I’ve never been to the San Diego Comic-Con, but I’ve wanted to go ever since I was kid, reading blurbs about the convention in the pages of Batman, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Uncanny X-Men, and any other comic book title I could place my grubby little hands on. So it goes without saying that Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope piqued my interest. I enjoyed this movie, but I’ll add the caveat that it will probably appeal exclusively to comic nerds and pop culture junkies. To everyone else Comic-Con Episode IV is just going to come off as pornography for geeks, which it probably is in all fairness.
Comic-Con Episode IV follows six or seven attendees of the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con as they pursue their various dreams. The movie particularly tracks two amateur artists who bring portfolios of their work in the hopes of being hired by a publisher, a group of amateur costume designers who enter a masquerade contest dressed as characters from Mass Effect 2, an old school comic book merchant who attempts to broker a deal to sell of his most valuable collectible, and a dorky Kevin Smith fanboy who proposes to his girlfriend at a Kevin Smith panel. Scattered among these main story strands are dozens of testimonials from celebrities, professional collectors, and regular attendees alike. Familiar faces such as Stan Lee, Paul Dini, Todd MacFarlane, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Seth Green, Joss Whedon, and Kevin Smith throw in their two cents about what Comic-Con means to them.
The movie really doesn’t explore the history of the convention and how it exploded into the general pop culture phenomenon it is today, and it doesn’t offer any insight into what lays in store for the institution. Spurlock seems mostly interested in passively observing the show, and he doesn’t put much effort into going behind the scenes. Comic-Con Episode IV does, however, offer a few glimpses into the mechanics of the convention.
As a longtime comic geek, I found myself simultaneously fascinated and depressed by passages of the movie dealing with Chuck Rozanski, the founder of Mile High Comics in Colorado, as he attempts to sell off enough his collection to pay his debts and keep his business afloat. Rozanski’s name might not ring a bell with any of this site’s readership – to be honest, I didn’t specifically know who he was until I watched this documentary – but Mile High Comics was a fucking institution when I was growing up in the ‘90s. I can’t remember a major superhero title from DC or Marvel that didn’t have an advertisement for Mile High in it, and I easily expended hundreds of dollars in allowances on ordering back issues from Rozanski’s distribution centers. Here, he and other comic merchants appear to have great difficulty pushing their merchandise. The casual attendees seem more interested in spotting Ryan Reynolds at The Green Lantern panel than in buying comic books.
So it’s a little sad to see how far the actual comic vendors have fallen here and that they really appear to be outsiders at a convention that was ostensibly created for the purpose of glorifying what they do for a living. Scenes wherein Rozanski describes the evolution (he’d probably describe it as the devolution) of Comic-Con from an actual comic book convention to a gigantic focus group for major Hollywood studios and video game companies provide something of a bridge between the humble beginnings of the convention and it’s current bloated form.
Aside from a few narrative strands dealing with actual vendors and industry professionals, however, Comic-Con Episode IV mostly functions as a whimsical commercial for the event, depicting the convention as a fantastical place where nerdy dreams come true; much of the documentary simply consists of devoted geeks absolutely gushing over the Con. That’s fine I suppose, but I was hoping for something a little less superficial.
Spurlock tries to cover far too many stories in his film’s brief 83 minute runtime, and as a result, the movie ends up lacking focus. Much of Comic-Con Episode IV is scattershot and unstructured. Though, in a sense, I suppose these flaws make it the perfect representation of the chaos of Comic-Con.
Maybe one day I’ll find out for myself.
As an aside, I find it somewhat hilarious that Harvey Weinstein had to go toe-to-toe with the MPAA over the R-rating Bully, a documentary on school bullying, received as a result of “strong language” whereas Morgan Spurlock was able to skate by with a PG-13 for this movie, wherein Kevin Smith says some variant of the word “fuck” some twenty odd times. Did the MPAA even view this movie from beginning to end, or did they just turn it off fifteen minutes in and assign it a rating?