San Diego Comic-Con at nearly 50: Cosplay, collectibles and long, long lines

What started as a small gathering in a basement has exploded into one of the world's biggest cultural

San Diego Comic-Con at nearly 50: Cosplay, collectibles and long, long lines

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"Nerd culture has merged with and swallowed whole the rest of popular culture, and [Comic-Con] really is part of that," said Rob Salkowitz, author of the book Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture: What the World’s Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us About the Future of Entertainment.

The massive event, which started in 1970 as a gathering of about 145 comics fans in a hotel basement, has blown up into one of the world’s most highly concentrated — and highly anticipated — celebrations of geek culture.

She chalks up the slowdown to the emergence of numerous culture conventions around the world, as well as the desire of cosplayers to throw on some civilian clothes and take in Comic-Con programming just like everyone else, without having to worry about squeezing their steampunk hoop skirt into an auditorium chair.

Since those groundbreaking ’70s events, the expanding reach of geek culture has meant that fandom, which is absolutely central to Comic-Con, has had to adapt to welcome those drawn by movies and television shows rather than just comics.

But there’s no mistaking that one of the biggest changes to Comic-Con — which this year runs from July 18-21 — has been the rise in popularity of TV shows and movies that might have once been deemed the sole purview of the nerdy crowd.

In 2006, long before Tony B Kim sold licensed superhero apparel for a living, he was just a guy who walked up to the door of San Diego Comic-Con for the first time, bought a ticket and marched right in.

On the other, those exclusives get a little less, well, exclusive, said Choy, who these days focuses on Harry Potter collectibles and appears on Comic-Con panels about collecting.

The one-day "minicon," as it was dubbed, was followed that August by a three-day event attended by around 300 guests, including sci-fi powerhouse Ray Bradbury, legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby, and author A. E. van Vogt, whose narrative style influenced Philip K. Dick.

Not every Comic-Con attendee she meets realizes when a movie or TV show started off as a comic book.

Attending Comic-Con had been Han’s Holy Grail, and she finally made it there in 2007, though that first year, there weren’t as many cosplayers as she’d expected.

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