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As Hollywood invades, Comic-Con keeps its quirks

Comic-Con, the annual comic book convention, has exploded into a must-attend event for Hollywood actors and producers, but the new attention represents a healthy evolution, say comic book experts.

By Staff writer / July 23, 2010

Will Ferrell and Tina Fey promote their upcoming film Megamind at Comic-Con in San Diego on Friday.

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Comic-Con, the annual San Diego comic book fanfest that has exploded since its founding in 1970 to become Hollywood’s hottest summer watering hole, has been selling out since 2006.

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This year’s top-drawer draws are names such as Helen Mirren and Angelina Jolie, and the event has gotten so big and expensive (the studio booths on the convention floor sport $20 to $30 million pricetags), that talk of a move northwards to the much larger – and more Hollywood-accessible Anaheim Convention Center is getting louder every year.

It’s all about convergence, says entertainment analyst Ian Ford. “It’s not just comics anymore,” he says. “It’s videogames which helped bring comics to life, and movies and television and now mobile phones and theme parks and every other entertainment form you can think of.”

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The convention floor bristles with ads for TV shows such as “Weeds,” movies, (“Tron: Legacy”), and mobile applications (play scavenger games using your phone and factoids from the cable TV show "Dexter"), alongside card games, T-shirts, and, oh yes, comic books.

This year, the big unveiling on the comic book front are new digital readers for the iPad and other e-readers. That transition makes sense, say industry watchers.

The Internet fueled Hollywood’s love affair with the comic book fan, points out Mr. Ford. As fan opinions went viral and then exploded into social media, the entertainment world realized the power of early engagement with a young demographic that has become all-important to its big-budget movies, increasingly based on comic book characters from the pages of DC and Marvel comics, among others.

While Comic-Con may feel like any other Hollywood event to the outsider, the fans are as loyal – and quirky – as ever, says author Brad Ricca, talking from his cell phone on a crowded San Diego bus. “The bus driver just told some folks, in a voice just like Scottie on Star Trek, ‘we can’t take no more,” he says with a chuckle. All around him is evidence that the core fan base for the event is wildly intact.

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