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September 2, 2015

Fancy a Tour of the Comics of Yore?

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In New York City, the vast and varied strands of American creative history are omnipresent, and the world of comic books and graphic novels is no exception. Walk down any street in Manhattan and you're likely to amble past a locale crucial to the history of comics, be it the inspiration for Superman's Daily Planet building or the locale of Spider-Man's big fight with Doctor Octopus. But it takes a trained eye to find the hidden secrets behind the veneer of city life.

That's where Evan Levy comes in. Founder of e.t.c. custom events, her company aims to help visitors and residents alike to find new ways to experience the city through walks, talks, workshops, parties and events, all with an artistic or educational bent.

“The aim of all the programming is to help people see New York in a new way,” said Levy. “The comic book tours came about in part because I am a Marvel fan, which is a little bit funny because it’s not keeping in all with my personality."

The idea to explore the history of comics-rich New York appealed to Levy --- "I was interested in something that was a little more quirky and off-beat," she said. But she had a problem. In order to host tours in New York, the host has to be a licensed NYC tour guide --- and in this case, that person also needed to know comics inside and out. So after a bit of hunting, Levy finally called Forbidden Planet. The immediate response: "We have a guy."

The guy is Michael Skloff, who, when he's not guiding tourists from the top of a double-decker tour bus, runs e.t.c.'s "New York is Comic Book Country" tours. The tours have been custom-fitted to both pop culture --- one walk, called "Look-Up in the Sky," shows off the sites associated with Marvel's --- and Skloff's own interests in cosmic/science-fiction and old Marvel comics.

And his interest, like his knowledge, is massive. Michael met me on a sweltering day at the corner of Delancey and Essex in the Lower East Side for the Jack Kirby deep cuts tour, "It Started on Yancy Street," and I was led on a tour that winded along the crooked streets of lower Manhattan all the way to the doors of Forbidden Planet, e.t.c.'s partner in the tours.

Along the way, I learned more about Marvel's Penciller Supreme and cosmic comics master than years of reading Kirby comics could ever have provided.  We passed locations from Kirby's childhood home and first studio to the site of Doc Oc's lab in the Spider-Man movies and the actual street address of Doctor Strange's famed Sanctum Sanctorum. 

The tours may be brand new, but for a program that just launched at the beginning of this summer, the experience was surprisingly tight. The whole way, Michael's sheer breadth of knowledge was made obvious --- he discoursed on everything from the pre-planned tour material to 50's science-fiction to cast-iron architecture with equal knowledge and interest. And thanks to the partnership with Forbidden Planet, I went home with some adorable knick-knacks.

After the recent slew of Hollywood attention, a whole new group of people have found their way to comics. Here's hoping those new fans care as much about the history of the medium as they do about its present, and that they find the right people to guide them to it.