Behind an awkward, too-cute title is documentarian Morgan Spurlock’s sincere and appealing look at Comic-Con International, the Mecca for comic book, sci-fi, and fantasy freaks since 1970. After a bit of news footage taken from before the start of the first one (where the organizer hopes for 500 fans to show up) we’re time-traveled to the San Diego Convention Center in 2010, where for upwards of 130,000 attendees Comic-Con has become a way of life.
For as much as I love movies (I own thousands of DVDs and Blu-rays, have a multiregion player that handles everything except for vinyl records, and stash about 200 laserdiscs at my parents’ house) and like, or liked, comic books (the ones I have I’ve had since the 70s) I’ve never been much of a participant in fan culture. Replicating what interests me doesn’t interest me, and since SNL guest star William Shatner told rabid Star Trek fans to “get a life!” during a memorable 1986 sketch that brought catcalls and scorn from the audience–well, geekdom has been tainted. Comic-Con, the documentary, is the revenge of the nerds, ripping the carefully homemade masks off the dedicated aisle walkers and introducing us to a few of the real people underneath.
On the vendor side there’s Chuck, of teetering comics dealer Mile High Comics, who laments that his business is now a secondary concern at the convention, which has come to favor glitzy, star-studded teasers of comic book movies. We meet a collector, Anthony, who is hellbent on adding to an already overgrown collection of toys and memorabilia. There are the wannabees: Holly, who aspires to be a costume designer, and turns up at Comic-Con’s Masquerade Ball in a hand-crafted Mass Effect ensemble, and Air Force veteran Eric and the dreamer Skip, who want to break into the comic book business. James is there for love, planning to ask his girlfriend, S.K. (who he’d met at the last year’s Comic-Con), to marry him at one of the show’s events.
Who isn’t there, in person anyway, is Spurlock. No shrinking violet, the star of the Oscar-nominated Super Size Me (2004) and the 30 Days TV show stays behind the camera this time, letting another filmmaker, the ubiquitous uber-fan Kevin Smith, talk about the Con (and facilitate James’ wish). Veteran attendees Seth Rogen, Guillermo del Toro, and Seth Green (who also met his wife at the show–and you thought fandom was sexless) add color commentary, as do co-producers Stan Lee (seen attentively signing an autograph for nine-year-old admirer) and Ain’t it Cool News founder Harry Knowles. Joss Whedon (director of the ultimate Comic-Con movie, the forthcoming The Avengers) also had a hand in the documentary, which may account for its good cheer–other than Chuck’s gripes, and a few remarks about the smell of the show floor made under the closing credits, no one has a bad word to say about Comic-Con, or its influence. Surely one of the seen-it-all journalists who attend each year could have been asked about the infantilizing of Hollywood by the comic book and genre movies promoted so relentlessly at the show. That impact is the real revenge of the nerds, as every year the multiplex becomes more and more a simulacrum of Comic-Con (or, with the advent of fairy tale movies, the nursery).
But Comic-Con, which opens theatrically today and is also available on demand, sticks to Spurlock’s emphasis on “real people with real dreams” in fantasy, and for me at least was preferable to the real thing. (I’ve covered trade shows and film festivals, and have breathed in more show floor funk than any human should.) Color me impressed by the stars of the show, some of whom, like Holly, are now living their dreams. But I have to say that while I liked her couture, the group that put on the Mothra show, with “The Peanuts” and the flying Mothra costume–they killed.