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INFO VINE * The History of Comic-Con *

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Post by Paul Wed 24 Jan 2024, 6:39 am

The History of Comic-Con

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Photo Courtesy: [Gage Skidmore/Flickr]
If you're a fan of superheroes, sci-fi, and fiction, then Comic-Con is the place for you, for years Comic-Con has been the perfect place for people to pay respect to their favorite fandoms. There are several Comic-Cons held every year, but none bigger than the infamous San Diego Comic-Con. Every year thousands of people fly in from all over the world to attend the event, dress like their favorite characters and meet the people who make their fandoms come to life. If you've ever attended this event or are just curious about how this all got started, read through this gallery to understand the history of Comic-Con. 

San Diego hosted the first-ever Comic-Con

The first-ever Comic-Con was held in San Diego in 1970, and it was attended by 300 people. Jack Kirkby, a well-known creator of comic books, and the brain behind classics like The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and other famous comics from Marvel, was also a guest at the first-ever Comic-Con event. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Fairfax Media Archives/Contributor/Getty Images]

A group of movie and science fiction fans and comic lovers organized the first event, and it has since grown to become a global affair that is held around the world.

The First Comic-Con event wasn’t called a Comic-Con

The 1970 event that became regarded as the pioneer Comic-Con event wasn’t called Comic-Con. It was rather called San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con, while the event that was held in March was called San Diego’s Golden State Mini-Con. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons]

This not so easy to pronounce name for the event stuck for a while, until 1973 when it was altered. The event became known as the easier San Diego Comic-Con in 1973. The Mini-Con was held as a fundraiser and trial.

The tickets to the first Comic-Con were expensive

$3.50 seems like an insignificant sum of money now, but it was a lot of money all the way back in 1970, about two hours' worth of work at the $1.65 minimum wage back then. Adjusted for inflation that would mean that you would pay $23 today for a three-day pass to Comic-Con, still not bad when that's less than a one-day ticket today.   

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Photo Courtesy: [Rachel Lovinger/Flickr]

Today, a Comic-Con event ticket costs $66 for a one-day ticket. Both costs of tickets and attendance of the events have risen significantly over the years due to the popularity, and are also sold in raffles to make the buying process fair for everyone. 

The flyer for the first Comic-Con had six cartoon characters

The first Comic-Con event’s flyer had drawings of six cartoon characters on it namely, Mickey Mouse, Mr. Natural, Beetle Bailey, and Spiderman. Some of the characters that were featured are iconic characters while others are underground comic characters that aren’t so iconic. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Albert L. Ortega/WireImage/Getty Images]

Forbush Man is another featured character, one that Stan Lee created as a joke in the late 60s, and is now a deep part of Marvel today. The Mr. Natural character meanwhile, is one that keeps on appearing everywhere and is even featured on lots of memes, being featured on this poster might have been what allowed the character to live on. 

There were three featured guests at the first event

The first Comic-Con event was held in 1970, and it had three featured guests in attendance, Jack Kirby, a legendary comic book artist and the co-creator of characters like the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Hulk, along with Stan Lee who was also in attendance, but that's no surprise to anyone. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Jason Merritt/FilmMagic/Getty Images]

The last guest was Ray Bradbury, a notable science fiction writer, and the author of popular books like Um, A.E. van Vogt and Fahrenheit 451. Crazy to think that this event was so popular with only three guests, whereas nowadays Comic-Con events are home to hundreds of famous guests and panels featuring actors and directors. 

Comic-Con’s first annual costume parade was held in 1974

In 1974, the first Masquerade was held at Comic-Con. This event became Comic-Con’s annual parade of the costumes, and it was first held at a time when cosplaying and combining costumes wasn’t a big thing. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Craig Barritt/Stringer/Getty Images]

Well-known voice actress June Foray was the host at the event, the funny part is that no one is able to remember exactly what her cosplay was at the event. Though it was definitely either her Natasha Fatale character or her Rock the Flying Squirrel character, those were her most well-known characters.

