Morgan Spurlock, the documentarian best known for Supersize Me, turns his eye to the weird and wonderful world of San Diego Comic-Con in his latest film, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, which offers an intimate look at some of the people who attend the con as fans and professionals.
You’ll meet a toy collector hell-bent on getting a Comic-Con exclusive, a costume designer hoping to win the con’s masquerade, two artists hoping to break into the comics industry, and a comics seller trying to find a buyer for a $500,000 comic.
The film is peppered with commentary from Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Kevin Smith, and other pros in the business. And while there’s no typical nuts-and-bolts documentary factoids, you won’t miss them; the stories here are that compelling. Spurlock recently took a few minutes to catch up with Men’s Fitness.
Did you set out to find these people and stories or did you unearth them while you were doing research?
Morgan Spurlock: When we first got the idea for the film, we wanted to make sure that we were following people that would tell a deeper story. When we were doing research for the film, I didn’t know that Comic-Con doubled as a geek job fair—that people go there with their portfolios to break into comic books, that people compete in the masquerade to break into Hollywood and the costume design business. I found that to be incredibly fascinating.
Did you go to a lot of cons growing up?
Yes. I was a big comic book fan. It was Stan Lee who got me into it. When I was a kid, my mom started buying me Spider-Man comics. It all kind of stemmed from him. But in West Virginia, where I grew up, comic book conventions were very, very small. When I moved to New York City, I went to the ones in New York and I’ve been to them in Chicago but I had never been to San Diego until we got hired to do the Simpsons special. The minute they called for us to make that I said, “We have to go to Comic-Con to find Simpsons super fans.” It was there that the idea for making this movie was hashed.
Have you heard that it’s the worst. Documentary. Ever?
Worst documentary ever? [Laughs.] For the Simpsons special, absolutely.
Is Spider-Man your favorite superhero?
No, it’s oddly not my favorite superhero. My favorite comic book as kid was Plastic Man. Plastic Man was probably one of the most uncool superheroes that you could like, but he was my favorite.
You say it in the movie that Comic-Con has very little to do with comics now. In what sense?
Comics are still there, but they are just a smaller part of a bigger convention now. I think what Comic-Con has done is cater to changing tastes and a changing marketplace. Books as an art form and commodity—period—are dying. There are still artists and writers creating some of the most innovative and beautiful stories around right now in comic book form, but they are not going too into books—they’re being created digitally. But I love where it is going now. That’s something that happened in movies that was fantastic. There was a democratization of filmmaking that made the barrier of entry much lower for filmmakers, which is what enabled me to make Supersize Me. Suddenly, I could buy an affordable prosumer camera and a computer and if I had a good idea I could actually make a movie.
The same thing is happening now with comic books where now I don’t need a big publisher to publish a comic. Now, if you are a brilliant, smart, creative person you can digitally publish something and work it and try to get it out into the marketplace where people can have access to it. I think that’s really exciting.
You mentioned Supersize Me earlier. What is your take on the proposed New York City law that would ban large soda sizes?
I’m not a fan of banning anything. I think that, ultimately, the better thing to do is educate the populous. Rather than ban things in your city, why not say, “We’re going to change the education system.” So, literally from kindergarten, kids are understanding and getting a foundation on which to make better choices. My kid goes to elementary school and they’re cutting another day of physical education at his public school. These are things that are the bigger problem than just banning a soda. Why not fix the system rather than say you can’t have something? What do you ban next? Banning smoking is one thing because somebody who is sitting next to me can give me cancer by smoking a cigarette. Somebody who is obese isn’t going to give me secondhand obesity. They’re not going to roll over on me and hurt me… they could, I guess. I just think there is a better way to spend that money and effort through community outreach. The bigger one I still believe is our school system, our education. The number one place to teach a kid where they should be doing the right things is in an educational environment.
Watching the film the sixth or seventh time, do you ever just stop thinking of how bad it was for you and just think, “Man, those nuggets look so good.”?
To this day, if I eat McDonald’s food it immediately tastes like chemicals in my mouth. It doesn’t even taste like food to me anymore. Although to this day, if I even see a picture of a Big Mac, my mouth will start watering like Pavlov’s dog—just seeing it. I’ll watch the film and my mouth will just start watering. But there are so many places to get a burger than one of those chains. I would much rather go to a mom and pop diner down on the corner and get a great homemade burger.