A film review by Craig J. Koban July 18, 2012



2012, PG-13, 88 mins.


A documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock 

It’s amazing to consider just how big the annual San Diego Comic-Con has become, especially if you consider its very humble beginnings.  

It was founded way back in 1970 by Shel Dorf, Richard Alf, Ken Krueger, and Mike Towry, all fellow citizens of San Diego that then dubbed it "The Golden State Comic Book Convention".    There were reportedly just 500 comic book aficionados that attended the first convention 40-plus years ago; the event now has become a pop culture phenomenon.  It’s the largest convention in North America and the fourth largest in the world, with yearly attendance hovers in the hundreds of thousands.  The convention still has comics, but it now caters to nearly every form of mass marketed entertainment, movies and video games included.  In short, Comic-Con is a major, major deal for both geeks and corporations alike. 

The humorously titled COMIC-CON: EPISODE IV – A FAN’S HOPE is a very breezy, likable, somewhat compelling, and generally entertaining look at just how gigantic and popular this convention has become for San Diegans and the comics, game, and film obsessed public around the globe.  Sporting a reported film crew in the hundreds, the documentary tracks the comings and goings of the five-day event by immersing you in all of its minutia, but it also takes an intimate look at a few specific attendees as they travel from far and wide across the country to descend on what they consider their fanboy nirvana, or nerd-vana.  The film is not a critical expose of crazed convention etiquette or the borderline fanatical extremes that some fans go to make this convention their home; instead, COMIC-CON is a celebration of the unique mindset and culture of its people – young and old – and how they all manage to share the common thread of being alike through their similar respective passions.  

When the film doesn’t show candid and vividly enthusiastic first-person testimonials from Comic-Con veterans like Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Matt Groening, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Eli Roth, and Seth Rogen (to name a few of the many), COMIC-CON hones its focus on specific people that all consider the con as the most significant event of the calendar year.  There are a couple of comic book artist wannabes, Eric and Skip, who hope to network, meet professionals, get their portfolios critiqued and – fingers crossed – land illustration jobs in the field while at the con.  Then there is Holly, a sassy go-getter who specializes in costume and creature design that hopes that her creations will get her noticed at the con.  There’s also a sweet section of the film dealing with James and his girlfriend – the couple met at a previous con – that highlights his quest to publicly propose to her during a Q and A panel featuring Kevin Smith.  Lastly, there’s Chuck, a long-time comics dealer that has arguably one of the largest inventories on the planet (several million) that hopes to use the convention to score some big sales and pay off his debt. 



Of all the threads in the documentary, I found myself clinging to Chuck the most.  He has become somewhat disgruntled about Comic-Con in general, seeing as it has become somewhat perverted; in his mind, the simple pleasures of comic book selling and collecting has been thrown to the background by the presence of larger corporations that have essentially hijacked the con and morphed it into something it originally was not.  He has seen some hard times, as the recent economic woes have stung the comic book dealer in ways not seen before.  With mounting profit losses and debts to pay, Chuck hopes to sell a very rare comic book (one of the rarest on the planet) at the convention for half a million dollars (he has two security men transport it to the con, one handcuffed to it while housed in a metal briefcase).  You see in Chuck’s eyes a man that does not want to part with something so very dear to him, but feels compelled to for business reasons. 

Second to Chuck’s thread, I enjoyed the tale of Holly and her crew meticulously re-creating costumes and characters from the popular game Mass Effect for a judged event at the con that Holly hopes will get Hollywood to notice.  She and her loyal and hard working crew take their hobby and interest to all sorts of extreme attention to detail (they even faithfully recreate an alien creature from the game, complete with animatronic facial expressions).  It’s pretty amazing what these young people create in their hometown garage with nothing but will and a whole lot of ingenuity.  And, yes, you just have to kind of appreciate the intrepidness of young James, who not only gets his hopeful fiancée a LORD OF THE RINGS-inspired engagement ring without her knowing at the con (she’s extremely needy and clingy and won’t leave the man alone), but also has to prepare and elaborate and very public proposal while at the mic at the Kevin Smith panel. 

The thread involving the two comic artists striving for glory is the least inspired of the film, mostly because it predictably boils down to one achieving success and the other failure.  COMIC-CON also seems to not have much to say about the madcap obsessive mindedness of grown men that will literally run over just about anyone in the way to get to a 20’’ Galactus replica action figure.  There’s also not much in the way of thoughtful commentary regarding basic concerns over convention attendance itself; in recent years turnout has ballooned to the point of it being a legitimate health and safety concern (lines of thousands cramped into tiny spaces are shown throughout the film).  The larger issue of how comics in all of their purity have been completely overshadowed and marginalized by the presence of Hollywood studios - that use their millions to buy their way in and pedal their products to the ravenous horde that awaits - is only hastily investigated in the film.  You feel, for example, Chuck’s dissatisfaction with this happening, but the doc does not explore it much further than that.  In a way, the con has forgotten about the "little guy" that helped start it.

COMIC-CON was directed by Morgan Spurlock, who has made three previous docs that I have not liked at all, SUPER SIZE ME, WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADDEN?, and THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, largely because they stated the painfully obvious about their subjects and did not teach viewers anything they didn't know before seeing them.  In COMIC-CON Spurlock does two things that work well in his favor this go-around: (1) He completely removes himself as a distracting, camera-mugging presence altogether and just allows his camera to focus on the convention as a silent observer and (2) he refreshingly does not try to sermonize a self-congratulatory agenda here.  

Seeing his name on the credits I was expecting Spurlock to scathingly mock the geek culture of the con devotee, but instead he completely reins himself in and just treats the event with a straightforward and earnest appreciation.  He captures the con’s infectious energy, the high level of jovial excitement experienced by those there, and, more importantly, what it means for attendees from all walks of life to feel like they’re accepted when people outside of the event have different ideas.  COMIC-CON is not a documentary of grand ideas or soul-searching analysis of why this event has become so unfathomably huge in recent memory; instead, it pays homage to the Comic-Con spirit by making you feel like you are there among the other hundreds of thousands.  For the five days during which the con takes over San Diego, the geeks there do in fact inherent and rule over the earth...and that’s not a bad thing

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