Comic-Con, the Olympic-sized celebration of movies, TV, video games, costumes and pop art that began as a humble comic-book convention 43 years ago, is now an annual marketing extravaganza.
Comic-Con: Olympic-sized celebration of pop culture returns this week
LOS ANGELES // Sport fans have the Super Bowl and the World Cup. Cinephiles have the Academy Awards.
For pop-culture lovers - the self-professed geeks and nerds who delight in fantasy-inspired fun from anime to zombies - there is Comic-Con, the Olympic-sized celebration of movies, TV, video games, costumes and pop art that began as a humble comic-book convention 43 years ago and is now an annual marketing extravaganza.
This week, from Thursday to Sunday, more than 100,000 pop-culture aficionados will flood the San Diego Convention Center, showing off their Storm Trooper suits, playing yet-to-be-released video games and attending panels featuring A-list filmmakers like Peter Jackson and such hot TV shows as "Game of Thrones."
But first comes Wednesday's "preview night." Available only to those who bought four-day passes to the sold-out convention, the showing is decidedly low tech, yet high end: it's all about collectable toys.
On display will be special-issue, limited-edition playthings and books made just for the pop-culture fest. These include not only the unique freebies that various booths are giving away, but also coveted collectables that could fetch hundreds of dollars at Comic-Con and hundreds more in after-market sales.
"There are people who buy tickets for every day of the show so that on Wednesday night they can be the first in line for these exclusive collectables. That's their reward for going to a destination like Comic-Con," said pop-culture expert and host of G4's Attack of the Show, Blair Butler. "There are also people who flip that stuff on eBay for hundreds of dollars. They buy two: One to keep and one to sell on eBay."
Collectors will literally run across the massive convention centre floor when the doors open Wednesday evening to cue up for products such as Hasbro's SHIELD Super Helicarrier, a more than metre-long replica of the flying superhero headquarters from the Avengers movie, and Mattel's quirky Dana as Zuul Ghostbusters figurine. Others seek out small-run exclusives such as the golden Domo bobblehead doll (only 1,000 made) and Image Comics' special hardcover comics collection The Walking Dead: Compendium One (only 900 available).
Toy companies and publishers large and small make special products just for the Comic-Con crowd. Hasbro and Mattel each issue around 10 Comic-Con exclusives a year. These toys are introduced at Comic-Con and limited numbers are often made available for sale later at Toys "R" Us and on each company's collector websites.
"Everything is made in limited quantities. Products can double, triple, quadruple in price over the course of a year," said Hugo Stevenson, president of Huckleberry Toys, which is offering zombies and other figurines based on the upcoming film ParaNorman. "There's a whole group of people who actually make a business out of this: Going down and buying collectables at San Diego Comic-Con and then selling them in their stores or on eBay."
For most collectors, though, adding exclusive items to a carefully cultivated collection is priceless.
"No collector is going to sell their collection," said Scott Neitlich, a marketing manager at Mattel whose personal toy cache includes "roughly 5,000" figures. "It's not just about the physical price of the product, but the emotional connection each collector has about what figures they've decided to include."