Tuesday, October 18, 2011

atlanta starcon & comics


ATLANTA STARCON & COMICS was a one-time show from the former Atlanta Fantasy Fair organizers. After the disappointing 1995 show, the administrators ditched the AFF brand and replaced it with a new convention featuring a wide slate of guests from Hollywood, the comics industry, the martial-arts stars of the WMAC MASTERS, and the usual costume contests, video rooms, gaming, con suites, panels, art shows, and dealers.


I did not attend this show because it was held on the same weekend as the second Anime Weekend Atlanta. As it turned out the second AWA was a total success and the convention is still rockin' it after seventeen years. How did Atlanta Starcon & Comics go? I don't know.


I was told that the dealers were packing up on Saturday afternoon, which doesn't bode well for any show. First year conventions, even if they have a staff pedigree stretching back for years, are always a tough sell. This was the last attempt by the former AFF administration to keep a yearly show alive in the face of both Dragoncon and public indifference.


Note the hotel, the Marriott North Central - Dixie-Trek had already been there a few times and AWA would move in for its next two shows. But Atlanta Starcon & Comics would vanish into the mists of the '90s.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dragon-Con 1989

I've often thought of the growth of Dragon-Con and the concomitant shrinkage of the AFF / Dixie-Trek as emblematic of a paradigm shift among Atlanta's fan community - the older Trekkie/Whovian fan power structure being replaced by a younger crowd more interested in D&D, fantasy, and Bettie Page Look-A-Like contests. And sure, I probably think about this too much.


Dragoncon started in 1987 and quickly swelled in attendance to match that of the AFF. Dragoncon's administration has freely admitted inflating their attendance figures in the early days, but it's the truth, that was one crowded show. By 1989 they were infringing upon AFF's turf, which was the Omni / World Congress Center downtown.

I'm pretty sure I went to this show and wandered around all weekend without a badge, setting a Dragoncon tradition that many thousands would repeat over the years. I'm not a gamer, not a fan of fantasy or horror movies, so there really wasn't much for me to do at the show other than gawk at the nerds. Again, a tradition many thousands would repeat over the years.



Wow, $65 a night for a hotel room in downtown Atlanta! At the Omni! Did the Omni still have the skating rink in 1989? The late 80s saw the transformation of the Omni complex into "CNN Center", when it was an oasis of light and order amidst the wasteland of Marietta Street. Which of course now is tourist central. How things change.

I spent many a fine convention meal at that Chick-Fil-A in the Omni, as well as a fine convention quarter in the Gold Mine arcade. At one point CNN Center had a movie theater that showed first run films AND "Gone With The Wind." Every day.


Whoever had this flyer before me helpfully listed some video room programming, which included Dune, Robocop, Alien, Aliens, three Star Trek movies and the always-entertaining Star Trek Blooper Reel, required by law to be screened at every SF convention forever. Apart from the blooper reel this could very well be USA Cable's schedule for any given weekend.

Dragoncon is still going, in spite of scandals and assault and the baleful eye of the fire inspector. It's become the de facto Nerd Mardi Gras for costumers, fame mongers, gamers, and the newly empowered geek demographic as they parade through downtown in all their Klingon finery and Stormtrooper armor. And they said it couldn't happen here!

Dixie-Trek 1986

Dixie-Trek was a SF convention held in Atlanta GA throughout the 1980s and half of the 90s. An outgrowth of the Atlanta Star Trek Society, it moved from strict Trek into the larger world of media SF, as its 1986 flyer demonstrates.


I attended the 1986 show mostly because of Peter Davidson; I was not then and never wound up being any kind of Star Trek fan. My memories of the convention include running a fan table promoting our Japanese animation club, filling a car with convention pals for a late night food run, wandering into a room party where BEER was being served (!!) and generally having a good time in the convention environment as an unsupervised teenager. Also note the ubiquitous presence of Brad Strickland.


Films at the convention were 16mm prints run off a clackety projector. These included, of course, the Star Trek Blooper Reel, which was a highlight of conventions since in the pre-VHS days conventions were the only place you could see them. Of course you couldn't get Dr. Who episodes on 16mm so the convention used their ten-foot video projection screen. Remember those three-lens RGB projectors?


The world of Japanese animation was only then beginning to carve out a foothold among the Trekkies and Whovians of the world, and I can assure you that every bit of anime shown at this Dixie-Trek was copies of copies of copies of Project A-Ko and the Macross movie. Advance tickets were only $22, which was probably a lot back in 1986, but these days is pretty much what you'd pay for an advance ticket at a comparable show. Though these days you will probably get gouged for autographs, priority seating, and "VIP Access". Note the Century Center was charging $59 a night. You can't get a Super-8 room for that price any more.


Dixie-Trek faded away in the mid 1990s as Atlanta fan conventions crumbled under the onslaught of Dragon-Con; the Trekkies of the 70s and 80s found themselves with kids, jobs, and no time for filking, while the new fandom of the 1990s wouldn't be caught dead getting Billy Mumy's autograph, instead preferring to play video games and get Todd McFarlane's autograph.

"Dixie-Trek" was also used as the name of a sci-fi convention in Mississippi attended by a character on the TV show "Big Bang Theory". Somebody owes Owen Ogletree some royalties, is all I'm saying.

AWA would hold its third and fourth conventions at the Century Center, which is now a Marriott property and seems to have undergone a complete makeover. If you are planning a 900-1200 person event I highly recommend the Century Center; lots of good memories there.