Ah, Labor Day weekend, how I love thee. The first hint of relief from the sweltering summer heat. The first long weekend in nearly two months. The absolute transformation of downtown Atlanta by hordes of awesomely weird people letting their geek flag fly. There’s so much to appreciate!
Last year, we touched on cosplay culture and the special place Dragon Con holds in our collective nerdy hearts. This year was no exception — chock full of clever cosplay mashups and stellar dedication to craftsmanship. Side note: I was slightly (and happily) surprised to see a very solid Mandalorian contingent. This is absolutely the way, dudes. But the truly, overwhelmingly dominant presence? Hi Barbie! Hi Ken!
The Culture is Strong with This One
*David Attenborough voice* The year is 2023. Three years removed from a global upheaval, the skybridge dwellers return to their spawning grounds in force. Vampires, mutants, whatever that anime thing is, droids and automatons of all kinds, Jedi, aliens, elves… and Barbie.
The various tribes intertwine, mingling and strutting around sacred exotic watering holes of ancient historical importance – such as one the natives refer to as Trader Vic’s. Some choose to embrace the chaos. They both attract and intimidate the strangers around them with elaborate dances, putting on wild, erratic displays at age-old sacred locations—an ominous cascade of whispers carriers a name on the wind — Pulse Loft.
But seriously, though! The turnout this year was AMAZING. (Trigger warning: for those with social anxiety or any form of aversion to crowds, please do your research. And hype yourself up! Dragon Con crowds can be a challenging experience, but entirely worth it.) Dragon Con 2023 felt, to me, like truly pre-pandemic levels of attendance. “This feels like a lot of people for just Thursday” was uttered more than once.
But what does that mean? After all, the culture is the truly best part. Well, cosplay culture absolutely thrived in 2023.
Unleashing Joy in Cosplay Culture at Dragon Con 2023
A person can say that for many reasons. The clear amount of appreciation people gave each other, the skill and time invested, the groups gravitating to each other. But there were some unique elements this year that really added a special touch. Gotta point out the most obvious: Barbie and Ken. Were. Everywhere.
Like, seriously, everywhere. And the sheer positivity that comes with every 10 seconds hearing people happily belt out “HI BARBIE” at a random stranger was just fantastic. People taking any excuse to be silly, not take themselves seriously, and make other people smile? Yep, there’s that cosplay culture. Nailed it.
ALSO! I am quite happy to report that the Cult of Jon remains resolute and steadfast in its dedication to Dragon Con. Early evening on Thursday night, we first happened upon the hallowed ground where Jon the Deliverer originally stood in 2019 — in a mythical hallway between the Marriott and Hyatt. The offerings were meager, but his presence was felt.
Full disclosure: I absolutely failed at getting any photos of the shrine as it progressed through the weekend. But I did encounter a real human stand-in for Jon, posted up in proper fashion! Perhaps a member of the Cult doing his duty to uphold the same-day delivery to our hearts. #UnderHisGooglyEye #PleaseSignHere
But Was Anything Different This Year?
Why yes, I’m so glad you asked! There were some notable differences this year, both in an experiential sense and a vibe sense. I’ve already touched on the fact that it felt – to me at least – that the turnout was BIG this year. However, in reality, based on some very basic internet checks, attendance was estimated at roughly 70,000 very cool people.
A modest uptick from 2022, but it certainly FELT like more people. I suspect that has something to do with the hotels’ efforts to control the flow of traffic. Looking at you, weirdly placed barriers at Marriott stairwells. The skybridges were also (predictably) choked with people at any given moment. But that’s also a prime opportunity for moments like awkwardly encountering a coworker or mistaking (insulting) someone’s cosplay — while thankfully being forced to continue moving past them with the moving line. A quick exit from your anxiety! Huzzah!
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
But not all changes were inconvenient! Access to food and drink was noticeably easier this year, though some new stall locations were questionable. Mainly just the ones placed at the rear broad thoroughfare on the atrium level off Marriott Marquis — which is a prime location for cosplay photo shoots. However, all things considered, I never felt far from sustenance nor water nor non-water drinks. Related side note: the Peachtree Center food court, now known as The Hub, was quite fantastic this year. And a HUGE shout out to Flaky Not Flaky or their astoundingly scrumptious sconuts (and other shockingly excellent baked goods).
And thankfully, oh so very thankfully, the air-conditioning was on point. For those who experienced the oppressive hellscape of 2022 Marriott Marquis, you know what I mean.
Another noteworthy difference this year: the tricky landscape of the film industry. No, I’m not going to expound on this subject. You can find much better viewpoints than mine — like this one. But needless to say, it had an impact on how actors and writers chose to engage with Dragon Con in 2023. Did it impact cosplay culture or dampen the vibe? Not at all. If anything, I think it organically pushed more attendees to mingle and engage with one another. And thankfully, that’s a foundational element of Dragon Con.
Much Fun, We Had at Dragon Con 2023
And with that, I shall close out my thoughts with this: I genuinely love Dragon Con. And I love the people who make it what it is. People like you, for example. The cosplay culture, the epicness that is traversing the hotels and crowds, the moments of spotting something in your geekdom orbit. OOH, OOH!! I GET THAT REFERENCE!!
Sure, it’s pretty basic geek stuff. But come on! Labor Day weekend is made so much better by all of us crowding into a few hotels in downtown Atlanta — claiming that territory for our own passions. My vote? Let’s keep it up.
Dragon Con 2023 has come and gone, but the legacy – and hope for next year – continues. Cheers to the thousands of people I passed, and to the thousands I didn’t. I hope you have a stellar year.
We’re a community, even if we don’t know each other. So, high-five from a corner of Atlanta. You keep doing you. Love your style. See you at the Con.