Bright-eyed children, toddlers and babies filled the halls of San Diego Comic-Con International 2016, eagerly exploring the path paved by their parents as the pop culture event served as a tradition for some families.
Tightly hanging on their parents, many children made their way through the four-day pop culture expo at the San Diego Convention Center. Many stopped to ask questions about the costumed characters at every turn. Others, too little to form full sentences, stared wide-eyed at the colorful sights all around.
San Diego residents Gabriel and Andie Estrada – along with their 21-month-old daughter, Kennedy – were among the families at the convention. Kennedy was dressed in a tiny costume in the likeness of Harley Quinn from DC Comics' “Suicide Squad,” complete with pigtails and a baseball bat.
For the Estradas, Comic-Con has now become a family tradition. This weekend marked Kennedy’s second time at San Diego Comic-Con since she was born in October 2014.
Gabriel told NBC 7 he has been attending Comic-Con since the 1990s and knew that when he and his wife had a baby, their outing to the convention would morph into a family affair.
“For me, that’s always been one of my dreams -- to have a kid so that I can dress them up as my favorite characters -- and kind of live through them,” said Gabriel. “We’ve always been big geeks.”
Gabriel and Andie said they had several costumes planned for Kennedy, one for each day of Comic-Con.
“Every year, we plan out her costumes months and months in advance and we have them lined up for The Con,” Gabriel explained.
Kennedy’s costumes this year included Chewbacca, Marty McFly and Wonder Woman, in addition to her Harley Quinn get-up. Last year, her parents dressed her up as a “Star Wars” Ewok, Bat Girl and Spider Girl over the course of Comic-Con.
Equipped with a stroller and plenty of baby supplies, the Estradas said Kennedy was enjoying Comic-Con, taking it all in. On Friday, they planned to take her to a booth in the exhibition space featuring one of her favorite cartoon characters, Peppa Pig.
“Peppa!” Kennedy said enthusiastically, as her parents promised that would be their next stop.
Much like the Estradas, the Bassham family of New York City also visited Comic-Con this weekend, tot in tow.
Katie and Brandon Bassham traveled to Comic-Con with their 1-year-old daughter, Polly.
This year marked their fifth time at San Diego Comic-Con, but their first time as parents with Polly by their side. The little one clung to Brandon, eyes scanning the costumes.
“We love it here. There’s so much to see and so much going on,” Katie told NBC 7. “We wanted to raise her with a pop culture background.”
The Basshams said they took Polly to New York Comic-Con last October as preparation for their trip to San Diego. For that convention, they dressed Polly as Matt Foley, the hilarious “Saturday Night Live” character portrayed by late comic Chris Farley.
“She was a chubby little baby then, so it kind of worked,” Brandon said with a smirk.
Katie said they planned to put Polly in a costume on Saturday – this time Rey from “Star Wars.” The couple said they had thought about putting their toddler in a costume inspired by Uma Thurman’s character in “Kill Bill” but switched gears due to the heat wave that struck San Diego this week.
“We weren’t expecting 90-degree weather [so we opted for a different costume]. We wanted her to be comfortable and have a fun costume,” said Brandon.
For the Basshams, bringing Polly to Comic-Con will also become a family tradition.
“A few years ago, we noticed how many babies were here – even really bitty babies,” said Katie. “So we always thought, when we have a kid, we’ll continue going.”
“Hopefully she won’t rebel and hate this stuff,” she added.
Brandon said attending Comic-Con with his daughter has helped them see the event in a new light, through the eyes of a child.
There was certainly lots of kid-friendly fun to be had at Comic-Con. Major toy companies – including Hasbro, Mattel and LEGO – had a solid presence inside the Convention Center, selling special-edition toys. Networks like Nickelodeon also made their marks.
Disney princesses were also scattered among the attendees in costumes, including Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” and “Frozen” sisters Elsa and Anna.
The “Frozen” princesses were stopped by many families who wanted to take photos with them. They happily stopped to pose for pictures, little girls clutching their hands, smiling from ear-to-ear.
“Thank you, princess!” one Elsa told a little girl.
Over in the Artists’ Alley section of the exhibition floor there were plenty of family-friendly comic books to peruse, including educational comics created by a company called Cartoonists Across America.
Ted Lai, who works with the company, told NBC 7 his comics include solutions-oriented storylines sprinkled with humor and educational lessons.
He said a bestseller called “Theo the Dinosaur,” for example, is about how four dinosaurs survived the Ice Age and learned to read.
Lai said Cartoonists Across America has had a booth at Comic-Con for 30 years and has struck a chord with families.
“There’s definitely a niche here. There are a lot of families where people have been fans of comics for years and now they have kids and they want their kids to have some exposure,” Lai told NBC 7.
Over the years, Lai said he has seen the family tradition of attending Comic-Con take shape before his eyes.
“I’ve seen way more families here. It’s not just parents who are dragging the kids here. It is children who are excited because they want to actually start reading comic books – they want to see what their parents are reading,” he added.
Every year, Sunday – the final day of Comic-Con – is known as “Family Day,” with programming catering to young fans, tapping that next generation of fandom that has kept San Diego Comic-Con growing for the past 47 years.