Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
Fans wait outside the San Diego Convention Center on Wednesday before the start of Comic-Con International: San Diego 2010. Hollywood regularly jets its top royalty into Comic-Con to court, or pay tribute to the fans who attend.
Fans wait outside the San Diego Convention Center on Wednesday before the start of Comic-Con International: San Diego 2010. Hollywood regularly jets its top royalty into Comic-Con to court, or pay tribute to the fans who attend. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
Legions of Spider-Men, Muggles, Klingons and maybe some Ewoks are in San Diego for Comic-Con International, the annual pop culture convention that draws superfans who are super-valuable to Hollywood.
The fans who come to Comic-Con, which this year runs from Thursday through Sunday, are what Stan Lee, the former president of Marvel Comics and the legendary creator of Spider-Man, would call true believers. They obsess. They critique. They proselytize.
"I came to Comic-Con this year to see the Captain America and Thor panel," says Ron Mlitz, an attendee. "That's like my main purpose for being here this year, on top of buying comic books, of course.
"As soon as I saw the Thor setup on the main floor, I sent out a text to like 25 of my friends with the picture of it and I got a bunch of replies that were basically jealous replies."
Courting The Fans
Fans like Mlitz are valuable to Hollywood. It's a relationship that dates back to 1976 when Star Wars was first introduced to fans here, the summer before it opened.
These days good buzz on the Internet is just as important, maybe more important than a newspaper review, so Hollywood regularly jets its top royalty into Comic-con to court, or pay tribute to attendees.
This weekend, director Zack Snyder will present fans with a sneak peek of his upcoming movie, Sucker Punch.
"Those guys in some ways are the gatekeepers of pop culture," Snyder says. "They decide what's cool and what's not cool. If you don’t respect that, you really can get caught out."
Snyder's film doesn't come out until next year — there's not even a clip floating around YouTube, so fans at the Con will get the first look and they may be first to post the first clips online.
Snyder came here to launch publicity for his previous movies, 300 and The Watchmen. His hope is to impress his fans, and he says he can relate to them.
"I think I go there with the same anticipation of any other fan," he says. "I'm constantly walking around the floor of Comic-Con looking for that thing I didn't know existed.
"Hopefully that's what Sucker Punch is for someone right now who's getting in their minivan driving down to San Diego. Hopefully they're going to go, 'What is this?! This is awesome.'"
Superfans are hardly naïve; they are well aware of their value to Hollywood. They serve as tough critics who see themselves as having a stake in the film's success.
John Horn, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, compares them to a company's shareholders.
"It's a little bit like an annual meeting for a big corporation," Horn says. "At the end of the presentation, they're going to take questions from shareholders. And it's the same thing at Comic-Con.
"The fans are going to get to ask questions, and sometimes those questions can be a little eccentric, they can be totally weird. They can be critical. And that's where the studios can't really control the conversation."
And fans take their roles seriously.
"I'm here to see everything," says attendee Sean Long. "I love everything about Comic-Con: the panels, all the different exhibits, the people you meet.
"I usually ... video tape it and put it on YouTube and my website. ... I'm pretty much covering for my website and my YouTube, so this is pretty much the place to be for all that news and information."
Even if a director walks away from Comic-Con with fan approval, that doesn’t guarantee box office success. But filmmakers do know: These are the people who stand in line; these are the midnight show-goers, the repeat customers.
In short, the superfans.