While Spider-Man fans will flock to movie theaters this holiday week to catch the latest reboot in the Marvel franchise, aptly titled Spider-Man: Homecoming, the teenage superhero and New York native is making another return of sorts at the Society of Illustrators, where the “largest and most comprehensive” exhibition of original comic art featuring the character is on view.
“The Art of Spider-Man,” which is organized by comic art specialist Rob Pistella and features works on loan from the collection of Mike Burkey, also brings together for the first time an unprecedented collection of art by Spidey’s earliest artists Steve Ditko and John Romita, as well as Todd McFarlane, John Buscema, Gil Kane and many others.
Steve Ditko, who (as Observer’s comics critic John Martin points out) was known for his unique drawing style, imbued in Spidey a sometimes awkward, but more relatable image for readers of the ’60s than Marvel’s earlier heroes from the ’30s and ’40s, according to the museum. The show features select pages drawn by Ditko, such as one from The Amazing Spider-Man issue #33.
Ditko eventually left Marvel, leaving Spider-Man in the hands of John Romita, who is credited with making Peter Parker the ‘Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” fans know and love today. In 1973, Romita became Marvel Comics’ art director, and his influential early work on Spider-Man—such as the hero’s battle with villains such as the Green Goblin, the Rhino and Doctor Octopus, which are on view in this show—helped set the tone at Marvel during his tenure.
Included are Romita’s drawings of Mary Jane Parker and Gwen Stacy, and strips from the artist’s first two weeks at the helm of The Amazing Spider-Man. Drawings by Todd McFarlane, who rebooted the comic in 1988, will also be shown along with other examples of the original Spider-Man newspaper strip.
So if you’re wary of yet another reboot of the hero in theaters—don’t be. If the exhibition’s long list of Spider-Man artists tells us anything, it’s that while the character has evolved time and again through the years at the hands of a rotating cast of Marvel illustrators, somewhere in there Lee and Ditko’s original vision for the hero has stayed the course.
Click through the slideshow about to see original Spider-Man comic art, and visit “The Art of Spider-Man,” on view through August 26 at the Society of Illustrators.