Marvel’s mighty wall-crawler celebrates his 60th birthday this year, and San Diego Comic-Con has a special gift for him: an exhibition at the Comic-Con Museum that looks back at his storied, and angst-filled career, titled Spider-Man: Beyond Amazing.
This Friday evening panel features representatives from Marvel and the Comic-Con Museum talking about how they worked together to bring the history of the character to life, including recreations of some of Spider-Man’s most famous locations, props, and iconic moments of Spider-history. (Including some original script pages!) What made Spider-Man such a success in the first place, and how does that translate into a museum exhibit? All will be revealed, ideally with a minimum of costumes left abandoned in trash cans.
Popverse will be liveblogging the entire panel as it happens, so bookmark this page to keep up to date with everything as it happens, or come back when the panel is completed to read about the event in its entirety.
It's Friday, it's 5pm, and it's "Spidey swings into San Diego: Inside's Marvel's Spider-Man." We've been treated to the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon theme song to put everyone in the right mood, which is asking, "what CAN a spider do, anyway?"
This panel is focused on the Beyond Amazing: Spider-Man exhibition at the Comic-Con Museum here in San Diego. It's described as a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the character. "We're thrilled to bring this exhibition to life," say the organizers of the exhibition.
We're watching the official trailer for the exhibit, which prompts applause.
There's an original score for the exhibition, in addition to original art, film props, and more.
Patrick Reed and Ben Saunders, the curators of the exhibition, were talking about the origins of the exhibit before technical issues caused some microphone confusion. Saunders, who's Welsh, is talking about Marvel's UK division, which he jokes was started so that Stan Lee could make tax deductible trips to Britain.
Through reading British reprints of Marvel comics, Saunders said, he was introduced to "the best version of America," where bad guys were captured and punished. Pages from his first Spider-Man comic, which he read when he was 5 years old, are in the exhibition and featured J. Jonah Jameson refusing to support a white supremacist politician.
"That version of America is one that I want to live in," Saunders says, describing the Beyond Amazing exhibit as a tribute to the people responsible for creating that version.
"There's a bunch of way to tell this story," Reed says about the history of Spider-Man. "There was a really unusual thing for us as curators... the first time we entered that space in the museum, it was overwhelming. It felt awe-inspiring, but also strangely familiar and inspiring." It was the material that they've loved all along presented in a different way and recontexualized. "We walked out of there as fans ourselves."
Saunders talks about the different ways that people have discovered Spider-Man: video games, animated series, appearances on the Electric Company, "maybe some of you even picked up a comic book." The aim of the exhibit is to help people recognize the different ways that people can experience a shared love. "I think we can all agree that Spider-Man is cool," he says, to cheers.
Danny Fingeroth, who's also on the panel, describes the exhibit as mindboggling: "Whatever era, up to and including Miles Morales, it's there. Everybody has their own image when they hear the name Spider-Man, and you tie them together." It's recognizing the universal appeal of the character, he says, that come together "to build this incredible legend."
Saunders asks Fingeroth if he has a favorite element of the exhibition. "I liked seeing images of stuff I worked on!" he says. "I'm sorry! That's a very specific thing."
Fingeroth says that, when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko originally created Spider-Man, the idea that there would be a museum exhibit, never mind a Comic-Con panel about that exhibit, was unimaginable. "They were just trying to make a living."
Fingeroth says that he's not an objective commentator on the exhibit because he's worked on the character. "I don't think anyone who chooses to go to a Spider-Man exhibit could be relied upon to be objective," jokes Reed.
Brian Cosby, Director of Marvel Themed Entertainment, is talking about the origins of the exhibit from Marvel's point of view. The company wanted to do a deep dive into a particular character, and Spider-Man "swung to the top," especially as Marvel was already in discussions about inducting Spider-Man into the Comic-Con Museum Hall of Fame.
Cosby says that, even though the exhibit has just been open for a few weeks, he's already hearing from kids and other fans who are discovering more about Spider-Man as a result of the show. "This exhibit is now a new entry point," he says. "It's a wonderful new way to tell [Spider-Man's] story."
All of the black and white artwork at the show is hand-drawn originals, Saunders says. "It's easy to see why people think they might be reproductions, but they're not." Artists whose work is at the exhibit include Steve Ditko, John Romita Snr., and Todd McFarlane.
Reed is talking about his hope that the exhibit will also introduce people to the Comic-Con Museum, which is a permanent space intended to promote comic books as a medium and an art form.
"I hate this phrase, but we talk about 'Instagrammable moments,'" says Cosby, to jeers from the audience who clearly hates it more than he does. Nonetheless, he says that they're important moments to keep visitors engaged and excited. "My favorite part of the show is the very end, but you really have to see it," he says. Reed says that it's difficult to talk about the exhibit without revealing everything that's in it.
A fan asks where in the exhibit the original art can be found. "It's everywhere throughout the entire exhibition," including Steve Ditko artwork that predates Amazing Fantasy #15, as well as the very first drawing ever of Miles Morales. There's also John Romita Snr.'s original concept art of Robbie Robertson.
A fan asks how much did the exhibition cost. Saunders says, essentially, that he doesn't know; the partnership between Marvel and the Comic-Con Museum meant that everything was available and possible, but he couldn't provide a final figure. "I imagine it must have been a substantial budget."
Q: Was there anything that the curators were surprised that they were able to include? A Stan Lee script, everyone agrees. "There was no reason to preserve that after the comic was lettered," Saunders says. "We were very lucky in that we were able to ask, 'what do you have?'" says Reed, mentioning Marvel, art collectors, and Sony as contributors to the finished exhibit.
Q: How did the panelists fall in love with Spider-Man? Cosby says "it's hard to imagine my life without Spider-Man," but his earliest memory of the character was the 1980s cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and then, years later, he purchased Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man #1. "Todd redefined the genre, at least for me."
Reed says that he doesn't remember a time without Spider-Man. He remembers having a Mego action figure that was "always there," but his older siblings let him read their comics (as long as he was careful with them). He admits that one of the comics in the exhibits was his older brother's copy.
Fingeroth says that he was a first generation Marvel Comics fan. "I was a Fantastic Four guy. I bought Spider-Man, I really enjoyed it, but he was not my favorite until I started making Spider-Man comics." That was when he recognized that Spider-Man was, at heart, a coming of age story. "It took me until being an adult and working on it to realize that. It really hit me like a tidal wave."
Q: How did the curators narrow down what should make it into the exhibit? "Figuring out what not to use was certainly the toughest part of this process," says Reed. There is more there than seems immediately clear, they say. "There are people who'll want to get through in 45 minutes," says Saunders, "but if you're the sort of person who wants the illustrated deep dive, that's not something we can attempt to put on a wall, that's what we can put on the media table. You can spend four or five hours at the show." Reed says that there are easter eggs to find at the show for those looking.
Final question: Are there specific details that encapsulate different eras of Spider-Man? "It's a fun game that you can play," Saunders says. "Literally thousands of artists have produced images of Spider-Man, but you could produce a shortlist of maybe 20 people who have redesigned that character for a new generation." McFarlane is mentioned again, redefining the character that John Romita Snr. had established after Steve Ditko's original design, which is described as idiosyncratic. "Nobody draws like Steve Ditko!" Saunders says. "That's the beauty of comics," Cosby adds. "Every artist is going to render Peter and his world in a slightly different way."
Reed says that Spider-Man has grown before Peter Parker. "There's a Spider-Man out there for everyone now."
As Reed and Saunders invite the audience to attend the exhibit, the panel ends. Thanks for reading along!