About 25,000 people are expected at this year's Emerald City Comicon, which began Friday and runs through Sunday.

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Rozzie Sanders, 19, of Tacoma, came to see William Shatner: “Oh, yeah. William Shatner — the Kirk!”

Elias Brunt, 22, and his girlfriend, Jessie Churchill, 19, who came dressed as the Joker and Harley Quinn from “Batman,” hoped to meet Bruce Timm, producer and designer of “Batman: The Animated Series.”

Coming for a variety of reasons — but mainly to have fun with people who share their passion for comics, superheroes and sci-fi — they were among the 25,000 expected at this year’s Emerald City Comicon, which began Friday and runs through Sunday.

The convention, now in its ninth year, has grown from a relatively small gathering that drew a couple thousand to one of the Washington State Convention Center’s top five largest conventions. And it parallels the growth of other such events nationwide.

“It’s insane” how much

it’s grown

At Emerald City Comicon Saturday morning, convention-goers wove through booths featuring boxes of comics and displays of collectibles, some stopping to take photos of other attendees dressed in costumes. Side rooms and a large ballroom that seats 3,000 were set up for panels.

“It’s insane” how much it’s grown, said Brian Pierce, 37, of Bothell, who’s come to every Emerald City Comicon. “I remember when it was just one room. Now it’s this sprawling thing.”

Emerald City Comicon began after Jim Demonakos, co-owner of several comic-book stores in the area called The Comic Stop, went to large conventions held in other cities. Seattle’s conventions at the time were pretty small, he said.

He approached his fellow store owners and said: “Why don’t we start our own show here.”

That first year’s convention, a one-day affair held at Qwest Field Event Center, drew 2,500 people. It grew each year after that.

A few years ago, actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the “Star Wars” films, contacted them about attending. That was the beginning of adding big-name guests which, this year, include Shatner, Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner of “Star Trek” fame; James Marsters from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”; and Rainn Wilson from “The Office” and the upcoming superhero-comedy film “Super.”

Last year, about 17,000 people attended Emerald City Comicon, according to the convention center. Demonakos counts 20,000 including vendors and artists.

Still, that’s small compared to Comic-Con International in San Diego, the country’s largest comic-book and popular-arts convention that last year drew more than 126,000 people. Attendees waited in line for hours to hear the likes of actress Angelina Jolie and Joss Whedon, creator of TV shows “Firefly” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and director of the upcoming film “The Avengers.”

This year, tickets to San Diego’s Comic-Con — which is not affiliated with Emerald City Comicon — sold out within hours the first day they were available.

“It’s mind-bending how big it is now and how influential,” said Gary Groth, who works at Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books, a graphic-novel and comic-book publisher, and edits the print edition of The Comics Journal, a magazine of news and criticism on comics and cartooning.

Groth attributes the growth of such conventions to comics becoming a more integral part of pop culture.

“Or perhaps pop culture has become more comic-book-ized,” he said. “You see it with comic-book movies or TV shows like ‘Heroes.’ What used to be seen as essentially kids’ entertainment has become grown-up entertainment.”

Indeed, the audience for comic books has actually shrunk dramatically over the past decades. In the 1940s, it was around 9 million, said Jose Alaniz, a University of Washington associate professor who has taught a course on comics and comparative literature. He thinks the number may be lower than 500,000 now.

Television and other entertainment forms eroded the audience for comic books, Alaniz said, but these days, those entertainment forms — especially movies — have made comic-book characters arguably better-known than ever before.

And the growing number of people attending such conventions has led to more celebrities coming, which in turn, has helped draw even more people.

Meeting writers, artists

Fortunately, said Alaniz and Pierce, the Bothell resident who’s come every year, Emerald City Comicon is still small enough that comic-book lovers such as themselves can meet the writers and artists they admire.

“It’s intimate and it’s focused on comic books,” said Pierce, who most hoped to meet artists Kevin Maguire (“Justice League of America”) and Sergio Aragonés (“Groo the Wanderer”). “I’m amazed it’s been able to keep that focus.”

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com