Comic-Con: From Basement to Behemoth

A rich history means this year needs a big moment in addition to the big names

Comic-Con dons its costume and raises its shields once again Thursday through Sunday at the San Diego Convention Center.

Now in its 43rd year, the four-day event draws a crowd of 125,000 fans -- and we do mean fans. Take a look at this crew and all their finery.

More than just a venue for comic collectors and purveyors of associated products, the convention serves as a launch pad for TV shows and movies that focus on fantasy and supernatural worlds; a venue to debut video games; an opportunity to offer up an extensive roster of seminars and workshops with industry cult figures; and a place for geeks and fan-boys to revel in their command of minutia.

Hot films this year -- and the bold-faced names who star in them -- expected include "Total Recall" (Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel); "Elysium" (Jodie Foster, Matt Damon); "Looper" (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt); "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" (Robert Pattinson, Kellan Lutz), and the eagerly anticipated "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" -- the prequel to director Peter Jackson's sweeping "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Television is also well represented with panels slated to discuss existing shows including "Fringe," "Community," "Grimm," "The Walking Dead," and "Game of Thrones" among others.

For those not lucky enough to snatch up one of the $175 four-day passes during the 80-minute frenzy in March, there also will be plenty going on around town. Petco Park will be turned into a zombie apocolypse where participants can be in-costume zombies trying to infect other participants, the "survivors." Gaslamp Square will get a "Grimm" makeover, including a lush (but creepy!) forest and a replica of Aunt Marie's Airstream trailer. The peninsula of Gaslamp Square will also feature a sneak peek of the new fall series "Revolution," including the actual Ferris wheel from the series' pilot, set to air Sept. 17 on NBC.

Those at the actual convention will also have some new rules to follow. For the first time there will be spot checks of passes, so partifcipants will have to carry ID that proves the name on the pass matches.

"As you can imagine, this isn't something that any of us want to do," Comic-Con director of marketing and public relations David Glanzer recently told Comic Book Resources. "It's just a safety issue. The fire marshall puts a very close eye on how we produce our event, and for 43 conventions, we've had a very good relationship with police, fire departments and members of the city."

How far things have come. The inaugural edition of this event took place at the Grant Hotel with a mere 300 people, when Shel Dorf created a three-day convention in 1970, long before big movie studios were churning out super-hero hits, the world did not have video games and zombies were largely relegated to "Scooby-Doo."

But that was a long a time ago, and 2012 looks set to be the biggest year yet with true A-listers such as Kristen Stewart, Farrell and Foster attending. The question everyone is wondering: Will anything happen big enough to rival these memorable Comic-Con moments?


In what is thought to be the first appearance by a movie at the event, Charles Lippencott (the film's marketing director) brought slides of "Star Wars" and, naturally, the comic book adaption to the convention in 1976. Only a handful of attendees showed up to check out a film virtually nobody had heard of. Like many small moments at the convention, word of mouth grew, propelling the film, and by association the convention into the pop culture history books.

As the film franchise grew from "The Empire Strikes Back," to the arrival of the second trilogy beginning with "The Phantom Menace," and through to the current animated television series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," so too did the convention. Today, the plethora of Stormtrooper, Princess Leia, Darth Vader and Yoda costumes on fans is testament to the enduring appeal of the films and its links to the four-day fan convergence.


Stephenie Meyer's romantic take on vampires, werewolves and the teenage girl who loves them was already a literary hit when the first film of the series arrived at Comic-Con in 2008. Thousands crushed into the hall to get a sneak preview of the movie and a glimpse at the actors who would be bringing their favorite characters to life.

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart were given their own sneak peak at what was to come over the ensuing years when fans began screaming the moment the actors walked on stage. The screams and cheers continued throughout the entire clip that was played.

Pattinson, then 22 and a virtual unknown, was visibly shocked at the reception. "It's kind of the first time I've seen any of them, so I didn't really expect it," Pattinson replied when asked by the moderator what it was like to have such ardent fans. "I .. I.. it just baffles me," he added as the crowd noise continued unabated.

Four years later, the final film in the series, "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" will be previewed via another sneak peak and panel session with the actors. So popular is the franchise that fans are already lining up for the Thursday event scheduled for 12.45 p.m. (PT).


Even the director with the highest grossing movie of all time under his belt knew that "Avatar," - a movie that was 14 years in the making, visually groundbreaking and set in the mid-22nd century on a planet inhabited by 10-foot-tall humanoids with blue skin - would need the fanboy and geek seal of approval.

So in 2009, James Cameron chose to debut 25 minutes (seven whole scenes) of previously unseen footage at Comic-Con. The audience was blown away and further proved what many filmmakers have come to respect and loathe in equal parts: Comic-Con word of mouth can bury a film, or as is the case of "Avatar," help propel it to the top of the box office.


The "Star Wars," "Blade Runner" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" actor made his first and only appearance at the fest in 2010 to promote his film "Cowboys & Aliens." The actor was lead onto the stage in handcuffs - as a nod to his reticence to appear and not as visual gag in reference to to an earlier incident that year where a man was arrested for allegedly stabbing another fan.

The actor, who through his roles in such ground-breaking sci-fi and fantasy films has fanned many a fanboy fascination, seemed genuinely surprised when the 6,000-strong audience gave him a standing ovation. "I just wanted to make a living as an actor," Ford told those assembled. "I didn't know about this.


If there were any doubts that Comic-Con had taken on epic, star-studded proportions, the reveal of "The Avengers" cast in 2010 laid them to rest. Samuel L. Jackson took the stage to discuss the closely guarded film.

The ovation Jackson received sounded more like a golf clap as he began introducing the remainder of the cast: Scarlet Johannson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. The 6,500 fans on hand were unaware that the actors would appear alongside director Joss Whedon and Marvel chief Kevin Feige, and the resulting cheer session shook the convention center walls.

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