OK. OK. So a designer, a survivor, and a pair of graphic artists walk into a comic book convention … Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
No? Well, it’s a good one, that’s for sure. And it’s the central plot of Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary, Comic Con, Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. The title – an obvious play on the Star Wars franchise – reflects the fact that (at least in the mind of any super-fan) the annual trek to San Diego’s comic book convention is more than just a pilgrimage, it’s a quest … a quest for validation, love, acceptance, companionship, collectibles, earning potential, employment, hidden treasure, awards, adoration, and/or enjoyment.
Comic-Con is to comic book fans what the grotto at Lourdes is to Christians. Both attract the faithful, as well as the afflicted and the curious – all of whom have their own agenda, priorities, interests and objectives.
Spurlock documents the journey of half a dozen die-hards, all of whom have booked their trip to Comic-Con several months in advance. Among the true believers are: Holly, the sci-fi costume designer; Eric, the would-be illustrator; and Chuck, the aging dealer, with his protege in tow.
Rather than portray his subjects as cliched outcasts, Spurlock does an astounding job of chronicling the everyday hopes, dreams, fears and regrets that motivate them. The only difference: The majority of these everyday hopes, dreams, fears and regrets revolve around the sci-fi/comic book universe, and – more to the point – an annual convention that glorifies that universe.
I mean, sure, Kevin Smith pops up, time and again, assuming the role of unofficial mascot. And Stan Lee is on-hand throughout, springing round the convention like an overzealous grandpop. And, hey, look … There’s a witty cutaway to Seth Rogen, talking about a bunch of uber-geeks in TMNT garb.
But it’s the fans that Spurlock trains his sites on, and the fans who have the most to win or lose at Comic-Con. It’s the fans who are really there to see and be seen; to gain some type of foothold in – or advanced association with – an industry that’s consumed them their entire lives.
Comic-Con, Episode Four does a really nice job of capturing that subculture – the ups, the downs, the overnight successes, and the disillusioned losers, whose dreams are left in tatters on the cutting-room floor.
Spurlock’s film is endearing. It’s charming. And it’s highly recommended, whether you’re a hopeless uber-geek, or just some average Joe.
(Comic-Con, Episode IV arrives on VOD April 6th, with a limited release in Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles on April 13th)