Monday, April 9, 2012

A short review of "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"

The Morgan Spurlock-directed documentary, "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope" premiered last week in a few cities around the country; through the miracle of science (and the Playstation store), I downloaded and watched this movie on Friday with Larry, co-creator of Franks and Beans and fellow 2012 Comic-Con attendee.  With the convention nearing, this seemed like the perfect primer for what is to come, and I'd been excited to see the film since watching the trailer not too long ago.

In short, the film was exciting and enjoyable, and it did a good job at presenting the convention from a number of different perspectives, each capturing the excitement of what it is to have a dream and then confronting that dream at the pop culture convention in San Diego.

While the film includes a number of confessional-like interviews with Hollywood celebrities (Joss Whedon, Olivia Wilde), comic professionals (Stan Lee, Tim Bradstreet) and other well-know individuals, it mainly centered around attendees of the show, each of them looking for something slightly different.  It included a pair of would-be comic book artists looking to show off portfolios, a group of costume designers, comic retailers, as well as some collectors and fans just looking to buy things or see specific panels.

I was stunned, about ten minutes into the film, to recognize one of the people being followed.  I (very) briefly met Ashley from Mile High Comics at the New York Comic-Con, and we've spoken a few times since, though not about anything noteworthy.  At the time I didn't know she worked for Mile High, but after seeing the movie it's obvious that she's got an important role in the company.  It was strange to see someone I recognized - especially without expecting it - but I found that at least on three other occasions I saw people I had seen at other conventions.  The field of comics is really an insular one.

The film did a good job at capturing the individual nature of each person it followed.  It was tough for me to follow the two artists, both hoping to land a gig drawing a book, because I was certain, having gone through the submission process before, as to how their stories would end (I was right about both, but Skip Harvey's fall from grace was particularly hard to watch, and at one point I thought he was going to throw himself off of a pier).

Once, while a segment on an artist played, Larry paused the movie, turned to me and remarked that it was a shame the film didn't follow a writer along with an artist, and he had a point.  But as I explained, someone looking to write for comics going to Comic-Con would meet with the following scenario again and again: "Hi," the writer would say, "I'd like to write for comics."  Whoever was on the other end of the conversation would immediately scream, "F%$& YOU, BUDDY!" and go about his or her business.  This, while initially entertaining, would not make for much good footage.

I am obviously biased when it comes to this, but it would have been interesting if the film had followed a small press creator or team looking to sell a book at the show.  I understand that the film ran somewhere around 90 minutes in length, and that there are lots of different people who come to Comic-Con for different reasons, but this one aspect was completely glossed over, and I'll imagine that there's every bit of emotion and anxiety involved at a small press booth that there is with an artist or designer or fan.

Overall, this was a worthwhile dissection of pop culture fandom.  One overlying theme was the show's transformation from a small comics-only convention to the pop culture monster it has become today, and more than one person expressed a little bit of dismay at how comics have become secondary to all of the Hollywood glamour, and it would have been interesting to see the film actually deal with those concerns in some way.  Perhaps there is no answer as the change is still ongoing, but I found it strange that this particular plot thread was left unfulfilled.

I'd recommend this documentary to anyone who enjoys comics and is interested in the mystic nature that is Comic-Con International.  This is certainly not a complete work, but it does enough to satisfy for 90 minutes.  I wonder if the "stars" of this film will be at the 2012 version of Comic-Con, and what treatment they will receive.  It would be fun to see them on the floor and see how others react.  This was, I'm sure, an exhilarating experience for those involved, and I enjoyed watching their stories play out on film.  We'll see what 2012 brings.

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