In July, thousands of light saber-wielding, comic book-collecting, video game-playing NRFB-ers will descend on San Diego to get early screenings of upcoming action, sci-fi, fantasy or comic book-related films and TV shows, listen to panel discussions about same, meet comic book creators, buy assorted collectables, and attend events packed with costume-wearing fans. What started as a convention strictly devoted to comic books has become a celebration of all things pop culture, with Storm Troopers and anime characters mingling at movie screenings. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope looks at what draws some of the attendees to this massive gathering.
Surprisingly, some still come for the comic books. We meet a dealer looking for a big payday from the sale of an exceptionally rare Marvel comic — Red Raven (a character created in 1940, according to Wikipedia). Meanwhile (as the movie tells us with comic book-style title cards), two would-be comics illustrators have their work critiqued by representatives of Marvel, Dark Horse and other publishers. One is a kid whose day job is as a bartender at a sci-fi themed bar. The other is a man who is in the Air Force and lives with his family in Minot, N.D. Talk about “a fan’s hope” — these men are longtime comic book readers who are desperate to discover whether or not they have the talent to join this world that they love.
Meanwhile... We also see a group of Con-goers designing costumes for the convention’s mascaraed competition. For the woman leading the group, getting the costumes and animatronic head on one of the creatures just right is, she hopes, a ticket to a job in costume design. We meet a collector eager to add to his room packed with action figures (some of which are worth hundreds of dollars). And then there’s the couple who met at the previous year’s comic-con. The boyfriend has big plans for making this year’s convention extra special.
In between these stories we get clips from Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, Seth Green, comic book creators and ordinary fans talking about why comic books (an increasingly overlooked part of the Comic-Con, they argue) are important and what the Con means to them. These creators of their own universes of fans and characters are perhaps at their most deliciously goofy when talking about their own idols whom they’ve seen or met at the Comic-Con. It is as much nerdery as you can fit in 88 minutes of film without actually being a Star Wars movie.
It is also incredibly sweet.
From the couple (whose story has a genuinely heartwarming climax that makes you kind of love this geeky gathering) to the illustrators to the costume designer who lives and breathes her craft, the movie makes you look beyond the convention’s more recent role as an outlet for movie marketing to what it is on a human level. The convention (and, more importantly, the movies, TV shows, games and comic books it celebrates) represents the meeting place for people who might otherwise feel a step outside the mainstream.
Summer movies — ahem, Dark Shadows — marketed directly to lovers of oddball entertainment can make one start to despair. Perhaps “geek” is just another slick label given to mediocre movies or TV shows or whatever to make people who once nerded out at Star Wars or Star Trek or The X-Files buy in to this new thing. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope reminds you that there’s real passion, creativity and enjoyment behind all that big-budget fun. A-
Rated PG-13 from some sex and drug references, languages and brief horror images. Directed by Morgan Spurlock, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is an hour and 28 minutes long and distributed by Wrekin Hill Entertainment (it is available via Comcast On Demand’s movies in the theater section).