Most of you have probably been thinking back on 2010 lately. Myself? I’ve been reflecting on 1998, the year an 11-year-old lil’ Tommy P got to tour Marvel Comics’ offices in New York City. Actually, it's been on my mind since October, because NYCC was the first time I’d been back to the Big Apple in the twelve odd years since the trip. While I was home for Christmas, I figured it was time to dig up these pictures from one of my family's old photo albums and share them with all you wonderful Comic Vine maniacs...
How’d I get to do this? Did I win a contest or something? Nah, I just mailed Marvel a request and received a confirmation letter a month or two later. Simple as that. I did have to wait about a half-year for my tour (and that felt like an eternity for a middle-schooler) but the gray, overcast day that finally came in late February was well worth the wait. I don’t think I’d ever been more excited for something. == TEASER ==
A lot of times, you go on a tour like this hoping it’s going to be like walking through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and you end up seeing a place where it's really just business as usual. That definitely wasn't the case, here. Oh no. From the moment my Mom and I stepped out of the elevator, it felt like we were in the Marvel Universe. The waiting room was absolutely carpeted in memorabilia, including life-size, lifelike replicas of legendary treasures like Dr. Doom’s mask, Mjolnir and no less than the Infinity Gauntlet.
And who was our tour guide? Was it an intern? An assistant? No, it was Spider-Man, himself. Taking a break from his great crime-fighting responsibilities, Spidey brought us all into a meeting room and showed us a slide show (an actual slide show, not a PowerPoint one. This was ’98, remember) about how comics were made. He then brought out original pages to demonstrate the steps of the process, tangibly. Of course, as I recall, only Spidey was allowed to actually touch the pages.
Before he took us down to the Bullpen, Spidey stopped to quiz all of us kids on our Marvel trivia. After throwing out some softball questions like "Who're the members of the Fantastic Four?" and "What's the Hulk's real name?" he broke out what was supposed to be the real stumper.
"How did the Whizzer get his powers?"
Without a missing a beat, I raised my hand and said, “Mongoose blood transfusion.”
I couldn’t see Spidey’s face under the mask, but I’m sure he was double-taking something fierce. He said I was actually the first kid to answer that one correctly. It was a dubious accomplishment, perhaps, but I’ll take some pride in it. Anybody who's enjoyed the trivia challenges I do at conventions will probably appreciate knowing how these games got started...
The timing of this whole trip is relevant in a number of respects. For one, the offices have moved a number of times since. Secondly, I’ve been told the tours were actually discontinued a year or two afterward because of no-good punks stealing stuff and ruining it for everybody. Thirdly, this was a year before cable modems really hit America en masse, so what I saw here was publishing on the cusp of the digital revolution. As you can see in one of the photos below, pages were still being colored by hand first to provide guides for the computer colorists to work from later.
Maybe an even greater sign of the times was Spidey telling us that the production time behind a single issue was about ten months in total. I've brought that up to creators a number of times over the years and it always gets a chuckle, because that period's gotten significantly shorter with the greater expediency of FTPs and upload sites.
Actually, G-Man pointed out that today’s faster tech is probably another reason these tours aren’t done anymore. Again, keep in mind that this was 1998 and the average consumer wasn’t nearly as wired then. I saw a lot of material in the Bullpen that was way ahead of street date. If I wanted to put any of these pictures online then and share the spoilers with fandom, I’d have to get the photos developed first, find a scanner somewhere and then, after scanning each photo, find some way to get them online (which was a lot harder back then.) Today? It's a simple matter of snapping a pic on the camera phone and instantaneously tweeting it.
It's been a long time since I've looked at these photos and seeing them again makes me all feel good inside. This was really one of the best times of my childhood, and the fond memory's still vivid, even more than a decade later. It'd be about eight years before I'd get to go to my first comics convention, so what you're seeing in these pictures is the first time I got to see the real world behind my four color fantasies.