Tony Stark checked out Comic-Con in 1975

Tony Stark made a decision to check out Comic-Con in the 72nd edition of Iron Man's release in January 1975. The act marked the first time a superhero would check out Comic-Con in a comic book, and the cover was reportedly quite striking indeed. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Marvel/Wikimedia Commons]

A battle happened between Iron Man and Whiplash, the Man-Bull, and the Melter. Iron Man's armor also became featured in Comic-Con events in later years, as the Mark 1 armor was displayed at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con

It was held twice in 1975

1975 was a rare year in the history of Comic-Con as the event was held twice then, an unusual occurrence at the time. The first was held in the summer spot that had become traditional to the show, and the second was held as a three-day event in November. 

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The 1975 events were attended by some notable names like Harry Knowles, who was only three at the time but went on to create the Aint it Cool News website, Bill Lund, and Alan Light, founder of The Buyer’s Guide to Comics Fandom. 1975 paved the way for what is now known as New York Comic-Con (the second event).

Comic-Con vinyl records were available for sale

During the 1975 Comic-Con event, there was an ad for rare vinyl records of discussions and speeches captured from previous Comic-Con events. 

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The records were limited-edition, and money had to be sent in to get an LP featuring conversations held by the likes of Chuck Norris, Superman creator Jerry Siegel, Ray Bradbury, and Stan Lee. There was a slight discount for Con members that wanted these rare vinyl records, as they only had to pay $5.98 while everyone else paid $6.50 for the records.

An unreleased studio movie appeared in Comic-Con in 1976

For the first time ever, an unreleased studio movie became a part of Comic-Con in 1976. The purpose was to give fans a glimpse of what was coming and generate a buzz among them. 

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That movie was Star Wars, and slides of it were displayed at the event. Charley Lippincott worked for Lucasfilm, and he came up with the idea. What he did was rent a table and a small booth at the El Cortez to display the movie. Now Comic-Con is used to market upcoming projects all the time and fans look forward to the sneak peeks every year. 

Comic-Con’s blood drive was launched in 1977

The Hugo Award-winning novels were written by iconic sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein who also graced the 1977 Comic-Con event. Heinlein launched a blood drive at that edition of the Con, and it still exists today and was named after him. 

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In one of the bloodiest years ever for the Comic-Con’s blood drive, about 2,804 pints of blood were donated, which is the equivalent of the quantity required to fill a regular-sized bathtub. Great to see how great minds started coming up with noble causes to host at these events to take advantage of the number of attendees. 

Matt Groening attended the 1978 Comic Con

Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, began selling his Life in Hell cartoon to papers and alternative magazines around the same time that he attended the 1978 Comic-Con event. Groening was an unknown entity at the event back then, as his works hadn’t gained any traction yet.

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That wasn’t the case for long though as he soon became hugely popular, and he was a full-blown superstar by the time The Simpsons debuted. He was inducted into the Comic-Con Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame.

6,000 people attended the 1979 Comic-Con

The Comic-Con event grew bigger and bigger with each passing year as word spread about it and more and more people began to attend subsequent editions of the event. 

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The 10th anniversary of Comic-Con was held in 1979, and it had a sizeable attendance of 6,000 people. The 1979 Comic-Con also marked the first time that the event’s programming would include an amateur film festival, an art show, 75 hours of vintage films, and panel discussions.

A theft shrouded the 1979 Comic-Con

In San Diego in 1979, the Comic-Con San Diego event was shrouded and darkened by a theft after one of the event’s guests stole coupons valued at about $12,000.

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This was a devastating loss for the organizers of the event, and as a result, they had to ask all those who attended the event to assist them. Fortunately for all, the guests obliged and they helped the organizers of that Comic-Con event to clear the sizeable debt from the theft.

It once sold 130 thousand tickets in 60 minutes

Even though Comic-Con started as a small event among like-minded individuals and fans, it later expanded to become a hugely popular event, and would soon become linked to pop culture. 

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Comic-Con became so popular around the world, the demand for tickets to the event easily exceeded the supply of the tickets. San Diego Comic-Con printed 130 thousand tickets for the 2016 edition, and despite producing a sizeable number of tickets, they were sold out in only 60 minutes.

Comic-Con events generate revenue for San Diego

The popularity of shows and events that require ticket purchases determine their ability to generate revenue. As a result of its significant popularity, the Comic-Con event is one that generates revenue for the city of San Diego and the organizers. 

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Comic-Con is even touted as the most profitable event in San Diego as about half of those that attend the event come from other countries and cities in the US. Usually, about $170 million is generated in revenue when a Comic-Con event is held for four days.

There are lots of superhero costumes at the event

As is the case that Comic-Con events are attended by fiction and comic fans, seeing superhero costumes at Comic-Con isn’t unusual. In fact, it is said to be perhaps the most fitting event to wear a superhero costume too. 

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In 2015 alone, extremely strict rules were put in place in Salt Lake City, and 1,784 people wore superhero costumes in accordance with the rules. This number of people became a Guinness World Record, as it exceeded the previous record held in Cangzhou, China when 1,530 cosplayers attended an event.

The largest stencil graffiti was created at a Comic-Con

Though San Diego remains the origin of Comic-Con events, they are also held in other parts of the US, and other continents as well. A Comic-Con event held in Dubai in April 2017 featured street artists from the United Arab Emirates that drew the largest stencil graffiti ever. 

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Their efforts got the attention of Guinness, and the painting was recognized with a Guinness World Record. The Graffiti was so large that it extended 11 square meters of the wall it was painted on.

There was a popular greeting card at the 2012 event

Spiderman’s 50th anniversary was held in 2012 and was attended by organizers of New York Comic Con who erected a greeting card that was 2 meters tall and 2.5 centimeters wide. 

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Once the card had been built, next came signing it, and the card’s creators invited different individuals to come sign the greeting card and the Guinness Book of Records took note by fixing the number of event attendees at 2,707. Pop culture fans from around the US gathered to mark the event.

Movie screenings are a part of Comic-Con events

It is well established that Hollywood stars and projects are a big part of Comic-Con events, as they are sent there to participate. What many don’t know is that the first Comic-Con event had some screenings as well, though they weren’t new projects. 

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Purple Death from Outer Space, for instance, was screened at the event twice so that attendees could enjoy the movie for free. Other movies like The Man from Beyond, Bomba, The Jungle Boy, and more were also screened over the course of the three-day inaugural Comic-Con event.

Joan Crawford was a big fan of the first event

One of the lesser-known things about Joan Crawford is that she is an active fan of comic art, and an autographed photo of her was included in the 1970 Comic-Con event. The photo featured a message from Crawford too, sending her best wishes to San Diego’s Golden State Comic Convention. 

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Joan Crawford has also reportedly raised significant amounts of money for USO along with a couple of her cartoonist friends. Crawford appeared in her last movie just two months after the Comic-Con event was held.

El Cortez Hotel became the event’s new home

The Comic-Con events were initially held at the Grant Hotel in the US for two years. After that it was held at the University of California, San Diego before the Comic-Con event was moved to the El Cortez Hotel. 

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The new location was a historic one and it became the home of the event for nearly a decade after it was first selected. Some of the more memorable Comic-Con events were held at El Cortez hotel during what became regarded as the Golden Age of Comic-Con.

Japanese artists became interested in the Con

Shortly after Comic-Con events became popular, Japanese artists became interested in them. The headline of a Comic-Con program that announced the arrival of artists from different Japanese Studios was "The Japanese Are Here." 

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Some of the notable Japanese artists that have graced the event are Shinobu Kaze, Osamu Tezuka, the brain behind Astro Boy, and Go Nagai, the pioneer, and brain behind giant robots that can be piloted by humans from the inside. Their visit has been linked to the emergence of manga and anime at Comic-Con events.

Carl Barks attended the Con multiple times

Several notable individuals graced different editions of Comic-Con events from the beginning, and others began attending once they became so popular. Carl Barks is one such notable individual, the creator of Uncle Scrooge McDuck appeared at Comic-Con for the second time in 1982. 

