1. It’s not just for comic-book geeks. What started as a gathering of 300 comic-book artists, writers and fans in 1970 has grown into one of the country’s largest conventions, welcoming 130,000 attendees in 2011 for autograph signings, screenings, panels and parties. The event has expanded its focus to include movies, TV, video games, toys, books and more. A-list stars, like Angelina Jolie and James Franco, routinely turn up to promote upcoming projects.
2. It’s ahead of the curve. The makers of Star Wars came to the festival to show off the movie poster in 1976—a year before it hit theaters. In 2009, James Cameron debuted 20 minutes of Avatar, helping to build buzz that made it the top-grossing film of all time. But the buzz cuts both ways: If something fails to dazzle, the resulting viral bile can kill its commercial prospects.
3. Some people there are crazy. Of course “crazy” is relative, but some visitors clearly have lost touch with reality. In 2010 two men got into an argument over whether one of them was sitting too close to the other as they waited for Seth Rogen to come onstage and talk about his sci-fi comedy, Paul. The fight climaxed when one of the men—in a Harry Potter T-shirt—pulled out a pen and stabbed the other in the face.
4. Tickets go fast. Last year they sold out in seven hours. This year you must preregister online just for an opportunity to buy tickets.
5. The real show is actually free. Those unable to procure tickets aren’t shut out of Comic-Con’s première attraction: people-watching. Many attendees spend months preparing elaborate costumes, then come dressed as their favorite superhero, hobbit, zombie, robot or alien. This year’s convention will be preceded by the Course of the Force lightsaber relay, an approximately 135-mile run/walk for charity that will begin in Santa Monica, California, on July 7 and end on July 11 at Comic-Con. Participants are encouraged to don Jedi attire—of course.
San Diego Comic-Con International runs July 12–15 at the San Diego Convention Center; comic-con.org.