Popularity is context and situation specific. In the case of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope, the context is Nerdom and the situation is the famous 42 year-old comic book conference held annually in San Diego. For those who have never skimmed the frail pages of a comic book, or fallen prey to the lure of the newest video game, Spurlock’s film will come as a surprise that a bizarre world of ambitious geeks and obsessive nerds exists on such a grand scale. For everyone else, the documentary is an exposé and ode to their pseudo Promised Land which allows nerds, geeks and gamers of all shapes and sizes to feel accepted into their own tribe. As Spurlock presents it, Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope champions the allure behind the event’s progressive success. The initial buy/sell comic book zone of close to 300 attendees in 1970 has since morphed into a pop culture arcade marketplace that boasts over 125, 000 people each year. Its phenomenal success is rendered as a two sided coin. Yes, the event seems to have choked its comic book roots in order to integrate new film and digital mediums, but it is these evolving mediums which continue to attract throngs of fans each year.
The five fold expository structure of the film follows, Skip, “The Geek” an amateur illustrator who also works at a Sci-fi Fantasy bar in Colombia, Missouri; Holly, the tireless “The Designer” who hopes to catch a break in the costume design industry; Chuck “The Collector” and owner of Mile High Comics who laments the passing glory days of comic book popularity; Eric “The Soldier” from a small town hoping to catch a break in illustration, and finally James and Se Young “The Lovers” who publicly celebrate their love in an unorthodox way. The pastiche of each story spans a full-scale of emotions from desperation to happiness, to relief. Few might understand the connection between Holly and her passion for Mass Effect. But having passion for something is a topic that most people can identify with. Knowing this, Spurlock is less concerned with shaping each Subject’s plight into a common ground story; he wants us to root for them, regardless of if we understand their cause or not.
In a change from earlier films such as 2004’s Supersize Me and Freakanomics (2010), Spurlock has acutely chosen an observational approach to construct the meaning and importance behind Comic Con. Famous fans from Seth Rogan, Seth Green, Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (who is also a credited writer) to the everyday sci-fi junkie in a cape, straight talk to the camera about their personal attraction to Comic Con and it’s significance in their lives. As Eli Roth so delicately puts it, Comic Con is the only place where you can take a piss between a ‘Klingon’ and a ‘Strom Trooper’ – at least on Earth anyway.