It’s appropriate that Morgan Spurlock, whose first documentary was named Super Size Me, has now directed a nonfiction film about the planet’s biggest gathering devoted to superheroes.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope documents Comic-Con International – the world’s largest convention and trade show dedicated to comic books, sci fi, fantasy and other pop culture phenomena. Comic-Con has been held in San Diego annually since 1970, the year Spurlock was born.
This new documentary gives a behind-the-scenes look at the conventions fans, including wannabe costume designers, aspiring illustrators, obsessed collectors and even a geeky couple, who get engaged during a Kevin Smith event.
Celebrities who appear in the documentary include Smith, Hellboy’s Ron Perlman, Super’s Ellen Page, The Simpsons’ Matt Groening, The Green Hornet’s Seth Rogen and Marvel’s comics guru Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, who executive produced Comic-Con Episode IV.
Super Size Me, which cost only $65,000 to make, was the first documentary to make America’s weekly list of top-10 grossing films, eventually earning $29 million-plus and an Oscar nomination. Since directing this film in which Spurlock himself stuffs McDonald’s food (and only McDonald’s food) into his face for an entire month, he has continued directing and producing numerous documentary films.
Spurlock was able to capture the entire wide ranging Comic-Con because he had the largest creative team of his career, with 149 crew members and 27 cameras simultaneously shooting the mega-event attended by 140,000-plus fans.
But Rock Cellar Magazine discovered “What Else” enabled Spurlock to cover the sprawling nerd and geek-fest:
Rock Cellar Magazine: –And you had God on your side: Stan Lee.
Morgan Spurlock: That’s right. I had the God of Comic-Con, who was like watching over us!
We were at Comic-Con making The Simpsons’ 20th Anniversary Special for Fox when we said let’s make a movie about this. I met Stan, and Stan was actually the one who said: “We should make a documentary.” Yes we should! And literally that night my producing partner Jeremy Chilnick and I were “what’s this movie about? Who’d be in it?”
We realized that to tell the story of Comic-Con is to tell the story of fans – because Comic-Con and videogame culture and the popular movies wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for fans. So we wanted to root it in fan culture – the people who are the driving force of Comic-Con, and the passion.
RCM: Much of your work has had an anti-corporate edge. Can you discuss the commercialization of Comic-Con and how the purists see that?
MS: Yeah. I think that people love to say that — “It’s not what it used to be. Comic-Con is not what it used to be with comic book vendors.”
The very first comic-con that I ever went to – it wasn’t San Diego Comic-Con – was a comic book convention, when I was probably 11, 12 years old in Charleston, West Virginia, where I grew up. It was at like the ballroom in a hotel there, and there were comic book vendors, there were people there selling comic books, and there were guys selling all the toys and tie-ins from those comic books that already existed, in lunchboxes. Because that was back when lunchboxes were still a big deal.
And then there were people doing autographs – like, the guy who played C-3PO was there signing autographs. So already then it was bigger than just somebody selling you a comic book. And I think that what’s happened is that it’s just continued to blossom as these things have become infinitely more popular.
RCM: Do you still read comics now yourself?
MS: I read more comics now than I read as a kid! I buy more comics now than I ever did as a kid. I don’t buy physical, paper comics; I download everything straight to my iPad now. I think that ease-of-use has made the consumption of comics even easier to a greater audience. So I don’t buy into the idea that it’s destroying or changing the comic book industry. Maybe people aren’t buying old paper comics anymore, but I think that this commercialization has only helped the industry, because it has made it so immensely popular.
Good luck turning on the TV in July and not even seeing a story in Omaha, Nebraska about Comic-Con. That’s how popular this has become.
RCM: So what was once just for comic book nerds…
MS: — is this triumph of geek culture, in that everybody is a geek now and everybody can proudly say it. And you can go outside and you can wear your decoder rings, and you can put on your Spock ears and you can wear your Hobbit feet to work, and be like, “Listen: this is who I am.” And people are like, “Oh yeah, he’s a geek – kinda cool.” The obsession is no longer seen as a negative thing.
RCM: And what are your personal favorite comic books, favorite superheroes and favorite superhero movies?
MS: When I was a kid growing up I loved Plastic Man. Plastic Man was the comic book that I read all the time, Plastic Man was the TV series as I was growing up. If I could make a superhero movie I would want to make Plastic Man. I loved Plastic Man so much.
RCM: And movies…?
MS: I loved Thor like a year, two years ago. I thought Thor was fantastic. I am beyond excited for The Avengers, I can’t even tell you! I think Marvel has done such a smart job of interweaving all of their universes together in all of their storylines; it’s genius. I loved The Dark Knight reboot – I think that whole thing was so smart, so well done by Christopher Nolan.
And even back in the day… I remember as a kid when the first Superman came out. I remember I went to the movie theatre to see the very first Christopher Reeve Superman and I thought it was like the most magical thing to see in a movie theatre. And I just got chills thinking about it.
One of the things we always did as a family is we went to see movies all the time. And I remember being in the movie theatre with my parents watching this film, and it was just such this magical thing that was happening, watching the first Superman. And you watch it today and you’re like, “Wow! That movie looks terrible.” (laughs)
Clash of the Titans is the same way. I loved Clash of the Titans when it came out and I loved Flash Gordon when it came out with what was his name? Tom Jones–? Sam Jones! (sings, claps his hands) “Go Flash, go!” That soundtrack was bananas!
But, yeah, you watch those movies now and you’re like: “Mmm, maybe not so much.” But at the time it was so special.
RCM: Rock Cellar interviewed the director of The Other F Word, which you executive produced – a film is about punk-rock fathers. You’re a father yourself; how’s fatherhood for you?
MS: It’s the best. I have a little boy here.
RCM: Does he read comics yet?
MS: I read him comics.
RCM: Ok, so what superpower would you like to have?
MS: I would love to be able to speak any language in the universe. That would be my superpower.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope – LINKS:
Morgan Spurlock and his films are additionally covered in author Ed Rampell’s book Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.
RELATED ARTICLE Interview with Director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins on Punk-Rock Fatherhood and The Other F Word. This film was produced by Morgan Spurlock.