As “Man of Steel,” the latest film entry to the Superman franchise, hits theaters today, a Greenbrier man is allowing enthusiasts of the character the opportunity to dig deeper into the icon’s past — a lot deeper.
Mike Curtis, 60, who owns one of the world’s largest Superman memorabilia collections at about 17,000 pieces, is displaying a small portion of his treasure trove at the Faulkner County Library through November. The collection contains items as varied as autographed photos of cast members of previous films and television series and a box of British candy cigarettes, which were packaged with a tiny collector card complete with a brief story on the back.
The items date back to near the time of the character’s inception, including the first non-comic book item bearing the character’s image — A pin that says ‘Read Action Comics.’ Curtis has also peppered the display with a few promotional items for the new film.
Though his collection includes a few comic books, Curtis said he has no intention of ever pursuing the 1938 comic in which the character debuted. A copy of the famous comic was recently discovered inside a wall during the renovation of a house in Minnesota and sold at auction Tuesday for $175,000.
“People ask if I would want an Action 1,” he said. “No, I would not, because I could buy everything in these cases for what it would cost to get an Action 1, even if I could afford it.”
Curtis said he particularly enjoys collecting oddball items, such as a box of Velveeta and a package of duct tape donning the Superman emblem.
“They made boys cologne — it’s not after shave because they don’t shave yet,” Curtis said. “I had to get that because it’s just so weird. I try to go for the weird things. I’ve found a monster truck with a cape on it. ... I try to get the strange things that people will look at and remember, like a padlock for instance. A lot of these things aren’t associated with him much.”
Curtis said he has no idea of the value of his collection, portions of which are currently on display at the San Francisco Museum of Cartoon Art and in Topeka, Kan. The real value, he said, is in making the contents available for viewing — a thrill he discovered after purchasing and displaying some items from the Superman Museum in Metropolis, Ill.
“I thought, ‘This is kind of fun.’ I’ve always collected to display. For one comic book, I can get 50 toys. So I try to go for what looks good and what’s historical. I’ve had people come here as (kids) and then come back when they’re grown up with their kids. They’ll have to explain to their son, ‘That’s a record player.’ Some kids don’t know what some of these things are. I love showing (the collection to) kids and daddies and mommas. That’s the fun thing. They can bring their families here and say, ‘Hey, I had that when I was a kid.’ That’s why I don’t put a value on it. I don’t look up the values very much. I exhibit for fun — fun for people and fun for myself.”
Curtis’ interest in Superman dates back to his childhood, when he watched the series featuring George Reeves regularly.
“The family legend is that I needed a father figure because my mother was a single mom with two kids,” he said. “She sat me in front of the TV and said, ‘Watch that man in the cape.’”
His fondness of the show led to his first Superman item, a red plastic belt with a Superman belt buckle, which he received in exchange for two Kelloggs box tops and a quarter. Later on, Curtis acquired his favorite piece of memorabilia, the original cape symbol from George Reeve’s personal appearance costume from 1957.
“That flew with Superman, so that’s my favorite, I have to say,” Curtis said.
Curtis said the availability of comics can be beneficial for younger generations as well.
“Right now, every other week there’s something horrible happening in the news,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to have heros for kids. Someone they can look at and say, ‘He does good things for people.’”
Along with his collection, Curtis also possesses many items that he displays on his person on a daily basis — chiefly a wedding ring donning several tiny Superman emblems. The ring was a 20th wedding anniversary gift from his wife, Carole, who he said learned about the character out of “self-defense” and has since become an authority.
Curtis is anxiously awaiting his opportunity to watch the new film, for which he quickly points out he already has tickets. He said he’s especially impressed with the presence of Kevin Costner as Superman’s earthly father, which he calls “just perfect casting.” He likes that the film appears to be more focused on the legend of Superman.
“He’s becoming more legendary with time,” he said. “He’s becoming our Sherlock Holmes. Things like ‘Smallville’ and the new movie are more about the legend and such. He’s so distinctly American. His colors are almost like the American flag. He’s an immigrant — or an illegal alien, since he didn’t sign any papers when he came in. He’s Midwestern. Raised in the farm country. ... I’m really looking forward to the movie, primarily to see what they’ve done with the legend this time.”
With the release of the new movie, stores are flooded with all new products, including capes, which Curtis has no reservations about wearing in public.
“I went (to Walmart) two weeks ago and the guy asked me if I wanted it in a bag and I said, ‘No, I’ll wear it out.’ I put it on and left. You can have fun with it.”