As the costumes are lovingly packed away and exhibitors break down the stalls, Comic-Con International has wrapped for another year.
More than 130,000 people crowded San Diego's Convention Center for the annual gathering of pop culture geeks, cosplay afficienados, and fanboys and fangirls.
While some decried the lack the big studio reveals, others reveled in the smaller panels, better overall organisation, the "relaxed" and positive energy, and a renewed and balanced interest in all aspects of the event.
Late Sunday afternoon the walkways of the convention center continued to be packed with attendees looking to make last minute purchases and unearth any exlusive Con merchandise that may have surfaced as the final hours ticked down to the 5 p.m. closing time.
Wandering by the Peanuts booth it was obvious business had been good. Not a single piece of merchandise remained on the shelves – the only thing left on offer: a scheduled appearance by Snoopy at 3 p.m.
According to Chuck Rozanski of Denver, Colorado-based Mile High Comics (a Con fixture for 43 years), 2015 "has been the smoothest running convention in at least half a decade. The biggest thing for us that we've noticed is the fans have been spending more of their time here in the comics and art area versus in the media halls."
Rozanski said the emphasis on Hall H extravaganzas and the latest product offerings from the big toy makers has waned somewhat. "This year it is much more balanced and we're seing people experiencing everything, they're not just captive to what Hasbro and Mattel have brought. It's very pleasing. And I've seen all the changes over the years."
Justin Harder of Claus Studios in Santa Monica, California spends his regular workdays as a concept art designer for major motion picture titles ("Book of Life," "Avengers: Age of Ultron") and commercials, but brought his personal art to a small booth at the convention. "This is my second year in small press," Harder explained. "The people here are so supportive. The fans are phenomenal. Wednesday night, preview night here was something I was not expecting. It was out of control. Sunday and Wednesday alone were worth it for us coming down."
"It's probably my healthiest in terms of sales that I have done [at the Con]," said Steve MacIsaac, a Long Beach, California-based graphic novelist operating out of the Prism booth, which showcases and supports LGBT content. MacIsaac believes the cultural shift that has happened over the last few years in terms of marriage equality is now reflected in fan culture as well. "Which has not always been as up to date as the rest of the country. ... Prism has always been here but now we're like a destination for parents with kids."
MacIsaac noted that while sales are up, exhibiting at Comic-Con is not an inexpensive proposition. He only attends when he has a new book to promote, this being the first time in three years he has trekked to San Diego.
It's a sentiment echoed by Rozanski. "Business has been good enough," he said. "This is an extremely expensive show to do. So it took us until about an hour ago to break even, so we'll make a little bit. If we didn't love doing this it wouldn't be worthwhile as an economic endeavor, but as a social endeavor, gettting to see my friends and just being able to enjoy the atmosphere, that makes it worthwhile."
Enjoying the atmosphere rather than spending hours in line was a common refrain heard across the convention floor. Nicole Roberts and Kristi Flojtik, both from Los Angeles, have been attending the convention since 2004 and 2002 respectively. Sunday they cosplayed as "rococo X-Men," outfits they described as "days of future past, past," a riff on a "X-Men" franchise movie title.
"We planned how we wanted our Con to go," said Roberts. "We did not do any of the big line events. We didn't do any camping out overnight; we did that last year. So we tempered our expectations and had a wonderful time."
For Fojtik it was the more intitmate panels that proved the highlight. "We got into the things that a lot of people really overlook, which is the smaller panels and they were amazing." Her favorite? "'The Blacklist' put out a comic book and I got my comic signed by the writer. I was sad that they didn't do a cast event this year, but the comic book was enough."
Beth Bryson of Burbank, California stopped to chat in between fan photo requests. Dressed as Wonder Woman from the upcoming "Batman v. Superman" movie, she cosplayed the character each day of the convention. "I did bring a couple of others with me, but this is pretty relevant at the moment so I decided to stick with it," Bryson said.
With four years of attendance under her gold belt, Bryson said 2015 had been by far her favorite year at Comic-Con. "There were absolutely incredible panels. The guests have been great, the projects that they are featuring in all the halls have been fantastic. It's a just a big year for pop culture, with 'Star Wars' coming back and 'Batman v. Superman' next year. And women in comics are beginning to get a really good response which is starting a huge conversation that has needed to happen for a very long time."
According to veteran exhibitor Rozanski, the overall energy was "extremely mellow. It hasn't been that people are frantic or frenetic, people have just been enjoying themselves and I haven't seen it quite this way in 10 years. They somehow got a harder edge to Comic-Con as people got more into the exclusives and reselling things, and there was also this sort of social media competition, who can get a picture with whom. Everyone seems to have thrown that out the window this year. I can't give what the catalyst is for that, but I can tell you that it has been a whole different convention than what we've seen of late. I've enjoyed the hell out myself this year and I'm very sorry to see it end."