By Tony Adams, Contributing Writer
The radical social and political changes of the 1960s are a familiar part of America’s historical landscape. Some of us lived through the era while others of us have studied it. Fundamental shifts were taking place in society: Trust turned to suspicion, homes were divided, and once well-known heroes became anachronisms. Something needed to change. People were looking for a new way of seeing things, a new sense of self and a new set of heroes. John Lennon. Martin Luther King, Jr. Spider-man.
It may seem blasphemous to include Spider-man in that list, but look at it this way: by the time of his creation, superheroes (whether real or imaginary) were in decline. Superman’s nigh-invulnerability seemed quaint. Batman’s then-current goofy adventures fighting creatures in outer space seemed out of place and out of character. Spider-man was just like your average kid,unsure of himself, unsure of his role in society and unsure of his future. For the first time in the history of comic books, Marvel Comics brought to the fore a collection of heroes with real-world problems. The Fantastic Four were a family changed by cosmic rays permeating their space ship. The Hulk was changed by man’s progress into the world of nuclear power, and Spider-man was changed by a radioactive spider bite. That may seem inconsequential when compared to space flight and nuclear energy, but for the readers who became enamored with Peter Parker’s adventures, he held within him a relatable factor that the others may have lacked. He could have been you! The power and the responsibility that came with his newfound abilities were daunting, but in the face of a changing world, Peter Parker became the hero it needed him to be,and we needed him as well.
Diehard comic collectors nurture this need, at times feeding it to excess. Of course, when it comes to collecting comics, there are many roads to follow. For example, some folks just buy what they like at the time. Sometimes the cover of the comic will attract the browsing reader. (It was a long-held belief in the comics publishing world that the cover was the main reason kids would buy the comic.) For others, it’s the collecting of a certain title that brings them back week after week and for many, having a complete run of a particular comic series is essential. It’s a pursuit to which they will happily devote countless hours, so their collection will be as complete as possible at least until the next issue comes out.
And then, there’s a collector of a different breed. Not content to just search out their favorite title, they carry the adventure one step further. Todd Adkins is one of those collectors, and he’s not alone. Todd’s mission takes him in search of Spider-man. Sure, he could just buy the titles in which Spidey appears,they’re easy enough to find, because they have the word “Spider-man” in the title. But then you have to take into account cross-over appearances. Sometimes, Spidey needs to help out in the pages of The Avengers or The Uncanny X-Men. Maybe Thor needs help today and Captain America could use a hand next week. All of these cameo appearances can be readily tracked down. With a popular character such as Spider-man, the suits at Marvel Comics make sure to put his name or picture somewhere on the cover, so you can’t miss him. But, collectors like Todd know that sometimes Spider-man will show up where he’s not formally (or legally) invited to be. And therein lies a new quest.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Todd Adkins and pick his brain about his unique passion for the world’s most notorious web-slinger. He shared with me the story behind how he got started with his comic collection, and why he thinks Spider-man is tops among modern day superheroes:
RetroRadar: How did you get started collecting comics?
Todd Adkins: I think I talked my grandma into buying me one at Peachers Drug Store in Irvington (Indiana), when I was a kid. It was Swamp Thing #12, and from then on I was very much into monster comics, horror movies and [former local late-night horror movie host] Sammy Terry things like that.
RR: When did Spider-man enter the picture?
Adkins: Probably not for a few years; the first few years I collected comics it was strictly the monster stuff. I probably came to Spider-man right around the time of Amazing Spider-man issue #100. So, it had been awhile. But, it was one of those immediate attraction kinds of things. Once I got hooked on reading Spider-man I got sucked in pretty hard. He quickly took the place of the monster books in terms of what my favorite comic was. It was a book I looked forward to every month.
RR: Is there anything you can pinpoint about Spider-man, in particular, that made him your favorite?
Adkins: I think it’s the same thing that made the movie popular and that was the human element. I identified with Peter Parker and he had a beautiful girlfriend, and I was at that age where I was starting to discover girls and I wanted a beautiful girlfriend, too. (laughs) But, I think it was the human element, the stories that revolved around Peter Parker and his world that I enjoyed, and still enjoy the most.
RR: How and when did your Spider-man appearance collection start?
