Spider-Fan

I thought I’d share with you a fragment of my history — a frozen formative moment in a fanboy’s evolution. This summer I’ve spent a lot of time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the town where I grew up and where my parents still live. Given that I now have a house of my own, Mom and Dad have been pleading with me to get my stuff out of their basement. This led to some pleasurable archeology, digging through old sketchbooks (from when I wanted to be a comic-book artist), science-fiction screenplays (from when I wanted to become a Super-8 filmmaker), and broken model kits (I must have glued together the U.S.S. Enterprise a dozen times). And some painful triage, as I decided what had to come back with me to Pennsylvania (the long white coffins holding my plastic-bagged collection of Fantastic Four, Love and Rockets, and Cerebus) and what could be disposed of (just about everything else).

This Polaroid documents a trip my father and I took to a shopping mall called Arborland, where I had the honor of meeting the Spectacular Spider-Man and getting my picture taken with him. I remember little of our encounter, though the webslinger struck me as a nice enough guy, and I certainly appreciated his taking time out of crimefighting (or alternatively his job at the Daily Bugle) to visit his fans. From the visual evidence, I was probably a bit tense — note the contrast between my clenched right fist and the flamboyant fingers of my left hand. It was 1975 or 1976; I would have been nine or ten years old.

What jumps out at me now is the object hanging from a chain around Spider-Man’s neck. This, of course, was the economic agenda of the superhero’s tour: selling special coins to fans. I don’t have my own medallion any more; at least, it hasn’t yet turned up in the excavation of my parents’ basement. But I do have the photo (I assume this too cost something — Have your picture taken with Spider-Man!) and, thanks to the obsessive-compulsive accumulator of memory that is the internet, I have a scan of the print ad pushing this particular collector’s item. I found it on this website but am reproducing the image below (click to enlarge).

I don’t mean, by pointing out this financial base to the superstructure of my preteen jouissance, to be cynical or to undermine the coolness of having met Spidey more than thirty years ago. On the contrary: I love that so many forces came together that day to produce the experience, including not just Marvel’s sharklike pursuit of side profits but my sincere love for this particular superhero (so saddled with his own adolescent angst) and my dad’s willingness to cart me off for an audience with him. And as I get used — reluctantly — to my own adulthood, which can sometimes seem to be setting up like cold cement around my unchanged 10-year-old heart, images like this offer a brief window of escape: a memory to glimpse, cherish, then put away with a sense of gratitude.

6 thoughts on “Spider-Fan

  1. Wow, that almost made me tear up a bit… I can’t remember if we had talked about how you were/are as big a fan of Spider-Man as I am! We’ve already talked about how similar our problems with “stuff” in our parents’ house is!! I don’t have the Spider-Man Medallion, but I *do* still have an original Spider-Man Halloween costume and mask that could probably fetch something sweet on Ebay — which I will likely have to do soon… I also have, I think, almost every issue of “Amazing” from the early numbers through around 400 or soon after, where I stopped reading… when I came back to the comic world some fifteen years later and started picking up graphic novels, I actually became more of a DC guy, getting more into recent Supes and Bats stuff (though I did pick up the Ultimates).

    By the way, do you get as annoyed as I do with people constantly misspelling “Spider-Man” as “Spiderman”?? That’s how I see it spelled in the U.K., which I can understand, to a point, but I see plenty of uninformed people do it here in the U.S.!! I know you’ve got it right, because you used the correct hyphen in your “Spider-Fan” blog title as well! I’m especially surprised these days when I see it on internet messageboards, particularly ones filled with supposed comic book “fanboys” who spend half their time professing how prickly and know-it-all they are about the subject…and then proceed to call him “Spiderman”…

    I would call Spider-Man a “proper name,” and a “proper name” should be worded in its grammatically correct way!

    “Picky much?” When it’s about my favorite hero, than…yeah, I am.

    By the way, if you haven’t checked out the new “Spectacular Spider-Man” animated series (1st season finished, 13 episodes have been aired), you really must. The best version I’ve seen of the character in any mediated form, including the movies. Great character development and actual surprises. Captures everything about the character, reflecting on the Kirby past while simultaneously adapting more contemporary storylines…

    [zips lips shut for the night]

  2. Michael, thanks for the feedback (and fanboy shoutout). These items — my medallion, your Halloween costume — are interesting to me as objects that come into existence on the periphery of textual universes like Spider-Man’s. From one perspective, the artifacts are mere tie-ins, watered-down products stamped with a logo or design as a way of squeezing a few extra bucks out of fans (or their parents!) during the gaps between new issues. But from another POV, these objects extend and deepen our engagement with a busy field of storytelling and creativity; more important, they materialize the fantasy diegesis, literally implanting its content into our immediate physical environment. I may know Spider-Man primarily through his ephemeral texts, but I experience him through costumes, action figures, toys, and the performative play they organize.

    (Now when the physical again diffuses into the image — as with my recovered Polaroid — that complicates things!)

    Re: nomenclature, I try to get stuff like that right — but I don’t worry too much when I see it done differently. At least not around Spider-Man … when I see Mr. Spock referred to as Dr. Spock, I fly into a Vulcan death rage.

  3. Sol Solaris? Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time … a long time. I probably have a lot of written material buried in file cabinets; haven’t had the guts to go through those old short stories and whatnot for at least a decade. But sooner or later I’ll dredge it up and bring it to PA.

    As for Floyd, glad to know he’s still around! I believe I have some of your original artwork in my files.

  4. I see these posts were all from last summer, but I had to post. I was the other “person” in your Photo! The company Hallmark Minting Service was out of Southfield, and we did SPIDEY shows in malls accross the midwest.

    As for the photo, they too were part of our income stream. $3.75 to be exact… unless you were one of the fortunate kids that had parents go for our “Special” which was a medallion and photo for $6.75… your Dad would have saved a buck on the deal.

    Funny to see this after all those years… Note: Spider-Man is in a semi standing pose… many a little boy or girl got too excited when sitting on Spidey’s lap… and we only had 2 costumes for each show, so if one was wet, you always stood from then on.

  5. Timm, thanks so much for writing! Wild that we’ve “reconnected” after all these years, through the intermediary of Spider-Man. I should have noticed in the print ad that the coin company was local to Michigan. Do you know whether other states each had their own Marvel tie-in franchise?

    In any case, I appreciate your getting in touch. Hope you’re up to good things these days.

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