I just celebrated my twenty-fifth San Diego Comic-Con. For myself and many of my friends, Comic-Con is an annual pilgrimage, a family reunion between fellow creators and collaborators. I’ve been an attendee, an exhibitor and indy publisher, and for the past twelve years, a press photographer. Watching the convention grow and morph over the years alongside the comic book industry has been incredible.

people fill a convention hall of booths

The convention floor in 2002

I was a fairly new comics reader in 1993, but I remember gasping at the size of Marvel’s booth as I entered the convention center. My friend had taken me, and I had a xeroxed and hand-colored comic book that I made. I took it around to get advice from a ton of indy creators; back then we didn’t have YouTube tutorials, and really just one book about making comics. Barry Blair from Elfquest took the time to read the whole thing, and laughed at the right spots. I was just a high school kid. He talked me into self-publishing, and that moment changed my life. I was back at Comic-Con every year after that.

That year, the convention attracted 28,000 attendees. The next year, I had a half a small press table, which I think I paid $150 for. Getting a table for large groups at dinner required no planning, and I remember sneaking through a gap in a fence to get into the Diamond Distribution party. Danzig threw a hotel room party every year that everyone wanted to get into, but I was too young for that. It was really fun making new friends at every show, and most of the creators who did shows year after year all somewhat knew each other.

In 2006, Comic-Con pulled in 123,000 people, and started to feel very crowded. More movie studios had started showing at the convention, and the booth sizes had exploded. Cosplay had become a lot more elaborate, and the internet made it a lot easier for people to gain access to materials to create.

Twice as many booths and people fill the same convention hall.

The convention floor in 2006

These days, Comic-Con sells out to 130,000 fans, filling the 2,600,000 sq. ft. convention center, as well as many of the surrounding hotels. A significant portion of restaurants, event spaces, and parking lots around downtown San Diego are rented out to movie studios for off-site activations. Despite the daytime heat, there were tons of amazing cosplays, many people dressing as a different character for four days. I shot a group of Hatters who were largely in character, and the Masquerade, which had giant robots, intricate dresses, and molded armor.

A young woman is dressed in cosplay with black mecha dragon wings.

The size and scale of this convention make it exhausting, but for me, Comic-Con is about hugging as many friends as I can find in four days. Comic-Con may have changed, but the people haven’t, and sharing new experiences with my fellow geeks will always bring me back.