Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Comic Con IV

There is a moment in Comic-Con IV: A Fan's Hope that captures the ambiguity of contemporary geek culture. Before Kevin Smith signs off with a stupid comment about emo chicks, or Stan Lee gives a self-conscious encomium to the joy of meeting the fans, a complaint is made. Comics, which started the San Diego Convention back in the 1970s, have been reduced to a side-show at their own event. Throughout the film, the sight of Hollywood studios using the Convention as an expensive focus group for the new products obscures the struggles of young artists to get their work seen, or Mile High Comics to save the business by making a Big Sale. Sure, the geeks have inherited the earth, but only on the terms of the businesses who have been dominating the industry for decades.

In theory, the synthesis of Big Money and Emerging Artists ought to be fertile. The large companies keep their art fresh by the influx of new talent, and get a bonus of currency within the hip world. Small artists get the platform they need to present their work, and everyone has an enhanced Comic Convention. A parallel exists with the National Theatre of Scotland's policy of supporting artist led projects: in recent years, they have engaged with young theatre-makers, supported them and got back some fascinating shows (Pony Pie's Santa Muerta, for example).

But it doesn't seem to work like that. More likely, the majors develop diluted versions of the emerging artists' vision, and the emerging artists imitate the major's style rather than find their own voice. While comic books have become more complex, more self-conscious, superhero films are languishing in the "might makes right" stage, and the crop of artists and writers who have come along in comics in the past decade are frequently imitating styles of the previous generation. 

By titling the film A Fan's Hope, Morgan Spurlock identifies with the fundamental tension around the san Diego Comic Convention, and tells a story that is moving and funny. There is a romance - that culminates with Kevin Smith acting like a priest (which is a rare moment of charm from Smith). There is a high drama as the owner of Mile High comics considers selling a rare comic to save the company. There are talking heads from the business, including Grant Morrison (who continues his war with Alan Moore by mocking a Dr Manhattan cos-player). And there's co-producer Stan Lee, giving it his Uncle Stan routine, trying to remind us that he is the writer of the Fantastic Four and a genius, and not the increasingly desperate character who spent much of the last decade trying to write comics based on large-breasted female celebrities.

This is both a film for the comic fan (the range of guest commentators is superb) and fans of Spurlock's documentary style (the narrative threads are elegantly weaved together). It does celebrate the comic book without losing sight of the irony contained in a community that is delighted to have become a free focus group for the film industry.

The big theme of the film is, ultimately, love. Many of the creators who appear still have the same joy in the Convention as the fans and Stan Lee, despite his detractors, is maturing nicely into the grand old man of comicdom. And throughout it all, the spirit of enthusiasm will find a way to propose to its beloved...

20 Feb (GFT)
21 Feb (CCA)

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