Despite hotel room shortages, ticket sell-outs and threats of vast crowds, this week's Comic-Con International in San Diego will be just as busy as ever. In fact, the demand to enter the three-ring circus of cartoonists, authors, movie stars, toys, videogames and Stormtroopers is greater than ever this year, and has led to a first: four-day passes sold out a full two weeks before the opening of Preview Night.

According to convention spokesperson David Glanzer, the show has been keeping a watchful eye on registration, trying to avoid the overcrowding and long lines of previous shows. It won't be the first time the show has nearly reached capacity. “Last year we stopped some registration on Saturday—we never reached capacity, but we're trying to make sure it doesn't happen,” he said.

At press time, Friday and Saturday were very close to selling out before the show opens. Considering that some 120,000 people attended last year, this is some feat. So what are the lucky fans going to see? Movie stars like Clive Owen, Robert Downey Jr., Jessica Alba and Liv Tyler, along with presentations on TV sensations Heroes, Lost, 24 and Battlestar Galactica.

And, oh yes, creators, including comics guests Kyle Baker, Sergio Aragones and Paul Pope. An increasing number of genre authors are making Comic-Con a stop; this year Ray Bradbury, F. Paul Wilson, Cory Doctorow and Laurell K. Hamilton are among those making the trek.

Keeping the crowds under control has been a major goal for show organizers this year, with just-added 15-minute breaks between panels to allow for better traffic flow, and making sure that the big marquee events are spread out over all four days, and not just clumped on Saturday, as once was the custom. According to Glanzer, the con has made much more information on programming available earlier in order to get people to pre-plan.

While movie glitz gets a lot of headlines, the publishing industry's presence is definitely increasing, said Glanzer, as the book biz discovers the power of the con to launch viral marketing campaigns and generate early buzz.

Mark Siegel, editor of Holtzbrink's graphic novel imprint First Second, agrees that it's a great place to get a first-hand look at which books are catching on and how. (Unlike BEA, San Diego allows book sales at booths.) “It's a little like how in Hollywood they get the buzz from advance screenings,” said Siegel. “A lot of publishers don't realize the opportunities to get books out to early readers and to the big-mouth comics bloggers.”

This year, Random House, HarperCollins and Hachette's new Yen Press imprint are showing off their lines of manga and graphic novels. And a notable trend is the increasing crossover between comics and novelists. YA writer Cecil Castellucci is promoting The Plain Janes, the debut graphic novel in DC's girl-targeted Minx line. British comics writer and novelist Mike Carey is supporting not only his comic Crossing Midnight but his new book, The Devil You Know.

HarperCollins is making a big effort—including tattoos—for Crooked Little Vein, the caustically surreal debut novel of comics legend Warren Ellis. The notoriously curmudgeonly Ellis will be making a rare public appearance, his first at San Diego in a decade, and in a e-mail he predicted, “I'm sure it'll be another decade before I go again.”

The most famous comics-to-bestselling author commuter, Neil Gaiman, will also have a big presence at the show, but primarily for his screenwriting work on the upcoming films Stardust (based on his illustrated novel) and Beowulf.

While just getting into the show is a tough ticket this year, finding a place to stay has been brutal, as San Diego's historic hotel room shortage has left people staying as far as 30 miles from the action, and paying premium prices to get closer. Looking ahead, Glanzer said a planned new convention and visitors center in nearby Chula Vista, which has direct rail access to downtown, should help with the hotel situation in the future, as will a 1,000-room Hilton opening in 2008.

Because of the finite size of the convention center, the show is looking at expanding to other venues, said Glanzer—“Hotel ballrooms, tents and things like that. This year we're experimenting with some tent usage.”

Although the relationship between the “Nerd Prom” and its host city remains a bit strained—San Diego city planners have traditionally ignored hordes of con-goers, perhaps because the economic impact of the show has been misunderstood for many years—that is also changing. Last year the mayor came to the show for the first time. While San Diego's fiscal problems leave it perhaps not in the best position to be accommodating, the flood of Hollywood money into local coffers has not gone unnoticed, said Glanzer. “I think they know that leaving San Diego would probably not be beneficial for them in the end.” The convention has signed a two-year extension of its contract with San Diego, which will take it up to 2013.