Guilty Leisure

By David Moye / Photos by parkablogs.com

For 361 days a year, San Diego's Gaslamp district is Scenester Central, where the slightest deviation from the mandates of style could result in a major fashion citation. But for four gloriously geeky days in July, the 'Lamp is transformed into a veritable comic strip, in which a coup is waged on common sartorial sense, and 30-year-olds subsisting on pizza and Mystery Science Theatre in their parents' basements reign over nightclubs, restos and city streets.

The caped and makeup-ed mayhem known as the 42nd annual San Diego Comic-Con International takes place July 21 to 24 at the San Diego Convention Center. This year (as in prior years) all 126,000 available passes sold out in a matter of days. City officials and business leaders fought tooth and nail to keep the Con from moving to Anaheim or Los Angeles-and for good reason. Each year the event has an estimated economic impact of about $160 million in San Diego County.

"As big as the Con is-and, sometimes, I think it's too big-I get a rush the minute I walk into the exhibit hall and see the exhibits for Marvel Comics or Star Wars," says animation historian Jerry Beck, a consultant to Warner Bros. and previous executive with Nickelodeon and Disney. "I think, 'These are my peeps.'"

Comic-Con is unique among conventions, not only for the crowds it attracts, but also for its sneak peeks at the coming year's pop culture offerings, such as the buzz it lent to the Twilight series, Avatar and Tron: Legacy.

"It really is the pop culture center of the universe," says Beck, who hosts a Friday night Con festival called The Worst Cartoons Ever Made. "In the past, you'd have to pick your days, but there is something going on at anytime now."

Do The Con Like The Pros

Wednesday, July 20: Preview Night-the best night to shop for those lightsaber chopsticks and other sci-fi souvenirs. Companies like Hot Wheels sell specially-themed Comic-Con-only cars. After Con, sell your hot tchotchkes on eBay while having a drink across the street at Hard Rock Hotel San Diego.

Friday, July 22: The day for cult classic horror and sci-fi film panels. And don't miss Klingon Lifestyles, an annual Friday night play produced by members of "San Diego's Imperial Klingon," which emulate the Star Trekinspired lifestyle.

Saturday, July 23: The most crowded day, packing in more Cons than a state penitentiary, but it's also the time for big panels and A-list celeb sightings. Create a tag-team system so you're not continuously stuck waiting in line for that must-see Family Guy panel.

Tip: Bring a camera, especially on Saturday, the day of the annual Masquerade Ball, attended by everyone from hot guys 'n' gals who fill out their costumes nicely, to the delusional frump with exceptional sewing skills.

No tickets? Get in the spirit by walking around the Gaslamp, keeping your eyes peeled for your favorite film and TV stars. Lots of bars and restaurants offer drink specials, and many companies hire scantily-clad beauties to promote their projects (and unlike in real life, they have to be nice to you).

For more info about Comic-Con events, screenings and panels, visit comic-con.org or whennerdsattack.com.

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