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The wizard of Dragon*Con stands trial 

The force behind Atlanta's largest sci-fi convention finds himself in his own world of darkness

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As it grew, Dragon*Con overflowed from downtown's biggest hotels into the Apparel and Merchandise marts. It quickly evolved into a round-the-clock event, with gaming, movie screenings and arcane workshops running throughout the night. Caffeine became the drug of choice for the true con-freak.

No genre was left untouched: vampires and trolls mingled with elf queens and wide-eyed Japanime schoolgirls; S&M demonstrations followed filksinging; hallways were clogged with Red Sonjas, Laura Crofts, Bettie Pages and Princess Leias of all shapes and degrees of authenticity.

"It's a kind of controlled chaos," says co-founder Pat Henry, who reluctantly took over Kramer's role as CEO of Dragon*Con last year. "The idea is to let people step off the planet for a few days."

Henry recalls one year when he and Kramer were at wit's end after a long day of putting out organizational fires. Suddenly, a phalanx of stormtroopers stomped through the hotel lobby in front of them. "We stopped and said, 'That's what this is all about!' It's moments like that that get you through the tough times."

From the start, Kramer was the public face of Dragon*Con, possibly because he was the most outgoing and articulate member of a gang of gaming geeks. A skilled networker, ambitious planner and tireless multi-tasker wrapped up in a round, hairy package, he made it his business to know everybody who was anybody in the world of fandom.

Largely through Kramer's efforts, the convention imported an astonishing array of celebrities and performers, from über-novelist Tom Clancy to cult-rockers the Misfits, from animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen to master thespian Adam West.

And when Dragon*Con grew so large it needed an enforcer unafraid to put his foot down, that duty fell to Kramer as well.

Henry, owner of the successful Titan Comics chain, may have kept the books and held the purse strings for the event, but it was Kramer who had to be finessed if you wanted a better space for your dealer booth or a later time slot for your goth band or an extra comp ticket for your girlfriend's sister. Or if you wanted to be invited back next year.

"Ed was very powerful in these circles because he ran one of the biggest shows," recalls Dave Dorman, a prominent sci-fi illustrator. "People tended to treat him as someone who could make or break you in this business -- if you got blackballed by Ed, you're going to lose work."

Dragon*Con seemed to welcome racier elements as time went on: Playboy Playmates, adult comic books, erotic fiction and skimpy outfits, sometimes on people who had little business wearing them. Like most of the larger cons, the Atlanta fest was a pressure-cooker of nerd hormones, a place where even Jabba the Hut look-alikes stood a fair chance of getting laid.

Still, fun had its limits. In an early '90s convention, Kramer walked into a performance in which Atlanta's Impotent Sea Snakes were exposing themselves; he angrily banned the male shock-rock band from Dragon*Con for life.

Kramer also became the object of unspoken resentment among those outside his inner circle. Critics say he floated empty promises in order to brush off favor-seekers and complainers -- promises delivered with the cavalier attitude of someone who knows he's untouchable.

Ken Johnston, a local performance artist and musician who began his long involvement with Dragon*Con leading sword-fighting demonstrations, is among many who claim Kramer could be unreliable.

"He'd tell me my band was going on stage at a certain time and that he'd send over the equipment and line up the sound guy, and you could pretty much count on none of it being there and no one even knowing you're supposed to be playing," he says, shrugging. "But if you did business with Ed, you just came to expect that."

As his event grew to become one of the dozen or so largest conventions in this convention-driven city, Kramer earned the reputation of being an aggressive businessman. Fetish artist Jeff Pittarelli, a Dragon*Con guest for 10 years, says Kramer would lure celebrities from other cons and counter-program his event opposite the local competition. Within a few years, the venerable Fantasy Fair and Magnum Opus were history.

"Ed was the godfather of conventions," says Roland Castle, owner of Castle Comics in Athens and founder of the ill-fated Magnum Opus. "If you wanted to do business, you had to kiss his ass; if you challenged or bad-mouthed him, you were finished."

Castle speaks from personal experience. During their long rivalry, the outspoken comic-seller was the only person to openly address the unpleasant rumors that had been spreading about Kramer and the collection of boys who often appeared at his side.

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