Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope
"It's easy to charm an audience with warm-hearted stuff like this. Where Spurlock really succeeds is in cramming so much meaningful information into his deceptively lightweight film."

When it first began 38 years ago, Comic-Con was a modestly sized gathering, just a few industry professionals getting together to do business and inviting the public to buy their wares. Now, as this film makes clear, everybody and their granny has heard of it. Attracting well over 100,000 people per year in its current incarnation, can it still deliver on its promise? How does its growth reflect changing attitudes to geekery in wider society, and how has it affected those who were there at the start?

Morgan Spurlock has assembled an extraordinary cast to tell his tale. All the great and the good of the comics world are here as well as award winning film directors from Joss Whedon to Kenneth Branagh. In one touching sequence, people whom many fans would die to share a room with express how dumbstruck they were by the thrill of meetng their own idols. In the comics genre, as in science fiction and in horror, there's a fuzzy line between creators and fans, a sense that art often emerges from the wisdom of the crowd. We see that here, not only in the many charmingly self-effacing star interviews but also in the stories of ordinary attendees who hope to become industry players.

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Mixing multiple narratives without ever losing his focus, Spurlock, clearly in his element here, dispenses abruptly with the notion that all comics fans are the same. We meet people attending the event for very different reasons. One hopes to buy an 18 inch Galactus figure he's craved for months despite his wife's disapproval of his hobby. One hopes to make a breakthrough with her costume design work, including a very impressive animatronic piece. Two are seeking commisions for their artwork. One plans to propose to his girlfriend, whom he met there the previous year. Another just wants to sell comics - needs to, in fact, to keep his ailing business alive - but he's not sure anyone there is interested in that side of things any more.

Attending Comic-Con feels like coming home, fans tell us, and it's clear that, for most, the magic is about the people - as one guy puts it, it's a safe place for him to be a six foot two inch black guy who like to dress as a superhero. Old regulars still seem able to find each other despite the crowds. It's clear there are concerns among some about the mass commercialisation of the event and the way every tentatively related Hollywood project now latches onto it. Is it right that the love fans feel should be exploited? On the other hand, there are plenty of fans who love the merchandise - and despite its prevelance, there's still a huge amount of creativity on display here, with impressive home-made costumes everywhere. Through this, we see more of the humour that sustains things. A bevy of Princess Leia slave girls pose togeher for a photo. Elsewhere, stormtroopers gather en masse behind a diminutive Spider-man. Though there are a few tears when dreams don't quite materialise, overall everyone seems to be having fun.

Of course, it's easy to charm an audience with warm-hearted stuff like this. Where Spurlock really succeeds is in cramming so much meaningful information into his deceptively lightweight film. Historical, commercial and artistic narratives are neatly interwoven with the personal ones. The interview material is very good and, for many fans, will justify the cost of seeing this film by itself. Most marked about it is the sense of openness many interviewees project, as if they are completely off their guard because just talking about the event makes them too, feel at home.

If you're a fan looking for a fix before the next event, this film will help to tide you over and will entertain you in the meantme. If you're an outsider, you'll probably find this more accessible than you think. When faced with the notion that a man should put away childish things, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope asks a very good question: why?

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2013
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Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope packshot
A documentary celebration of Comic-Con, celebrating its success and the people who attend it.

Director: Morgan Spurlock

Writer: Joss Whedon, Morgan Spurlock

Starring: Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Seth Green, Paul Scheer, Joss Whedon, Grant Morrison

Year: 2011

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2013

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