What’s that monster towering over the pop culture world? It’s comic con-zilla.

Comic cons, or pop culture gatherings where thousands of costumed attendees celebrate comic book characters and related TV shows and movies, are expanding all over the country. Smaller productions are trying to replicate the popularity of annual geek get-together Comic-Con International in San Diego, the industry leader.

One player in the rapid growth of comic cons is a small El Segundo firm called Wizard World. The company is doubling the comic con shows it produces this year to 16 events.

Wizard World’s expansion is a big bet, since a single show can cost more than $1 million to produce, but Chief Executive John Macaluso said the expansion is supported by a growing pool of fans – the same people that make film adaptations of comic books into record-breaking box-office sensations. Of course, other types of popular fiction, such as sci-fi and fantasy, are included, too.

“What we do is becoming much more mainstream,” Macaluso said. “When you look at the movies that Marvel puts out, or DC Comics puts out, or you see a new ‘Star Trek’ movie, it broadens the base of people interested in popular fiction.”

Wizard World’s 2014 tour began in January with a stop in Portland, Ore., and will continue March 7 in Sacramento, followed by shows in about a dozen other cities, including San Antonio, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Wizard World’s events bring comic creators and stars of movies and TV shows they inspired to the hometowns of fans willing to pay hundreds of dollars to meet actors such as Chris Hemsworth of Marvel’s “Thor” movies. The shows also feature panel discussions about TV series, movies and comic books, and vendors selling merchandise, such as posters, comics or replica swords.

But as the number of events grows, booking stars is getting more competitive as comic cons now number in the hundreds.

Aside from the San Diego show, which is operated by a non-profit, the next largest is New York Comic Con, produced by a division of international event producer Reed Exhibitions. Locally, there is Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo – known for its association with comic book legend – which has staged its event at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the past three years.

Comic con promoters generally support the growth of their competitors – the thinking is that one show’s popularity will help feed another’s. But Wizard World drew some criticism in February 2013 when it staged a show in Portland soon before a competing show, Emerald City Comicon, in Seattle – potentially diminishing the returns for both events. This year, Wizard World avoided the conflict by putting its Portland show in January while Emerald City Comicon is scheduled for late this month.

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