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Comic fans didn’t know who he was because his comics appeared under Disney. As soon as he became recognized by fans, he was named the Good Duck Artist. Carl Barks had been anonymous for years before that point.

Steve Gerber also graced the Con

The 1982 Comic-Con event became synonymous with Ducks due to the appearance of two Duck comics creators Carl Barks and Steve Gerber. Steve Gerber was the co-creator of Howard the Duck comic books who passed away in 2008. 

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There was even a gathering of his friends and fans at the New York Comic-Con in 2008 to pay respects to the comic legend and share stories of him. There was a filmed presentation that was succeeded by numerous tales and quotes from multiple speakers.

Comic-Con was held in June for the first time in 1984

Comic-Con has a long history of being held around the same time every year, this gives people who plan to attend an idea of when they should be free. The only time this was altered was in 1984 due to the Olympics being in town. The Con had to be held in June that year to make way for the Olympics that started in late June. 

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The Olympics convinced the organizers of Comic-Con to hold the event then instead because having the two events take place at the same time was too much for the city. This was a rare occasion but thankfully it worked out for everyone and both events went off without a hitch that year. 

Rick Geary’s toucan became the Con’s logo and mascot in 1985

The official logo of Comic-Con is a bird, a smiling, costume-rich toucan that was selected because the organizers of the event who happened to be friends with Rick Geary, asked him to illustrate a fun cartoon character that would be used as the new Comic-Con ambassador. 

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Toucan was then used as the event’s logo for more than a decade until another was selected in its place in 1995 in a bid to increase the appeal of the event to international followers. Still, at many events, traces of the toucan can be seen to pay respects to the old logo. 

The Kirby Awards debuted at the 1985 Comic-Con

The Kirby Awards, as they were initially known, are regarded as the Oscars of comic books, and they are awarded at Comic-Con events. The awards were named after Jack Kirby, an artist, and their purpose is to celebrate the best in the comics world every year. 

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The awards debuted in 1985, and the name was soon changed to the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, named after Will Eisner, a legendary cartoonist and the pioneer of graphic novels. There are more than two dozen categories of the award.

Alan Moore won several Kirby/Eisner awards

The iconic award that became linked to Comic-Con events was renamed after some time but that didn’t stop icons in the comics world from winning multiple times. 

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Swamp Thing, a book created by Alan Moore that featured illustrations from Steve Bissette and John Totlebem won five awards from only eleven categories at the first Kirby Awards in 1985. Even after the name of the award was changed in 1988, Alan Moore continued winning as he took home four awards for his contributions to Watchmen.

Frank Miller was a star at the 1986 con

Comic book creator and artist, Frank Miller was a big star at the 1986 edition of Comic-Con. He appeared at the event only a couple of months after Batman in The Dark Knight Returns updated a new character and embraced a different and darker style. 

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Frank Miller is regarded as one of the most iconic and influential creators today and has received multiple awards as a result. He is known for his hard-boiled and intense storytelling spread across comics and novels.

The writer of Game of Thrones was at the 1988 Comic-Con

George R.R. Martin is now an iconic and highly revered writer in the entertainment scene thanks largely to the massive popularity of his Game of Thrones books. George Martin also appeared at the Comic-Con in 1988, several years before he and his works would become as massively popular as they are today. 

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At the time he appeared at the 1988 Comic-Con, Martin wasn’t well known as he was only a writer-producer for the Beauty and the Beast TV series. 

11,000 people attended in 1989

The 1989 edition of Comic-Con was historic in two ways. First, it was the 20th anniversary of the event, and second, the event was attended by 11,000 comic fans and spectators, marking the first time that more than 10,000 people would attend a Comic-Con event. 

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Two years after the historic 1988 Con, Comic-Con was moved to the newly completed San Diego convention center after spending years in hotels. The event remains at the convention center till today.

Francis Ford Coppola was at the Con in 1992

Comic-Con became linked to pop culture and the entertainment industry at large soon enough and interest in the event grew from different regions, one of which was Hollywood. 

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Francis Ford Coppola, an Oscar-winning filmmaker attended the 1992 Comic-Con to let people know about his Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie. Coppola then left Comic-Con events for good for 20 years until he reappeared in the 2011 Comic-Con event to showcase his Twist movie to a receptive crowd in Hall H.

Hellboy was introduced at the 1993 Con

Hellboy was created by Mike Mignola, and it was revealed to the public at the Comic-Con event in 1993, at the exclusive San Diego Comic-Con Comics event. Hellboy was conceptualized in 1991 at a comic convention in Utah attended by Mike Mignola. Mignola was already known for his contributions to Cosmic Odyssey, Rocket Raccoon, Batman, and more. 

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The Hellboy image was a result of collaboration between Mignola and an Italian artist at an exhibition dinner for artists in Italy. The reason this was a big deal for the Con was that it was the first time a new character would be debuted there, leading to an era where artists now wait until Comic-Con to do new character reveals. 

The name of Comic-Con was changed in 1995

Inspired by comic books and cosplay, the San Diego Comic-Con event soon became one of the largest events on the planet. The initial show wasn’t supposed to be an elaborate affair but its success led to the planning of the first three-day Comic-Con ever that was held from August 1st to the 3rd in the US in 1970. 

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The name of the event was officially changed to Comic-Con International San Diego. That name has managed to stick and it is still being used today, even though some still refer to the events as Comic-Con, maybe because it's a bit easier to say than the new name that is a mouth full. 

Hollywood kept on being a part of the Con

It soon became a tradition for movie producers and writers to grace Comic-Con events in order to promote their works to the audiences in attendance. Movies like The Phantom Menace, Blade, and Matrix Trilogy, were not extremely popular when they were featured at Comic-Con in 1998. 

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However, movie studios would soon understand the power of Comic-Con, lesser movies that were featured would go from being not talked about, to being the talk of the town. This was especially true for anticipated projects like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, which was shown to fans and had them going crazy. 

The 1999 show was a stadium show

1999 is the year that the 30th anniversary of Comic-Con took place, and it had about 42,000 people in attendance. The crowd was so large that the fans that attended were numerous enough to fill Petco Stadium to its max capacity in 1992. 

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It's understandable that this happened because Comic-Con is a convention like no other and several fans plan their events around the slotted days for annual Comic-Con events. Attendees also often get to see new works quickly and meet their comic book idols.

2007 was the last time Comic-Con tickets weren’t sold out

2007 was the last time that Comic-Con badges were sold over the counter, during this time it was also like going to Disneyland where you would walk up to a booth and purchase the tickets in person. However, this was inefficient and lead to some events not getting sold out. 

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This didn’t remain the case for very long, and the following year, ticket sales were moved exclusively online and the Con was able to sell out a week prior to the opening of the convention. Since this change, there hasn't been a Comic-Con that wasn't fully sold out. 

Hall H is a big part of the convention

Hall H is one of the iconic locations of Comic-Con events as this is where the largest crowds and the biggest panels at Comic-Con can be found. The Hall is considered to be the most important room in Hollywood as the most anticipated sneak peeks are presented in that room for fans to cheer loudly for. 

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The convention went nuts in 2008 and 2009 when the first and second Twilight were teased, creating a sizeable fanbase for it instantly, and giving fans of the franchise something to talk about all week long. Hal H also hosts the best performances and conversations at Comic-Con conventions.

The 40th anniversary of Comic-Con was held in 2009

Comic-Con celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009, and a number of milestones were recorded at the historic convention. A crowd of 126,000 comic fans attended the convention, a record attendance for the Con. 

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Peter Jackson, a fan idol, also made his first-ever appearance at the convention that was held at the downtown convention center. Hundreds of fans, directors, popular actors, animators, and writers graced this edition of the Comic-Con convention, and it was one of the most anticipated Con conventions ever.

The 2010 Con had a star-studded panel

In continuation of Comic-Con’s well-known link to Hollywood, the 2010 Comic-Con convention gathered a panel of famous actors together including Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Chris Evans. All these actors had established links to Marvel’s Avengers and other Comic books - movie adaptations. 

