What Is Comic-Con? A Brief History of the Mega-Event

Much like a comic book superhero, the annual Comic-Con International in San Diego is rooted in humble origins before evolving into the massive pop culture gathering it is today. The event started in 1970 as the Golden State Comic-Con, a three-day event held at San Diego’s historic U.S. Grant Hotel. That drew about 300 people.

This year’s convention will attract more than 125,000 comic book, movie and television fans, packing the San Diego Convention Center’s 615,701 square feet of exhibit space. Though there are many significant comic book conventions around the country each year, Comic-Con International is by far the biggest in terms of attendance and the number and diversity of exhibitors.

As comic book movies have become of increasing importance to Hollywood — the big box office of "X-Men" in 2000 is generally considered the turning point — there’s been more and more movie and television involvement in Comic-Con, in turn attracting more and more mainstream media attention and a wider base of potential attendees. Past celebrity appearances have included Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr. and Nicolas Cage — this year, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen and even Helen Mirren are expected to make appearances.

Comic-Con was founded by comic strip letterer and artist Shel Dorf, who passed away last November and had organized similar events in Detroit. The convention was first called “San Diego Comic-Con” in 1973, with the first “masquerade” — an enduring, annual Comic-Con parade of fan-made costumes — coming a year later. The current name of “Comic-Con International” came in 1995. The Eisner Awards, essentially the comic book industry’s version of the Oscars, has been held at Comic-Con every year every year since its inception in 1988.

After occupying various hotels for its first 20 years of existence, Comic-Con moved into its current home of the San Diego Convention Center, located near the water in downtown San Diego, in 1991. By 2004, the convention reached its manifest destiny in utilizing the entire convention center space, including the 6,500-person capacity Hall H, which is used for the most popular movie and TV panels.

Until 2006, it was easy to buy admission to Comic-Con on the day you wanted to go. That year, entry was delayed for some on Saturday, traditionally the convention’s most popular day. In 2007, some day passes sold out in advance, with the event completely selling out in 2008. This year, for the third year in a row, tickets were gone months before the event, this time in March.


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