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The crowd lingers around the San Diego Convention Center where the 45th San Diego International Comic-Con is being hosted. The weekend-long event started Thursday. / Beth Roessner/The Desert Sun

SAN DIEGO -- Wearing a bright blue T-shirt as he transformed into an obscure comic book hero, Jeff Davidson, 42, is fulfilling a lifelong dream.

This is Davidson's first visit to San Diego International Comic-Con, which kicked off Thursday and continues through Sunday in the city's Gaslamp Quarter. His excitement was palpable.

"I've been going to comic cons my whole life and this is one you have to go to," said Davidson, who came all the way from Ohio.

He is far from alone in his enthusiasm.

Thirteen-year-old Caden Gird traveled alone from his suburban town near Kansas City, Missouri, to attend his first SDCC.

" 'Nerd' is becoming more mainstream," said Gird, who was dressed as Game of Thrones character Lord Eddard Stark, but without the beard. "It's like, 'Hey, I can actually be myself now.' "

Thousands of gamers, comic-book lovers, movie buffs and everyone in between descended upon the San Diego Convention Center Thursday for the kick-off. And like Gird, many were wearing their passions literally on their sleeves.

Attendees came dressed as classic superheroes like Batman, Robin and Captain America. There were several Darth Vaders, a towering Chewbacca and a pint-size Mega Man complete with blaster. There were women dressed as the Weeping Angels from television's Dr. Who and another woman took on the persona of Venellope von Schweetz, the outcast racer from Wreck It Ralph.

Doors opened early Thursday with panel discussions, vendors, lectures and other activities hosted inside for pass holders. Celebrity guests included Golden Girls star Betty White, 24's Kiefer Sutherland and wrestling legend Hulk Hogan.

Outside the convention there were obstacle courses, meet-and-greets and other events, many were free to the public. Petco Park also became geek HQ with free events running all day.

Now in its 45th year, about 130,000 are expected to attend this year's Comic-Con. Passes sold out in minutes when they went on sale in March.

This mainstream acceptance of the subculture may be the result of conventions like San Diego's, or the recent spike in super hero and fantasy movies, said attendee Huy Pham of San Diego.

"It's the effect of Hollywood," said Pham, as he finished getting into his Captain America costume. "They're starting to teach people how to be nerds."

Outside the convention center, the city's Gaslamp Quarter has been transformed. Restaurants and bars have deals or inexpensive takeout options with colorful signage. Street lamps have Comic-Con banners. Many shopfronts have mannequins adorned in superhero garb, and shop clerks are wearing superhero insignia.

"Downtown has really embraced Comic-Con," said native San Diegan Christine Shelley. "It used to be something that people always hated, but now it's taken over."



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Freak-flag wearers flock to Comic-Con

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