It’s now one of the most important annual pop culture events in the world, and it all started in a hotel basement.
San Diego Comic-Con (or SDCC) is celebrating its 50th year, and has brought in millions of fans from all over the world into downtown San Diego to discuss their fandoms, go to panels, buy cool merch, and meet celebrities, from Jack Kirby to Jason Momoa. Now a massive non-profit called Comic-Con International, the organization has been a staple of geek and nerd culture as a whole.
In this retrospective brought to us by HighRises.com, the scale of the attendance growth of the years has been mapped out. Starting with a tiny group of only 145 fans at the “Golden State Comic-Minicon” in 1970 and ballooning all the way to a whopping 167,000 fans at the con’s peak in 2015, Comic-Con has seen several different eras.
Thrown together by a bunch of teens and a few adults (Shelf Dorf, Ken Krueger, and Richard Alf to be specific), the first few cons gathered fans by drawing in big names.
“I only went for three hours, and it was in the basement of a hotel,” said comic can Jackie Estrada in an interview with NPR, “and there was Jack Kirby and Ray Bradbury, so for a fan of both of those to go and just hear them talk, I mean, what more could you want?”
For more than twenty years, the con stayed under a 15,000 attendance. Back then, it was known for have the logo of a toucan, which is now the official logo of the organization’s blog. The 1990s saw a rapid increase in attendance, as major franchises like Star Wars, The Matrix, and Blade began to show off their movies at the con.
The con really blew up between 2001 and 2006, when SDCC literally doubled in size. This is due in part, again, to Hollywood’s courting of Comic-Con, but it’s also when the con began to truly gain pop-culture attention.
The con’s attendance has stayed above 125,000 fans since 2008, and so many weird and wonderful things have happened, like in 2010, when the full cast of The Avengers assembled in real life, or in 2011, when Andrew Garfield gave a heartfelt speech about what Spider-Man meant to him while wearing a Spider-Man costume.
Today, Comic-Con International intends to open its own museum in Balboa Park in downtown San Diego. It’s become a staple of the area, and while other cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles have wooed the organization, Comic-Con will likely stay put in its hometown of San Diego, at least for the next few years.
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