Library of Congress Acquires Spider-Man's 'Birth Certificate'

Spider-Man page detail

Spider-Man 1


Comic Book Guy of “The Simpsons” has been known to have a cardiac episode or two. But an acquisition the Library of Congress just made might give his heart its “worst episode ever.” (Apologies for borrowing the pun from that particular “episode.”)

“Spider-senses” all around the Library were set tingling when we learned that the Library had just acquired 24 pages of original 1962 drawings from “Amazing Fantasy #15,” which marked the first time the world’s most famous web-slinger, Spider-Man, would appear in print anywhere. The Spider-Man origin story in “Amazing Fantasy” was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; the pages are Ditko originals, complete with pencil erasures and white-out opaquing fluid.

The acquisition came to the Library within the past few weeks, thanks to an anonymous donor. (News had already begun leaking out — where else — in the blogosphere.)

A couple of colleagues and I got the opportunity yesterday afternoon the see the pages in person. (Don’t worry, we made sure to keep our drool far away from the art.) They do indeed appear to be in very good condition, especially considering their age. The Library’s Prints and Photographs Division (P&P) provided me with a scan of one of the pages and a detail section, which you’ll see here at right. (They are, in actuality, even a bit less yellow than the scans appear.)

Helena Zinkham 1

Spider-Man pages

I also snapped a few pictures as Helena Zinkham, acting chief of P&P, carefully splayed some of them out for us on a table. In one of the shots of the very first page, you get a clear sense of some of the areas where white-out was applied. The “SPIDER-MAN” title balloon in the banner is literally stuck onto the page.

People who are more familiar with Amazing Fantasy #15 than I are probably not surprised by this fact, but I got a good chuckle from the disclaimer that appeared at the top of the first page (pictured at left). It almost seems to be begging skeptical readers to give Spider-Man a chance, completely unaware of the phenomenon that was about to be unleashed on the world.

The excessively exclamatory paragraph reads: “Like costume heroes? Confidentially, we in the comic mag business refer to them as ‘long underwear characters’! And, as you know, they’re a dime a dozen! But, we think you may find our SPIDERMAN just a bit … different!”

Most sentient beings are already aware that Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes ever, spawning several comic-book series, graphic novels, television series, video games, toys, a blockbuster movie franchise, and adding phrases to our popular lexicon such as “true believers” and “your friendly neighborhood (fill-in-the-blank).”

The pages will be digitized within the next few weeks, although access to the images will likely be restricted to on-site use at the Library (copyright restrictions and such). The pages themselves are available to researchers with a valid reader-identification card by appointment only.

Our full news release can be found here.

I never try to guess where an editor will place a story, but I hear a rumor that J. Jonah Jameson will be giving this front-page treatment.

My First ‘Bloggiversary’

My, how time flies. If I weren’t back on Atkins, I might be tempted to track down a cupcake and a birthday candle, because today is the first anniversary of this blog. (It is also, not coincidentally, the 208th birthday of the Library of Congress, a milestone this blog itself will not reach until the […]

Can a Building Get Fan Mail?

I appreciate all of the email feedback I get, both the positive and, yes, even the negative constructive criticism. I got an email yesterday, however, that was too good not to share it in its entirety, with the author’s permission. And I swear we didn’t pay him to write this: I just visited the Library […]

David McCullough’s Must-See Experience

If you traveled to Washington, D.C., and had time to see just one attraction, what would it be? The Capitol? The White House? Maybe the National Mall?

On Saturday, noted historian David McCullough, who was inducted as a “Living Legend,” said that our new exhibition “Creating the United States” — part of the new Library of Congress Experience — was tops on his list. The exact quote:

“I saw yesterday an exhibition which every American ought to see: ‘Creating the U.S.’ If visitors to this, our capital city, whether they’re from our own country or from abroad, were to see only one exhibition, one building, one place during their visit, seeing ‘Creating the U.S.’ would be the one to see.”

I shot some admittedly amateurish video at our April 12 grand opening festivities for the Experience, and I thought McCullough’s speech was what I just had to share first. (Sorry for the silhouette effect, though.) Hopefully, time permitting, more will follow.

UPDATE: A transcript of his full remarks follows the jump.

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To Thomas: Happy Birthday. From: Your Library.

Tomorrow we’re having a party. Maybe you’ve heard.

The Library of Congress is throwing open its bronze doors to the public for the first time since 1990 to celebrate the new Library of Congress Experience, a project for which I have run out of superlatives, so I will leave the descriptions to sources of less bias. (Those doors, entering directly into the spectacular Great Hall, will now be the main entrance to the Thomas Jefferson Building from the outside.)

We are celebrating Congress’s Library—everything that Congress has done to sustain this institution for 208 years, including not just financial support, but also the decision by the Congress to make the Library of Congress the nation’s copyright repository.

But there was also a singular act of Congress dating back nearly 200 years, a matter of some controversy at the time, that would forever change the course of the Library of Congress and our collecting philosophy. That is to say, after the British used the contents of the original Library to burn the Capitol in 1814, Congress the following year purchased the 6,487-volume personal library of Thomas Jefferson, which “recommenced” the Library and helped establish the “universal” nature of our collections.

This Sunday is Jefferson’s 265th birthday, but tomorrow his original Library goes back on display in stunning fashion in the building that bears his name, one important aspect of an Experience our visitors will never forget.

The Washington Post today ran a great story (front page!) about Thomas Jefferson’s library, and our own staff newsletter, The Library of Congress Gazette, examined the story behind Thomas Jefferson’s library in even greater detail, which I have reproduced in full after the jump, led by our crackerjack editor, Gail Fineberg.

One aspect of the story I’d like to underscore because of the viral nature of the Web: The Library, in a project funded by Jerry and Gene Jones, has spent several years reconstructing Jefferson’s library, roughly two-thirds of which perished in 1851 in yet another fire. We need to replace only about 300 of the 6,487 original titles, so insofar as this can be considered a plea to the rare-book blogosphere, well, that’s on the table.

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A Little Refreshing at the Library

As part of our new Library of Congress Experience, the Library has been updating a lot of our materials and signage around our Capitol Hill complex. If our renovation in 1997 was a facelift for the Thomas Jefferson Building, then maybe we’ll call this a touch of Botox. Some of the most noticeable changes include […]

Time To Celebrate!

If you haven’t seen, we have just released details of our April 12 public festivities launching the wonderful, new Library of Congress Experience. You can read all about it here and, as always, keep up to date on all aspects of the Experience here.

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In the PR biz, there is what is known as “earned” media — the kind where you work the phones and email in order to interest a reporter into covering your story. And then there is paid media, which, of course, are generally in the form of advertisements. Every once in a while, however, the […]