There have never been any really great documentaries on comic book fandom. There are many great documentaries on the industry, the medium or specific characters or creators, but nothing about the fans themselves that I can recall. After viewing Comic-con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope on PPV last night, I can safely say that there still are not any really great documentaries on this subject.
Not so say this isn’t a good documentary, it just does not have that much to do with comic fans, much like many cons today. THE comic-con in San Diego has been around since 1970, and for most of that time, has been about and for comics and comic fandom. In the last 10 years or so, that has changed. Now the con is a platform for the other entertainment media to showcase or preview their genre properties. Comics have been pushed to the side. There are many great comic-cons, this is just not one of them anymore. At this point I should mention that I have not yet been to this convention. It is one that I one day hope to go to, just for the experience, just not yet.
The film follows a fairly well established and unfortunately predictable formula. Most documentaries are about a thing or an event either done after the fact, or as that thing or event is happening. This film is the latter, and to get that on film, much has to be done before hand. To achieve that, there is a lot of casting for the people who you will follow. This is the greatest weak point in the film. The people cast are done for the appearance of variety, but they do not really hit that mark, and the events that we will see are telegraphed and very easy to predict. Two of the people followed to the con are would-be comic artists, and you know before they get there that one will succeed and the other will fail. There had to be some pretty tight vetting to preview what would happen to these guys, and it shows to some degree. You do feel for them and are excited for them, but it falls short of any real human interest or drama.
The only “fans” that they follow are a young couple that met at the previous year’s con and are together for this one. But rather than show the con experience, we get to see the guy’s attempt to ask his girlfriend to marry him at the Kevin Smith panel. There is nothing about the con, this could have taken place anywhere. The guy keeps trying to get away to set things up and get the ring, while the girl is just a cligy pain. Another instance of the production setting things up to make it camera worthy, is the fact that he actually gets to ask the question with Kevin Smith watching. The odds of that happening for real to just any guy at the con are low.
Another group being followed is a group of costume designers. Their story is interesting and well realized here. You grow interested in what they do very quickly, and the events they experience are shown clearly. A toy collector is also shown briefly, but the effect created here is that he is there for one thing and one thing only. He gets to the booth carrying his desired toy, and then his con appears to be over, his goal met. It comes off as kind of pathetic.
The last person followed for this documentary was Chuck Roganski. Owner and founder of Mile High Comics, he is one of the most significant figures in the comic collecting world. He is shown all too briefly preparing for and going to the show to sell books, including the very rare and valuable Red Raven from the early Atlas/Marvel days. Chuck redefined collecting in the early days with his finding and selling of a pedigree collection collectively known as “The Mile High” books. The Mile-Highs were a huge collection of extremely high-grade golden and silver age key books. These books changed the face of comic collecting forever and made Chuck a major player in the comics retail and collecting industry. None of this is mentioned and he comes off as just a tired old guy trying to make a buck off of fans. Even the description of Red Raven #1 comes off poorly, as though he is trying to sell some bit of trumped-up crap for far more than it is worth. Someone of Chuck’s fame (or infamy, depending on who you ask) deserved better.
There are several brief snippets of comic creators and people like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (credited along with Stan Lee, as Producers), many stating that comic-con isn’t really about comics anymore, but nothing else of substance. This film is about Comic-con, and does show an accurate, if cursory view of the show. There is nothing of any depth here which is a shame as there are some really interesting things to see at this and other shows. Artist’ alley and the dealer floor can be amazing places to visit even if you are not a fan, and they are not represented at all, the only play the dealers get is through Chuck, and that is not much.
What this film does show is that Comic-con is an entirely different beast than it once was. Not really for comic fans anymore, it is an all-encompassing multi-media showcase. It is neither good nor bad; it just isn’t what a lot of the old timers want now. The movie will feel very much the same.