SAN DIEGO – Before the sun even came up Thursday, they were there waiting. After nearly three years of heated anticipation, what’re another few hours to bust through the door for San Diego Comic-Con?

Adorned in fine fabrics and face paints and carrying props of all sizes, fans showed up in force on the opening day of the annual pop culture showcase. Through the end of the weekend, those with a coveted wristband will meet some of their favorite celebrities, see panels on the hottest upcoming movies and TV shows and geek out over shared interests big and small.

Near the front of the line was a Sonora, Calif. man named Eddie, who unquestionably was where he wanted to be. In fact, he’s had his eye on that very spot since about 4 a.m. Tuesday.

“About seven years ago, I came to my first Con and ended up being first in line,” he said. “It’s just been like our crew’s whole thing to try to make it first in line. Every single year it’s been like that.”

Like others, Eddie has his heart set on a Marvel and DC panel as well as tie-ins to his other interests like the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and the longtime anime hit “Dragon Ball Z.”

At its best, fans say that’s the beauty of Comic-Con. It operates as a celebration and as an outlet for interests ranging from the ultra mainstream to the obscure with many rungs on the ladder in between. That outlet has been dampened in recent years due to the pandemic, but July simply wouldn’t be the same without it, Convention Center President and CEO Rip Rippetoe said.

“We are so glad to be here and be able to open this fantastic show,” Rippetoe said. “With a climate like ours, sometimes even October and November feels like summer, but July is not July without Comic-Con, so welcome back.”

Rippetoe was joined Thursday by local elected leaders and tourism officials including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn and San Diego Tourism Authority president and CEO Julie Coker. Gloria even brought along his rescue pup, Diego — appropriately dressed in a little Yoda costume — to welcome the show back to town.

“As mayor of this great city, I, like many San Diegans, have been looking forward to the triumphant return for a very long time now,” Gloria said.

For those attending Comic-Con this week, FOX 5 has a handy guide with everything you need to know about the event from parking to public transportation to recent COVID-19 guidance. We’re also keeping track of the splashiest (and most bizarre) cosplay of the event in this gallery.

Anchors from the FOX 5 Morning News spent Thursday in the Gaslamp to show off various features of this year’s event. Below are some of the highlights:

See Comic-Con’s most wanted items

It’s rare to cross through the doors of Comic-Con and come out empty-handed. But as with most years, some items inside are going to fly off the tables fast.

Speaking to FOX 5’s Raoul Martinez and Shally Zomorodi, The Pop Insider Editor Madeline Buckley said Comic-Con, itself, is a hot item this year after being canceled in 2020 and held mostly virtually a year ago.

“Everyone’s just so excited to be back,” Buckley said. “These companies obviously have been putting out amazing merch all of these years, but we’ve kind of just gotten these online drops. There’s nothing quite like this (down) on the floor, trying to get this super limited edition thing.”

Buckley highlighted several options certain to draw attention:

  • “Absolutely ‘Stranger Things,’ she said, noting, “We’re all still riding that high from the last season,” the second part of which was released July 1 on Netflix.
  • “We’re seeing a lot of ‘Ted Lasso,” Buckley said of the show that just picked up 20 total Emmy nominations for its most recent season.
  • Another favorite are Marvel shows released on Disney+ since the last full Comic-Con in 2019, she said.
  • She also highlighted products from several franchises, including “John Wick,” “Star Wars,” “Cobra Kai” and the Harry Potter universe.

To get hands on items in limited supplies, Buckley said it takes a lot of planning — and waiting.

“You’ve really gotta be dedicated to buy some of this stuff,” she said.

See a full list of exhibitors planning to attend Comic-Con by clicking or tapping here.

Nisleit: Be ‘situationally aware’ this weekend

Even San Diego’s police chief is eager for Comic-Con’s return.

“We’re really excited about being back,” Chief David Nisleit said Thursday. “I remember I used to do this as a lieutenant for special events and just being back and seeing the crowd and the excitement, it’s great to have Comic-Con back.”

Nisleit says his officers are ready for the large-scale event with the hopes all have an enjoyable and safe time inside the Convention Center and as they’re navigating the city’s downtown corridor.

For those walking around downtown, Nisleit recommends being “situationally aware.”

“Kind of pay attention to what’s going on,” he said. “Get your face out of your phone and walk with a purpose. Know what you’re doing. There’s going to be a lot of police officers out here. There’s also going to be a lot of our staff in the light blue shirts. Those are our traffic controllers. Ask them a question if you need directions. They’re very much willing to help you.”

Meet SpongeBob and Patrick

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? For more than two decades now, Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke have as the lovable undersea dopes known as SpongeBob and Patrick.

Kenny, who may have one of the world’s most recognizable voices, said he’s been coming to Comic-Con for a long time, dating back to his “capacity as a nerd before I was a professional.” He remembers the era as one where there were actual comic books at Comic-Con.

“Remember that?” he quipped.

Now, both men are legends of the voice acting world, appearing in hundreds of episodes of TV, movies, video games and whatever SpongeBob meme currently is popular on Twitter.

“It’s really crazy because we’ve been coming in our SpongeBob and Patrick capacity for a long time,” Kenny said.

“Probably since 2000 or 2001,” Fagerbakke said.

“We’re just amazed this thing is still cooking,” Kenny said. “It’s quite amazing that people will still want to see us and still care. It’s nice to have people care about you a little bit.”

Kenny and Fagerbakke will be a part of a panel called SpongeBob SquarePants: Dive into SpongeBob Universe! on Thursday at the Convention Center. The event starts at 3:30 p.m.

See the event’s full programming schedule here.

FOX 5’s Jacqueline Sarkissian, Heather Lake, Raoul Martinez and Shally Zomorodi contributed to this report.