The first day of Comic-Con International, now underway at the San Diego Convention Center, draws an eclectic mix of superfans, rabid merchandise collectors, rare comic book hunters and those that love nothing more than donning a costume and posing for photographs with appreciative conventioneers.
Patrick Purog has been attending the festival in excess of 25 years, and Thursday saw him navigating the crowded thoroughfares and alleys laden down with exclusive merchandise only available at the Con.
"I used to come here for the comics," explains Purog, a San Diego native. "But since it has grown I have always bought a lot of the exclusives and they're just for me, they're not part of the secondary market."
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If he misses out on something he was hunting Purog says he doesn't get disappointed, after 25-plus years you have to take the good with bad. Being an early attendee, though, is the way to ensure you get your hands on that limited edition "Star Wars" figure or "Doctor Who" sonic screwdriver.
Opening his bags, Purog proudly lists the haul of the day: "I scored the Metroplex Transformers, the Angry Bird 'Star Wars' [collection], the "GI Joe" Transformers, the new 'Star Wars' Black Series Boba Fett - I've always been a big 'Star Wars" fan so any Star Wars exclusives I always try and get those."
"Basically Wednesday's preview night and Thursday are my days to buy and that's typically the best time to score your exclusives because Friday and Saturday you are dealing with everybody else," Purog says. "The crowds are just so much bigger and the lines will be two, three times longer.
Over at Buying Comics, a booth that buys and sells back issues of comic books dating from 1970 on, business is brisk.
"Movies, video games, entertainment, it's all a synergy that has come together to form this," says Heather Brumley, one the attendants manning the booth for the Florida-based business which has been a fixture at Comic-Con since 1996. Brumley says their customers range from the avid collector to the first-time buyer. "Most of our buyers are collectors - some of them do invest. Others have no idea and just like 'The Avengers' so they want an 'Avengers' comic book."
While Brumley admits the San Diego festival is their biggest campaign of the year and sales are always good, the profit margin takes a hit due to the higher-than-normal overheads that come with the most well-known event of its kind in America.
"It's not just the cost of the booth, which is more expensive than any other event, but the hotel prices are very high," Brumley says. Would they ever consider not coming?
"We wouldn't miss it!" she replies with a grin.
Early twenty-somethings Matt Jensen and Amanda Shafer met at Comic-Con two years ago. Today they are each wearing the first of four costumes they have created for the event. Constantly stopped by well-wishers and photograph seekers, their journey from one end of the convention hall to the other is a slow process.
Jensen, who hails from Santa Ana in Orange County, is dressed as Captain America while Shafer (who resides in Los Angeles) is ablaze in the crimson Spandex of Dark Phoenix from "X-Men."
For Shafer, her wardrobe list will play out as follows: "Friday I will dress as a Star Fleet Officer from 'Star Trek,' Saturday I am going to be Poison Ivy from 'Batman the Animated Series,' and Sunday I am going to be White Phoenix of the Crown which is the same costume as this but in white."
"Tomorrow I will be Cyclops from 'X-Men,'" Jensen says proudly, adding that on Saturday he will don the garb of the Riddler from "Batman" and revisit his Captain America costume for the final day.
Along with the costumes, what Jensen looks forward to most at the festival is catching up with old friends he only sees at conventions. The downside? Long lines for the most popular panels.
In fact, Jensen no longer even tries to get in. "I've given up on panels, mostly because when one panel is over a lot of people don't leave and keep their seats. So if you're waiting in line for one panel and most of the people don't leave from the previous one, you're screwed."
Purog admits to not being a regular panel fixture either, but this year he's planning on hitting more than usual.
"I'm really excited about 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' so I'll be catching that one tomorrow, and there's lots of buzz on the new Thor and Captain America movies so I'm going to try and get in to those as well."
How does he handle the long waits? "I have a lot of patience."
Though Purog does admit that it takes a very early bird to score a coveted seat in the most prestigious venue, Hall H.
"I have to come much earlier than I used to," he admits. "In the past I used to come in at five or five-thirty in the morning to get on line. But now it's even earlier, four or four-thirty with the buzz of 'Spider-Man' - and you have competing panels with 'Game of Thrones' and 'Walking Dead.' So I won't be surprised if people aren't already lining up outside now for tomorrow."