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Last year, more than 6,000 fans of the “Twilight” book lined up outside San Diego’s Convention Center, some even camping out overnight, to get a first look at footage from the Summit Entertainment film.


That phenomenon cemented the reality that the face of Comic-Con has changed radically.


This year’s event, which gets an unofficial kickoff Wednesday night and runs through Sunday, sold out its four days of tickets two months earlier than ever before — and much of that frenzy is attributed to “Twilight,” since the confab’s schedule had yet to be announced. Last year, tickets sold out only a week before the show began.


The convention, which annually attracts 120,000 fans, had long been perceived as a show catering mostly to males interested in comicbooks and anything related to horror, sci-fi or fantasy.


But last year’s event broadened its fanbase to include thousands of teen girls and moms. Comic-Con’s audience had already grown over the years to a point where women made up 40% of its audience; last year’s show considerably upped that figure.


“The impression that it’s all males, and all in costume” is mistaken, said David Glanzer, Comic-Con Intl.’s director of marketing and publicity.


That’s not the only change at the confab, where the heavy Hollywood contingent of films and TV shows has eclipsed the comicbooks, which are an ever-diminishing aspect of the event.


The potential to build buzz for properties is just too valuable to pass up. And this year will mark the first time attendees will be able to use Twitter as a way to instantly express opinions.


The promise of previews of this year’s “Twilight” sequel “New Moon” and a return of its stars has essentially guaranteed that the female contingent will be back at the San Diego confab this week.


Not every movie or TV show on display at Comic-Con generates the kinds of shrieks of excitement that erupted from inside Hall H last year, but marketing mavens are eager to replicate that kind of reaction for their own movies, TV shows and videogames as they seek to court the fanboys, and now even more fangirls, who attend the annual pop culture confab.


Comic-Con’s organizers stress that “Twilight” shouldn’t be given all the credit for expanding the demographic of attendees.


“More people know about the show,” Glanzer said. “Our attendance has steadily increased since we started with 300 people in the early ’70s.”


But that’s because of the types of projects Comic-Con has lured to the show.


“We have a lot of stuff for a lot of different people,” Glanzer said. “The show is a place where the general public can meet and see the people who make the movies and television shows, comicbooks and games they love.”


The hope is that “Twilight” fans will check out other properties as well. For that reason, among others, studios across various media are taking everything they’ve got to the Con.


  • Peeks at films featuring aliens like James Cameron’s “Avatar” and the Peter Jackson-produced “District 9,” not to mention superhero sequels like “Iron Man 2,” are expected from the studios. Disney also wants to hype up family-friendly fare like “The Princess and the Frog,” “Toy Story 3,” Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Zemeckis and Burton will be making their first visits to the Con.
  • The 3-D format will make its bow at the show as Disney, Fox and Sony will offer footage from “Princess and the Frog,” “Christmas Carol,” “Tron,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Avatar” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”
  • For the networks, hosting panels for genre fare like ABC’s “Lost,” “FlashForward” and “V,” the CW’s new “Vampire Diaries” or Fox’s comicbook-based “Human Target” makes sense. But with more girls at the show, ABC hopes it can generate some heat around Patricia Heaton’s soccer mom character in “The Middle,” and Fox hopes to hype high school musical skein “Glee.”
  • With sales for DVDs and videogames down for the first six months of the year, studio homevid divisions and virtually every game publisher are present to tout their upcoming releases.


Summit is doing all it can to give fans what they want. The company will host another panel for its “Twilight” sequel, a press conference at the adjacent Hilton and screening of the first pic at a nearby theater.


“For 365 days a year we count on fans to experience our movies, but Comic-Con is the one place where we can experience fans,” said Nancy Kirkpatrick, Summit’s prexy of worldwide marketing.


That includes building awareness around Imagi Animation’s “Astro Boy,” which Summit is distribbing Oct. 23.


Imagi hosted a small booth for “Astro Boy” on the show floor last year, but this year it will present action sequences from the toon during Summit’s panel in Hall H, as well as feature the pic at a much bigger booth on the floor. Summit will also show off the pic at its own booth.


“We could only show a sneak peek of ‘Astro’ last year,” said Erin Corbett, prexy of Imagi Studios USA and exec VP of global marketing for the company. “Now that we have 98% of the film finished, we’re excited to show fans scenes they’re dying to see.”


Making sure the rights scenes are chosen can be stressful, because you “get such an honest response,” Corbett said. “You know very quickly how people feel about your property.”


But she adds that it’s so important to connect with fans. “You couldn’t ask for a more dedicated crowd. They live it, wear it. We’re just giving back to them.”


Click here for Variety‘s complete Comic-Con coverage.