After the pandemonium of the first three days of Comic-Con International – the crowds, the noise, the rush – a visit to the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park felt like a soothing balm on jangled nerves.
For nearly everyone in attendance, the main draw was “Marvel’s Spider-Man: Beyond Amazing – The Exhibition,” which celebrates 60 years of the superhero from his creation by artist Steve Ditko and writer Stan Lee to the present Spider-verse and its many characters.
At the dimly-lit entrance to the museum, multiple generations of Spider-Man fans – from parents in Spider-Man T-shirts to children costumed head-to-toe – waited in line for their timeslot to go into the 7,500-square-foot exhibition. They were first greeted by life-size sculptures of Spider-Man mid-swing and villain Doctor Octopus suspended by his mechanical arms, before entering.
Ria and Felipe Samora of San Diego brought their four-year-old son John, who is “obsessed,” Ria said. “He’s seen all the movies from the Tobey McGuire films to ‘Into the Spiderverse.’”
Dressed in the Miles Morales Spidey suit from ‘Spiderverse, John said, “I like how he can shoot a web and do a backflip” while doing the classic web-slinging pose. (He’s still working on the backflip).
A historical timeline, “Beyond Amazing” offers a walk-through of video and interactive kiosks. While the art itself is still, it’s projected on screens that create the feeling of movement with background effects.
Interspersed through the space are pieces of comic history, such as a 1963 issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” #1. There are also pages from later issues that trace the pen-and-ink development of Spidey’s acrobatic fighting style and the look of his webs through different artists.
Pablo Guerrero of San Diego said he was hoping to see props from the 2002 live-action film with Tobey McGuire. He got his wish: a glass case containing Peter Parker’s camera and press badge, and two issues of the Daily Bugle used in the film.
His sister Kiara called Spider-Man one of the most relatable superheroes to exist. “He’s very humble,” she said, adding that the character’s flaws are what make him endearing to so many fans over the decades.
The exhibit came together as a collaboration between Marvel, Comic-Con and Germany-based Semmel Exhibitions, according to Rita Vandergaw, executive director of the museum.
“It’s been a very rapid-fire process for such a big operation,” Vandergaw said. “Components like the walls were arriving every day for a month, and it was like building a house room by room.”
Vandergaw said the museum has been averaging close to 1,000 people per day since it opened July 1. “We’ve been getting families, kids, visitors from as far away as Australia.”
Cheryl Katz of New York and her son Jonah came to see the exhibit after a fruitless wait in line for Hall H wristbands.
“We needed a break from all of that,” Katz said.
Both are dedicated Spider-Man fans, “so to learn about the creation of such an icon was incredible,” Katz said.
“There’s so much information here that I didn’t know,” Jonah said. “I encourage people to come here instead of the Con for a little bit.”
That day, artist Pablo Leon was present to sign free copies of the as-yet-unreleased Spider-Man graphic novel he illustrated, “Miles Morales: Stranger Tides,” a Marvel-Scholastic collaboration for middle-grade readers written by Justin A. Reynolds.
“I’ve had a very, very small hand in the 60-year legacy of Spider-Man,” Leon said. “So it was really nice to come here and see all the kids who are Miles fans excited about this book.”
When Marvel approached Leon about the book, his reaction was an immediate “Yes!” he said. “Miles is very important to many people, in the Black community, in the Afro-Latino community, so it was terrifying, but also an honor.”
Comic-Con Museum volunteer Lisa Jeong said that when she sees how excited the kids are to be there, it energizes her.
“I’ve been volunteering for a month, and I’m still amazed by how much these two/three/four-year-old children know about Spider-Man,” she said. “They know all the Multiverse characters, they know Gwen Stacy the Ghost Spider, and Spider-Ham the superhero pig.
“They know even more than their parents do,” she added with a laugh. “They have to explain everything to them.”
One of the exhibition’s curators was Ben Saunders, a professor of English at the University of Oregon and director of the school’s Comics and Cartoon Studies Minor.
He had worked with Marvel on past curations, so they approached him specifically to curate a 60th-anniversary celebration of Spider-Man at the Comic-Con Museum, “particularly with Comic-Con coming back after three years,” he said. “So, of course, we jumped at the chance to do it.”
The original art is “fundamental,” to the experience, Dr. Saunders said, adding that the pages on display are all from private collections.
“Sometimes people don’t realize this because they’re so beautifully drawn and preserved but every time you see a large black and white piece of art in this show, it’s not a reproduction – it’s the hand-drawn original material.”
While the idea for the exhibition was originally “being kicked around as long as three years ago, you could say I’ve been thinking about this show for decades,” Dr. Saunders said. His first experience reading the Spider-Man comics was as a child growing up in Wales in the 1970s.
“It changed the direction of my life,” he said. “When I first encountered Spider-Man, the key hadn’t really turned for me as a reader, and that’s what made the difference. And now I’m a professor of literature.”