February 23, 2009 | 8:25am
View more photos of superhero and comic book rarities in the "Golden Age of Comics" slideshow.
There is a pretty amazing collection at the Skirball Cultural Center's new exhibit "Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950."
Some stuff on display just blew my mind, like the first sketch of the Joker, who was the world's first supervillain. And the copy of Action Comics #1, the holy grail of comics, which contains the first appearance of Superman. Less than a hundred copies of the comic are known to exist. The copy at the Skirball is on loan from an anonymous collector and is being shown under a plexiglass cover in the "Lights! Camera! Action!" sub-exhibit one room over from the main gallery.
We're kind of in need of superheroes lately. That need is one of the major overlaps between the "golden age" of comic books and the present time. Hence, the Skirball's argument goes, the current resurgence of comics. And because it's the Skirball, the other major point is the Jewish connection. Without having to Wikipedia it, did you know that Stan Lee (the genius behind Spider-Man and Marvel comics) was actually Stan Lieber? And that Superman was created by two 17-year-old Jewish boys? In fact, the entire superhero genre was created by young Jewish artists in the midst of the economic turmoil of the 1930s and 40s.
I went to the press preview of the exhibit, and the curator, Erin Clancey, led us around the displays in a roughly chronological order. She talked about how the World War was good for the comic book industry--how 85% of the reading material in army camps were comic books. How comic books defined our villains and heroes for us (hence the superheroes vs. Hitler titles). And how each superhero had his or her own "fatal flaw."
They also have some kryptonite. And they say they'll be getting the Obama Spider-Man comic in for sale in the gift shop soon.
This black and white photo sitting on the desk is of the adorable girl who modeled for Lois Lane. The creator of Superman, Jerry Siegel, eventually married her (the model, that is).
In any case, the exhibit makes me want to read Michael Chabon's