SAN DIEGO — During the day, Comic-Con attendees drool over intricate costumes, limited-edition toys, celebrity appearances and never-before-seen footage. At night, they party.
This year's annual pop-culture extravaganza is playing host to more over-the-top evening events than ever — from lavish, invite-only, A-list soirees to costumed freak shows.
"I've done this enough to know there are two Comic-Cons," said Kevin Pereira, host and producer of cable channel G4's "Attack of the Show." ''There are two entirely different conventions going on. People have two schedules. One is for the panel-goers who want to buy limited-edition merchandise and see an ex-cast member of 'Firefly,' and then there's the nighttime crowd."
Pereira, a Comic-Con veteran and self-described "D-list celebrity," said he's been invited to more parties this year than in previous years. How does he decide which ones to R.S.V.P. to attend? He checks the guest list. Pereira said the best part of Comic-Con is "being able to rub elbows" with pop-culture luminaries like Stan Lee and "the people on my DVR."
Movie studios, television networks, video game publishers and other entertainment companies are reaching deep into their coffers to host peripheral Comic-Con events at nearby hotels, bars, restaurants and — in some cases — parking lots in hopes of garnering hype in the increasingly crowded marketplace.
"It's kind of like the Olympics for us," said Letty Canizalez, Hard Rock Hotel sales manager. "It's all hands on deck for our staff. We plan for this a year out, and as soon as this year is over, we'll be getting calls for next year. We sell out our venues very, very early, but the studios don't usually tell us any details until the very, very end."
The Hard Rock Hotel, which is located just a few steps away from the Comic-Con madness inside the San Diego Convention Center, is home to more than 20 events this year in various spaces throughout the hotel. Canizalez believes there are more parties being thrown during this year's Comic-Con because "everyone's purse strings opened a little more than last year."
The hotel played host to several soirees Thursday, including a boozy showcase by Microsoft Corp. of upcoming games such as "Gears of War 3," a well-attended poolside bash thrown by pop-culture site IGN and sponsored by the video game "Saint's Row: The Third," and an intimate candlelit celebration honoring the work of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Frazetta.
In a parking lot down the street, cast members from the upcoming horror flick "Final Destination 5" partied at a fun no-frills bash complete with boxed wine and air hockey tables. Around the corner, Todd McFarlane was toasted for contributing to the role-playing game "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" at a low-key cocktail party overlooking PETCO Park.
Festivities planned for Friday included the exclusive Maxim, FX and Fox Home Entertainment party on the rooftop of Hotel Solamar and the Warner Bros. Television event at the Hard Rock Hotel. Syfy and E! have joined forces for a star-studded soiree at Hotel Solamar on Saturday, while Entertainment Weekly will take over the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel.
"I feel like this is one of the best parties we throw throughout the year," said Lisa Simpson, special projects editor at Entertainment Weekly. "It makes perfect sense because we're all about pop culture and Comic-Con is all about pop culture. This year will be really fun because we'll have fun stuff like liquid nitrogen ice cream and a slider station."
Most parties aren't open to the more than 130,000 guests expected to pack the convention center, though Comic-Con badge holders can line up to attend Saturday's 37th annual Masquerade, a showcase for costumed attendees. And anyone can participate Saturday in the fifth annual Zombie Walk, a march of undead-dressed folks through the city's Gaslamp Quarter.
Derrik J. Lang can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang.