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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

Ed Kramer has rubbed elbows with Alice Cooper, swapped horror stories with Clive Barker, treated Timothy Leary to a trip and hung out with half the cast of Star Wars.

He's played host to Xena, Conan, the Toxic Avenger and a star cruiser's worth of Klingons.

After a decade of intergalactic networking, inspired genre-hopping and ruthless gamesmanship, the co-founder of Dragon*Con was the unlikely but undisputed master of an expanding universe populated by Trekkies, comic book geeks, Buffy fanatics, goth-mongers and legions of disaffected adolescents.

Yet while he was boldly building up his fantastic empire, Kramer was shadowed by persistent rumors. The veteran dealmaker and accomplished celebrity-schmoozer often was seen in the company of a revolving troupe of young boys.

Toward the end, he was seemingly oblivious to or simply untroubled by a lingering suspicion that his behavior was inappropriate and quite possibly criminal.

For the past year, the ailing 40-year-old fantasy impresario has been confined to his Duluth home under strict house arrest, charged with molesting two teenagers.

His jury trial, scheduled to begin next week in Gwinnett Superior Court, has been postponed indefinitely as the county's court system struggles to recover from a Jan. 14 ruling that invalidated its entire jury pool. Meanwhile, Kramer sits sidelined and publicly silent, and the local sci-fi and gaming community roils in bitter divisiveness. Speculation about Kramer's private sex life runs rampant in online debates, and former friends trade accusations of disinformation campaigns and character assassination.

Some are outraged over what they see as a modern-day witch-hunt against a self-made man who can appear strange and even a bit creepy at first glance. Short, stocky, with a face wreathed in thick, dark hair that suggests fur, Kramer resembles a dwarf as imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien, the perfect scapegoat for those who choose their villains through typecasting.

"Ed's lost his job, his income, his health, his good reputation and his freedom," says friend David Robinson. "He's lost more than anyone I've ever known. My gut instinct is that Ed's a victim."

Others, however, are incensed by the notion that a suspected pedophile was allowed for years to operate unchallenged in their midst by virtue of the fact that he was the gatekeeper to one of the largest sci-fi confabs in North America -- and not shy about throwing his weight around.

"He must have thought he was immune because he's king of the convention world," says shock-film director Joe Christ, a former guest artist at Dragon*Con. The cluttered Candler Park apartment Christ shares with his wife, horror writer Nancy Collins, has become ground zero in the battle of words and innuendo over Ed Kramer's true nature.

"You'd almost think," Collins says, "you were dealing with dope fiends because of the way people react when their little subculture is threatened."

When Kramer, a Brooklyn-born, Miami-raised orthodox Jew, brought together a group of Atlanta-area friends and fellow sci-fi enthusiasts for gaming sessions in the mid-'80s, he was a twentysomething substance-abuse counselor with a master's in public health administration from Emory University.

A visible oddity, Kramer suffered from a laundry list of health problems, among them a virulent form of psoriasis. Even then, his resume was anything but typical: freelance rock concert photography for local magazines, an avid interest in caving and a long record of volunteer gigs, largely with children's shelters and programs for troubled youths.

At the time, local fandom was being served by the family-oriented Atlanta Fantasy Fair, the Spock-specific DixieTrek and Magnum Opus Con, a comic-book convention in Athens. Still, Kramer's gaming group -- dubbed the Dragon Alliance after his Japanese-made computer -- decided to launch its own event.

"I first met Ed at the 1986 World Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta when he was hanging out in the writers' suite," recalls Gregory Nicoll, a local writer and longtime CL contributor. Kramer's was an unfamiliar, if unforgettable, face, but that would soon change. When Kramer managed to pull off the first Dragon*Con, "he impressed everybody," Nicoll says.

Dragon*Con got off to a roaring start in 1987, nabbing such top-rung guests as British fantasy novelist Michael Moorcock and Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax. It attracted a respectable crowd of 1,400.

Right from the beginning, Kramer and the six fellow Alliance members who formed the first Dragon*Con board hit upon the magic formula that has made it a must-do weekend for anyone who ever yearned for a Dr. Who lunchbox or squandered their allowance on action figures and 12-sided dice.

In addition to the usual comic dealers, movie memorabilia and armor-making workshops, Dragon*Con threw in the kitchen sink: live music, TV celebrities, best-selling authors, a blowout costume contest and the key ingredient, gaming tournaments that appeal to 12-year-old boys who don't have the money to buy Action Comics #1 or who haven't yet developed a taste for Philip K. Dick.

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