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ComiCon Draws Hollywood Crowd

With comic-book based movies dominating multiplexes and breaking box office records, it's no surprise that Hollywood is sending its top executives and biggest stars down to ComiCon the Comic Book convention in San Diego.

"Dark Knight," "Iron Man," "Hulk," "Hellboy": the list of recent box office hits based on comic books seems to go on and on.

And ComiCon sits at the multi-billion dollar industry where the movie industry and comics meet. The sense that comic-related movies are more likely to be blockbusters than bombs (after all the good ones already have a dedicated fanbase) gives Hollywood good reason to take ComiCon very seriously.

Hollywood studios big and small send development executives down to the festival to scout for new ideas. Warner Bros. gets access to its DC Comics characters and Marvel has been producing its own movies based on Marvel Comics characters. The other studios bid on the popular graphic novels and the smaller independent producers try to arbitrage new properties that have yet to get really big. You can almost pick the Hollywood types out of the crowd-- looking a bit slicker than the rest of the fanboys -- hoping to find a new character or storyline that'll resonate on the big screen. And there's also a sense that the audience here at ComiCon is so hooked in to whatever the next big thing we'll be, the mood and the trends here at the festival give movie studios good insight into the future.

This audience is so important to the movie and TV industry, this is where they come to market all their comic-related properties, releasing trailers, showing clips of films, hosting panels and star-studded autograph fests. The fanboy audience can make a movie a record-breaker, as they did when they turned out en masse for the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight," bringing in over $18 million at the box office for that screening alone. Or they can turn against a film, as they did with "Snakes on a Plane", resulting in a disappointingly small theatrical turnout.

This year Lions Gate is making a big promotional splash around its December release "The Spirit," based on the popular Will Eisner graphic novel, and from the same filmmaker who brought "300" from graphic novel to big screen hit. Stars from the film including Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson will hit the showroom floor. It's not just movies, Warner Bros. TV is pushing the promotion of J.J. Abrams upcoming sci-fi TV thriller "Fringe," which is launching this fall on Fox.

And it's not just comic-related and sci-fi fare. ComiCon has long included cult favorites like Star Wars (I see more Storm Troopers around here than nearly any other costume), Star Trek and even Indiana Jones. But now ComiCon is also seen as a must-attend event for comedy and action fare that appeals to that teen and 20-something male demographic that's also devoted to comics.

Four major comedies are being previewed here -- "Tropic Thunder," "Pineapple Express," "Hamlet 2" and "Disaster Movie" -- showing that the festival is becoming about reaching the comic-loving demographic as much as it is about selling comic books. Judd Apatow and other comedic creators will also make their appearance.

It appears the movie-related booths are the most popular here. They're relegated to a separate part of the convention center, which you can only enter from the outside. There's a huge line to get to the bevy of stars and movie folks, and I'm waiting in it right now.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.