The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth
As Harry Knowles (Ain’t It Cool News) says in Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary, Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope, Comic-Con is the one place a geek can go and “probably feel very normal”. Having been to Comic-Con myself, I can say that this movie accurately (and lovingly) depicts why the annual comic book and pop culture convention in San Diego is a mecca for… “enthusiasts” of all kinds.
Spurlock treats the subject with nothing but respect, never ridiculing the event or its attendees. By framing the narrative around four specific people and their unique purposes for going to Comic-Con, this is a documentary with heart. I quickly became involved with each one of them, feeling very real emotions as in one way or another they get to experience their dreams.
First introduced is “The Geek” from Columbia, Missouri. (I didn’t know they had a sci-fi/fantasy-themed bar there!) Skip Harvey is a young man with the dream to draw comic books. With the blessing of his parents, who met while organizing one of Kansas City’s first Star Trek conventions in the ‘70s, he carries his art to Comic-Con to sit through a series of brutally honest portfolio reviews.
“The Soldier”, Eric Henson, also dreams of being a comic book artist. In his first scene, Eric explains that even with his job and family, all he wants to do is draw. He also takes his portfolio to Comic-Con hoping to be discovered. Skip and Eric provide an interesting contrast as one of them receives promising news and one of them does not. Even though their level of determination is the same, their level of talent may not yet be the same.
Holly Conrad, “The Designer”, finds her passion in the world of cosplay. Her single-minded mission at Comic-Con is to successfully execute her Mass Effect-themed costume skit during the masquerade. She claims to have created the first animatronic costume for Comic-Con, a remarkable interpretation of the character Grunt. Costumes alone won’t cut it, though. Every step and movement must look like it came directly from the game.
I was previously familiar with Chuck Rozanski’s story. Chuck, “The Survivor”, is the owner of Mile High Comics in Denver. Through his email newsletter in the summer of 2010, Chuck provided many interesting details about the filming of the movie. Chuck is old-school, bearing a huge chip on his shoulder because Comic-Con has grown into much more a pop culture circus than ever imagined when its original comic book seeds were planted. This is for good reason, though. His financial livelihood depends on making sales when his potential customers are more interested in watching movies and television shows than in reading books.
Watching Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope is like reading a comic book. After introductions, the movie moves through each day of Comic-Con with transitions that are pages and panels containing drawings that morph into live action. There are a lot of visual cues with words and phrases like “meanwhile” and “later that day”.
While there is no single verbal narrative, the self-told stories of the four “characters” are peppered with snippets of pop culture superstars speaking against a plain white background. Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Todd McFarlane, Robert Kirkman, Frank Miller, Seth Green (hey, Tim), Eli Roth (hey, Jill), Stan Lee… the list goes on and on. Then, when someone like Kenneth Branagh appears, you realize how mainstream this has all become. When a classically-trained Shakespearean actor directs Thor, you know that comic books are no longer meant to be stored in the dark recesses of your mother’s basement.
In fact, Joss Whedon puts it perfectly. Near the end of the movie, he says that when people tell him the geeks shall inherit the earth, he replies, “Stop calling me a geek,” and then, “How much of the earth do I get?” Geeks and nerds have been coming out of the closet for a while and it now seems that they’re being more loud and proud about it than ever. Take the next story for example…
For me, the geekiest part of this movie comes on Day 2 when “The Lovers” are introduced. In 2009, a young man and woman met at a Kevin Smith panel. One year later, at the same panel, he hopes to propose marriage to her. After somehow pre-arranging this with Smith’s “people”, his biggest challenge becomes how to escape her for one minute so he can pick up the ring he had custom-made and ordered online. Geeky, yes. But also, very human.
Besides these personal stories, Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope also provides a glimpse into what Comic-Con is really like. You get a sense of the size of this beast with all its crowds and all the waiting in line. By Day 3 in the movie, you also get a feeling for how exhausting it all can be. If you don’t think you’ll ever go, this is the next best thing to being there. And if you are going, it gives you a great idea of what exactly to expect.
I’m giving Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope the highest rating possible. This is not just because the subject matter is near and dear to my heart, but also because as a documentary, the storytelling is superb. Whether it’s “The Survivor” you’re rooting for, or “The Soldier” you want to succeed, you’ve got people and stories you care about. The subject matter may not be starving children or homeless veterans, but comic books and the people who love them can be every bit as compelling