Day 1 of Comic-Con underway downtown - 100.7 Jack FM San Diego Radio & DSC- sandiegojack

Day 1 of Comic-Con underway downtown

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The wildly popular pop culture extravaganza known as Comic-Con International kicked off in downtown San Diego Thursday, luring celebrities to town to promote their projects to diehard fans, many of whom showed up in outlandish costumes.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who took part in an opening ceremony at the San Diego Convention Center, called it "the best people-watching week of the year in San Diego,"

"As mayor, I certainly love that it brings in visitors from all over the world, who spend millions of dollars here staying at our hotels, eating at our restaurants and buying all sorts of things," he said.

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The four-day trade show runs unofficially began Wednesday evening, with an invitation-only "Preview Night" event.

Nearly 130,000 people are expected to attend this year's sold-out Comic-Con. The event feeds tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.

The huge crowds and long lines make Sanders happy because they don't just occur in the convention halls, but also in the Gaslamp Quarter. Sidewalks in the lower Gaslamp south of G Street were jammed by early afternoon with throngs of convention attendees -- many in costume -- and restaurants were filled.

Several streets in the area are closed off to accommodate the crowds, and the San Diego Police Department was directing traffic and pedestrians at several intersections.

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.

Thursday's highlights included a spotlight on "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2," featuring preview footage of the new film. Fans of the "Twilight" series began lining up outside the center on Sunday.

The lineup also included a panel on "The Witty Women of Steampunk," a presentation by DreamWorks Animation CEO Bill Damaschke, and a seminar on "The Characters of Music" with composers Blake Neely and Christopher Lennertz.

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.

Other program highlights include a preview of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," directed by Peter Jackson. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker is scheduled to appear at the preview, along with stars Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Sir Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis.

While Warner Bros., Lionsgate, Sony Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures are on hand, the Los Angeles Times reported that 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures decided to skip the confab this year. Studio executives concluded it wasn't worth going if they didn't have clips or trailers that would wow audiences, the newspaper reported.

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.

In recent years, 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 decided to remain in San Diego until at least 2015. The city is promising to complete an expansion of the Convention Center by then, in part to keep Comic-Con and also to attract other major trade shows.

This year's Comic-Con took a tragic turn Tuesday morning when a 53-year-old woman in San Diego for the event was struck and killed by a station wagon in a pedestrian crosswalk near the convention center.

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