I paid close attention to Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, although I must admit, it didn’t have a lot to do with the celebrity interviews or the fan testimonials. Of the thousands of devoted attendees seen on film, I was on the lookout for just two of them: Film critics and identical twins Mike and Joel Massie (a.k.a. The Massie Twins of GoneWithTheTwins.com), who have made the trek from Tempe, Arizona to San Diego for Comic-Con every year since 2006. When they interviewed Spurlock a year ago about his documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, they became aware that he had captured footage of them during the 2010 convention. Although he would ultimately include their photo in his Comic-Con companion book, he didn’t know at that point if their convention footage would make the final cut of his film.
The day before I attended the screening of A Fan’s Hope, I asked Mike via e-mail if he wanted me to report back to him regarding Spurlock’s editorial decision. He said that he did. I sat through all of the film’s eighty-eight minutes, frantically scanning the screen for any sign of two identical faces. When I got home, I had to be the bearer of bad news: Unless I blinked at the wrong moment, both he and Joel ended up on the cutting room floor. “It’s probably for the better,” Mike told me as part of an online question-and-answer session I devised. “It was very cool to be published in his companion book for this film, but we’re generally lumped into the ‘freakshow’ side of Comic-Con simply because we’re twins. If we’d made it into the movie, it probably would have been in a negative light.”
Although I had been contributing online movie reviews for them since early 2007, I didn’t meet Mike and Joel in person until the summer of 2010, just after Comic-Con had ended. Rather than head straight home, they, along with Mike’s then-girlfriend Joy (now his fiancée), made a stop in Los Angeles – my neck of the woods. They so kindly treated me to dinner at a Universal City Walk restaurant, and it was during this cordial gathering that the subject of Comic-Con came up, along with the usual film-critic banter about movies. They knew I had never once attended, and in the spirit of generosity, Mike offered to get me a pass if I ever decided to go. Outwardly, I responded with a polite, “Thank you, but no.” In my head, I was frantic: You couldn’t get me to go to Comic-Con even if my life depended on it!
I have nothing against comic books, television shows, or video games, and I sure as hell have nothing against movies. Quite simply, I don’t do well in large groups of people, especially when they consist almost entirely of screaming fanboys. Exactly what is the appeal? Mike, who’s lucky in that he doesn’t share in my social phobia, explains it from the perspective of a film buff: “It’s really about seeing celebrities, watching advanced footage and seeing exclusive tidbits about movies that are sometimes years in advance. It’s not unlike an amusement park – you wait in long lines to ride a ride; here, we wait in long lines to watch and/or talk to filmmakers about their upcoming projects. It’s crowded at times, but it could even be compared to screening films for review – sitting in a theater to see a movie in advance of its release date can be exciting if you’re anticipating the film.”
But what if you’re anticipating a comic book? What is the appeal for fans of that medium? Perhaps it’s the chance to get an autograph from a comic book icon like Stan Lee – although many of his works have been adapted for the big screen, which means he probably spends more time autographing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four posters than the latest issues of The Incredible Hulk. Since its inception in 1970, Comic-Con has distanced itself from its purely comic book origins and become increasingly focused on all other aspects of pop culture, including television, video games, and film. For a cinephile like Mike, this doesn’t faze him in the slightest. “Many comic book fans are disappointed that Hollywood and the TV studios have almost completely taken over,” he said, “but for us, it’s actually a good thing. If there wasn’t such a focus on movies, we probably wouldn’t go.”
This led me to wonder how the Massies got to go in the first place. “We were sent an invitation from their press management division,” Mike told me. “Although the invite was probably more along the lines of advertising, due to the conveniently placed location of San Diego, we decided to make the drive.” He went on to tell me that many of the details of that first experience have grown dim, although certain events stick out in his mind. Consider Preview Night, which always falls on a Wednesday: “The packed showroom was insane – and it’s only gotten crazier as each year passes.” What else, I had to wonder? “Seeing Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez conducting the Grindhouse panel was also memorable, as they had a good chunk of the cast there with them.”
