Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Magazine covers and pop culture museums

Coincidence 1 of 2

Hard as it is to believe, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman is the first standalone biography (for any age) of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. (They’ve been a part of more involved comics histories, of course, but they’d never had a book to themselves.)

Why was I the fortunate one who got to benefit from this odd oversight?

Because my uncommon last name sounds like one of Superman’s colleagues?

Because one of my high school friends turned out to be Lois Lane’s grandson?

Because my daughter has the same name as Superman’s Kryptonian mother—though I swear I didn’t remember that when we named her?

Or is it because of March 14, 1988?

That day was a milestone for both Superman and me. It was the date of the issue of Time magazine that featured Superman’s 50th anniversary on the cover.

It was also my 16th birthday—when a boy becomes a man. Wait, that’s 13…or is it 18? No, 21…

Regardless, sixteen is significant because it’s the age You’ll Believe a Man Can Drive.

I had first become acquainted with Superman a decade earlier, but I like to believe it was on that day when our destinies synced up. Exactly twenty years later, Boys of Steel came out.

Coincidence 2 of 2

This also involves Superman and also requires mention of a(nother) high school friend, a one Mr. Barker. (Stay with me—I’m also not done with Coincidence 1 of 2.)

Unlike most of my friends, I was not able to line up a post-college job before graduating. So I went to my hometown, Cheshire, Connecticut. It’s lovely, but not a place with much opportunity for a young person who wants to work in the popular arts.

After a demoralizing summer of fruitless searching, I finally landed a position at Abbeville Press, a book publisher in New York. (This was the company at which I would publish my first book and meet my future wife.)

A couple of years later, I learned that the Barker Animation Art Gallery and the Barker Character, Comic, and Cartoon Museum opened…in Cheshire. A world-class collection of pop culture prints and obscure memorabilia, side by side…in Cheshire.

(I asked my high school friend Barker about it, and the founders are his cousins.)

My parents had left Cheshire soon after I moved to New York, so I rarely went back. When I did, if I saw the Barker comic compound, it was only from my passing car. Always in a hurry but not always with good reason, I never stopped.

Flash forward to 2008. To promote Boys of Steel, I went to the 30th annual Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois, also a lovely town but even sleepier and more remote than Cheshire. Yet it does boast a pair of rather unusual tourist attractions.

Being the “official” home of Superman, it is home to the world’s only Superman Museum. It also has the Americana Hollywood Museum. I marveled at the seemingly endless array of pieces this place houses, including collectibles related to superheroes, film noir, science fiction, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, James Bond, probably Jesse James for all I know. Life-sized models of classic monsters, TV Guide issues, old board games, movie props, and more kitsch are arranged high and thick in room after room.

I was astounded that such a collection was assembled in this unassuming town. Some of the people who lived nearby probably didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of it, or even know about it. I remember thinking that the town was lucky to have this sprawling time capsule of pop culture icons in their collective backyard and remember thinking how much I would’ve loved to have lived near a place like it when I was a kid.

Flash forward to this past weekend. It just so happened to be the 31st annual Superman Celebration and I just so happened to be not in Metropolis but in Cheshire. For the first time, I went inside the Barker Character, Comic, and Cartoon Museum. But I felt like I was back in the Americana Hollywood Museum.

It hadn’t occurred to me that they could be two of a kind—maybe the only two of their kind in the world?

And one of these rare places, a place I would’ve loved to visit as a kid and work for as a young adult, was in my hometown…just too late for me.

But not in every way.

In the fall I will be doing a Boys of Steel event at the Barker Museum…

…which, incidentally, perhaps coincidentally, displays a copy of the March 14, 1988 Time.

1 comment:

Bob Buethe said...

It's been up here over two years, but this is the first time I noticed this post. Glad to see someone else who appreciates the Barker Museum.