"Every year it gets bigger," said 43-year-old Marvin Bricker of El Cajon, California. But it doesn't take a veteran Comic-Con attendee to notice that this year's comic book and pop culture trade show is even more impressive and crowded than last year's.
“I can remember when it was a big deal that 5,000 people were attending Comic-Con,” said Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. “Now they’re saying there’s 180,000 people here.”
Convention organizers estimate that the San Diego Convention Center hosted 130,000 attendees last year.
The crush of Comic-Con is an intense experience for anyone – newbie or veteran. And the entertainment companies and vendors here know it. The flashy, come-hither presentation on the floor drops the jaws and widens eyes of passers-by. The labyrinth of booths is blinking a Morse code, sending out an encrypted message to devoted fans.
Cruise by the web comics section of the floor and you’ll see Gabe and Tyco from Penny Arcade signing sketches. The Domo booth beckons otakus with golden Domo bobble-heads. Celebs are posted at television show booths, taking photos with fans, autographing memorabilia and answering burning questions.
You might even catch a “nerdlebrity” walking around in costume, like Adam Savage from the Discovery Channel show, “Mythbusters,” if you keep your eyes peeled.
Escorting his two children to Comic-Con for the fourth year in a row, Bricker noticed that lines to purchase collectible items are longer this year and can end in disappointment. "This year they've been closing down the lines," he said. After a two-hour wait in the Hasbro booth line, it got cut off about 20 people in front of the Brickers.
The booths seem taller than they were last year, as if someone's been watering them with MiracleGro.
Weta Workshops’ booth is guarded by three gigantic troll statues, causing a bit of a log-jam in foot traffic as Con-goers reach for their cameras. The "Iron Man 3" booth looks like main character Tony Stark's entire armor wardrobe was air-lifted to the San Diego Convention Center. LucasFilm brought along the arc of the covenant and enough live snakes to make Indiana Jones completely lose his cool.
Fans lined up days in advance for “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” that took place on Thursday morning. Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures will preview their upcoming films in Hall H on Saturday, and on Sunday BBCA brings a very dapper Doctor Who and his companions there, as well.
There’s something for every superfan.
Thirteen year-old Ricky Becker and his father waited in a different line, one that wrapped around the Nickelodeon booth, while his sister ran back and forth between them and a display of the channel's newest franchise "Winx Club." The show is about girl fairies, and at Comic-Con Nickelodeon is selling sparkly figurines of each character.
"We're probably going to spend about $80 here," Becker said.
"This is about empowered fairies." said Anhelo Reyes, vice president of Nickelodeon's brand marketing. The silver Winx limited edition figurine is one of the Comic-Con exclusives that's been "flying off the shelves" at the booth.
"We've been here for eight years now, and we know what the superfans want. That's what we're giving them," she said.
Nickelodeon’s is one of the largest booths at Comic-Con, and its presentation can be deceptively simple. It's easy to see why it works: Toddlers are drawn like bees to a hive by the very climbable "Nick" letters emerging from some cushy white and orange carpet on the west side of the booth.
But for adults, a wrap-around "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" display culminating in life-sized sculptures of ninjutsu-posing turtles is a major photo opportunity. More reason to line up: Exclusive merchandise from franchises like "Legend of Korra" – an extension of the popular "The Last Airbender" series – ranging from T-shirts and figurines to skateboards.
On the other side of the convention center, Ashley Eckstein's Her Universe booth has an enviable position within the LucasFilm Comic-Con floor footprint, but it stands out without the giant company's help. It's sparkly and purple, and it showcases some of the most unique clothing at the Con. "Star Wars"-licensed shirts, hoodies, jewelry and other apparel have been the backbone of the Her Universe collection. New this year is Eckstein's "casual cosplay" Princess Leia hoodie, complete with side-buns.
"There's things for girls!" said Kari Bolduck, as she bought a T-shirt. "Most geek shirts are made for men. So they finally have shirts cut for women." She credits Eckstein for finally picking up on the fact that some women want to look feminine and geeky at the
same time. But it's the premiering line of "Doctor Who" and "Star Trek" shirts that grabbed Bolduck's attention.
"This has been a dream of mine," Eckstein said of the "Doctor Who" licensed designs, which took her a year to develop. Designs allude to 2011's "The Doctor's Wife" episode, character River Song as well as a Van Gogh-esque Tardis design, in homage to the episode "Vincent and the Doctor" from 2010.
Just a few booths away, people are looking terrified, and getting their picture taken.
At the "Falling Skies" booth, fans know exactly what they're lining up for: A chance to have a wiggly, parasitic, mind-controlling alien strapped to their back, just like in their favorite TV show. Proof of their creepy experience comes in the form of a blinking spike which is attached to their Comic-Con badge lanyard. By Thursday the twinkling souvenirs could be seen in every corner of the convention hall.
The booth incorporates aliens made by the show's prop master and a roller coaster ride-like snapshot, which fans can share on social media. Turner Studios helped re-create the "harness factory" from the show for the Comic-Con booth. ("Falling Skies," like CNN, is owned by parent company Time Warner.) Booth staff were wearing actual alien harnesses from the television show, which got just as much attention as the interactive booth.
"I would buy one of those for Halloween," a fan who identified herself as Bunny said, as she exited the booth experience. And she was already saddled with a very full bag of swag.
The “Falling Skies” panel delighted fans with an appearance from show star Noah Wyle on Friday. Still to come are panels for fan favorites “Futurama,” “The Vampire Diaries,” and “Grimm” on Saturday as well as “Fringe,” “Doctor Who” and the annual “Buffy the Musical: Once More With Feeling” sing-along on Sunday.