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At 40, Comic-Con grows into family affair

 Lorie Wheeler (L) and Dillon Oleata, dressed as Marvel Comics
Lorie Wheeler (L) and Dillon Oleata, dressed as Marvel Comics' Black Cat and Spider-Man, sit during the 40th annual Comic Con Convention in San Diego July 24, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
— image credit: Reuters

By John Gaudiosi

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - If life truly begins at 40, as the old saying goes, then after four decades the giant Comic-Con pop culture showcase is seeing a rebirth of sorts among a new generation of attendees -- families and children.

Even as Hollywood travels here to hype their newest comic book movies such as "Iron Man 2," aimed mostly at teen boys and young men, this year's 40th anniversary of Comic-Con has seen older couples dressed as "Star Wars" characters looking for fun with their little stormtrooper children by their side.

The movie studios, videogame companies and comic vendors who hawk their goods at the convention attended by some 125,000 people have responded. This year, the Disney studio chose to promote family-friendly films like Robert Zemeckis' "A Christmas Carol," "The Princess and the Frog," "Toy Story 3D," "Beauty and the Beast 3D," and TV series "Phineas and Ferb."

"Those guys that were going (to Comic-Con) 20 years ago have kids now, and their kids are into this stuff," said Philip Lord, director of Sony Pictures Animation's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs."

"The audience for comics and the sort of general nerdy arts, has definitely grown, and the fans have definitely aged enough to where they're bringing their own kids," he said.

Comic-Con got its start as a convention for comic book lovers who would come together to trade magazines, talk comics, explore science fiction and even dress as their favorite superheroes. With the rise of comic book films in the 1990s, Hollywood began showing up.

A convention official said Comic-Con did not track numbers of families or children in attendance, but one only has to look around the packed convention floor to notice the growing number of pint-sized Batmans and Supermans flexing their superpowers.

NEW COMIC GENERATION

Some attendees see it as only natural that those fans who once came when they were young are bringing their own kids, including writer/director/producer Robert Rodriguez who debuted film footage of his movie "Shorts," which tells of kids and grown-ups who find a magic rock that grants wishes.

"Even though you have panels where there aren't necessarily supposed to be kids, parents are there with their kids because there's so many great video games and comic books turned into movies. So you have a lot of young fans," he said.

Summit Entertainment and Imagi Studios targeted fans both young and young-at-heart with their action movie, "Astro Boy," and director Tim Burton made his first trip to the convention with his 3-D take on "Alice in Wonderland."

The Nickelodeon TV network rolled out the creators and voice actors for shows like "SpongeBob SquarePants," "The Penguins of Madagascar," and "The Fairly OddParents."

A large portion of Comic-Con was dedicated to videogames where kids and parents could be found playing games together, and companies like Sony Computer Entertainment America offered kids of all ages an inside look into the making of the upcoming family game, "Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time."

"Having panels that target families in particular is something I am excited about," said Rodriguez. "When it involves children, it gives kids something to fantasize about, and I think parents like that aspect."

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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