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When Super Heroes had to wear a mask

By Guest Columnist TIM ECHOLS, PSC commissioner and Dragon Con regular

To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new civilizations, to boldly go where no commissioner has gone before. For years now, I have attended Dragon Con to do just that.  But this year, even Batman and Superman had to mask-up to do their good deeds.

Tim Echols

From Iron Man to Harry Potter characters to Disney Princesses, all were required to wear a mask. But not just a mask.  All participants were required to produce proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 results.  And since many of these participants were young and probably not vaccinated, Dragon Con transformed a Sheraton Ballroom to a testing center – charging $30 for testing.

But there is good reason for this, because the Marriott Marquis, the Hyatt Regency, the Hilton, the Westin Peachtree Plaza and the Sheraton are never more packed than when all these creatures come to town. And these costumes are done right. Dragon Con prides itself on being the largest multi-media, popular culture convention in the world focusing on science fiction, fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film. It is a sight to behold.

Lines formed outside for popular ballroom sessions and literally wrapped around the buildings in Downtown Atlanta. Being a Lord of the Rings fan, I like to attend the geeky sessions on this genre and see the characters dressed up ready to do battle. As for me, I dressed up as “Hogan,” played by Bob Crane in the 1960’s-70’s show “Hogan’s Heroes.”

Portraying characters from “The Princess Bride,” Annie Echols, the author’s daughter, and ‘Westley’ prepare for Dragon Con 2021. (Photo courtesy of Tim Echols)

While the crowds at this year’s event were smaller than in the past, the virtual component remained. Fans who preferred not to travel (and those who are blocked by international travel restrictions) could access a live-streamed version of the convention from the comfort of their own home in the company of close friends and family.

The event is way more than just cosplay though. This year they named American fantasy artist William Stout and American fantasy and science fiction writer John Scalzi as the 2021 Artist and Literary Guests of Honor. Beginning with its first convention in 1987, Dragon Con has recognized an author and an artist whose creative contributions to the realms of fantasy and science fiction are widely recognized as among the very best as Literary and Artist Guests of Honor. Both Stout and Scalzi were recognized throughout the event for their contributions to their individual fields, and were on hand to meet fans and participate in panels to provide insight into their success and love of fandom – socially-distanced of course.

The pandemic was no match for the zest of Dragon Con fans. (Photo by Annie Echols)

Stout is an artist of exceptional breadth, ranging from fantasy-oriented comics, graphic novels, magazines, and movie posters – as well as the longest running Dragon Con logo – early in his career to production design work for 30 feature films, including “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” and two Conan films. In the 1980s, he created a ground-breaking reconstruction of dinosaurs leading to a book and six-year travelling paleoart exhibit that served as an acknowledged influence on Michael Crichton’s book “Jurassic Park,” while also working on the creation of theme park attractions for Walt Disney and Universal Studios as well as rock band ZZ Top’s Recycler tour. In the late 1990s, William dedicated himself to explaining the complex beauty of Antarctica through art, leading to a traveling exhibit, an award-winning book, and ongoing work as a natural history muralist.

Masks were option outside and mandatory inside the event spaces of Dragon Con 2021. (Photo by Annie Echols)

Scalzi, a multiple Hugo Award winning science fiction novelist best known for his “Old Man’s War” series of novels and his popular Whatever blog. In addition to 23 novels and novellas, he has written short fiction, non-fiction books, and columns on diverse topics such as finance, video games, films, astronomy, writing, and politics, and served as a creative consultant for the TV series “Stargate Universe.” His total output has garnered a score of awards, including a 2020 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction novel for “The Last Emperox.” Scalzi served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America from 2010 to 2013. At 2020’s Dragon Con Goes Virtual, he was one of the most popular guests, leading fan discussions, bringing fans (virtually) into his kitchen to make burritos, and spinning tunes overnight with his deejay skills.

The author, left, portrayed the character Col. Robert Hogan, of the hit TV show ‘Hogan’s Heroes.’ (Photo courtesy of Tim Echols)

For me, I got started with science fiction watching the original “Star Trek” series late at night with my dad.  I have been hooked ever since.  And because Dragon Con Goes Virtual was back for 2021, folks could attend from anywhere in the world and see what it is all about.  The membership price for Dragon Con Goes Virtual, which includes access through June 1, 2022, so fans can catch up on what they missed or relive favorite memories, is $10.  Dragon Con fans are serious about their science fiction and fantasy so one way or the other, this event was great.

May the Force be with you.

Note to readers: Tim Echols serves on the Georgia Public Service Commission as a statewide elected official. He writes about Dragon Con every year.

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)

(Photo by Annie Echols)


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