5 of 5
Star Wars characters hand out freebies as people arrive at the San Diego Convention Center.
Glanzer also contended - a view backed up by Jeff Walker, a marketing consultant who acts as the liaison between the convention and most of the film studios - that running the event as a business would both diminish its authenticity with fans and compel the 14,000 industry folk, artists and movie stars who appear live and at panels to charge for their appearances. And he points out that there are quite a few rival for-profit comic conventions, but none on the scale of Comic-con. "I think having it run as a fan volunteer thing is the way to go and it's frankly what sets it apart from other conventions," says Walker.

The first Comic-Con, back in 1972, was held in the basement of a San Diego hotel and drew 300 people, almost entirely male - it's much more of a family affair now. More than three decades later, the geeks haven't exactly become the cool kids - but they have created a venue that the cool kids can't ignore. That said, it's not hard to figure out who on the convention floor has arrived at Comic-Con via private yet, and who has made the trek via Amtrak or Greyhound.

More galleries
Last updated July 25 2008: 2:31 PM ET
More Galleries