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From Timesdaily.com

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Dragon Con celebrates state of the fantastic arts

By Terry Pace

Saturday 13 September 2003, by isa

Entertainment Editor

It doesn’t matter if you’re a villainous Klingon or a duplicitous Romulan, a bellowing Wookie or a chattering Jawa.

You can be a ferocious demon from the Hellmouth or a fanatical follower of the futuristic Tribe.

You might even be a furry hobbit from Middle-earth or a soaring dragon of Pern, a time-traveling Whovian or a conspiracy-obsessed X-Phile.

If you’re a connoisseur of any awe-inspiring aspect of the imaginative realm of science fiction, fantasy and horror, new worlds of wonder await you this weekend as Dragon Con 2003 spreads its shadowy wings over the heart of downtown.

"Quite simply, it’s Mardi Gras for geeks - of the 20-some-odd thousand people there, over half are in costume," says University of North Alabama-trained independent filmmaker Jim Torres, who will be one of this year’s Dragon Con guests.

"It’s four days of Halloween and genre heaven," adds Torres, whose gothic-horror chiller "SadoMannequin" (shot entirely in the Shoals) won second place in last year’s Dragon Con film festival. "Anyone interested in sci-fi, fantasy or the horror genres should check it out at least once - they’ll be hooked."

The 2003 festivities take place

today through Monday, adding an out-of-this-world dimension to the Southeast’s lazy, late-summer Labor Day holiday. Even if you don’t have a ticket, or haven’t made advance plans to attend, walk-ins are welcome throughout the convention - and passes are available at the door on a day-by-day basis.

Now in its 17th year, the annual fan-driven exposition - bringing together all ages, races, species, interests, tastes and traditions — has grown from a first-year crowd of 1,400 to this year’s anticipated attendance of well more than 20,000.

"We fan-boys and girls wander through life being thought of as ’a little off’ for our devotion to fantastic things such as comic books, science fiction, and Dungeons & Dragons," explained Laura Holt, a UNA drama student who attends the "summer camp for geeks" every year.

"But Dragon Con is a place where we fit in, full of other people who ’get it,’ " Holt added. "Any fan of any sci-fi/fantasy/comic-book genre should attend, but it’s also fun to just go and see what all the fuss is about. It’s a very friendly convention, for veteran con-goers and newbies alike."

The host hotels are the Hyatt Regency Atlanta and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, two spacious facilities that divide up dealer’s rooms, exhibitors’ halls, panels, discussions, film screenings, meetings, parties, concerts, awards banquets, arts shows, costume contests and gaming areas galore. Most fans stay on-site and never leave the hotels.

"The main reason I attend every year is to take part in a live-action role playing game called Dark Confrontation," Holt remarked. "Think of it as an improvised play, sort of a mass Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, starring Men in Black, dragons, cyborgs, man-eating-plants and hundreds of other characters from every imaginable genre."

In its early years, the convention emphasized mostly comics and gaming. In recent years, however, the convention has grown to encompass every offshoot of fandom - from movies and television to books and art, from music and animation to robotics and space travel.

"I attended Dragon Con for the first time in 2001," recalled Torres, whose eerie, black-and-white "SadoMannequin" film featured shapely blonde actress Christie Steadman in a black-latex body suit as a seductive, supernatural femme fatale called Demona.

"Christie graciously donned the costume and paraded around at the con," Torres continued. "Of course, that got us lots of attention."

This year’s Dragon Con lineup offers specialized programming tracks related to writing, gaming, anime, electronics, comics, "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Xena: Warrior Princess," "Hercules," Anne McCaffrey’s "Pern" (McCaffrey and her son, Todd, are guests this year) and J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings."

"I’ve made great friends who I look forward to seeing every year," says Holt, who will be playing Dark Confrontation at Dragon Con for the fourth consecutive year. "I take lots of pictures of the costumes, too, some of which must be seen to be believed."

In addition to the elaborate Masquerade and costume contest, Dragon Con features such wide-ranging diversionary events as championship wrestling (Rowdy Roddy Piper is among this year’s guests), an art contest, nightly drum circles and dancing and an awards banquet featuring such genre legends as "Mr. Sci-Fi," Forrest J Ackerman, and DC Comics pioneer Julius Schwartz. Representatives of the ambitious Netherworld haunted house include Shoals native Laura Sheridan Armstrong and her husband, television horror host Ben "Dr. Speculo" Armstrong.

Live performances by the Atlanta Radio Theater Co. (including a new version of H.G. Wells’ "The Island of Dr. Moreau" starring "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Lord of the Rings" veteran John Rhys-Davies as Wells’ radical biologist) will be complemented by concerts by actor-musicians David Carradine, Julie Caitlin Brown and Billy Mumy, Ghost of the Robot, Cats from Saturn, Crossed Swords and Sins of Lust, along with previews of upcoming sci-fi, fantasy and horror films.

"The people that attend Dragon Con are true genre fans who are usually the first in line when genre films are released, so the event is like one big focus group," Torres believes. "The trick, of course, is being able to make you and your project stand out in such a colorful and exciting environment."

Due to the success of "SadoMannequin," Torres was invited to be a guest at this year’s Dragon Con, where he will be promoting a new film called "Like Moles, Like Rats." Although the new film will not be shown this weekend, Torres maintains that his appearance at Dragon Con will be worthwhile.

"That project is also a genre film in that it’s a post-apocalyptic story," Torres remarked. "Hopefully, we’ll be able to get a buzz going for the project so that when it does screen at the convention, people will be searching it out."

By the end of its four-day duration, Dragon Con 2003 will present some 600 hours of panels, workshops, demonstrations and discussions featuring top-name authors, editors, artists and game designers, plus media personalities ranging from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star James Marsters and former James Bond star George Lazenby ("On Her Majesty’s Secret Service") to "Star Trek" charter crew members George Takei and Walter Koenig and "Lord of the Rings" stars John Rhys-Davies and Brad Dourif.

"I will also be taking part in the Whose Line Is It Anyway tournament and various Robert Jordan, Buffy, Tolkien and comic-books related events," noted Holt, who is part of a local improv group, the Sticky Wickets, who have a show set for the Shoals in November. "If the lines aren’t too long, I will probably pay James Marsters a visit, and try to persuade him to come home with me.

"Just kidding," she added. "Maybe."

Terry Pace can be reached at 740-5741 or terry.pace@timesdaily.com.

WANT TO GO? * Details: Phone (770) 909-0115 or visit www.dragoncon.com * Admission: $75 for four-day memberships, $60 for three days, $45 for two days, $30 for single day today, Saturday or Sunday, $25 for Monday * Host hotels: Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Ave., and Hyatt Regency, 265 Peachtree St. N., downtown Atlanta (spillover hotels listed on Web site)