Monday, September 12, 2011

TIFF Review 2011: "Comic-Con Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope""

Comic-Con Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope

(Real To Reel)

(USA, 2011, 90 minutes)

Directed by: Morgan Spurlock

Cast: Holly Conrad, Eric Hensen, Skip Harvey, Chuck Rozanski, James Darling, Se Young Kang, Stan Lee, Joss Whedon

From the what-took-them-so-long-department, someone has finally made a documentary on the annual fanboy bacchanal known as the San Diego Comic Con. With testimonials from geeks-made-good like Joss Whedon (an executive producer), Harry Knowles (ditto), directors like Eli Roth and Guillermo Del Toro, Kevin Smith (of course), Matt Groening, and comic book pros like Todd McFarlane and Mark Millar, director Morgan Spurlock dials down his usual provocateur stance (and never appears on camera for a change) for what is essentially a puff piece, but still compelling, charming viewing whether you're a fan of this stuff or not (I most certainly am--long before it became fashionable to do so, and I'm only more than a bit miffed that I was somehow overlooked to participate)...

Spurlock was inspired to make the film when he attended his first Comic Con in 2009 to recruit fans for a 20th anniversary special on "The Simpsons". Shot the following year, Spurlock smartly give the film something of a narrative structure by focusing on five simultaneous scenarios: Holly Conrad, a designer of those often costumes you often see on the cosplayers, Eric Henson, an aspiring comic book artist, Skip Harvey, another would-be Neal Adams, convention veteran/comics dealer Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics, and endearing young couple James Darling and Se Young Kang, who become engaged during a Kevin Smith seminar. Intercut are testimonials from genre luminaries and plenty of shots of voluptuous fan-girls.

I found Rozanski's thread the most interesting, in that he represents the perverse dilemma of how hard it is to sell comics books at what is still, officially, a comic book convention. As he tries to sell some rare, vintage Marvel comics, he's repeatedly screwed by no-show collectors and has to keep slashing prices to generate booth traffic. He provides us with some history: The first con was held in 1970 in a hotel and drew a few hundred collectors. Within the past decade and with the advent of the web, genre became mainstream and the original intention expanded to encompass anime, videogames and for the most part, has become entirely dominated by Hollywood blockbusters. Hundreds of thousands of fans now attend , along with agents and celebrities hawking their upcoming projects.

And it's nice to learn that the uber-ambitious and talented Conrad ends up getting a job on the Mass Effect 2 feature film--the ultimate f*ck to those who no doubt tsk-tsk'd from the sidelines telling her it was all a waste of time...

Once the stuff of condescending local news hits, comic cons are no longer representative of a subculture but what is now the culture. Where once my public school teacher tore comics from my hand and pitched them in the trash, high school libraries now stock graphic novels. Comic-Con Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope is hardly illuminating or confrontational, but should give some comfort to long-suffering, self-proclaimed nerds that they were right all the time...

©2011 Robert J. Lewis