'Nerd version of Mardi Gras'

There's only one weekend when you get the chance to see Spiderman, Doctor Who and the Sith cheerleaders in one place.

Lucky for you, this is it.

Dragon*Con, touted as the nation's largest popular arts convention for sci-fi, fantasy and a miasma of other delicacies, starts Friday in Atlanta. Hosted in the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis and the Atlanta Hilton, Dragon*Con will turn downtown Atlanta into a Tatooine cantina faster than you can do the Kessel run.

"It's just good seeing a whole street filled with storm troopers and Doctor Whos," said Josh Plock, secretary for the Campus Nerds at Columbus State University.

Plock plans on watching the annual parade along downtown Atlanta streets. Some 1,400 participants donned elf ears, Klingon foreheads and red horns as they tromped past onlookers last year. Con staff hopes this year has even more participants.

"Be ready for lots of crowds," Plock advised.

He's not just whistlin' Ghoultown. Mobs of con attendees loom around every corner at this four-day event that sees thousands of people each year. Con-goers dressed in costumes mill around the lobby of the Hyatt most nights, and it can be a full-time job getting from one side of the room to the other. Bring a camera and hang out on the floor just above. There's some good people watching and breathing space.

Or if watching the Sith cheerleaders doesn't get your warp drive running, check out the bands. Matthew Ballard, founder and president of the Campus Nerds, has been an assistant director at the con for a few years. He helps with the bands' fan tables, and he's met several musicians that you won't hear on the Top 40 hit list, including the lead singer of The Cruxshadows.

"Rogue is one the easiest-going musicians out there," Ballard said of the front man for the darkwave band.Who would've thought?

Ballard is also a big fan of costuming. A few years ago he was No Face from the Japanese anime movie "Spirited Away." Prowling around the con dressed as a giant wraith-like creature made Ballard a few new friends."It is the nerd version of Mardi Gras in a lot of ways," he said.

And like Mardi Gras, Dragon*Con has everything. Games of all sorts, including role-playing, computer, board, card and live-action. There's an art show as well as an exhibition hall and dealer's room. They've got costume contests, Dcon television, a masquerade ball and discussion panels about your favorite comic books and television shows.

If you get bored here, it's because you're trying. Just make sure you don't try to take everything in at once.

"Make sure you sleep," Ballard said. "Make sure you shower."


What: Dragon*Con, the country's largest popular convention for sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, arts, movies and music.When: Friday-MondayWhere: Atlanta Hilton, 255 Courtland St.; Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 265 Peachtree Street; Marriott Marquis Atlanta, 265 Peachtree Center Ave. - in Atlanta.