It’s no wonder Peter Garnham blurted out “I’ve got Batman on the brain!” at the Sidney Museum the other day.
The historical museum’s executive director had just heard the theme song from the campy 1960s Batman TV series for about the 20th time that day, he noted with a laugh.
It was playing continuously with Star Wars music, the Spider-Man theme and other comic-book classics in celebration of Up, Up and Away: Comic Book Superheroes and Our Culture.
The museum’s fantastical exhibit of comic-book memorabilia is the anchor event for the first annual Sidney Comic-Book Superhero Festival that continues until June 27.
The series included Superheroes Day on Saturday, when the museum’s exhibit celebrated its grand opening with trivia and costume contests.
Saturday doubled as Star Wars Day at the Sidney/North Saanich Library, and kicked off a four-week Create Your Own Comic Book course at the McTavish Academy of Art.
Still to come is Dr. Paul Zehr’s Is There a Superhero in You? lecture (June 2), a Superhero Outdoor Movie Night (June 10) and the Van Isle Comic-Con (June 11) at Mary Winspear Centre.
Fanboys and fangirls of all ages will surely marvel at what’s on view at the museum best known for its offbeat exhibits on items from classic dolls to Lego.
Garnham says their goal is to draw a wider audience to the underground museum at 2423 Beacon Ave., hoping newcomers will also discover its historical collections.
“We’re trying to attract a different demographic,” said Terri O’Keefe, the exhibit co-ordinator whose team of volunteers have been working on it for a year.
“It really took a community to pull this together,” she said, noting there was virtually no budget but considerable support from local businesses and comic-book stores such as Legends, Curious Comics and Cherry Bomb Toys.
They credit volunteers Ashley Hopper, 24, and her friend Kyle Johal with coming up with the idea.
“Superheroes are really big right now, with all the movies,” said Hopper, a UVic anthropology major. “The history interests me, too.”
Millenials, Gen X-ers, boomers and “traditionals” who are comic book fans, artists, collectors, students, a retired museum curator and a Canadian history major collaborated on it, O’Keefe said.
“There are a lot of neat things that go along with superheroes, and they’re a good reflection of our culture. That’s what we wanted to portray,” she said.
Evidence abounds in several fascinating showcases chockful of comic books, action figures and visual memorabilia of the golden, silver and bronze ages of comic books.
“[The Second World War] was really when comic books took off with the first issue of Superman, the grand-daddy of the superhero comic book industry,” O’Keefe explained.
“If you look at the covers, you’ll see that the villains of the day were Nazis and kamikazes.”
“In the ’60s it was the space race, the Cold War, concerns about communism, so Thor and Captain America are Commie-smashers, and you see the first black superheroes. In the 1970s, things got edgier,” she said.
“It got more complex because it was the era of anti-establishment, distrust with government, Watergate, the feminist movement getting stronger, more civil-rights issues and drugs were becoming an issue.”
Censorship was also an issue then, she said, recalling a movement that was started in Victoria considered comic books to be a bad influence and lobbied to have them banned.
It was also an era when Iron Man dealt with alcoholism (Demon in a Bottle), and Superman worried about pollution, she said.
Highlights include exhibits on Batman through the ages against stunning Gotham City backdrops; “evidence lockers” containing items such as the Joker’s costume; and a Wonder Woman shrine, part of a revealing superheroines exhibit. Who knew that Michelle Obama, featured in a Female Force series, was one? Or that there was a time women could only be sidekicks or secondary characters like Batgirl or Spider-Woman?
There’s also a Wolverine showcase, and tributes to vintage Canadian comic-book heroes such as Canada Jack, Captain Canuck and shape-shifting Nelvana of Northern Lights.
Joe Shuster, the Toronto-born Superman co-creator, has said the Daily Planet was modelled on the old Toronto Star building where he was a copyboy, O’Keefe noted.
Closer to home, Victoria-based comic book artist Josh Kully also contributed a cool exhibit outlining the process of creating The Kid from script and storyboards to full-colour comic book.