Growing up in the 1980s, Trevor Mueller remembers Saturday morning cartoons and action figures that came to life from his favorite comic books.
But that was never really "cool".
"If you knew who the X-Men were, you got a wedgie," says Mueller, now 34 and a comic book writer from Buffalo Grove.
Things have definitely changed since then, if the annual Wizard World Chicago Comic Con is any evidence. Tens of thousands, many dressed as costumed characters, are expected to traverse the exhibit halls of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont this weekend.
The four-day fest kicked off Thursday afternoon, but it got going in earnest Friday with crowded aisles of revelers stopping to buy comics and artwork, snap selfies, and celebrate their fandom. The largest crowds are expected Saturday and Sunday, when the likes of Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Carrie Fisher will meet fans.
The show's organizer, Wizard Entertainment, started as a magazine in 1991 that hosted a few conventions, but now that's almost entirely its main business. And the company keeps doing more and more events as they've become more popular.
There's something for everyone at a Comic Con, offering a host of comics, celebrities and costumes.
"Wizard World has created a nerd culture," said Mueller, one of hundreds of exhibitors in the show's artist alley.
But as comics have jumped off the page and made their way into video games, movies and television, it's now mainstream, Mueller said.
"We live in a culture now where nerd culture is popular culture," he said.
At the same time, the presence of women and minorities in the pages of comics and on the big screen has grown, Mueller said.
A number of females young and old walking through the convention Friday came dressed as Rey, the female protagonist in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
"Rey came out of left field," said Kat Bunke, 21, a college student from Madison, Wisconsin, who dressed as the popular character. "It's the fact she's a character we don't see enough on screen."
Bunke assembled her costume -- a layered beige dress, belt, and 5-foot staff -- mostly from thrift stores. Others dressed in more elaborate outfits that can cost hundreds of dollars.
Valerie Meachum, 46, an Elgin actress, came to the convention Friday as Mara Jade, a love interest of Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars" books, comics and video games. She, too, plans to come dressed as Rey on Saturday.
On Sunday, she'll return to see Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the original movie trilogy.
While anyone can attend the celebrity panel and Q&A, Meachum decided to splurge for the $325 VIP pass that guarantees she will get a seat. She'll also be able to get Fisher's autograph and take a photo with her.
While many young girls now have a main character to look up to, Meachum believes females have always been interested in many of the same movies, games and comics that males have.
"We've always been here," she said. "We've always had characters to latch onto, but now the general public is finding out."