Famous for skewering fast food restaurants in "Super Size Me" and product placement in "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," Morgan Spurlock's latest film documentary takes an empathetic view of Comic-Con, the world's largest pop culture trade convention that hosts some 130,000 fans each summer in San Diego.
"Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope," which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, looks at the convention from the perspective of five characters: a "fan boy" aiming to propose to his fiancée but without enough time away from her to pick up a ring, an artist looking for validation from comic book professionals who finds himself on a new career path, another artist who is the opposite, and a costume designer showcasing her work with the hope of being recognized by industry pros.
Spurlock recently sat down with Reuters to talk about fan boys, the convention and the future of comic books.
Q: How is it that the comic book world used to be for kids and now it's for kids of all ages?
A: "If you look at how much more popular and bigger the blockbuster films have become, how much bigger and more popular and immersive the video games have become, how much bigger and more involved comic books -- where they were seen as being this kids' things -- have continued to grow and mature, you see the business has kind of grown to realize there's different people they can target along the way. And also, this thing that used to be seen as being so fringe became incredibly popular. That's why it's become a very large kind of mainstream success and why it's so big."
Q: Many people see Comic-Con as having grown from a small event for comic book lovers in 1970 to this huge event that some claim Hollywood is taking over with its blockbuster films and TV shows based on superheroes and sci-fi characters. Is that true?
A: "No. Hollywood's taken over (media) coverage of Comic-Con. That's what Hollywood's taken over because the story they want to tell is, ‘Oh, look, Angelina's here to talk about her new movie.' We all bought into that stupid idea of celebrity being valuable. Like that's the only thing we want to talk about. Nobody wants to talk about the small artist who's over there launching his own comic book label who's been working out of his house 'cause that's not news to them, it's not sexy enough. There's a deeper level and experience of Comic-Con that exists but nobody in the news wants to talk about it."
Q: Your movie certainly focuses on that, particularly the artists and costume designer hoping to get a big break.
A: "I don't think people realize this idea of Comic-Con as a job fare. There are people who go there with the hopes and the dreams of breaking into this business as an artist, as a costume designer. There are thousands of people going there trying to do that exact same thing every year. I think that's amazing."
Q: What impact has the Internet and social media on the show and the industry?
A: "On the Internet you learn even quickly that, ‘Wow, I'm not the only person who likes this in my hometown. It's me and that guy in China and those people in Canada and the guy in Brazil, we all love the same thing.' Now you have the ability to connect on such a deeper level with people who share the same passions and desires, obsessions that you do. I think that's also what's made this grow exponentially. You can create real community around properties on a much bigger, deeper level."
Q: The comic book trader in the movie has such a hard time selling anything until he drops his prices. Is that emblematic of the comic book trade overall?
A: "People say comic books are dying. I say books, period, are dying. I buy more comics now than I ever had. I download them straight to my iPad. The art form is flourishing as it ever has. People aren't buying paper comics cause it's just this thing, this piece of paper. Do I need to collect that paper comic to know that I enjoyed and read the comic?"
Q: How vital do you think comic book culture is to the larger culture?
A: "I think that anything that can create an excitement around storytelling in a visual format, there's something there that you need to treasure and you need to continue to embrace."