- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SAN DIEGO (AP) - 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.

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