Gandalf the Grey meandered casually with Princess Leia on his arm amidst Batman and X-Men characters, a fitting portrait of fan-fiction turned reality at Comic-Con 2012.
The annual celebration for fanboys and cosplay girls was a melting pot of fantasy characters from comic books, video games, movies and television shows that drew well over 100,000 people to the San Diego Convention Center this year.
Attendees last Saturday morning knew they were on the right path as they boarded the red trolley in Old Town San Diego that would take them to the Gaslamp Quarter just outside the convention center. Standing among them on the train was Predator, the alien made famous in the '80s film of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
While the presence of such a character dressed in a detailed movie quality costume would be a rare sight on most occasions, the alien's presence was completely normal during the days of Comic-Con. It also helped that the infamous hunter from space was not stalking humans or setting off nuclear devices.
The man inside the Predator garb, Dave Murray, has made several movie-quality Predator costumes. The first took him about 1,000 hours to complete. The process involved pouring molds, sculpting pieces and painting the outfit.
“It is an art really,” he said after exiting the trolley. “I am not like a big Predator movie fanatic, but it is just a great character.”
Murray greatly respects Stan Winston, the man who designed Predator in addition to working on other blockbuster films such as “Aliens,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Jurassic Park.”
“Stan Winston, who passed a few years ago, had such an imagination,” Murray said. “If you look at a lot of his characters that he did … it is just something to model. It is a great character.”
Comic-Con provides a place where adults can fulfill their fantasies about becoming their favorite superhero or movie character, said Linda Lee, who has been attending the annual celebration to all things in geekdom for the past decade.
Lee goes each year as a different character, usually from the Marvel comic book universe. This year she was Miss Captain America.
“It is just fun. It is craziness,” she said about her reason for coming back each year, before entering the convention center.
“I am a big Marvel geek, and people actually understand what I am talking about here, so it is pretty awesome.”
A safe place to dress up and have fun with other like-minded people is also what drew Ronnie Cruz and his wife Giovanna to Comic-Con. They were wandering the interior of the convention center with their friend Anne Mulholland dressed as characters from the video game series Mortal Kombat.
“I have always been making costumes for us,” said Giovanna, who was dressed as Kitana from Mortal Kombat 9.
“Ronnie and I have five kids, so we did a whole family theme. Then I found out I could go do this in public. It is where we can be kids without the kids.”
And their children “love it” when their parents get into character, said Ronnie, who was dressed as Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat.
Mulholland, dressed as Kitana's evil twin Mileena from Mortal Kombat 9, got “hooked on” dressing up for Comic-Con when Giovanna introduced her to the hobby.
“I was always into manga anime. I love that, but I never really thought to dress up as it.”
Mulholland was dressed in a skintight pink suit she sewed by hand over the course of five months.
“I don't have a sewing machine, so I had to stitch it up by hand, but it is holding together.”
Inside the Exhibit Hall, visitors were greeted by just about every fictional hero and villain conceivable. Diehard comic book junkies perused literal libraries of classic editions, as memorabilia collectors shelled out big bucks for figurines of Ewoks or manga characters.
Fans even got to rub elbows with the likes of Kevin Bacon, although they had to wait in a long line to shake his hand and get an autograph. Other visitors had to wait for hours in even longer lines to catch special presentations by TV and movie stars who offered sneak peeks at upcoming films and shows.
The visitors didn't mind waiting in the long lines. It meant they had the much-coveted badges allowing them entrance into Comic-Con. Getting a badge to get into the event is difficult as they are often sold out months in advance.
Many people were turned away at the entrance Saturday because they did not have a badge, but even they were still able to live out their fantasies back behind the convention center.
Many residents of San Diego dressed up as their favorite characters to put on a show for onlooking spectators in the golden afternoon sunshine on large steps overlooking the harbor.
One player in the group said that not having a badge could never keep him away from the waking dream that is Comic-Con, even if that meant hanging out on the periphery.
Nearby, a group of knights gathered to participate in a medieval-style tournament. Their swords clashed and clanged out as they battled, vying for the “princesses” nearby dressed in drag. One by one they were whittled down until only one victor remained.
As Saturday afternoon turned into evening, thousands of exhausted yet happy visitors toting large bags of merchandise and giveaway items made their way back onto the red trolley to go home.
As they talked about their unique adventures that day, one could sense the underlying anticipation they shared about returning for another walk through the realm of fantasy during Comic-Con 2013.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.