As chairman, Kramer invited guests like Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons, the game that revolutionized role-playing; Richard Garriott, creator of the computer game "Ultima"; and notable fantasy writer Michael Moorcock.
Author and horror film aficionado Anthony Taylor attended the first Dragon Con in October 1987 for just a day. He saw Moorcock and Eric Bloom from Blue Öyster Cult performing "Black Blade" on stage.
"I went, all right, so this is maybe more than just a gaming show. Maybe next year I'll come to the whole thing," he said. He has attended every Dragon Con since.
The first convention was something of a success, Henry said. With big-name guests and 1,400 ticket-holders, it was a healthy start, and they were encouraged and moved forward.
Henry was the self-described "belt and suspenders guy" who loved accounting and working behind the scenes. Kramer was the leader and public face of the convention who conducted himself like a "carnival barker," Henry said.
In 1993, Dragon Con officially incorporated in the state of Georgia, according to court documents, with Kramer and Henry the majority stakeholders. It made sense, Henry said, "since we were the two working the hardest." Most of the original board members from that first meeting made up the minority stakeholders, Henry said.
"We were the two that were absolutely dedicated to not letting Dragon Con fail at that point. Atlanta needed a nice convention, and that's what we were going to do," Henry said.
Vader's boys herald a new era
By 1998, Dragon Con had found a place on Atlanta's annual convention calendar. Other conventions that draw fans of science fiction and technology like World Con, E3 and Comdex had all called the city home at some point, and Dragon Con was starting to feel like a natural fit.
More hotels signed multiyear contracts to block off rooms for Dragon Con attendees, allowing more tickets to be sold. The star power grew as well, with 1998 panels featuring guests including Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen and Forrest Ackerman, a rarity for a convention anywhere at the time, Taylor said.
"There have been a lot of moments where I was like, 'I can't believe this is happening in Atlanta,' " he said.
Then came the guys wearing armor.
Albin Johnson was recovering from a car accident that cost him a leg. Daydreams of "Star Wars" kept his spirits up, and a fledgling Internet fueled a community of fellow fans. Johnson wanted to meet his friends at 1998 Dragon Con and, if the Force was with him, start a club of Stormtroopers. He would call it the 501st Squad.
He made a logo and got a 3-foot-by-3-foot foam board, "thinking we could have a flag to rally behind," Johnson said.
But, when he showed up in the lobby, no one was interested. Even Anthony Daniels, the actor who played C-3P0 in the "Star Wars" movies, refused to pose for a picture with the sign, he says.
But he managed to stoke the interest of a few fellow fans, and a movement began. Over the years, he drew more followers at the convention and beyond; today, the 501st counts 10,000 members from 48 countries, Johnson said. Members dress as Stormtroopers and use their powers for good to promote Star Wars fandom and raise money for local charities and volunteer groups.
The 501st is a now a Dragon Con fixture; the groups of Stormtroopers have even been known to associate with Klingons, Mayes joked.
A friend in trouble
By 2000, Pat Henry and his wife, Sherry, were feeling beaten down by Dragon Con after years of negotiating with hotels, working with celebrities and running day-to-day operations during the convention in addition to his day job running a comic book store. In their second-floor room in the Hyatt, they took a quiet moment to reflect.
"We're too old for this. This hurts too badly. We are way too heavily invested in this thing," Henry said, reflecting on the crux of their discussion.