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Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Back in 1970, the first San Diego Comic-Con catered to, duh, comic-book fans, and its organizers hoped to attract a few hundred people. Forty-two years later, thousands attend the annual event, and, according to a commentator in Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, the audience comprises “people who’ve never read a comic book and [people who’ve] never left their mom’s basement, like, mixed together.”

Now more a haven for nerds of pop culture than nerds of the printed word, the convention is often treated as a launching pad/church for movies and television shows, and being at the Con is cool. As frequent attendee and star geek attraction Joss Whedon says in the doc, “Are we not dope? Are we not amazing for being so obsessed with something?”

If you even have a passing interest in the ‘Con — regardless of whether you feel dope about it or not — you likely will watch much of Episode IV with a smile on your face. It’s hard not to grin when, for instance, you watch a montage of Spurlock’s famous interview subjects (Kevin Smith, Whedon, Eli Roth) talk about their star-struck moments or whom they’d most like to meet, or see The Man himself — Marvel’s Stan Lee, of course — high-fiving fans or making an already excited kid’s day with an autograph and some conversation. You see people in costumes and bigger-than-God stars interacting with them. The film (shot at 2010’s convention) is one big valentine.

Spurlock, who mercifully stays out of the picture (we’re all a bit Spurlock’d out, aren’t we?), does impress some sort of organization onto the multiday chaos, mainly by focusing on a handful of attendees. There are a couple of guys, one middle-aged, who are trying to break into comics (and get cringe-inducingly honest feedback). There’s an aspiring costume designer whose team is getting to put on a skit based on the video game Mass Effect. And there’s a young couple in love who started dating when they met at 2009’s ‘Con and may deepen their relationship at 2010’s, during a Kevin Smith Q&A in the massive Hall H.

Episode IV isn’t all fairy dust and fan fidelity, though. A writer for DC Comics calls Comic-Con “the world’s largest focus group.” Whedon even gets cynical, speaking from the organizers’ point of view: “We must mine this extraordinary love, because inside of it, there might be money. So let’s dig into this love and get the money out!” One of the other commoners Spurlock highlights is a gray-ponytailed comic-book purveyor who’s betting his financial welfare on selling a $500,000 Red Raven No. 1 — or at least bucketloads of his regular collection. The stress as his sales go up and down over the convention’s four days is palpable, particularly when he has to check in with his more glass-is-half-empty wife.

Mostly, though, the vibe is a cheery one. If you’ve never been to Comic-Con, this doc will make you want to go. If you’re a veteran, it will remind you why. As Ain’t It Cool’s Harry Knowles (one of the film’s producers) says, “This is mecca.”