Comic ConIt's an event so exclusive that only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands who tried to get in actually made it? No, it's not the Oscars. Nor Fashion Week. Nor the Super Bowl.

No, I'm talking about Comic-Con -- the annual pop culture event that started out as a small gathering of comic book writers, artists, and collectors in the 1970s.

This year's confab, to be held July 18-21 in San Diego, could draw at least 130,000 fans in addition to innumerable celebrities, Hollywood executives, and wannabe actors and actresses. Oh, and nerds. Thousands upon thousands of nerds.

They're the fans filling the coffers of Hollywood's top studios and creating big returns for investors as a result. Consider this: As a group, Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF), Time Warner (TWX) and Walt Disney (DIS) have outperformed Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) over the past year.

Storming the Digital Gates

For all the tens of thousands already signed up to attend Comic-Con, thousands more wanted to go. Prior to Saturday's open ticketing, Comic-Con organizers sent registration links to would-be participants who had already signed up for "membership" -- i.e., the right to get in line to buy tickets -- months before. Only members would be allowed through Comic-Con's digital doors, presuming they could get in line in the first place.

It wasn't easy. Those who entered the show's digital "waiting room" were assigned a place in line. Others were met with a blank screen. Still others (like yours truly) were met with a server error, no doubt due to the hundreds of thousands of hopefuls simultaneously clicking away at Comic-Con's EPIC reservations system precisely at 9 a.m. Pacific. Three hours of waiting bought me nothing.

I wasn't alone. "I am Leonardo DiCaprio and the Oscars are the Comic-Con badges," wrote would-be attender "hikatieroberts" on Twitter.

Another, "chicklitwrites," offered a snarky bit of branding advice in response to the wait: "Next year, instead of 'Good luck' on the [Comic-Con] landing page, how about 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.' More accurate?"

Finally, in commenting on Twitter about the limited hotel options available to those attending Comic-Con, "SublimeRubbish" called the mad scramble for rooms a "Hunger Games style death match."

Clearly, Comic-Con isn't for the weak-willed.

Nerds Take Hollywood

According to USA Today culture reporter Whitney Matheson, at least 44,000 were in line for Comic-Con tickets Saturday, or about a third of last year's audience of 130,000. All four days sold out in 90 minutes, which means there's good reason to expect an even bigger crowd this year -- a gathering along the lines of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, with its 150,000-plus attendees.

As writer Rob Salkowitz put it on Twitter: "Physicists take note: the [Comic-Con] badge sellout just broke the speed of light -- and the Internet." Salkowitz is the author of "Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture."

His book comes at an interesting time for investors. New York hosts its own massive Comic-Con in October. Denver started one last year and drew more than 27,000 attendees, a near-record for a first-year show. All signs point to increasing consumer interest in comics, sci-fi and horror.

Hollywood shows up to Comic-Con in force as it surfs these trends -- and funds an ever-increasing number of flicks based on comic books. An even dozen such flicks are headed to the big screen this year, including Disney's "Iron Man 3" and Warner's Superman reboot "Man of Steel."

Media Stocks: Like Tech Stocks, but With a Kicker

Enthusiasm for these and related properties has been a boon to investors in the companies behind them. Can the rally continue? It may not matter. Unlike the tech stock frenzy of a few years ago, when speculators bid up unproven and often unprofitable companies, Disney, Warner, and other big names in pop culture trade for reasonable valuations, and they pay dividends.

And that's important. Wannabe tech stars may come and go, but the big businesses behind comics will still be paying off (literally) long after today's frenzy is over.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Apple, Google, Time Warner, and Walt Disney at the time of publication. Connect with Tim on Google+, Tumblr, or Twitter.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney, Apple, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Walt Disney, and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.

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THIS IS THE WORST!!! IT\'S NEVER RIGHT. YOU HAVE A REAL PROBLEM WHEN A PERSON\'S PORTFOLIO SAYS ONE NUMBER AND YOUR EMAIL REPORT IS TOTALLY WRONG. I\'L BE UNSCRIBING FOR THE 4TH TIME!!!

February 23 2013 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply