Comic book, science fiction, animation and fantasy fans are all gearing up for the 40th Comic-Con International annual convention set to kick off at the San Diego Convention Center July 23-26. Organizers of the event say they expect it’s biggest turnout ever with 125,000 or so fans locked in. The huge venue is already sold out for the second year in a row.

Shel Dorf and a small group of San Diegans founded the annual event back in 1970. It’s a four-day extravaganza with a popular four-hour preview night of new feature-animated films.

Originally Comic-Con showcased comic books, science fiction/fantasy and film/television and related popular arts. Today Comic-Con has expanded including a larger range of pop culture elements such as horror, anime, magna, animation, toys, collectible card games, video games, web-comics and fantasy novels.

Comic-con is the largest of its kind in the world and is expected to remain in San Diego until 2012.

The very first convention drew 300 people and was held at the U.S. Grant Hotel.

Comic-Con International is a non-profit organization, and proceeds of the event go to funding it, as well as the Alternative Press Expo and WonderCon.

Panels, seminars and workshops along with comic book professionals including previews of upcoming feature films, portfolio review sessions with top comic book and video game companies, and evening events such as awards and ceremonies are planned. Other highlights include a masquerade, a costume contest and the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival, which will showcase shorts and feature length movies that do not have distribution or distribution deals.

A large floor-space for exhibitors such as media companies, movie studios, TV networks, comic book dealers and collectibles merchants will also be available.

In the past box-office hits like “Star Wars, Spider-man, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Iron Man, Watchmen” and “Twilight” have been previewed.

Notable filmmakers are expected to make appearances including Hayao Miyazaki who is regarded by many as the world’s greatest maker of animated films. Miyazaki has his roots in both magna and anime (comic books and animated films) and is expected to address a room full of 6,500 admires. He will be promoting is upcoming film “Ponyo,” which is already a big hit in many countries. In the English-language version Tina Fey and Matt Damon are two of the character voice-overs. The film is set to be released by Walt Disney Studios August 14.

Others expected to make appearances include James Cameron who will give a presentation about 3-D filmmaking and will promote his upcoming feature “Avatar” with 20th Century Fox.

Also on hand will be Peter Jackson, producer of the forthcoming “District 9” for Sony Pictures. Jackson is the director of “The Lovely Bones” to be released by Paramount Pictures. He has been working as a writer and producer of “The Hobbit” for New Line Cinema and MGM.

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