Displays at the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park. Photo by Chris Stone

While this weekend marked the big return of an in-person Comic-Con for the first time in two years, it also was the public unveiling of the long-awaited Comic-Con Museum.

Organizers and fans of Comic-Con had long dreamed about opening a museum and over the past two years work progressed on creating one in the old Hall of Champions in Balboa Park.

The Hall closed in June 2017. Enter Comic-Con, which had been looking for a site for the museum and was approached by the city about the hall location. The result is a museum located in one of the region’s most visited locales, along with other popular museums and attractions.

“It’s like this hidden Smithsonian Institution in Southern California,” said Rita Vandergaw, a former Port of San Diego official who came out of retirement to become the museum’s acting executive director.

Comic-Con organizers had a soft-launch opening of the museum this weekend to coincide with Comic-Con Special Edition and even offered free shuttles between the San Diego Convention Center, where the Con is being held, and the museum.

Organizers and others involved in the museum talked to fans Sunday about the long journey to the museum’s opening.

The museum’s opening features exhibits on the life of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, artist Chas Addams, “Eight Decades of Archie” comics, “Cardboard Superheroes” created by children from A Reason to Survive — the National City-based arts organization — and a PAC-MAN arcade to celebrate the induction of the video game character into the Comic-Con Museum Hall of Fame.

“We’re starting off with a bang,” said Eddie Ibrahim, Comic-Con’s longtime director of programming.

Ibrahim said exhibits will be frequently updated to keep up with changing tastes in pop culture.

“These are all living, breathing exhibits so there will be changes,” said Chris Ryall, a comics industry veteran and founder of Syzygy Publishing.

One thing that organizers stressed is that there is no longer a need to wait for Comic-Con to roll around on the schedule each summer. Now, Comic-Con can be celebrated year-round at the museum.

“Pop culture is not something that should only be experienced five days a year,” said Ibrahim.

The museum is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s closed on Monday and Tuesday.

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