Talk to the cosplayers walking the streets of the Gaslamp Quarter, the people lining up days in advance to get into the San Diego Convention Center and you'll hear a similar sentiment for why they love Comic-Con.
"I feel more at home when I'm at Comic-Con," says a cosplayer dressed as the Amazing Spider-Man.
Fans said they feel they can be themselves at Comic-Con. Some say their anxieties lessen when they're there. For most, it's a time to gather with like-minded fans and truly be understood.
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For the more than 100,000 people returning for SDCC 2022, and for the thousands more that come to the Gaslamp to take in the experience without a ticket to the main event, it's been three long years of waiting for the return of their beloved pop culture event.
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"Three whole years we've been waiting. A thousand and ninety-five days," said Eddie Carpenter from the front of the Hall H line, where he sat more than 48 hours in advance of the convention's official start.
He wasn't alone. Although Comic-Con officially gets underway on Thursday, the Gaslamp Quarter on Wednesday was already bustling with cosplayers -- people who dress up as characters from their favorite movies, books or video games -- and others who wanted to take in Comic-Con's return.
So what's the appeal?
“130,000 people come here just for one thing – pop culture. We’re all here, we’re all in it," Carpenter said. "You find people from your different fandoms. You have your homies from the anime, the movies, the tv shows, everything is here. Just having all those people come together, it's magical.”
San Diego Comic-Con communications director David Glanzer said he's grateful the convention can be a space for people to express themselves.
"I think one of the best questions I heard asked years ago, a reporter asked a young woman from Phoenix, they said, 'So, you must love Comic-Con, it's your chance to kind of, you know, be your alter ego.' and without a beat, the young woman said, 'You know what actually, this is where I get to be myself when I'm in the real world, that's my alter ego. This is when I can be me.' And that to me sums up Comic-Con in a great way."
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The event came from humble origins, just a few hundred fans in 1970. Since, it has attracted millions of comic book and pop culture fans from around the world; In 2019 alone, Comic-Con welcomed more than 135,000 attendees and generated $3.2 million in hotel and sales tax revenue for San Diego.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the largest comic book and popular arts convention in the world has been held virtually -- excepting a far smaller, in-person three-day event held last November. Despite increasing virus numbers, it returns Thursday with an exhibit hall with over 460,000 square feet of floor space and more than 1,000 exhibitors.