SAN DIEGO - Calling all superheroes, zombies, space aliens, comic-book lovers and kids of all ages: Comic-Con is here. The pop-culture convention, which annually draws thousands of costumed fans to San Diego, begins Thursday, but the die-hards (and those with weekend-long passes) were getting a peek at the colorful convention floor on Wednesday night.
The line for badges to access the festival was already wrapped around the San Diego Convention Center by Wednesday afternoon. Upon receiving their passes, conventioneers perused a 192-page event guide and toted oversized loot bags emblazoned with "The Justice League" as they milled about the streets of downtown San Diego in anticipation of the festival's opening.
Gigantic movie ads wrapped nearby hotels: the Hard Rock was covered with "Spider-Man" symbols and the Hilton touted "Cowboys & Aliens."
Hundreds of exhibitors and more than 130,000 guests are expected to pack the Convention Center for the sold-out, four-day event. "The people who go through those doors, most of them are film fans and fans of pop culture, be it video games or movies or television shows, T-shirts or comic books, it's all part of this big cultural stew," says filmmaker Jon Favreau, who will premiere his latest flick, "Cowboys & Aliens," at Comic-Con. "These are people who normally interact with one another through the Internet ... Then when you finally open it up to meeting in person, it just concentrates that experience."
At the Mattel booth, where fans clamored for collectibles including a "Back to the Future" toy DeLorean, marketing manager Scott Neitlich - as 12-year Comic-Con veteran - talked about the excitement of the convention.
"It's a place where we can be ourselves and be excited about the properties and characters we love so much, and you're surrounded by people who are just as passionate as you are," he said. "Otherwise, we have our basements."
Dylan Hishmeh, a 19-year-old from Santee, Calif., was excited to attend his eighth Comic-Con, where he proudly scored an exclusive "Gears of War 3" collectible game.
"It was one of 100," he said, adding that the game won't be released until September.
He said he was also excited to see Kevin Smith and to share his love of movies, video games and graphic design with other conventioneers.
"It's a nice environment to be with people who are into the same things you are," he said. "It's easy to get to know people."
Making friends with like-minded folks is one of the great perks of Comic-Con, said Derryl DePriest, a 35-year festival veteran who now works for Hasbro.
"I've seen it go from an event based on comic books to a celebration of pop culture," he said. "The (toys) we make are fantastic, but it's the camaraderie built around them that makes it special.
Hollywood continues to command a headlining presence at Comic-Con, and Tinseltown offerings are some of the most anticipated at the Con.
"Captain America" will play in San Diego for a full day before its nationwide opening Friday, and star Chris Evans is set to introduce the earliest screening. "Cowboys & Aliens" will hold its world premiere at Comic-Con on Saturday - a festival first. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are coming to the convention to talk about "The Adventures of Tin-Tin"; Sony is offering a peek at "The Amazing Spider-Man"; and the "Twilight" trio - Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson - will again greet their fans at the Con.
TV-wise, "True Blood," "Game of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead" are big draws, while new shows such as "Person of Interest," "Grimm" and "Terra Nova" will present preview footage and introduce their casts in an aim to attract viewers before their fall premieres.
New video games are also expected to score big at Comic-Con, where players can get an early look at sci-fi shooters "Halo" and "Gears of War 3" and the latest "Batman" and "Spider-Man" games.
"Comic-Con is this incredible celebration of the arts, and the arts spans movies, television, video games - which are incredibly artistic now. It's toys, it's collectibles, it is straight comics and graphic novels," says documentarian Morgan Spurlock, who made a movie about Comic-Con and will introduce its companion photo book at this year's festival. "It is this cornerstone of pop culture that has so much influence now."