By: Leisa Foretich

Dragon*Con has been “storm trooping” through Atlanta since 1987. It was initially a convention for sci-fi and gaming fans, which at that time hosted around 3,500 people. Today, there are over 35,000 fans who congregate all over downtown Atlanta to purchase collectibles, star gaze and review panels of people in the industry; including celebrity actors, writers, and animators.

Most people spend hours in lines and hundreds of dollars just to meet and receive a photo or an autograph from their favorite sci-fi superstars. But, I think most people come to people watch. Thousands of people come to Dragon*Con to become “stars” themselves. There is an amazing masquerade featuring some of the best homemade (on the verge of professional) costumes you will ever see. Fans dress as their favorite characters, march in the annual parade and pose with strangers for pictures, just like a celebrity would. I witnessed a woman dressed as the Mad Hatter from the 2010 Alice in Wonderland movie grab some lunch, sit down, take off her hat and was then approached by a fan asking her to put her hat back on to pose with the photographer’s friend. She obliged. I laughed to myself and thought, “Well, she wanted to be a celebrity today, right?”

Mike Chlebowy, 40, from Buffalo, NY has been coming to Dragon*Con since 1998. A fan of many things sci-fi especially Star Wars, Michael recalls the very first Con he attended. “The decision to drive over 900 miles is easy to make when you combine a sci-fi convention with your best friend (bass player in the local band POOR OTIS) who lives a half hour from the convention site, and he’s a sci-fi junkie, too!” Michael explains that his first time was not the best of experiences due to the fact that it was held in July, the hotels in the area were already seasonally booked and his hotel was over 4 blocks away from the main hub. “Back then, it was easier to get around, to do and see everything you wanted. Waiting in line for hours for your badges and several more hours to get into panels is what you have to go through now.” This is because of the massive fan base and locals getting in on the action to see what it’s all about. This annual getaway is Michael’s recharge from his everyday hustle and bustle. He’s a pro now. He stays in one of the host hotels, plans his itinerary for the day, and he’s ready to go. One of his favorite memories of Dragon*Con was a few years ago, “We had a room at the hotel. We had a budget of $200 for food and beverage for the weekend. We spent $20 on food. Yes, it was a party weekend, but we had a blast. We were out until all hours of the morning, got in, caught a few hours of sleep, and then back out for more. The Dawn show was amazing that year…one of the best I think they’ve had, and the Masquerade was great too. It was just a great time.”

Well, it certainly sounds like Michael has it down, I mean, people watching, chillin’ at one of Atlanta’s most prestigious hotels, sci-fi celebrities, fans, collectibles and enjoying it all with his best friend… what more could you ask for? We’ll be sure to see Michael back next year and every year after that. Maybe he really should consider that Eternal Membership….

I’d like to thank Michael for taking a moment out of his busy Dragon*Con schedule to do a little interview with me! YOU ROCK! See you next year and have a safe trip home!

Oh wait! Live Long and Prosper.