’s no longer a pejorative. The joy of seeing people find their own tribe is transcendent. And given the fact that comic book movies own Hollywood now, the nerds finally did triumph over the jocks after all … or at least, they can all meet on equal terms at the Waffle House.
Poll: Could you survive in your favorite fantasy universe?
Dressing up as your favorite heroes and warriors is one thing; making it through the night in the worlds where they live is quite another. While we would probably be OK in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (just stay out of New York) and could just sit in the back of the class at Hogwarts, it’d be a lot more of a challenge to survive the day in other famous locales. Gather your wits and your guts and make your guess …
Please justify your reasoning here. The tips you offer up could save someone who suddenly finds themselves in the Upside Down.
Southern reads of the week
North Carolina Rabbit Hole, Jeremy Markovich’s Substack, is a must-read every single week, but it was a super-special-must read this week, as he covered the reopening of the long-dead, long-abandoned North Wilkesboro Speedway, once the site of a regular NASCAR race and, until recently, left to decay. Some old retired driver by the name of Dale Earnhardt Jr. helped kickstart the track’s rebirth and rechristen the track where his old man once drove, and it was a beautiful moment in a magical evening. Highly recommended story, highly recommended subscription for you, too.
The fine folks at Garden & Gun noticed that I write about Southern myths and legends here every so often, so they invited me in to do a turn on the tale of a Bigfoot spotted in South Carolina just last month. Alas, the Bigfoot got away, so no Bigfoot-steak recipes for you.
Song of the week: “It’s Just You,” Will Hoge
Will Hoge is a damn Nashville warrior, an alt-country/Americana singer-songwriter whose work draws equally from the Byrds and the Replacements. This song, off his just-released new album, is a scorcher of a love letter. Like all good Americana, it sounds best played in a fast car with the windows down.
That’ll do it for this week. Have yourself a fine Labor Day, and we’ll catch you right back here next week!
This is issue #71 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, check out some of our recent hits:
Thoughts on the first cool day of autumn
43 giant presidents’ heads, sittin’ in a field …
What’s your favorite bookstore?
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
If you dig this newsletter, share it with your friends. Invite others to the party, everyone’s welcome.
I honestly have no idea what “woe betide them” means, but it sounds vaguely threatening in a fantasy-nerd way, so it stays.
This was the same Waffle House whose windows were bashed out a few years later in the Atlanta riots of the summer of 2020.
#133, Wolverine vs. Hellfire Club; #137, Death of Phoenix; #141-142, Days of Future Past; #166, Brood Saga double-sized conclusion. I will brook no debates on this.
Bossk, IG-88, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, Dengar and Boba Fett, but you already knew that.
Dan Aykroyd apparently wrote the first draft of “Ghostbusters” with Belushi in mind for what would become Bill Murray’s character, and Murray slated to play what would become Harold Ramis’s character. Oh, the cocaine that would have flowed on that set…