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Seeing the pros of *Con
Local families enjoy variety during festival
DC Comics artist George Perez, center, poses for a photo with superheroes and villians during the convention. - photo by Jennifer Sami
Being surrounded by Klingons, ninjas, storm troopers, Ghostbusters, steam punks, superheroes and their villainous arch-nemeses can only mean one thing — Dragon*Con is in town.

While many Forsyth County residents spent Labor Day weekend on Lake Lanier or at a barbecue, the Santiago and VanTreek families were in Atlanta for the 24th annual event celebrating science fiction, comics, gaming, fantasy and other pop culture genres.

Donning his Thor costume, 5-year-old Tyler VanTreek was all smiles during the Dragon*Con Parade on Sept. 4. His 1-year-old brother, Sawyer, dressed the part as Captain America, though he may have been too young to appreciate the rows of colorful characters passing along Peachtree Street.

Most costumes were handmade, from the funky and colorful makeup and clothing of the Mad Hatter, to the intricate detail of Ghostbusters’ proton packs.  

The detail and creativity of costumes are why Woody VanTreek said the parade is always his family’s favorite part of the weekend event.

“We usually get there early and get one corner so we have prime real estate,” he said. “It’s by far our favorite part to see all the costumes and dress up, because that’s the fun of it.”

While his sons dressed up, neither VanTreek nor wife Cara was in costume.

“I don’t have the courage to dress up myself yet,” said VanTreek, clad in a bright green Incredible Hulk T-shirt. “But maybe some day.”

The elder VanTreeks weren’t alone. While elaborate costumes were a common theme of Dragon*Con, more than half the people in attendance didn’t dress up. Among them: Rafael Santiago and his 10-year-old son Jared.

“Maybe if I was part of a group I would dress up,” joked Santiago, who started taking his son a few years ago at the recommendation of VanTreek.

“Now [Jared] looks forward to it every year. We watch the parade and after, we walk around and enjoy the festivities.

“It’s really a sight to see, just watching people walking around in costumes,” he said. “It’s probably as close to Mardi Gras as you can get.”

The Santiagos spent time crowd wandering through several hotels holding the event.

As many as 40,000 fans, dealers, artists, guests and volunteers participated in the festivities.

Among guest celebrities were actors Luke Perry and Edward James Olmos, as well as popular DC Comics artist George Perez and John DiMaggio,
who voices several comic and cartoon characters such as Bender on “Futurama.”

Throughout the lobby areas, common sights included warriors dueling, Gumby dancing and Darth Maul posing with his red light saber.

In one hotel Sept. 3, a group of ninjas danced a jig to Celtic rock band Emerald Rose.

The band has been a staple at Dragon*Con for about a decade, said member Larry Morris, a former Forsyth County teacher.

With nine performances during the four-day event, it’s the band’s biggest gig of the year, he said.

“We tend to be located right in the heart of everything,” Morris said. “We’re the focal point for a lot of people going through.”

But the band members weren’t always Dragon*Con regulars.

“All of us in the band have been sci-fi fans for a long time ... and we got invited just to play a couple of shows on the concourse one year,” he said.

“We were one of the few bands that played something besides really heavy metal or electronic music, and that was a real welcome change for a lot of people.”

The former educator spends what little free time he has during Dragon*Con listening to guest speakers or sitting in on some of the hundreds of programs, ranging from trivia and fiction writing to costume tips and using comics as a tool in the classroom.

“There are lots of amazing speakers that come here that you really can’t find anywhere else, and there’s no place you can find the diversity of the people you find at Dragon*Con,” Morris said.

“It’s absolutely amazing. There’s everything from the entertainment to the science to the engineering.”

Dragon*Con is scheduled to return Sep. 2-5, 2011.