Anything else? According to Mike, “the unveiling of the trailer for 300 was quite the event, as this was back when no one had heard of it and it made quite an impression (with the Nine Inch Nails music and abundance of slow-motion).” Seems fitting, given that 300 was adapted from a comic book. “The audience demanded that the trailer be replayed again at the end of the panel,” Mike continued, “so people coming into the theater for the following panel got to see what all the commotion was about. Comic-Con basically ensured that 300 would be successful in the box office.” What a feeling that must be, witnessing the birth of a blockbuster months before its actual release.
And it seems it only got better for them as the convention progressed: “We also attended a special advance screening of Beowulf with the director/producers along with an after party on the roof of some building in Horton Plaza, which was very cool – very Hollywood.” Indeed, the Massies’ repeated brushes with Hollywood are enough to make anyone jealous. “If they’ve been in a big summer blockbuster,” Mike said, “we’ve seen ‘em. In previous years we would also do interviews with many of them, although it’s so hectic because there’s hundreds of press members trying to nab interviews that we just stick to our routine, which is to conduct one-question interviews via microphone to the celebs in Hall H.”
I inquired as to whether or not any particular convention they attended stood out above the others. “Every year has surprises,” Mike responded, “but over time they sort of blend together. The things that become most memorable are the celebrities we see and talk to. It’s as if we have a checklist and are waiting to see certain people.” Specific celebrity appearances seem to have genuinely surprised them: “Last year, it was quite exciting to see Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola (two directors who you wouldn’t expect to be there) and the year before was Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig (two actors who you wouldn’t expect to be there either).” I then asked if either of them longed for something or someone they hadn’t yet seen at Comic-Con. “I would love to see Clint Eastwood,” Mike answered, “but he’s one of the few that will probably never have a reason to go.”
It seemed like such a shallow question, but I simply had to know which celebrity panel they liked most of all. “One of the best was Samuel L. Jackson for Snakes on a Plane,” Mike said, “because it’s clear he was having a good time. Probably the best was Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendes for The Other Guys panel, which involved several poor audience members getting made fun of – which resulted in some of the greatest laughs for the group. It was all in good fun and for the sake of entertainment.” I inevitably followed this by asking them which panel they liked least, for which I feel a little guilty. “The worst was probably the panel for Immortals,” Mike said, “because the entire cast seemed very bored and unenthusiastic about their own project. Also, they were presenting to a crowd that celebrated the movie 300, and the Immortals trailer looked like a complete ripoff.”
Ah, so not everything goes smoothly at a Comic-Con convention. “In subsequent years,” Mike explained to me, “when panelists (especially directors and producers) realize their presentation is flubbing (Comic-Con fans don’t sugar coat anything – it’s like a lynch mob), they feign interest by yelling, ‘Let’s see that trailer again!’ But it never works. Fans aren’t stupid.” I seriously considered countering that last statement by questioning the success of the Transformers trilogy, but I thought better of it. I did, however, press him about the craziest thing he ever saw happen at Comic-Con, perhaps as a test for whether or not he could actually provide me with an anecdote. He came through. It seems that, in 2010, “someone in Hall H was stabbed because he stole someone’s chair. The whole building was practically quarantined while the cops and medics arrived. The victim was wearing the free Harry Potter shirt given out as swag at the beginning of the panel, which is sadly humorous.”
And they wonder why I avoid Comic-Con like the plague. But for thousands of people all over the world, any amount of craziness is worth it. More to the point, it’s worth it to Mike and Joel Massie, who have not only allowed me to be their colleague but have also taken me in as a friend. I don’t yet know the extent of their knowledge on comic books, but I do know that they both have a deeper love and understanding of films than anyone else I’ve met. If Comic-Con is indeed edging out superhero sketches and inked panels in favor of pure Hollywood pop culture, no two people are better qualified to take part in it. Morgan Spurlock would do well to document something like that in his next film. But first, he needs to learn how to sort out his priorities – i.e. which of his subjects get left on the cutting room floor.