Gadchick Reviews: Comic-Con Episode IV – A Fan's Hope

I hesitate to say that I attend San Diego Comic-Con, I prefer to say that I make my pilgrimage to the altar of Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, and my other Nerd idols once a year. It’s an experience that’s hard to explain through instagram pictures, through tweets, or even through basic comparisons (“it is like going to Disneyland, but everything is in one room and it is everything that you've ever loved. And all of the princess are there, even Leia.”). However, now with the release of Comic-Con Episode IV – A Fan's Hope by Morgan Spurlock, I have a perfect explanation/mission statement/love sonnet to refer curious people to get a small taste of the Comic-Con experience.

Choosing to tell the story through the eyes of attendees famous, almost-famous, and other geeks of all walks of life, they show the journey for several which takes them to Comic-Con. From artists trying to get their big break to a costumer who is using the masquerade ball as her calling card for Hollywood, we're able to see how Comic-Con isn't just a vacation but a job fair for many. We're able to see the success of a positive critique and the stress when a mask isn't working quite right just before showtime at the costume competition. However, one of the greatest strengths of these stories is the high level of respect and maturity with which they are treated. While geek culture has been demeaned or treated lightly in the past, the movie handles the subject by turning the participants into the heroes that they are trying to emulate. They are larger than life superheroes with insurmountable odds against them and the audience wants them to win the entire time.

One such story is that of Holly Conrad, “The Designer” as she is called throughout the movie, and her cosplay group going on a self-described “suicide mission”. While most of us have dressed up on Halloween and some of us have donned a costume for a past fan convention, Holly and her group make it an art form. Creating realistic, detailed, and beautiful costumes inspired by the video game “Mass Effect 2”, her goal with Comic-Con is to get noticed for their immense skill and make a career out of what she loves. One great showcase for her industry is the costume competition known as the Comic-Con Masquerade. The Masquerade is one of the hottest tickets at Comic-Con, serving as an opportunity for professionals and hobbyists to compete against each other with large group-themed costumes. But the Masquerade goes beyond just costumes to whole worlds created on a convention hall stage with full animatronic masks, special effects make-up, and performances set to music. This is also a great venue to garner the attention of the creators of genre entertainment, creating a costume for something you love while getting to interact in their world. Holly's story in the movie is inspirational to anyone who considers themselves a creative person as she takes a huge risk to realize her goals and dreams.

The movie takes another opportunity to look at the role Comic-Con plays as a job fair by spotlighting two artists attending the portfolio review offered during the convention. Comic-book publishers, animation studios, and entertainment companies use the event as an opportunity to locate the next great talent for the industry in writing and art. “The Nerd” Skip and “The Solider” Eric have both arrived with portfolios in hand, but from two very different worlds. Skip is a bartender from a geek-themed bar hoping to get feedback on his art and possibly gain attention from one of his favorite comic book companies. To contrast with that, Eric is a solider from North Dakota, trying to realize a dream and support his family. Both men allow the viewer inside their process and experiences over the weekend, seeing their highs and lows while never hiding their emotions. While watching it, I felt myself become extremely protective of both of them as they prepared themselves for the feedback from the industry they loved and opened themselves to feedback from the viewers who would end up seeing the results.

Interspersed through the stories are interviews with Comic-Con attendees and celebrities, talking about their first comic books or the action figures they needed to have. These interviews allow the viewers to see how truly diverse the community is that surrounds the Con. People aren't attending for one reason or just because they love comic books. They are attending to collect the next great action figure, to find the girl of their dreams in Hall H's line, or to finally get to talk to their hero even if it is only for a few minutes in an elevator. As you hear everyone try to explain what Comic-Con means to them, you start to realize that it isn't just an event or a business meeting; it is life-changing and a reminder that the nerd tribe is large (and taking over the world).

My first trip to Comic-Con was an overwhelming moment, and I can remember first getting teary-eyed upon seeing the Convention Center. The movie recreated this magic for me, and I found myself cheering on each attendee and crying as several of them saw their dreams come true. Whether it was the artist learning that he was talented enough to make a go of it or the little kid in line waiting to get his comic-book signed by Stan Lee, seeing anyone live out a dream is inspirational and heart-warming. I was able to see a little of my own experience reflected in all of them, from the awe of walking onto the floor for the first time to the realization that there are a lot of other geeks/nerds/dorks/freaks out there who love the same things as I do.

As one interview reminds viewers, it is like a room full of people who still believe in magic.

And who doesn't need a little extra magic in their life?

(Comic-Con Episode IV – A Fan's Hope is available in limited release, through On-Demand, and as an iTunes rental)

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