Last night I got a chance to check out Morgan Spurlock’s (Supersize Me) new documentary Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope at the Toronto International Film Festival. The doc was filmed at the 2010 San Diego International Comic Con and is an exploration and celebration of both the event in specific but also fandom in general.

The story is framed by following the lives of 7 people attending Comic Con. There are 2 aspiring artists, a toy collector, a cosplayer, a nerdy couple, and a dealer. The dealer is in fact Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics who is, arguably, the most famous comic book dealer in the United States.

Interspersed between the above tales are stories from celebrities such as Harry Knowles, Kevin Smith, Olivia Wilde, Joss Whedon, Eli Roth, and Stan Lee. There are also several comic book creators that talk about Comic Con and fandom in general. It is also interesting to note that Spurlock himself does not appear in the film, eschewing his trademark style of guerrilla film-making to centre the camera on the fans themselves.

I should mention that this is not a film mocking fans. The stories are compelling and one of the themes is that Comic Con is a place where you can be as geeky as you want. Only the toy collector comes across a bit of a desperate weirdo, but he doesn’t get as much screen time as the rest of the cast and therefore we don’t feel that his tale is presented with any mean-spiritedness.

The nerdy couple met at Comic Con in 2009 and the young man intends to propose to his girlfriend during the Kevin Smith Q&A. Their story is expertly told, and the entire theatre was cheering when the ring came out.

The cosplayer’s tale highlights the work and dedication that goes into fandom, and it also solidifies that costuming is a huge part of fandom now. Just as dressing up on Halloween is normal, so is donning a redshirt and cat ears for Comic Con.

I was reminded by the film just how much the industry cares about pedagogy and training the next generation of creators. The 2 aspiring artists speak with editor after editor, artist after artist, in order to break into the business. And while it is mentioned that some feedback is mean and given by jerks, what is shown to the audience is a group of creative teams giving very good advice to those aspiring to break into comic books.  The message of honing one’s craft is heard loud and clear.

For me the most compelling story was Chuck’s. He is a fascinating character; he is a businessman, but also a collector and the two are often at odds with each other. He brings some marquee books with him (including a 9.0 Red Raven #1) but finds it difficult to part with these gems of his collection. I have never met Chuck yet, but I hope that I get to one day.

Chuck also highlights the problem with the continual success of Comic Con; it is no longer about comic books. Those who come strictly for the comic books are saddened that they are now a sidelined portion of the event that they created back in 1970.

The documentary is by no means groundbreaking (this isn’t a nerd Roger & Me), but it is fun, interesting, and even those unfamiliar with our world will find the stories compelling and maybe understand a little bit more why we love coloured newsprint with pictures of men and women in tights.

Keep an eye out for the wide release, you will enjoy the ride.