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Director Joss Whedon and supporting actor Clark Gregg also appeared at the 2010 Comic-Con event, which made it quite a significant convention. The assembly of these Avengers stars was done by Marvel.

Surrounding hotels and parks joined in the fun in 2010

2010 became a landmark year for the Comic-Con for multiple reasons, one of which was a milestone and record attendance, as well as being the first year in which the designated hotel for the event would be insufficient for all the convention activities. 

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2010 marked the first year that Comic-Con would be spilled out into neighboring places as the convention’s installations, events, and panels began to spread and take over surrounding hotels, the Petco Park, and the Gaslamp Quarter.

Andrew Garfield showed up as Spider-Man in 2011

Andrew Garfield is the movie star that showed up at the 2011 Comic-Con in a Spider-Man costume, kicking off a trend in which stars got creative with their outfits and costumes to the conventions. Tom Hiddleston also did a 2013 Marvel character and costume when he showed up as Loki. 

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Andrew Garfield even gave a speech at the event, saying how his Spider-Man alter ego changed his life and also said the 2011 Comic-Con was the first he’d attend but it was his life’s coolest moment.

Star Wars The Force Awakens was a big deal for the 2015 Comic-Con

There was a crowd of more than 6,500 at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con. It was attended by the movie director J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm. Disney led spectators in the hall to an open space away from the convention center. 

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The panel of the movie was commenced with behind-the-scenes footage, and new Star Wars creatures were also introduced to spectators and fans. Actors like John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac were in attendance at the convention.

The 2017 Comic-Con had a considerable economic impact

2017 is the most recent year in which the Comic-Con convention center made statistics of the event available, and the numbers were quite impressive, showcasing the wide regional economic impact of Comic-Con conventions. 

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The convention had an economic impact of $147.1 million and was attended by around 130,000 people. The 2017 New York Comic Con also made history by selling a record 200,000 tickets, up from 180,000 a year before. 

A series of San Diego Comic-Con Comics were published by Dark Horse

The tradition of publishing a series of San Diego Comic-Con Comics began in 1992 and was undertaken by Dark Horse in order to promote the Comic-Con event. The comics contained stories, art, and drawings from a series of creators and illustrators like Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti, Scott Shaw, Darrick Robertson, Arthur Adams, and some others. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Jerod Harris/Stringer/Getty Images]

The creators weren’t the only ones featured either, the Toucan mascot was also represented in the comics created by Dark Horse. The second issue of the comic had Hellboy in it, which was fitting seeing how he made his debut there. 

On-site pre-registration was halted in 2011

There was an unusual practice at Comic-Con conventions in which while at the San Diego Comic-Con, one could do a pre-registration on-site and would then be permitted to buy badges for the event to be held the following year. 

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Photo Courtesy: [LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images]

This practice required physical presence at the current event, and it was short-lived and 2011 was the last time that on-site pre-registration for the following year took place. The unusual service was discontinued shortly after it was commenced as tickets and badges to Comic-Con conventions became rare.

Preview Night was commenced in 2001

A new program known as Preview Night was introduced to Comic-Con in 2001. It was initially free for those that had bought 4-day badges for the convention. The practice had been previously called the Comic-Con Expo before being known as Preview Night. 

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Photo Courtesy: [Albert L. Ortega/Contributor/Getty Images]

When it was known as Comic-Con Expo, the only categories of people permitted to attend were retailers and exhibitors. Preview Night is used to launch the party before Comic-Con International is kicked off. The night is famous among collectors who use it to buy exclusive comic products.

A Comic-Con museum was announced in 2017

In 2017, a plan for a functional Comic-Con museum was announced. Since then, a pop-up version of the museum is opened in Balboa Park every day of Comic-Con, and entry isn’t limited to SDCC badge bearers alone as entry is free for all members of the community. 

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The intention is for the Comic-Con museum to increase appreciation of comics and similar art through programs and exhibitions alike. Batman became the first Hall of Fame inductee of the Comic-Con museum in 2019.

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