Friday, April 6, 2012

Review: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

Cross-posted on

It's no secret to anyone who knows me or regularly reads me here, or on my Twitter, that I am a Comic-Con lifer. I've been going since I was two years old and I hope to never stop. The closest I've ever come to missing a Comic-Con was when I was 16 and had previously been in Ireland for a Summer program. But I flew directly to San Diego from Ireland and although I missed the panel I was most looking forward to (all I remember? It involved Jason Lee and Ben Affleck) because I detained at the airport for having the same name, birthdate and description as a runaway from Reno (no, really), I still made it for a solid two days of nerdy gloriousness. Which is why I think I am not a bad authority on whether or not, say, a documentary on Comic-Con works. I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of such a film, Comic-Con: A Fan's Hope a few weeks back, and I would like to say definitively that yes - it works. In spades.

The film, produced by Harry Knowles, Joss Whedon, Stan Lee and more, directed by Morgan Spurlock, takes a look at 6 different people making the pilgrimage to Comic-Con for a host of reasons, as well as a look at the Convention experience itself. While it doesn't delve too much into history other than opening with some vintage photos and radio interviews, that ended up not bothering me - this isn't a documentary about this history of Comic-Con - that movie will come another time. 

What the film does capture well is what it is like to attend Comic-Con, whether as a collector itching for that one particular exclusive, an artist looking to make connections in portfolio reviews, a cosplayer participating the masquerade, a comics book dealer hoping against hope to make a profit, or as fans who met and fell in love at the geek mecca. Expansive shots of the crowds descending on the convention center, then swarming in the inside, plus a look at the long lines and claustrophobic nature of Hall H doesn't sugarcoat the fan experience. It's crowded and requires long, tiring hours for those moments of seeing someone you admire talk or getting their autograph. But the movie also emphasizes how worth it it is for everyone who attends. Many people who are important to Comic-Con in some way were interviewed, but tons of fans were as well, many in costume, not shy about revealing which geek icons they were excited to see the most or which encounters left them the most star stuck. One of my favorite instances of this was when Paul Scheer talked about being in an elevator with Joss Whedon and finding himself unable to say anything to someone he loved so much. 

Following individuals into Comic-Con was hands down the best way to approach capturing the Comic-Con experience. We followed these two aspiring artists as they filled their days with portfolio reviews, an aspect of Comic-Con I barely knew existed, and how their ventures play out were fascinating to watch. Don't be surprised if you find yourself getting a little emotional. We also had the pleasure of witnessing some very dedicated cosplayers make some faneffingtastic Mass Effect 2 costumes for the masquerade, and got to be a part of the whole pre-masquerade rigamarole, from turning in forms, to rehearsals, to the night itself. This storyline was probably my favorite, and from the sound of it, the audiences as well, as ringleader Holly Conrad's "what happened since this was shot" placard got the largest and most enthusiastic response. And made me cry. The collector only shows up briefly, but demonstrates handily the convention collector culture, and anyone who was at the Kevin Smith panel in 2010 knows about the "lovers" track, following a boy with the plan to propose to his girlfriend who he met at Comic-Con the year before, during the Kevin Smith panel. Again with the tears. 

Perhaps the most dramatic track was that of the comic book dealer,  Chuck Rozanski or the "survivor" as he was referred to in the film. Any regular Comic-Con attendee knows the "Mile High Comics guy", with his long braid and magical way of convincing you to buy comics when you're on the fence. He spends most of the movie highly concerned that he is going to be forced to sell some of his most prized possessions in order to not go out of business, as he sees Comic-Con going much more in the pop culture direction than the comic book direction. We spend the whole movie crossing our fingers that he makes enough cash by the end and can put his beloved Red Raven #1 back in the safe. There is no question in my mind that this year, I'm making more of an effort to buy my comics on site from these dealers. 

What's cool about these specific people and their stories are that it's a perfect microcosm - all 125,000 people who attend Comic-Con are there for different reasons. Most of us who spend the bulk of our time in Hall H or Ballroom 20 don't even know about things like portfolio reviews or the masquerade (although I attended the masquerade every year until about 2005. Ready for this old school masquerade reference? Rock! Rock! Rock!) and anyone who doesn't do the Hall H experience had no idea about the proposal. 

What this film also does very effectively is create a "laughing with" filmic experience. I never found myself laughing AT anyone, but I laughed a lot. Someone else's intense geekery for Phineas and Ferb is a lot like intense geekery I've felt for Star Wars or Buffy or Shaun of the Dead or Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones or Fables, so my laughter never held any malice, and the intention of the film was never to encourage such a thing. We're all in this boat together and the film really captured that nicely. It filled me with joy (and as I've said before, often tears) from start to finish and reminded me how much I love the place I for so many years referred to as my home away from home, the place I've always felt I belong the most. 

As stressful as Comic-Con can be between getting to every panel I want to see and attending every party I want to go to and buying every exclusive on the floor I need, at the end of the day, it's one of the most magical events in the world and some people spend their lives dreaming about attending. You know what this movie really does most of all? Makes me want to smack anyone who ever complains about "having to go" or being "forced to cover it." Then don't. Don't go. It's a place of love, of acceptance, of sharing in our geekery together, and if you're gonna roll your eyes and complain, you're doing it wrong. 

Also? I knew Matt Fraction is talented. I did not know Matt Fraction is hot. I would like to date him. The end.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope opens in Los Angeles Thursday April 5th, San Francisco and Portland Friday, April 6th, New York, Boston and Washington DC on Friday, April 13th. You can also watch it On Demand Friday April 6th. There will also be special screenings with Morgan Spurlock Q&As across the US through