Eighteen months is a long time in modern media, and that is how long it has taken this film to reach the Glasgow Film Festival since its premiere in September 2011, yet it was actually filmed a full year before that, at the July 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International. But does that mean that the message of this documentary, which lists legendary genre creators Stan Lee and Joss Whedon amongst its producers and was directed by Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame, is dated, no longer of relevance or importance? Far from it.
Originating in 1970 with the aim of allowing an opportunity for fans and amateur artists to meet professional comic book creators and with an expected attendance of around five hundred, Comic-Con now gathers in excess of 130,000 individuals, and is a cornerstone of the science fiction, fantasy, horror, gaming and comic book industry, where new films, television shows and titles are launched, where stars, writers and directors gather on panels to discuss their work to capacity crowds, and where everyone of every shade of fandom and geekery will find someone they have something in common with, and plenty of time to talk about it as they wait in line for the next event.
Told affectionately through the eyes of five individuals, Skip (the Geek, an aspiring comic book artist), Eric (the Soldier, also an artist, focusing more on cover work), Holly (the Designer, a skilled costumer and performer), Chuck (the Survivor, who has traded in comics for 34 years) and James (who intends to propose to girlfriend Se Young during Kevin Smith’s panel, hence their label, the Lovers), the documentary conveys the excitement of the vast crowds, palpable and infectious, as they undertake their pilgrimage to their personal Nerdvana, each with their own aspirations and apprehensions.
Far from the stereotype loner image of fans, friendless and living in basements, nothing could be more untrue; Skip’s parents, who met at a Star Trek convention held in Kansas in 1976, are fully supportive of his work and want him to succeed, a sentiment echoed by Eric’s wife, and Chuck’s Mile High Comics is a family business. Holly’s performance depends on the dedication of her team matching her own, and Se Young so adores James he finds it difficult to evade her gaze for long enough to collect the custom engagement ring unseen.
These people are not emotionally stunted or needy and if they live in fantasy worlds it is a professional choice they have dedicated themselves to, hoping to make a living from what makes them happiest, and they have found a thriving community that feels exactly the same as they do. Commenting on the story that Nicholas Cage’s girlfriend had encouraged him to divest himself of his comic collection, Chuck says “When a woman tells you to grow up, that’s God’s way of telling you to get a new woman. Three billion women on the planet, not a lot of great comics.”
Any question of the talent and enthusiasm of the participants is silenced by the portfolios Eric and Skip present to the publishers present, but both these are dwarfed by the performance Holly and her team give in the cosplay masquerade, one of the costumes featuring a homemade animatronic headpiece, the theme taken from the videogame Mass Effect, mimicking the motion of the game.
The unfolding record of the weekend is interspersed with snippets of conversation from a glittering roster of names discussing how they came to fandom, what it means to them, and how it has changed, not always for the better, recognising that a niche interest has become an industry that feeds on that devotion. “We must mine this extraordinary love,” Whedon observes, “because within that love is money.”
Stan Lee demonstrates the ease with which he accepts the well-earned adoration of the crowds, stating a philosophy at odds with many a studio executive looking to broaden the appeal of a product when he says “I think the fans are the most important thing in the comic book business, in any entertainment.”
As well as the more familiar names who have become famous through genre work, Chris Evans, Thomas Jane, so relaxed he is interviewed barefoot, Seth Green, Guillermo del Toro, Edgar Wright, Todd McFarlane, Robert Kirkman, Frank Millar, Grant Morrison and many more, a surprise inclusion is Kenneth Branagh, director of Thor, showing his understanding of that character, of all superheroes, when he says “We look at the hero and we see the human inside them. They illuminate us.”
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is now available on import DVD