What started out as a small comic book swap meet in 1970, that took place in a tiny meeting room at the US Grant Hotel in San Diego, Comic Con International has metastasized into an event so massive that major U.S. cities are lining up with offers to host the event that overtakes downtown for a week in July.
This year's 'Con' smashed all previous attendance records as nearly a half a million people attended the four-day pop culture spectacle. San Diego City Council has already committed to expanding the convention center in hopes of keeping the convention in the city where it all began.
It is estimated that Comic Con 2013 generated roughly $175 million in business for the San Diego economy last week, and yet many the attendees who doled out an average of two hundred bucks for the experience couldn't describe it. Comic Con is more of a phenomenon than anything that can be defined.
I have had the privilege to shoot video for some big name broadcasters over the past 25 years at Comic Con. Today it is just an interesting, pain in the rear job, but it has never a popular assignment among news photographers because in its early years Comic Con didn't move. It was just a few nerds and their comic books displayed on tables in the basement of Golden Hall, under fluorescent lights. Video photographers like to shoot things that move. Stuff that doesn't move, like comic books…, God invented still photographers for that.
Star Trek fans changed all of that. Trekkies started the dressing up tradition at Comic Con in the early 1990s. No one could have predicted that Captain Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy, would inspire comic fans to transform themselves into any and every fictitious character imaginable. Thanks to Gene Roddenberry, Comic Con has been taken over by characters from science fiction television series, comic books, Hollywood movies, foreign films, Saturday morning cartoons, Disney and Warner Brother's animation characters, video games children's toys and kid's breakfast cereal boxes, and Captain Kirk is not in control.
Comic Con fans are Looney Tunes for their favorite characters, and not just comics. Some dress up as rare characters that appeared only once in a cartoon, or a character from a video game flop that only a fellow nerd would know. The mysterious masqueraders always have an answer to the question, 'who are you?', and chances are you have never heard of it.
Today Comic Con moves. It is a throbbing mob mass that Scotty beams down from the USS Enterprise and four corners of the Universe. A half a million aliens descend upon the Gaslamp district and clog up 20 square city blocks, all hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite movie star, or get an autograph from a famous illustrator. And while Trekkies are rare now, Storm Troopers and Transformers seem to be in the majority.
Although news photographers made fun of them, Trekkies were the inspiration that prompted Hollywood producers to view Comic Con as a platform to introduce and promote their new releases. Last year, for example, Warner Brothers Studios spent big bucks to promote The Hobbit, Man of Steel and Batman, The Dark Knight Rises at the Con, and all of their casts' members made appearances and signed autographs.
This year Hollywood blockbusters like Tom Cruise, Sandra Bullock, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were among the Klingons to promote their new films.
Others celebrity sightings included television and screen star Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson and the supporting cast of Person Of Interest, and the cast of Stephen King's, Under The Dome, starring Michael Vogel and Rachelle Lefevre. John Ratzenberger, Kevin Bacon, Jeff Bridges and Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence, are just a few celebrities who came to the Con.
Hollywood celebrities seem a little looser and a lot more accessible at Comic Con. They sign autographs and shake hands, and converse with fans. Several celebrities have told me they dressed up in costume to disguise themselves, so they can walk the floor and purchase memorabilia just like ordinary aliens.
Comic Con will humble even the biggest egos in Hollywood. It may even serve as celebrity therapy because everyone who attends eventually arrives at the same conclusion: Comic Con is bigger than me. If it is bigger than Superman, Batman, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and all the super heroes put together, Comic Con is bigger than the actors who play them, and it is fun to witness the epiphany when it registers.
Comic books remain a popular collector's item at the Con, but they probably make up less than 2% of the merchandise on the floor. Among other collectables are movie posters, t-shirts, action figures, any and every kind of character toy, trinket, comic, caricature or cartoon figure imaginable, figurines, animation cells and lithographs from feature film cartoons, Storm Trooper costumes and battle gear, art work, television and movie memorabilia and all sorts of replicated movie props from Thor's hammer to the Ghost Busters' Deionizer and Containment Unit.
People who have never been to it ask if Comic Con is "crazy", and that is about the most fitting one word definition I have ever heard for it. And while the term is a reference to the bizarre costumes the intense volume of humanity and too many things happening simultaneously, Comic Con is the epitome of idol worship which is what humans do best. Christians stand outside the convention center holding large signs warning of God's impending judgment and hand out, 'Get Out Of Hell' cards. I wonder what that says about Comic Con?