Adkins: Gosh, it probably started about four years ago. I was collecting all of the monthly Spider-man titles and I kind of came up to the point where there were only a few scattered issues that I needed to complete those titles, and I felt like I didn’t want the collecting and hunting to be over. So, actually a friend of mine that I met on the Internet who collects Spider-man told me about how he had started collecting Spider-man appearances in other [non-Spider-man] books. I thought that sounded kinda fun, so that’s where that started. It was by his suggestion. He had all the monthly issues and I had all the monthly issues and it was almost like a little competition to see who could get the most obscure Spidey appearances.
RR: With so many appearances over the years in books other than his own, where did you start?
Adkins: My friend had a list and that helped a lot. From then it was just a matter of going through a lot of my own books and quickly scanning and pulling out the ones where he was on the cover. Some of them were pretty obvious, you know, if Spider-man’s on the cover, well, then that counts. Now it’s kind of this insane little thing, you know, collecting all these references to him. It didn’t get to that for a while. For a while it was just collecting all the major appearances where he was either on the cover or definitely a part of the story.
RR: What are your stipulations or qualifications for when something counts and when it doesn’t count as an appearance? I know that one of the appearances you found [in a non-Spider-man related book] was a Post-It ® note with the name Peter Parker on it.
Adkins: Well, that’s what’s insane about it I guess. I count things that are definite references to Spider-man or Peter Parker, or one of the characters that are only a Spider-man related character. Like the Post-It notes. And again it’s a bit of a fine line. The Post-It note with Peter Parker’s name on it is about
RR: That’s one on the edge?
Adkins: That’s pretty close to the edge. (laughs)
RR: What are some the stranger appearances of Spider-man you’ve found?
Adkins: There are a lot of them, but a small list would include things like in the Fantastic Four his likeness has shown up as the face on a dart board, an inflatable pool toy, a patch on a character’s jacket and on a coffee mug. In Excalibur there was a gorilla in a Spider-man costume and in Ghost Rider there’s a shot of a kid in a crowd holding a Spidey-head balloon. In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Comic Comic Book he’s seen swinging by in the background of one panel. It’s very tiny, but he’s there. He’s even shown up in an issue of the old romance comic Millie the Model. Parodies and spoofs count, too. Things like Spider-Ham, Spider-Caveman and Bug-Eye. They all count as appearances.
RR: What’s the most expensive item you’ve purchased?
Adkins: Amazing Fantasy #15. The first appearance of Spider-man.
RR: What’s the most expensive book you own? Is it still Amazing Fantasy #15?
Adkins: Value wise, yeah. There’s two ways to quantify value. One is what a price guide says it’s worth and another is what I could get for it on eBay, but it would still be Amazing Fantasy #15. There are some things I have that are really obscure that could start a bidding war on eBay and would give me, you know, a thousand times what it’s worth in any price guide.
RR: What is the most obscure item you have?
Adkins: It is Amazing Spider-man #184, but what makes it obscure is that the copy I found doesn’t have a cover price. Instead it has a large bright green sticker that says that it was a free giveaway with the purchase of All detergent and it’s one of those things that you’d probably say yeah that’s worth a couple bucks maybe $10. But, if I were to put it on eBay right now I could easily get 500 bucks for it.
RR: What is the most sought-after book that you’re looking for now?
Adkins: It’s a book called Pow Biff Pops. It is a [comic] book that was done as a promotion for the opening of the Boston Pops in 1977. It was a black and white book, and they sold it in the lobby during intermission and after the performance. Then all copies that weren’t sold were destroyed. And it featured both Marvel and DC Comics superheroes. I’ve not seen one, I’ve only heard about it, but I’ve been in contact with the guy who did the layouts for it trying to talk him into selling me his personal copy. I thought I had it but he moved and it got lost in the boxes when he was moving. I’m still looking for that.
Spider-man is © Marvel Comics. Images courtesy www.samcci.comics.org. For readers interested in the further adventures of Spider-man, be sure to check out the recent blockbuster film Spiderman 2, coming on DVD November 30th.
Tony Adams is a freelance writer and creative force behind The Bold Avenger. You can email him at email@example.com. He’s a nice guy. Hire him to write for you. Party rates are available, but he’s not really fond of kids.