The wildly popular pop culture extravaganza known as Comic-Con International kicks off in downtown San Diego Thursday, luring celebrities to town to promote their projects to diehard fans, many likely to show up in outlandish costumes.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders took part in an opening ceremony at 8 a.m. at the San Diego Convention Center. Doors open for attendees at 9:30 a.m.
The four-day trade show runs through Sunday. It began unofficially Wednesday evening, with an invitation-only "Preview Night" event.
About 126,000 people are expected to attend this year's . The event feeds tens of millions of dollars into the local economy
In addition to its Hollywood offerings, Comic-Con showcases the latest in toys, multi media projects, books, television shows and video games.
Several downtown bar and hotel spaces are temporarily converted into "space ships" and other fantasy-type lairs in which companies host marketing parties.
Among today's scheduled highlights are a spotlight on "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2," in which preview footage of the new film will be shown, beginning at 12:45 a.m. in Hall H -- the center's largest room. Fans of the "Twilight" series have been lined up outside the center since Sunday.
Also on tap are a panel on "The Witty Women of Steampunk," a presentation by DreamWorks animation CEO Bill Damaschke, and a 4 p.m. news conference with composers Blake Neely and Christopher Lennertz, who will be featured on "The Characters of Music" panel two hours later.
On Saturday afternoon, Warner Bros. Pictures and partners Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer will showcase a number of upcoming releases in Hall H. Warner Bros. executives promise surprises for fans during the presentation.
The program highlights include a preview of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," directed by Peter Jackson. The Oscar Award-winning director is scheduled to appear at the preview, along with stars Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Sir Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis.
Authorities have strongly encouraged attendees to use public transportation to go to the event. The Metropolitan Transit System has expanded its service and is selling special Comic-Con daily transit passes. Also being offered is free shuttle service between the Convention Center and hotels downtown, in Mission Valley, on Harbor Island and Shelter Island.
Comic-Con International is by far the largest annual show at the Convention Center, which is scheduled to begin an expansion project as soon as the end of this year. San Diego tourism officials said the event will result in $75 million in direct spending in the area and $2.6 million in tax revenues.
Comic-Con began as modest comic book fair held in a downtown hotel in 1970 and has been held in San Diego every year since, despite efforts by other large cities to lure the event.
Over the past year, both Los Angeles and Anaheim offered Comic-Con organizers larger facilities and other financial incentives. San Diego city officials fought back by offering to use $500,000 in hotel taxes to pay for Comic-Con shuttle service around downtown. They also offered to block out more hotel rooms for convention use and discounted the rooms.
The move worked and organizers announced last October that the event would remain in San Diego until at least 2015.
-City News Service