I’ve never attended Comic-con, but as someone who appreciates the world of comics, video games, and clearly genre TV and movies, it’s something I’ve toyed with. But I only know what I’ve seen on the interwebs and TV coverage — that comics have taken a back seat to the Hollywood machine that is poised to take over a convention that was once a safe haven for comic book aficionados.
Morgan Spurlock happened to be at the screening I went to, giving an introduction before the movie started and then did a q&a afterwards. While the movie would have been just as enjoyable on its own, Spurlock is a very entertaining speaker and did give some good background to what we had just seen (or were about to see) on the screen.
The origins of this documentary on Comic-Con started when in 2009, Spurlock had been hired to direct a special on the 20th anniversary of the Simpsons. At that year’s Comic-Con, he had a sort of American Idol tent set up where Simpsons fans could come and declare their love for Homer et al. One guy dressed up as Carnage ran up and started shouting how much he loved the Simpsons. He was in full body red latex paint and had totally forgotten about it until Spurlock asked him about it. He seemed a bit embarrassed and said that his wife helped paint him and then she and their kids dropped him off at Comic-Con; “she doesn’t get it” he said and it was then that Spurlock realized there was a documentary to be made about the subject.
Later that weekend, Spurlock then met Stan Lee as he explains in his director’s notes:
For my first hour on the ComicCon floor, I was in awe. I was transported back in to the body of that wide-eyed twelve-year old boy, staring in disbelief at my idols and inspirations-Sergio Aragones, Frank Miller, and the man himself, Stan Lee.
When I shook Stan’s hand, I thanked him for giving that young boy the confidence and the desire to want to tell stories, and I thanked him for helping me become who I am today. He looked at me, smiled that Stan Lee smile, and said, “You know what, Morgan? We should make a movie together. We should make a documentary! We should make a documentary about Comic-Con!”
He joined up with comic book god Lee, geek god Joss Whedon, and online critic Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News, and came up with this love letter to fans.
The documentary follows the different strains of fans that attend Comic-Con and we get an overall scope of the massive size of the event and the large variety of the people who attend, including an army of Princess Leias in the bikini. The doc’s focus is on 2 amateur comic artist both hoping to get a job from the portfolio review process, a costume designer who made elaborate Mass Effect costumes for the masquerade, Chuck Rozanski the amazingly outspoken and unfiltered owner of Mile High Comics (the largest US comic retailer) who was trying to earn enough money to pay off some debt, a collector whose goal was only to get the new 18 inch Galactus and feel complete, and the couple who had met at the previous year’s Comic-Con.
We follow each of them through the weekend, their ups and downs, and get to bask in their utter delight in being at Comic-Con. Triumphs were as big as getting invited to draw professionally to buying that 18 inch Galactus to proposing to your girlfriend in Hall H in front of Kevin Smith and hundreds of fans. Disappointments were as devastating as being told you weren’t ready to do what you had been dreaming about doing your whole life to barely taking in enough money selling comics to cover your costs. Chuck Rozanski was at the point where he was about to sell his most prized possession, a near mint copy of Red Raven issue #1. This was something he’d hoped to hold onto till he died, but the call of $500,00 was too big to ignore. But mostly, everyone came away feeling pretty satisfied, if not elated.
Throughout the movie there are interviews with industry people – Kevin Smith, Seth Green, Frank Miller, Matt Groening, Grant Morrison, Robert Kirkman, and many others. They share their own fan experiences and their own views on the Comic-Con behemoth. There are also interviews with random attendees, each of whom is there for a different reason and each of whom is equally as excited to be there. These interviews are deftly woven into the stories of our main characters and go to serve the story at large, never seeming out of place or shoehorned in.
One of the dangers of a documentary about something like Comic-Con is that is can turn the focus on the subjects into one of mockery or conversely, it can ennoble them to too lofty a status. Spurlock manages to keep things on an even keel, while allowing you to invest in these people’s dreams. Of course there are those attendees who still manage to be, shall we say, weird. Particularly one man who was very very into KISS. But overall, the tone of the documentary is very respectful to a group of people who don’t always command respect.
Spurlock talked about the fact that although the story about Comic-Con has been that Hollywood is taking over, he said that is the story that media coverage provides: look, it’s Angelina Jolie! And there are some freaks in costume! But that there are really two worlds at Comic-Con and you should never forget that either is there. And that comics, while perhaps changing into a different medium – digital vs paper for the masses – they are still vibrant and thriving, and perhaps able to reach larger audiences than before.
At the Q&A, Spurlock said that at its heart, Comic-Con is a story about passion. Whether it is a passion for collection or creating art or just joining with other people who are as fervent in their admiration for a particular thing as you.
I had to stop and think about my own passions. I unabashedly love movies and TV, especially TV. I get visibly excited talking about my lifelong love of The Simpsons or Monty Python and I can have long conversations parsing the details in the latest episode of Game of Thrones. A highlight of my week right now is the inevitable call from my younger brother every Monday, asking me to explain something in the previous Game of Thrones episode because I have read all the books and know the backgrounds and futures of all the characters. I sometimes see up to 3 movies in a weekend because I must see certain movies on opening weekend, crowds be damned. There have even been times that I knowingly pay to see a crappy film just because it is made by or starring or part of someone or something that I adore. And I’m OK with that.
I am equally geeky about books and music. It was a badge of honor at one point in my life that I had read all the Piers Anthony Xanth books; everything Stephen King had written; Neil Gaiman’s American Gods so many times I can recite parts of it in my sleep. I own five different recordings of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and can tell you why each of them is different and why I need them all. In essence, I’m a collector but what I collect doesn’t come in boxes or go on walls; it sticks in my head.
Passion is important in life. If you aren’t passionate about something, there is nothing that motivates you forward, pushes you to learn and experience more and more. I don’t understand the need to create costumes and recreate scenes from books or movie or video games, but understand the underlying desire. The same way I was jumping out of my skin waiting for the first episode of the new Mad Men season, there are people out there thrumming their fingers in anticipation of the newest version of a video game. We are all part of the same larger family and something like Comic-Con and this documentary reminds us that, hey, that’s pretty darned cool.