Comic Convention Draws Record Crowds

The annual Comic-Con in San Diego drew record numbers of attendees over the weekend, from fans dressed like Darth Vader to Hollywood studio executives in suits. The presence of movie studios and video game companies has grown at the pop culture gathering over the years, as they look to connect even more with loyal legions of fans.

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Legions of caped crusaders descended on San Diego over the weekend. Thousands of comic book fans dressed as Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Hulk were on the scene for the 39th annual Comic-Con. One of the world's biggest pop culture conventions brings together collectors creators and Hollywood executives hoping to cash in on the buzz. NPR's Nina Gregory has this report.

NINA GREGORY: Of the 67 major industry conventions that San Diego hosts every year, Comic-Con is the biggest. This year a record 125,000 people came to buy, browse and barter the hottest new comics and collectibles.

Unidentified Man: I got a couple "Dark Knight" posters and a "Pulp Fiction" poster. I got the "Watchmen" book.

GREGORY: You'd think a convention with this number of people would be a goldmine for the city, but these convention-goers, mostly kids, spend a fraction of what other convention-goes spend. Unlike visitors at, say, a biotech conference, visitors here buy pizza and sodas instead of steaks and wine. But the reason cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas are aggressively courting Comic-Con to relocate when its contract with San Diego runs out is for its cultural cache.

Mr. SCOTT MCCLOUD (Author): We've got a lot of what you might call sneezers.

GREGORY: Scott McCloud is the author of "Understanding Comics." He's referring to people who have the power to start a viral effect.

Mr. MCCLOUD: We talk a lot. We spread information. We're very active on the Internet. When you talk to 120,000 comics fans at Comic-Con you get the effect of connecting with maybe a million fans in other parts of the culture.

GREGORY: Like Ray Wells, who saw some exclusive footage from "The Watchmen." That's a movie not due out until next year based on a popular comic book.

Mr. RAY WELLS (Attended Comic-Con): With the information I got at Comic-Con, I'm probably going to blog or post a couple of bulletins on MySpace. I definitely think my friends will take my advice. I'm sure they're going to be pretty upset that they weren't able to seize the panel like I was. And I got all the extra sneak peek information. I'm definitely going to be able to have bragging rights.

GREGORY: This is exactly why videogame makers and Hollywood producers come here, to try and connect with these young people and capitalize on their influence. Last year, Marvel Entertainment generated buzz for its box office hit "Iron Man" by unveiling the superhero's costume at Comic-Con.

This year, producer Paul Scheer is here to promote "Human Giant," his show on MTV.

Mr. PAUL SCHEER (Producer, "Human Giant"): I think that a bunch of movie studios have like a weird way of trying to make Comic-Con pay off for their audiences. Like, well, if we show them exclusive footage we'll get the blogs talking. If we get the blogs talking we'll make $40 million on opening weekend.

And I think that that's awesome, but I think at the same time the project has to be good. Like you just can't put up like a really lackluster bad movie and expect people to be excited. You have to come with your best stuff.

GREGORY: Twenty-two-year-old Robert Cormere(ph) worries about what's happening to a convention he's attended with his dad since he was six.

Mr. ROBERT CORMERE: Sadly, I've been coming here since 1992. So the change - I love how people come, but I feel like people are pulled away from what the original roots of Comic-Con was and it's gotten to the point where it's a little, little - it stymies down the artwork of the true artist and it's become more of a movie franchise, and I hate to see the day where I come here and there's no comic books it's just all movies.

GREGORY: But author Scott McCloud see Hollywood's presence as an acknowledgement of how sophisticated the artform has become. He points to "A History Of Violence" and "Road To Perdition," critically acclaimed movies without superheroes, based on comics.

Nina Gregory, NPR News.

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