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Comic-Con: They're not geeks, they're a focus group

A costumed Iron Man in a scene from the Morgan Spurlock documentary "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"


3 out of 4 stars


A surprisingly tender look at San Diego Comic-Con, an annual pop-culture love-in that attracts 125,000 comic book and sci-fi fanatics, Supersize Me director Morgan Spurlock's new documentary is crowded with all the usual freaks and geeks.

There's Chuck, a sixtysomething collector with a steel grey, 30-year-old ponytail. The comic-book store owner arrives at the convention with a mint edition of Red Raven, a 1940 Marvel comic he hopes to sell for $500,000. Probably won't happen though. Actor Nicolas Cage, the only enthusiast who might be able to afford The Maltese Falcon of comics, has apparently got rid of his collection.

Cage's new partner thinks comics are kids' stuff, Chuck grumbles. "When a woman tells you to grow up, it's God's way of telling you to get a new woman," he advises a nodding, sympathetic colleague. "There are three billion women on the planet and not a lot of great comics."

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We also meet Skip, bartender at a comic-themed bar where drinkers down the hatch with the toast "Harvey Pekar" (author of the comic, American Splendor). Skip has wanted to be a comic-book illustrator forever – since before he was born even. His parents were Trekkies who decorated his birth announcement with scenes from Captain Kirk's ship.

"I'm practically vibrating right now," Skip shivers as he enters Comic-Con, a fat portfolio under his arm. "I feel like I'm Flash and I can move through solid objects, I'm vibrating so hard."

You expect to meet palpitating true believers in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope. And it's no surprise to see and hear from film and TV directors Kevin Smith ( Clerks), Joss Whedon ( Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Frank Miller ( Sin City). They have the excuse of being here for work, though all are comic-book enthusiasts.

But what is Angelina Jolie, dressed to the elevens, doing here? And there's Harrison Ford. And Jeff Bridges. Here comes Sly Stallone. Warner Bros. and all the studios have booths. The first San Diego comic convention in 1970 attracted 500 people. Now tens of thousands of fans, many in costume, line up at dawn, hoping to see and be seen. And good luck to small merchants who want to get their stuff in and off the floor.

"Lucas owns the loading docks," Chuck says at one point, fuming.

All of the costumed characters Spurlock follows through the convention declare they finally feel at home at Comic-Con. "I've seen the look on people's faces when I've brought them there," Whedon says, smiling. " 'My tribe, my tribe, I've found my tribe.' "

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But Spurlock would seem to be suggesting something else: Angelina, Sly, Hasbro Toys and Warner Bros. aren't here because Comic-Con fans are so weird, but because they are so much like you and me.

Comic-Con is the "best test audience" in the world, Whedon argues. What film franchise has ever been more successful than Star Wars or Lord of the Rings? The entertainment industries believe that the more than 100,000 pop-culture fans that migrate to San Diego every July represent the emerald green tip of the iceberg that is their potential audience.

"[They want to]mine this extraordinary love, because inside it there must be money," Whedon says.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

  • Directed by Morgan Spurlock
  • Written by Morgan Spurlock and Jeremy Chilnick
  • Featuring Chuck Rozanski, Holly Conrad, Skip Harvey, Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, Stan Lee and Frank Miller
  • Classification: PG
  • 3 stars
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