In the documentary, Comic Con IV: A Fan’s Hope, Stan Lee makes one statement that pretty much wraps up the entire idea behind the documentary. “Fans are the most important part of the comic business,” the Marvel legend said, “or any other form of entertainment for that matter.”
Comic Con IV: A Fan’s Hope is the latest documentary by Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker behind Super Size Me. After working on a number of projects where he is the center of attention, Spurlock never showed his face this time around. He allows his subjects to tell the story and he proves to be a documentarian that has finally found his groove.
The documentary, produced by luminaries of pop culture like Joss Whedon, Stan Lee and Harry Knowles, tells the story of ComicCon, an event that started as a small comic convention and developed into the nation’s largest gathering of all things geek. To make the documentary, Spurlock tells the story of individual people trying to achieve very personal goals in the biggest comic convention in the world.
We meet “The Geek,” a bartender at a comic themed bar that has dreams of being a comic book artist. He is a geek by birth, his parents having met at a comic convention themselves. “The Designer” is a girl who constructs costumes in her garage and plans to head to ComicCon for a costume contest, with dreams of catching someone’s eye and getting a job making costumes for a living.
“The Soldier” is another aspiring artist, a military man by day and a father and artist by night. Much like “The Geek,” he is heading to ComicCon to try to impress someone enough to help him finally reach his dreams. Next, we get “The Collector,” who goes to ComicCon make sure he never misses a chance to get the next big action figure, this year a Galactus figure. “The Lovers” met at ComicCon and the boyfriend plans on proposing to his girlfriend at a Kevin Smith panel.
While those stories intertwine through the film, Spurlock also spends a lot of time dealing with “The Survivor,” Chuck Rozanski, the owner of the legendary Mile High Comics. Rozanski is watching his business model slowly die and needs ComicCon to be a success for him in order to survive. However, what the movie shows is that ComicCon is not really a place for comics anymore.
Non-comics are taking over. Comic collectors are the minority now and people are there to play the latest videogames or watch the studios pump out the next movie stars from upcoming summer blockbusters, something that is referred to in the movie as a “test market.”
It is interesting to see the way that ComicCon is moving away from what made it big and instead focusing on what Hollywood is doing. However, that part of the story, while sad for the comic book market, is not what makes ComicCon IV so good.
The highlights are the individuals using this experience to try to move ahead in their careers. The Geek heads to ComicCon with stars in his eyes and wants someone to tell him he is good enough. The Soldier wants the same but also wants to find someone who will help him achieve his dreams. You might think that showing two different artists chasing their dreams is overkill, but they end up with different resolutions to their stories. You see one succeed while the other is told to keep improving.
The Designer is another story, as her mission is to bring big costumes from the video game Mass Effect 2 to ComicCon. This includes an elaborate scheme with a giant animatronic head for one of the members of the cast to wear. Her story plays out like a movie, with ups and downs and pratfalls before she finally gets her moment in the sun.
The Lovers and The Collector shows two other archetypes from the convention but plays out as less pressing, both introduced later in the movie, without giving the viewer a lot of time to invest in them. I will give The Lovers credit for the most catcalls from the audience with exclamations like “RUN,” focused towards the boyfriend.
Spurlock went all out for the documentary, though. He brought in a who’s who of talent, including Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Eli Roth, Seth Green and Edgar Wright. Also on hand are names from the comic world including Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada and Robert Kirkman. In between all the storylines and the quotes from attendees, these big names pop in to either prove they are fans too or to give their thoughts on the convention and the direction it is headed.
Comic Con IV: A Fan’s Hope is arguably Morgan Spurlock’s best directed documentary. It does seem to lack a little focus in the middle when new characters are introduced out of nowhere but that does not distract from its positives. It is funny and paints a good picture of the state of comics and the convention. The best part of the documentary is the focus on the people that are making their dreams come true. However, there is something here for any fans of comics and pop culture.
** Film viewed at the 2012 DeadCenter Film Festival **