Families and kids from throughout New England flocked to the Rhode Island Convention Center last weekend to celebrate sci-fi, superheroes, cartoons, and other pop culture at the fifth annual Rhode Island Comic Con.

The weekend has quickly become the biggest draw in the smallest state -- and a major magnet for families. Comic book conventions (or cons, as they're more typically known now) have extended their reach from the stereotypical "nerd in the basement" to feature kids, adults, and families of all constellations. As "geeks" have become more mainstream and respected in popular culture (witness the success of comic-book movies and the TV show The Big Bang Theory), so have the cons, with young and old alike enjoying the collectible shopping, meeting celebrities, and dressing up as their favorite characters (known as "cosplay," or costume-play).

While kids were welcome at all areas of the convention, a special Kids Con area was offered just for young fans and their families. Sponsored by radio station WCTK, Cat Country 98.1, Kids Con featured face painting, mask-making crafts, coloring, an obstacle course, a Nintendo gaming area, and special entertainment.

Kids Con officials Jillian Aldrich and Maggie Bloomer reported a steady stream of families over the three days and "booming" business. In the jam-packed event, which spanned the Convention Center and the Dunkin Donuts Center, the Kids Con area was a welcome respite for many and offered a less-crowded place for families to relax, have fun, and take a break from the bustling crowds.